Sunday, June 28, 2009

Is It Just Me, Or Is It Hot In Here?

The main academic school year for the University of Cincinnati is over, so we can’t use the room we normally practice in, unless we plan on paying a large amount of money. The good news is that everyone will just assimilate with the Northern Kentucky Kendo Club (NKKC) for the time being until the year starts up again sometime in September.

Earlier this year, the NKKC has been practicing at the Corryville Recreational Center, and had access to a pretty nice room with good floors and a mirror along the wall. That provided some good advantages of being able to look at ourselves while doing Iaido and Kendo practice. But now that its summer and the programs at the center changed, we got moved to the gymnasium. The good news is that we now have a lot of space to handle the additional people. The bad news is that there is hardly any ventilation available.

We have been there for two weeks, but it has only been until this last practice that we really felt the effects of the lack of ventilation and air conditioning. There are two fans there, but the room is so big, that it only provides a small temperature drop if used all day, but not enough room to circulate the air, which can be a big problem when wearing bogu (and even without). At the end of the last practice, it was hotter inside the gym than it was outside the building. To put that in perspective, the thermometer, according to My 64 (TV station in the Cincinnati, Ohio area), the outside temperature was 89 degrees. So that makes the air in the gym in the 90s and our bodies feeling much hotter temperatures when wearing the dogi, hakama and bogu to restrict any kind of heat loss.

As noted by everybody, it is quite taxing on everyone there. During the kakari-geiko and jigeiko moments, my body was literally burning up, and I was doing all I could to not get physically and mentally defeated by that. I know that we will all do our best to see this through to the end. One advantage we have now is that we know what the conditions are like so we can better prepare ourselves before each practice.

Of course, this is also a perfect time to think about the well-being of everyone in the club and people who end up practicing in these sorts of conditions. The first step that needs to be taken is to drink LOTS of water before practice. I remember hearing that 30 minutes to an hour is the best to let your body absorb the water and prevent cramps due to having too much stuff in your stomach. This should allow us to perspire and provide any cooling that nature can provide and keep our bodies running despite the harsh conditions. Most importantly, we need to pay attention to ourselves and know when to stop. We all know that we must push ourselves as far as we can go, but the moment that dizziness and headaches start to set in, it might be time to sit out for the rest of the practice. As I always say, it’s better to stop to fight another day, than to keep going and be out for an extended period of time, or possibly forever.

As I mentioned before, I know that we can all get through this, despite the huge changes in practice conditions. As long as we take ample care of ourselves before, during and after practice, there isn’t much to worry about. Though, to be honest, I’m pretty excited about this because I get a new challenge to face. Or it just might be my masochistic side coming out…whatever.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

What is Seme?

For the past couple of months, Morikawa sensei has told me that I need to apply more seme to my fighting. He told me that whenever I fight him, he doesn’t feel any pressure coming from me. Throughout that time, I have been trying to apply what he has been telling me, but I still get the same piece of advice. Seeing as I obviously don’t quite get it, I decided to do a little research on what seme is, which should hopefully help me in achieving this goal. My intention was to ask Morikawa sensei for some more info on what he was talking about as well as a small section that explains what seme is in book Kendo Joutatsu Book by Inoue Hidekatsu sensei (剣道上達Book by 井上秀克). I’m not exactly fluent in the Japanese language, so I apologize in any sort of mistranslations that may occur.

The English definition of seme (攻め) is “attack.” The particular application of seme that I am looking for is much deeper than just the literal translation. Sometimes, the word may be used to tell the someone to attack more or be more forceful in tournaments, but the question is, “How is this supposed to be applied?”

After that practice, Morikawa sensei explained to me that I needed to move around, whether it be left, right, front or back. My shinai also has a small role in this by not only getting the center, but moving that around in various ways to see what reaction you can get out of your opponent. I have been trying to implement this recently, but I haven’t been getting the results I like from it. I need to be more prepared to react to anything that I see, which requires better reaction time and more immediate start-up.

After thinking about that for a bit, now it is time to take a look and see what Inoue sensei’s book says to get any additional information or confirm anything that I either heard or thought about. The section on seme starts off by explaining the general flow of events:

  • Semeru – put pressure on the opponent
  • Tameru – hold in your energy to prepare yourself to strike at any moment. Here, you try to feel your opponent’s reactions.
  • Kuzusu – Look for an opening. Once you see an opening, attack!

As explained above, when applying pressure, you need to look out for any reactions your opponent is making. Anyone that has some sort of experience with fighting might be able to look back on some to the common ways that people defend themselves (I know I am guilty of this as well). Sometimes, there might be a slight shift of the shinai or defense of the men by lifting the shinai over your head. Then there are the other times where they might feel forced to attack before they’re ready. Once you see these reactions, it is your job to react to it.

Near the end of the section, the book mentions that a common train of thought is to think that seme only involves trying to fight for the center. My translation skills get a little hazy around this point, unfortunately, but it mentions things about how the opponent will also be fighting for the center and a lot of missed chances. I do understand where he’s going with this though, because I can definitely see it in my Kendo. Only grabbing the center is part of it, but if the opponent is also fully aware of what’s going on and totally unphased, then any attack will be useless and I would be completely unprepared to react to the situation due to a limited field of vision.

