Saturday, April 25, 2009

Cleveland Iaido Seminar

It's been over a week, but I thought I still talk about this while it's still fresh in my memory. For the first time, Cleveland was able to host an Iaido seminar given by Kato sensei (7th dan Kyoshi in both Kendo and Iaido) and Murakami sensei (AUSKF President) after the shinsa that followed the Kendo tournament the previous day. The intent here was to gauge the interest here to see if they will decide to hold this every year.

My previous intent with this article was to pretty much copy the notes I made during the entire seminar, but I later felt that it would be pretty fruitless as it would make this entry prohibitively long. So I'll just shorten it to a few highlights and talk about the overall experience.

The seminar lasted about 4 hours and mainly went over the following things:
  • Properly going through opening and closing formalities
  • Importance of the sageo (more than a fashion statement, ya know)
  • All 12 seitei kata
Overall, it was a very eye-opening experience. I have been practicing down at Northern Kentucky for the past year and a half, so it's nice to have a change of scenery, so to speak, and get some instruction in a different setting by a different instructor. Being of little iaido experience, there was MUCH to learn within the 4 hour time frame.

Concerning the seitei kata, it was assumed that everyone was at least familiar with the kata in some form, so a lot of the explanations were about some of the smaller aspects. I don't want to go into too much detail, but I'll give some of the highlights of what I learned below:
  • Sanpo giri and Soete-tsuki are performed for the sake of cutting people hiding just beyond a wall or corner. So the body positioning is more like trying to wrap yourself around to cut the person ASAP.
  • Uke-nagashi should flow better (no pause between the block and strike), and the rotation near the end should not be too much. Based on the correction I was given, I would say abour 110 to 115 degrees at the most.
  • You are doing the kata alone, but you also must remember that you are cutting someone's body and all rules of engagement still apply. In other words, the sword should not be swung too much to leave potential openings.
  • You're trying to kill someone, so show your energy throughout the kata. There needs to be some feeling to your movements.
The overall attendance was pretty low, as should be expected. This is the first year that it happened. If they were to continue doing this, then the attendance could increase due to word of mouth and better advanced planning on the part of the attendees (as in thinking of the iaido stuff alongside the kendo stuff as the seminars gain more promenance). Then there's the issue of Iaido being a very uncommon art in the midwest region. Places like New York or Los Angeles have better opportunities to do Iaido, but there aren't very many dojo around. In the Cincinnati area, there is one club here with the closest being in Indianapolis, which is a little over an hour away.

I really hope that they continue doing this as the information given was very valuable and nice to bring back to Cincinnati. It's nice to have opportunities to see my Iaido grow, but even better to see Iaido grow in general.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Cleveland Tournament Review

This past weekend was the Kendo tournament hosted by the Cleveland Kendo Club at Case Western Reserve. This is also the first time I was able to participate in the Shodan/Nidan division after over 5.5 years of practice.

Unfortunately, I didn't get past the first match in individuals. This was a higher tournament bracket, so I honestly wasn't sure what to expect. Then there's the fact that I was working with less than 2 hours of sleep and 4 hours of driving which probably didn't help either. If I were to stop here though, then I'd just be making excuses for myself and would really just defeat the purpose of these things.

Despite the loss, I took as to what is expected of me to do well at tournaments in this next bracket and I realize that I have a lot to work on. I saw a lot of really fast and active Kendo going on as the competitors were whittled down towards the finals, so I am pretty sure I need to get to that sort of level to increase my own capabilities.

We didn't make it past the first round for the team matches, but we all felt much better after this match compared to the individuals. Everyone was a lot more aggressive and lasted a bit longer in these matches.

Why is that? I think that it has something to do with the overall phyche of the team. When it came to the individuals, we were trying hard, but we had issues with the drive and the jitters when you see the huge amounts of people from the dojos that routinely do well in these tournaments. By time we got to the team matches, it was all about just having fun with it and being together and cheering each other on.

