Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Beginner's Point of View 307-308

Day 307:

In Iaido, I started practicing my routine, paying attention to the second kata. I tried not to move my left big toe back like I was taught before the spin. It’s very awkward and my final kneeling stance is narrow and unsteady. I need to pivot on my toes and push my right knee out.

I was taught a new kata today. It’s the eighth one. Similar to the sixth kata, you are surrounded by two opponents kind of off-line. You take two steps forward and then grip the tsuka. With the third step, you thrust the tsuka up into the face of the forward enemy, as of breaking the nose. The saya does not totally come out of the obi. You slide the tsuka down to reveal the sword. Here’s a tricky part. You grip the iaito ‘sideways’ to make the blade ‘horizontal’. You then pivot the left foot and then slide the right foot around to the left and turn around. You thrust to the rear opponent up between the ribs and into the heart. You then grip the iaito properly with two hands and swing up. You pivot on your left foot and step back to the front with the right, cutting downward vertically. Chiburi to the right and noto. Three steps back to the start. I think I can get the hang of this one. The instructor saw me do it a couple of times and said I have the basics down.

In Kendo, we did stretches and suburi like normal. However, the class was packed. Several of the students now have keikogi and hakama. They all chose white keikogi and indigo hakama. Not bad looking at all. There was a new student as well. The head instructor took him aside to teach him walking and holding the shinai.

We did lots of waza practice, menouchi, koteouchi, dohouchi, and kote-menouchi. We got a chance to show the class how it is done properly after they all had a chance to drill. Then we had the advanced students do ji-geikos.

In advanced Kendo, we started with kiri-kaeshi and menouchi. We then practiced ojji-waza of our choice and then had a keiko using those techniques. That went for most of the class. Never once did my heart hurt. We also did hotseat for a full rotation of ji-geiko in twenty seconds. We also did shinsa matches under the gaze of the instructors.

After that, we did kata. I love kata. I was paired with a lower-ranking kyu who only knew the first three kata. I practiced with her over and over. She was very…rusty. I went with her step by step correcting the biggest issues and then repeating the katas. We had fixed the first two when we ran out of time.

After class, the instructor and I had a nice chat about how I seem to have “winning mode” and “testing mode”. He thought there was a discrepancy in my Kendo, which is normal for a shodan. He also said he wasn’t quite sure what the difference came from. I told him that it was urgency. Sometimes, I felt pressed for time or having an overabundance of time. He suggested that I spend the next few months trying to find a balance between the two and resolve them into ‘one Kendo’. It was good advice. He said he would give me some reading material to help.

Day 308:

In Iaido, we had a record-breaking crowd of students attending. Even Sensei showed up. We were squashed for space, but we muddled through as best as we could. Several of the low-ranking students are now wearing their keikogi and hakama. A few even have plastic saya to sheathe their bokken. I started doing my full set, trying to turn around smoothly in the second kata without prepping my left toe first. I tried it by putting weight on my left big toe and then by putting weight on my right knee. It seemed smoother on my right knee so I think I’ll try to do it that way from now on.

In Kendo, we had a Guest Sensei show up. I don’t know what rank he is, but he looked like he was between sandan and godan. We did the whole class practicing techniques for kiri-kaeshi. We did a drill where one partner strikes the raised shinai for men and takes three steps. The other partner receives the strike and steps back to reset the pair. Every other turn, the pair switches roles. The next drill would have the partners striking sayu-men. Finally, the motodachi would put on men and give and receive kiri-kaeshi in full.

In advanced Kendo, we did a lot of waza. Kiri-kaeshi, men-ouchi, kote-ouchi, doh-ouchi, and kote-men-ouchi. There were a few keikos during the long progression of drills. I had to step out for breath just as they were setting up for four-square drills. Guest Sensei was confused at first about how the square would flow, but after two full rotations, he got it well. After that, there was a break for water. I put on men and jumped back in for free ji-geiko. You could choose your partner and fight however long you wish. There was a long line for keiko with Guest Sensei so I sparred with other students for ten minutes. Then I got in line to spar with Guest Sensei. I was the last one of the night to spar with him, so he was winded. However, he was not slow. He was just as fast as the first ji-geiko. He would beat me at every exchange and push me to swing faster and faster. I would try to vary my timing and distance but he wasn’t fooled by any of them. I did get a few basic strikes in for men but he would bonk me on the head when I would turn around. After a couple of these times, I charged past a full extra step past. He then complimented and said that was a good distance. After class, I thanked him for coming and mentioned that I learned about establishing distance after exchanges. He asked me about the advice I was given. I told him about the contradictory advice and he advised me to take the extra step to be safe. That makes sense.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Beginner's Point of View 305-306

Day 305:

In Iaido class I continued my slow draw of the sword. It seems as if all of my kata are improving by the slow draw of the sword. It seems as if I draw the sword halfway and pull back the saya the other half. The flick of the sword it just a finishing move. I wonder if that’s right.

