Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Beginner's Point of View 297-298

Day 297:

In Iaido, there was only the instructor and two of us. We had the gymnasium again. We had a free practice today. I tried to make the chiburi for the first and second kata into one fluid motion instead of three separate actions. That was harder than it looked. I kept hopping up into standing stance and that made me a little unstable. I need to slow down and make it smoother.

In Kendo, I led the opening ceremony. We did a whole lot of wind sprints. We also did a drill about turning around in tai-atari. A pair of kenshi would match up with one going forward and one going backward. They would go across the floor until they reached a line. They went to tai-atari and use three steps to turn around 180 degrees. Then they repeated until the next line. We did this several times. It was fun and a good lesson.

I stayed for advanced Kendo today. The wind sprints left me tired and exhausted. We did several rounds of kiri-kaeshi and men strikes. I tried to do the men strikes the way Guest Sensei told us. After several rounds of men strikes, I was out of breath. I drank some water and sat down. I went back in after missing the drills about kote and kote men. I did participate in the drills for kote-suriage-men and men-suriage-men. Men-suriage-men is harder than it looks, especially if you don’t step to the side wide enough. I finally got the rythym by the end. We did a few rounds of ji-geiko. I received a comment from an instructor about how I am ‘forgetting’ that I am a shodan. He meant that I was not trying my full compliment of techniques and relying on a chosen few. He’s right, so I need to remember to try nuki-waza and hiki-waza from time to time.

We finished class by doing kata. I love kata. I spent the class with an ikkyu candidate, teaching him the finer points of the first three kata. We did this over and over until the end of class. I gave a few pointers on how to compose himself so the judges will like him. I hope he passes.

Day 298:

Today was a free day. I practiced my kata alone again. The instructor came over and commented that I’m still cutting too high on the first two kata. Maybe I should aim for ‘chest-level’ when I cut horizontally. I asked about bringing the sword up for the first cut in the fifth kata. The tsuka bumps off my forearm when I stop the blade. The instructor never had that problem, so he conjectured that I was cutting too forcefully and snapping my wrist too hard. He suggested that I cut more gently to avoid it. Makes sense.

In beginner Kendo, we were in the gymnasium again. The workers were not present to certify that the church building was ready for us just yet. We did stretches and suburi normally, and then went right into wind sprints. I helped the instructor demonstrate the proper way to turn around in tai-atari. We also did a nice ‘caterpillar’ footwork drill all across the lines of the gymnasium court. Very good workout for the legs and ankles.

In advanced Kendo, we only did one round of kiri-kaeshi and went into the 5-7-9 sets of drills for men, kote, and doh. I was exhausted halfway through, but stuck in there. I simply slowed down and paced myself and I did not need to stop for a break. There were several lectures, which gave me time to catch my breath. We had a couple of ji-geiko matches at the end. I overdid it a bit, pushing the tendon on my wrist and slamming my left forearm into the men-gane of my partner over and over. I was too close for strike and my opponent was fast.

To end class, we took off our bogu and got our bokkens. We did the kihon drills with the bokken. Men-ouchi, kote-ouchi, doh-ouchi, and tsuki-ouchi were the first drill. Kote-men-ouchi was the second drill. Men-hiki-doh-ouchi was the third drill. Finally, suriage-men was the fourth drill. The suriage is the same-side of the bokken, so no dipping down and bringing it up to the other side.

At the end of class, my wrist and arm were hurting me. All I could say is that it was a great practice and ow-ow-ow-ow.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Beginner's Point of View 295-296

Day 295:

Today we were back in the hard-floored gymnasium. I did my routine of kata over and over. The no-slip floor was throwing my steps off-balance. I had some trouble remembering if I was supposed to kneel or stand at the conclusion of the fifth kata. I stayed standing and asked the instructor. He agreed that it was standing.

There was a new student. He wanted to study Iaido and Kendo together. The instructor spent most of his time with him teaching him to stand, walk, and swing.

I felt it was a good time to try Kendo again. My wrist was stiff but not painful. It was also Guest Sensei’s last day here with us. We used bokken for suburi. Guest Sensei didn’t like the way I did shomen strikes. He was saying that I was raising too high and not stretching far enough on the down swing. He showed me how to do it by positioning my arms. It was awkward but it was working and it was faster. I guess he’s right. I need to remember how to do that.

We did kiri-kaeshi and shomen suburi with shinai and then we broke up for matches. We only had time for three matches by the students lower ranking than myself. I’m almost disappointed and almost happy at the same time. I’m so rusty after many weeks of no Kendo I must look terrible. Still, I’m grateful to Guest Sensei for his advice. I’ll have to try to remember it.

Day 296:

Today in Iaido I learned that the ‘sonkyo’ position to finish the fourth kata is not a true sonkyo like in Kendo before and after a match. It’s with the left knee on the floor and tight right foot slid back past the left knee. That’s much easier than what I’ve been trying to do. It may even hurt less. That’s good.