From the little research I have done, I feel I have a better grasp of what seme is. It involves more of the entire body and mind than I originally thought since I was one of those people that originally thought that seme was just trying to get the center before you attack. Of course, understanding and doing are two completely different things. While I could ask everyone what seme is, from the looks of it, I really just need to see what works in terms of the opponent I am against and my own disposition. One thing that I do know is that I have felt the effects of seme, so now it is time for me to work on dishing it out.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

ECUSKF Joint Practice (May 31st)

The ECUSKF held their joint practice in Columbus this past Sunday. Unfortunately, this was a pretty small one compared to some of the others I’ve been to, but it was no less beneficial to my Kendo to train with people from all over the area (mainly Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia).

There was a kata session added to the beginning of the practice. There isn’t anything too formal with it since we just grabbed the nearest person and went through the kata and got suggestions from the senior members.

I will admit that my kata abilities were quite rusty since it has been a while since I have done them (the non-cooperating floor didn’t help matters either). I did get some much-appreciated help on them though. The biggest thing that I needed to fix was the overall thought process during kata. I was just going through the movements and not putting much feeling behind it. Granted, I was just trying to get used to doing kata again, but I also need to realize that there is supposed to be a story and purpose to each of them and it’s up to me to be able to interpret and display that when I do them if I ever hope to understand Kendo better. This tip also got me thinking about the overall perception of what kata means to kenshi.

One thing that seems to be apparent is that kata isn’t practiced all that often, or it isn’t given that much importance until the weeks approaching promotional exams. It’s easy to see why though. Kihon-geiko and jigeiko is much more active. Rigorous practice involving these give the most apparent results through better reaction times and tournament victories. Thus, setting some time on the side for kata may be seen as a burden since the benefits aren’t really seen immediately and tends to be treated as another obstacle to getting that next rank.

Things got a bit more interesting once I started to analyze what each of the kata are supposed to represent. Instead of just robotically going through each of the moves, it became an exercise in timing and dynamic body movement. So essentially, the thought process had to shift from, “I gotta move to the left,” to, “I need to dodge the person’s cut.” I would like to be able to put more focus on kata to help me permanently think in this manner. As it stands, I only do kata once a month, at best.

The second part was the normal practice where we stretched, did warm-ups and did some kihon-geiko. Going through the suburi and ashi-sabaki can be just as important as the rest of practice as it’s easier for me to break down my swings and footwork to see what needs to be fixed. There were two suggestions that I was given. The first one is that my feet were crossing during suriashi. While I had the speed, the balance and effectiveness is gone once my feet are crossing since, at that point, there’s very little I can do if someone is able to take advantage of that sort of situation. The second piece of advice I was given was that I needed to use more of my left during the upswing. Not only does it open up my elbows for easier swinging, it also serves as another piece of advice for those that may have the same issue as me.

My goal for this practice was to put more emphasis on tame and sutemi. I tend to either be too relaxed during matches, which slows down my reaction time, or I might end up being too tense which slows down my overall movements. And the fact that I tend to be too preoccupied with the results of my attempts ends up putting unnecessary doubt during times I could be taking advantage of the situation. I felt that it worked to my advantage during this segment, though my timing could use a lot of work for oji-waza.

I did my best to keep a similar thought process during the free practice with the sempai and sensei. Of course, when the opponent is moving and actually trying to take advantage of your deficiencies, things become much easier said than done. I was trying to apply some pressure to the other person for my first match, but it mostly was done in vain. No matter what I did or how hard I tried, the pressure was being put on me and I was the person losing control of the match. Despite all that, I still tried to make sure I was prepared for any moment I saw. When that match was over, he suggested that I needed to try to put more focus on my own kendo instead of what the other person is capable of. It makes sense though. Worrying about the other person only slows me down and causes me to not go for some otherwise good opportunities.

There were a few other matches I had that day in which I was trying to keep my thought processes in check. I wouldn’t call them successful, but it was better than not attempting to apply them in the first place. Another thing that I have been working on was making sure I keep a better eye on openings, which seems to be a side-effect to applying tame. It actually worked out with one of my hiki-dous since the sempai I was going against thought it was good enough and the sensei that was watching said that it was the best one he’s seen me do. I really appreciated that since I have been trying to be more effective with hiki-waza, though now the issue is actually being able to reproduce everything that went into that.

After the practice was over, I got some suggestions from the sensei. The two main things that I recall, was that I still had an issue of leaning into my strikes before I go. Not only does it put me off balance, but it also telegraphs to the other person that I am about to do something. I really need to do a better job with using my lower body to move forward instead of using my upper body to reach further. The second tip dealt with better use of seme. This has actually been a problem of mine for quite some time, and he has been reminding me of it since then. From his definition, I need to try to have better command of the center before I attack. While I try to keep this in mind, I guess I don’t fully understand what it really means to apply seme. I do recall there being a section in Kendou Joutatsu Book (剣道上達Book) by Hidekatsu Inoue, so I think I’ll do some consulting with that to get a better idea on what this seme is all about. Now if it only was written in English, it wouldn’t seem like such a daunting task.
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