Tuesday, December 16, 2008

New Years Training Goals

This year seemed to have gone by really quickly. A lot has changed from last year after graduating, moving to Ohio and starting a life of my own in the process. But the Kendo has only ramped up with the great opportunities of practicing. I have also been able to achieve my dream of starting up Iaido as well.

As 2008 comes to a close, I would just like to go over some of the goals I have for 2009. The main criteria for this is to be as specific as possible to give myself a little guidance. So saying something like, "I want to improve my Kendo," really isn't going to work, but saying something specific about a specific technique or concept is what I want to go for.

  1. Make Shodan - Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make it to shodan this year, but I really do plan on achieving Shodan next year. There are two opportunities early within the year with the first being in Detroit in February and the next being in March in Lexington. I would really like to try out in Detroit depending on the testing schedule and if there is some huge, impending doom at work with huge looming deadlines. If not, then there's always Lexington!
  2. Become more involved with Iaido - I think that I'm beyond the point of knowing whether or not I would continue with Iaido, with the decision being obvious from the title of the bullet point itself. What I mean by this though, is that I should try to understand what Muso Shinden Ryu is, the philosophy behind it as well as memorizing the names and moves of the 12 Seitei kata. I should really be doing better by beginning to imagine that imaginary opponent, but I can only do that when I have more confidence in myself with the moves.
  3. Take advantage of different waza - I feel that I'm starting to get a very small grasp on doing this, but I could always try to be more efficient in using these. Not only does this include things like nuki-waza, debana-waza and harai-waza, but also just plain moving around more to get myself in a better position or throw off the opponent if that's even possible.
  4. Learn to taiatari more effectively - I know that, given my overall body mass, I would certainly lose at any sort of pushing match with someone. One thing I do know is that 150 lbs (including both body weight and bogu weight) of force coming in could throw off a lot more people. This can only be done by improving my overall body positioning and effectively using my momentum to give that extra push I need to hopefully gain that advantage. Of course, this isn't limited to giving taiatari. I also should become a better reciever.
  5. Keeping my back straight - This is something that Ariga sensei has been trying to pound into me for months. The issue isn't how to do it since I know that. The issue is actually trying to do it to the point of it becoming habit, which can be difficult under strenuous circumstances.
Okay, I think I'll end it here for the time being. Sure, there are a million things that need to be fixed, but it's a start. Besides, a list that's too big will only discourage me more.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Waza Usage

I had yet another hard practice out at Miami Valley this past Saturday. Beyond the usual keeping my back straight when I strike, there was one thing that he told me, then told the class afterward, that I would like to briefly talk about today.

During Jigeiko, he stopped for a moment to tell me that I needed to try using shikake-waza more when I attack. For the uninitiated, shikake-waza are the offensive techniques used to gain control of the center when it's not so simple to obtain it. These include hiki-waza, debana-waza, harai-waza, nidan/sandan-waza among others.

In order for me to advance to higher-level kendo, I feel I need to start taking advantage of these sorts of waza. When fighting people less experienced than me, it can be pretty simple to take advantage of patterns and inaccuracies. But when fighting someone with more experience, sometimes a little additional technique is necessary to gain the advantage over an adversary.

Of course, all of this is easier said than done (what isn't that way in Kendo by the way?). It's one thing to do all of this during kihon practice, but the mindset changes once you are in Jigeiko and, especially, shiai. In the beginning, a lot of what is taught is to just attack, attack, attack and get there before the other person does. It can be seen as a small application of debana waza, but it tends to just turn into rounds of ai-men until someone is lucky enough to get something through. This stage tends to not last all that long, but it's has a strong enough effect on their Kendo to be hard to break. Those that do try to move on might, from time to time, try out the various waza, but gets discouraged when they don't work. Of course, this isn't a universal progression, but it's something I have gone through and seen happen to a few others.

The only way to combat this? Practice. Jigeiko is the perfect time to really do this. Some might think of Jigeiko as just an informal shiai, but it's also a perfect time to try out various things and see how they work. Your abilities won't be so good at first, but things will eventually come together as you develop your own tokui-waza (your favorite and best techniques) and overall style. The reason why just attacking outright works at first is because a beginner's kamae is generally weaker so you can take advantage of those little gaps. But once you start fighing better people, the stronger kamae makes things a bit difficult and you are either deflected or given a nice tsuki.

I won't leave you guys without a little advice though. When we first start learning the various shikake waza, it's sometimes thought that we need to completely deflect the opponent's shinai far from the center to get to where you need to go. While this is physically true, this can put you at a technical advantage.

Let's take harai-waza, for example. The purpose of this one is to just physically move your opponent's shinai out of the center to gain control of the situation. The common thought is that you need to whack the shinai away to get to it, but it can cause two outcomes. If you do successfully hit the person's shinai out of the way by giving it a hard whack like a golf club, then you'll be out of the center as well and not in a position to get a good hit. If the opponent is fast enough, he or she can take the center again and attack when you aren't ready. The second outcome can be that they see you are moving the shinai much farther than you need to so all they do is just move and score the point while you are literally defenseless.

All you really need to do is move the shinai just enough where you have the center. This could be a physical push or an actual whack where there isn't much movement (like the concept behind that famous six-inch punch), but not enough where you yourself go beyond the center too much or telegraph your planned move.