Today there was a packed class, but only two instructors. After warm-ups, had a lot of footwork drills. I had to keep the class organized for the instructor. Once, we did so much fumi-komi that the instructor’s clipboard and papers fall over. Without thinking, I raced over to clean it up. I’m not toadying so much as automatically keeping the class running smooth instead having the instructor to stop and fix it himself.

In advanced Kendo class, we did a lot of basic waza drills, like two oh-men, two sashi-men, two oh-kote, and then two sashi-kote (all as a single drill). We also did a hotseat drill with one of us taking on a whole line of kenshi one at a time, over and over. We would rotate out constantly, performing such things as kote-suriage-men or men-kaeshi-doh. Too bad we had no time for kata.

Day 306:

Sensei was at Iaido class today. He moved a little stiffly, but deliberately. Myself, I tried to incorporate more saya-biki in my first two kata. I did ask the instructor for whether or not the gaze for the third kata would shift from the center. He replied that you always keep your gaze upon your opponent, but after the slice you lower your gaze slightly and then noto.

In Kendo, we did warm-ups and suburi. Then we had the motodachi put on kote and practice kihon kata, which is the menouchi kata and the koteouchi kata with the bokken instead of the shinai.

In advanced Kendo, there were only four of us. So, we had a hard practice of lots of ji-geiko and a full four rounds of four-square. The ceiling fans were running slower than usual, so there was not a cool breeze churning up the humid air like usual. We were sweating a lot.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Beginner's Point of View 303-304

Day 303:

In Iaido class, I performed my normal routine. I was getting the hang of the draw for the first kata, but the steps for the fifth were beginning to elude me. When I concentrate on not rattling the sword upon draw, I step too far. If I correct my steps, I rattle upon draw. Class was crowded, so I only performed the seventh kata twice to avoid coming too close to others.

In beginner Kendo, we had a full class. There were new bright lights and ceiling fans to swirl the air, so it was not so hot. Inside the bogu was still very warm and we sweat, but it was much better. We did lots of suburi, including explanations and footwork drills. We then put on men and became motodachi for the students. One explanation at the end of the class was the three ways to kill the opponent. Kill their spirit with kiai, kill their sword by pushing it aside, and kill their techinique by altering the spacing. It was a good lecture.

In advanced Kendo, we did a round of kiri-kaeshi, men, kote, suriage-men, harai-kote, and aiouchi-men. In between each drill, we had a short ji-geiko using the waza we just practiced. There was a short practice test for all of the candidates destined to take the ikkyu exam.

Then we did kata. I love kata. Myself and the other shodan teamed up with the instructor to learn the ins and outs of the sixth Kendo kata. The uchidachi role is to show all bad mistakes. The uchidachi comes out in chudan and feels pressure from the shidachi. The uchidachi steps back into jodan and then steps back into chudan. He then gives a lazy attempt at sashi-kote, which is parried by the shidachi. The uchidachi has his kote cut by the shidachi, who then carves up the shoulder into jodan. The uchidachi steps back, turning the left shoulder away form the shidachi, as if cowering. After the shidachi steps back into line, the uchidachi steps back into line.

Day 304:

In Iaido class, I performed my normal routine, but slowed my draw of the sword. It nearly totally ceased its rattle and it allowed me to draw it smoothly for a more definitive cut. I think I’ll keep doing that.

In beginner Kendo, we did lots of suburi. There were beginners in the class, so the instructor spoke a lot about how to perform the cuts. Afterwards, we did footwork drills. I put on men and performed the role of motodachi for the students to practice their men and kote drills. The ones without bogu or uniform just practiced menouchi.