Also, at the tail end of class, the instructor had us practice the second kata all together. He reminded us that we begin to draw as we start to turn around and ‘snap’ the last movement into place when we flick the sword out. It looks like he’s pivoting on his right knee instead of the left foot like I’ve been doing. I need to start doing that.

In Kendo, we did more suburi with lectures along the way about form. I’m trying to do men strike like Guest Sensei instructed. Raise up so the left fist is at the forehead and you just barely see underneath. Then snap your left arm forward on the downstroke. I’ll have to practice that a lot.

After suburi, we did wind sprints. Very good exercises, but left me breathless. Then we put on men and did more men strikes and kote strikes, but only the strike, not passing by. I made the mistake of using full charging speed so I almost keep bumping into my partner. I did correct myself after a bit, though.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Beginner's Point of View 293-294

Day 293:

Today there was only myself and the instructor. It was a free class, so I worked on my 1-2-3-4-6-7-9-12 over and over. My sword was rattling again and I tried to remember to draw partway before flicking the saki outward. My left foot was stiff when doing the fourth kata, so the relaxing into the final position was painful.

Halfway through the class, the instructor commented that the reason I seem so awkward in my stances is because moving forward while swinging the iaito causes my momentum to move forward fully and I have to stop myself with effort. In Kendo, this is expected because we wish to charge past our opponent. In Iaido, we wish to stop in our tracks. We do this by not bringing our back foot as far when finishing a strike.

I asked to be taught the fifth kata so I could be ready for any promotional exam. The fifth kata can be awkward. You step forward with the right and then with the left foot. You rotated the saya to almost upside down and make ready for an upward diagonal cut. You partially draw the sword. You step forward with the right foot and draw the sword, bringing up in backhand not quite all the way. You turn the blade right side up, ready for the downstroke back the same path. You grip with both hands and cut down back the same path. You then step back into hasso-no-kamae and chiburi by swinging your right hand around and over your head. Noto and take three steps back with the right foot. This is a lot of awkward steps but it’s an interesting kata.

My left wrist is still aching from the injury even though I’m resting. I’ll go back to Kendo when I’m ready to use that tendon for tenouchi without hurting it. Even the instructors agreed with my decision.

Day 294:

Today was a day of routine. It was only the instructor and two of us beginners. However, today I decided to do my kata with enthusiasm. I slowed down and made each motion a full effort, with the bending of the wrist.

It worked! I’ve never felt so good about my kata as today. I was ‘feeling it’ when I did the motions. I felt the opponent in front of me. I ‘saw’ the cuts. I pulled back the saya to make the cuts smoother and quieter. I tried not to bring my left foot forward so much to stabilize. I flexed my right wrist to make the cuts and chiburi more smooth. The instructor watched me for a while and said nothing. Instead the instructor offered to answer questions I had. I didn’t have any because I was just working things out for myself.

I was not perfect. My finish of the fourth kata was still awkward. My stance after the first and second kata is still a little shaky. My ascent in the third kata is still not smoothed over. Still, I enjoyed class today.

My wrist is still injured. No Kendo just yet. Perhaps not even next week.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Beginner's Point of View 291-292

Day 291:

My first day back after trying to take care of my injuries and my left wrist is still very stiff. I made sure to stretch out extra before class and then I went into my routine. I performed 1-2-3-4-6-7-9-12 at half speed to avoid hurting myself. My kata seems to be a little awkward since I’ve been out of class for 2 weeks. Still, I moved slowly and did my best. My wrist did not hurt because I was moving slowly. Also, my drawing of the blade seemed a little smoother, maybe because I concentrated on being accurate rather than being powerful.

I did not go to Kendo class because my wrist was still tender at the end of Iaido class. I’m going to wait until it’s strong again before going back to using it for tenouchi. The instructors let me know that from now on, we are using bokken for suburi rather than shinai. I’ll have to remember that form now on. Maybe it’s time for a bigger sword bag.

Day 292:

Today we had a full Iaido class. There were the two instructors and four of us who were beginners. We had to squash ourselves for space. In fact, once everyone showed up, the lead instructor had to stop practicing to give up his space for everyone else to use. For most of the class, I did my routine of 1-2-3-4-6-7-9-12.

For the last ten minutes of class, the lead instructor took us through the moves of the first kata, showing the key points. I thought I was doing it well, but I guess not. My sword rattles in its saya when I draw because I’m not pulling the sword out enough before the quick flick at the end. Also, I’m concentrating on low enough of a draw but I take it too far. The saki should be in front of the shoulder or knee. When making the vertical cut, the saki should end up just lower than horizontal. Finally, the chiburi should finish by showing myself the back side of the sword, but not the sides. I tend to do that anyway, but it’s good to know it definitively.

Still no Kendo, but my wrist is getting better. Maybe next week.