One thing that I think some people concern themselves too much on is how good the competition is and how badly they might be beaten. There's nothing wrong with having some concern to know where you stand in terms of the competition, but too much worrying tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy since that concern comes out when you're out there fighting. What we need to realize is that we are going out there to show everyone the best of our abilities, regardless of who it's against. And despite the other teams having larger rosters, more sensei and/or better facilities, it's still possible for someone in middle-America to do well as long as he/she applies himself/herself.

I really hope that we can use these next few months till the next tournament to really improve ourselves and show them what Cincinnati is all about! Oh yeah, it also helps if we all got more sleep, lol. One thing's for sure, we started thinking about how we can modify our training to increase endurance, aggressiveness and accuracy.

Friday, April 17, 2009

On The Road To Cleveland

I should really be going to bed since I will be leaving for the Cleveland Kendo Tournament in a few hours, but I thought I shall post this before I go to bed.

Tomorrow is the Cleveland tournament and will be my first in the Shodan-Nidan division. We had the final practice yesterday where a lot of it was focused on endurance and some shiai practice. Takano sensei told me that I have good enough form, I just need to add resolve to my technique to make yuko-datotsu more definite and not be afraid of using the various techniques to advance my overall Kendo skill (as she put it, I can start trying to do the fun stuff in shiai).

After practice, she told us that the person we are fighting against is not the enemy. The enemy is ourselves. That really rings true in my case though. Everyone says my technique is really good, but it's the whole hesitation thing that keeps me from getting the flags to go up in my favor. This will probably be the hardest thing for me to get over though as it's hard to get the flow of the match to the point where you freely use various techniques and concepts to get the upper hand. In short, I can throw out techniques left and right, but if I don't have the resolve and the confidence to go for it, I will always come up short.

As far as getting to the tournament, there is about 4 hours of driving, so I should really use this time to mentally prepare myself for the match. I could stretch and practice all day long, but if my mind is not ready or just not there, then that will cause me to lose all the time. I don't think I'll come up with a specific game plan due to the infinite amount of unknowns, but I should try my best to instill the confidence in myself to give the match my all.

Now it's time for bed. Kinda wish that this was typed better so I hope I got the point across

Monday, April 06, 2009

What is Seme?

Over the past two practices, Morikawa sensei has been telling me that I need more seme. All I was doing when I go up with him is do various attacks, but not really doing much to gain control of the center before I go. This concept has been one of those harder things to grasp, so I thought I'd take a moment and do some research on it.

A quick look at the Japanese-English Kendo dictionary provided by Kendo USA says that seme is a noun meaning, "the retention of superiority in relation to an enemy through kiryoku, the shinai and datotsu." It's a pretty simple definition on the surface by basically saying that you are doing whatever you can to gain the advantage to make a successful attack. Personally, that doesn't really help me too much, so I decided to dig a little further.

The next source I looked at was this book I bought a while ago, which can be translated to The Kendo Improvement Book (剣道上達Book ISBN4-415-01915-3). It just happened to have a whole section devoted to answering my question so I decided to take a look. I would like to note that this book is in Japanese, so I apologize in any errors in translation ahead of time.

In this book, seme is part 1 in a series of things that needs to be done before you attack--Seme -> Tame -> Search for opening (Kuzure)-> Attack. The seme here has been defined mostly as the process of taking the center by making sure the tip of the shinai is pointed toward your opponent's midline. They also made note of the fact that seme isn't just the act of getting the center. In addition to that, you also need to pay attention to your opponent because they will be trying to get the center as well. Then you still have to pay attention to any moments where openings occur on your opponent as well as being aware of yourself in the process. There are also pictures in the book that show some common things that your opponent might do that will open up several things.

This is one of those concepts that has a short definition to get the basic point across, but there are some deeper things that one needs to consider in order to use this effectively. The above definition is by no means an exhaustive description of what seme is, nor do I consider myself an expert in what it is. But at least it is a start for me to actually begin to effectively use this in practice to gain and maintain the advantage before and during a strike
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