In advanced Kendo, we did alternating drills of waza and then ji-geiko with the same partner right after using that technique. It was different and interesting. We had lots of ji-geikos. At the end, the instructor picked a student testing for ikkyu. All of us dans would fight a full keiko with that student one after another, pushing him to his limits. The last two matches had him huffing and puffing hard. He took to leaning over out of breath after striking men. We kept yelling at him to stand up straight and push himself. The last instructor had the student do a drill just like Head Sensei. “One more men! One more men! One more men! One more men!” Over and over until the student struck men perfectly. After practice, we wished him well and each dan gave him advice. My advice to him was to stop planning so much. He needed to feel his opportunity and then finish his strike. I also suggested to him not to lean over, no matter how out of breath. That signals that you give up, which is bad.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Beginner's Point of View 301-302

Day 301:

Today was a holiday but the dojo was open. We gathered for Iaido a little bit late, so we only had twenty real minutes of practice. Still, I did my routine and tried to concentrate on flexing my wrist to increase the range of motion for the chiburi.

In Kendo, we had a merged beginner and advanced class. We had four new students start today. We did warm-ups and footwork practice. We had some basic suri-ashi and some basic men drills.

We broke up into motodachi and received strikes from everyone. The beginner students were awkward, but no more so than I was at the beginning. After more kihon drills, the beginning students stepped aside as the rest of us performed ji-geiko.

Day 302:

Today I spent most of the day at a new job interview, so I have not had much to eat or drink. It was also extremely humid. I was sweating profusely just cleaning the floor.

In Iaido, Sensei came back to class. He was stiff from his time with the doctor healing his joints, but he looked ready to take up the sword again.

We did our kata routine as usual, trying to pay attention to details. It’s difficult to keep your focus on the opponent in the third kata after you cut. I keep drifting my gaze back towards the shomen.

In Kendo, we separated the class after halfway through suburi. I was in the advanced section where we finished suburi and then did footwork drills over short distances. We went forwards solo and sideways with a partner. Then we put on men and were motodachi for the students. The beginners were trying just to do regular oh-men waza without passing through. Some of them were hitting too hard, some were tensing their shoulders, some were not stepping their feet properly. I tried to give good tips to help their strikes. They were grateful for anything I had to offer.

At the end of beginner class, I had to leave. I was not feeling up to advanced class. I was tired, dehydrated, and lacking energy. I decided to just go home and rest up.

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Beginner's Point of View 299-300

Day 299:

In Iaido class, I did my normal run through. The instructor noticed that my horizontal cut for the first and second kata was too high. I guess I need to swing my shoulder lower to avoid being so high.

In basic Kendo, I led the class for rei-hou and warm-ups. We were in the smaller space of our normal hardwood floor. So, no wind sprints of huge length but back to fumi-komi drills. Win some, lose some. After footwork, we put on men and I was asked to be motodachi. The students did kiri-kaeshi, men, kote, and doh drills. One student is new to bogu, so his strikes are awkward. During the doh drills, he swuing early and wide, striking my elbow right on the bony part twice in a row. My flesh bruised and swelled up right away.

In advanced Kendo, there were only five of us. We started with one round of kiri-kaeshi, and then went into many drills of men, kote, and doh. We spent a lot of time during nidan-waza, such as men-suriage-men and kote-suriage men.

The instructor had invented a drill that I call ‘Four-Square’ drill. Four people stand in a box formation. The one who starts in the position closest to shomen on the dan side will receive kakari-geiko from the one across form him. The other two positions are ‘rest’ positions. Once thirty seconds of kakari-geiko is done, everyone rotates to the right. So, the one who just performed kakari-geko will now receive it for thirty seconds. We rotate constantly every thirty seconds without waiting for bowing before and after a rotation. It’s a hard practice without stopping and those rest positions really come in handy. Without them, I’d have to stop to catch my breath. At the end of class, we practiced kata. I love kata. We did the first five kata for a refresher.

Day 300:

In Iaido, I did my run-through like usual. Sometime, I would rattle the sword in the saya. I need to twist the saya more and draw more slowly. When I slow down and do each step deliberately, I do better.

In basic Kendo, I led rei-hou and warm-ups. We did more footwork drills as a group. There was a time when I was part of a line of six kenshi going across the floor all at once. It was just a touch narrow, so I let the others go a full step before I went to avoid colliding. Also, the instructor advised us to put most of our weight upon our left foot instead of the left. This allows us to stop properly. It also allows us to do fumi-komi in a more controlled way. When we put on men, I was motodachi again. The students did men, kote, and doh drills again. That previous student who was swinging wildly did much better this time.

In advanced Kendo, we did kiri-kaeshi, men, kote, and doh drills. We then went back to having a single student receiving constantly from a line of kenshi one at a time. We practiced suriage drills this way for a while. We included a drill where the receiver would do keiko with each kenshi one at a time for fifteen seconds in a constant stream of fights. We continued until everyone had that chance with everyone else.