No matter the level, we need to have a bit more confidence in our abilities and be willing to go outside the norm to better form our particular Kendo style. It's one thing to be very quick and able to get strikes in before your opponent does, but that will only get one so far. Being able to break someone's kamae and hit an open spot is one great way to raise one's level.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Johnson Cup Tournament 2008

I've had enough time to let this sink in and gather my thoughts. It's also the time when the planets align just right to where I'm not too lazy to write about this.

Last week, I attended the ECUSKF Johnson Cup tournament that is held here every year around this time. The overall attendance was small, possibly due to the snow the area had earlier along with other commitments that conveniently align itself with events like these that prevents them from coming. But it didn't make it any less fun. It was a day full of great Kendo and fun partying afterwards involving awesome, homemade beer.

I participated in the Mudansha division and actually placed first. I am very happy to be able to achieve such a feat. At the risk of sounding pretentious, it's that very fact that I'd like to talk about for this particular entry.

Some people say that, while it's great to win, it's just as good to lose. When you win, that means your skills were good enough to emerge victorious. If you lose, sure there's that feeling of disappointment, but it's a great time to go find out what went wrong and how to fix those problems. Well, I want to take this opportunity to still go over my thoughts about what I felt went right and how I feel I can still improve myself.

I like to think of any sort of victory as a series of events that happened based on the competition and your own personal skill set, that happened to work out in your favor. What I want to talk about first are some of the things that I kept in mind while fighting.

  • One of the big things that Ariga sensei told me that I needed to fix was that I tend to go into autopilot when I am fighting in jigeiko and competitions. This was something that he has told me over and over again for months on end and, while I would try my best to get a good understanding of what he desires out of me, still fail at it. What I would do is go in and just randomly attack, not really adjusting to the situation at hand. The biggest problem I have with this is that I would also not really remember much about the match. It's the same phenomenon when you are driving somewhere and all the sudden you realize where you are. You're driving just fine, but the lapse in attention span makes you forget the past few miles of road you just did. Basically, I tried to follow my instincts and attack when I felt ready and use techniques fitting with the situation.
  • There's also the issue of holding the shinai correctly. It seems like something that you should have down pat, but even the most experienced people fall into bad habits on the simplest of things. All I tried to do here was make sure my kamae remained low to allow for more efficient movement to wherever I needed to go and keep my wrists turned in for maximum speed and power.
  • I also felt I moved a lot more than I usually do. And when I mean move, I mean taking advantage of the fact that I can also move left and right in addition to moving forward and backward. Using such addidional movements allow you to find more openings and avoid some attacks. On a similar token, I also tried to use the various waza available like harai, suriage and debana. That allows me to take advantage of even more situations by having a bigger skill set. Of course, that only works when you can do it correctly :P.
Do I think that there are things I need to improve on? You bet. I can even use the points described above as a small shooting-off point to finding out what needs to be improved on:
  • It's not enough to just go with your gut feeling and attack when you feel necessary. What I need to try to do is better detect openings and respond to any movements by getting in harmony with the opponent. I also should try and employ less thought into my matches. What I mean about that is I should be able to just react to what the other person is doing and not cycle through my mind what technique I will use next.
  • Forming bad habits is always a part of Kendo. All I can really do here is really pay attention to each small bad habit and work on fixing those one by one. Once one thing is fixed, then it's on to the next thing as I repeat the cycle.
  • It's nice to have a big skill set, but it's more important to know when to use them and improve in one's accuracy on doing them. This is something that I will have to work on for years to come to find out what techniques work best for me depending on who I am fighting.
Of course, I'm not diminishing the victory, but I have the mindset that there is always someone better than you. Of course it's a fact right now, given my relative experience compared to people of sensei rank. But even if I were to win the WKC, while I would be considered the best at that point in time, there are many others that would be spending the next three years finding out how to beat me. If I were to slack off, then the opponent has already won with the tangible reward coming once we physically face off.

And, before I go, I would like to extend my congratulations to everyone that participated for winning and showing good Kendo.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Failing Kendo Exams

Okay, it's been about a few weeks since I last took my promotion exam, and now that I have nothing better to do, I thought I'd type this up. One thing I notice is that a lot of people don't really talk about the feelings of failing Kendo, so I think I'll do it here.

I recently tried to go for Shodan, but didn't make it this time around. Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed in myself for not making it. There's definately that period of sorrow, embarrassment and anger knowing that you didn't make it depsite your attempts.

Thankfully, my bout with college has taught me how to deal with failure since I did my fair share of that...a lot. Of course, failing those exams determines my future versus the Kendo ones just being a hobby, but I tend to look at them the same way. Within minutes of feeling pretty bad for myself, I was already looking ahead at what I did wrong and going for my next attempt either in February in Detroit, or March in Lexington, depending on how the work and life outlook is.

One thing to note is that, if you don't make the rank you are going for, you shouldn't dwell on feeling too bad. All that will do is make you angry. You should realize that everyone fails at a promotion exam at some point in their lives, no matter what the rank is. The most important thing to do is to keep your head held high and look towards the future to pass your next attempt.

On another, but similar, note. I was talking to a friend of mine from Indianapolis and she was talking about trying to test every attempt that she is able to. This isn't for the sake of just going through the ranks as fast as she can, but more for the testing experience and goal building. This is a pretty good point in my opinion since, if you pass, then great. But if you fail, you at least know what you need to improve on and know what the judges will be looking for.

Well, as they always say, better luck next time!
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