Sunday, October 18, 2009

About Dehydration

Kendo practice last weekend was a special one. Some people from Indianapolis stopped by to have a joint practice that made the dojo very packed and very active. While the practice was tough and devoid of air circulation, it wasn't the most brutal practice I've had. Unfortunately, I made some poor choices and really paid for it when I got home and for the rest of the weekend.

In the hours of the morning, I usually eat a good breakfast and hydrate myself pretty well as I know that, no matter who is teaching that day, I will be expected to work hard. But, this particular morning, I didn't drink as much water as I should have. And while I was able to survive on that, I also went across the street to have some beer with the dojo folk like I always do. Getting home was fine, though I was getting a little sleepy on the way. But when I got home, things took a turn for the worse. Going up the stairs was a task that was more daunting than usual. I live on the third floor in my complex, so that only multiplied the heavy work. At the top, my head was pounding very hard as I unlocked the door. As I got in, I stumbled around as I took my shoes and Kendo equipment that was strapped to my back. I just spent the rest of the night relaxing and tried to take a nap with very little success. There was also the strange feeling on my skin that was almost prickly and felt consistently cold (later found to have a fever that was 100.3 at the time). When the night was over, I took a Tylenol and went to bed to go to Iaido practice. The next morning, I felt very cold and stiff (even for that dojo), but was able to muster once I got moving, but had to sit out most of Kendo when I had difficulty breathing and generally not feeling well.

The story ends up in a good way, though. When I got home from the Kendo/Iaido practice of the following day, I finally put two and two together and thought about the possibility of dehydration. My symptoms kind of matched what I had when I was dehydrated the last time and what I saw on the Mayo Clinic website. Once I started drinking more water and rested some more, I started feeling better as the day went on. In my case, I was lucky, but it really could have turned out much worse. So, with this post, I would like to highlight the subject of dehydration, what to look for and what to do about it if you happen to fall under this condition.
When I got home, I had a pounding headache and felt pretty dizzy as I stumbled into my apartment complex to take off my shoes and heavy Kendo equipment on my back. On top of that, my skin felt kind of sensitive and still felt kind of chilly despite how warm I made my apartment with the central and space heater. The following afternoon, I took my temperature and it clocked in at 100.3 F.

Dehydration is the condition when your body doesn't have enough water to sustain itself. As most of us already know, the human body is 75% water and pretty sensitive to any changes to body condition that it might not be able to handle well. In normal conditions, the water allows your blood to flow easier to carry nutrients throughout the body, including the oxygen we all need to breathe. The body also gains some lubrication to allow for proper movement of body parts and satisfactory functioning of the organs. Once you pull water out of the equation, the body can't operate as efficiently and has to work harder to compensate for the lack of sufficient water.

There is a large list of symptoms to look for to see if you are dehydrated. They include:
  • dark urine
  • fever
  • less elastic skin
  • pounding headaches
  • dizziness
If you start to notice these symptoms, then it's a very good idea to stop what you are doing and try to get water as quickly as possible. There are some more serious symptoms like fainting and more severe occurances of the symptoms listed above where medical attention might be needed.

The good thing about dehydration is that it's very easy to prevent and treat. To prevent it, just drink enough liquid like water or sports drinks beforehand. During practice, listen to your body and take water breaks when allowed. Some dojos might not have water breaks depending on the type of practice and how long it is, so just prepare yourself well beforehand. For those that do have breaks or allow you to stop on your own from time to time, then TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT!!! And if you're part of those dojos that goes out to drink after practice, it might not be a bad idea to have some water on hand to make up for the water you will lose from digesting the beer and alcohol and other normal body functions. If you get dehydrated, most cases could be treated by drinking more water and possibly taking a Tylenol to relieve the headaches. For more severe cases, a doctor might be needed where they can do a lot more in terms of treatment. There is some more information out there on the internet in terms of symptoms and treatment, like the Mayo Clinic where I got some of the information typed here.

The value of Kendo practices comes out with the intense mental and physical exercises performed during training. Despite all that, trying to tough it out for the benefit of saving face will only make you look ridiculous in the end as you're carried off with some sort of injury. Make sure you listen to your body and treat it well or you could end up being out for a long time, possibly forever through serious or mortal injury.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Applying Pressure

It's been a while since I have typed anything about Iaido, but now, I actually have something to type about (yay!). I also have something to say about my Kendo practice, but that should be a given by now.

Iaido practice doesn't officially start until 8 AM on Sundays, but since I have a key to the dance studio where we practice, I like to get there at about 7 AM, if possible, to try and work on some things. I got there, stretched out as best as I can and began some self-practice by 7:30 or so.

I explained in one of my earlier posts that I had finally gotten my iaito after about 1.5 years of waiting. Because it is slightly longer than my previous iaito and much heavier, I have been spending the past month or so adjusting to the differences. In this particular case, I was working on using my body to swing instead of just using my arms. The instructor pulled up in his truck, in front of the building, and sat in his truck while eating breakfast and, simultaneously, watched me do my suburi and ipponme mae.

When he came in, he told me that I needed to shift my focus a bit while performing stuff. There was nothing wrong with what I was doing, but he wanted me to go beyond what I can currently do and reach the next level. Essentially, I need to focus more on the intent of every swing. Up until now, my focus has been more on the mechanical side of things, like how to perform the nukitsuke. Now, I needed to think about what I am doing for that nukitsuke and performing it as if I'm trying to kill the person before they get me first. After putting that sort of focus into my Iaido, I noticed some immediate benefits after doing that. Of course, I will continue doing the mechanical analysis, but there also comes a time when I need to put that to use.

After Iaido ended, we began the Kendo half of the practice. It was my turn to lead the class and I thought about trying to put more focus on ki ken tai icchi (spirit, sword and body as one) for each strike. I notice the overall ability in everyone across all experience levels, now it's time to get everyone really cleaning up their swings and advance to the next level. We did go over tsuki which the newest member objected to at first, but after essentially explaining to him that he needed to start somewhere with it and get used to the fact that it exists, he went along with it. We also allowed him to use some extra kote that we had. He was initially worried, but he got to the masochistic phase after practice ended saying that it felt weird and hurt at times, but he wanted more.

The main thing I have been working on lately is being able to apply pressure to the opponent. Whether or not you believe in ki, the concept of applying pressure to break your opponent's composure, or kuzushi is a very important concept to understand in the higher levels. If you believe in ki then it's trying to extend your energy to clash with your opponent's energy to gain control of the other person. If you don't, then it's a way of sending certain signals to gain dominance over the other person. No matter how you think of it, you're trying to gain control over an ability that occurs very often in the animal kingdom to reach the same goal of gaining control of the match.

I have been working hard with trying to apply pressure, but I tend to ultimately become concerned about the shinai in front of me and thinking too much about the overall outcome whether or not I have the center. With that in mind, the phrase, "The more you chase it, the more it eludes you," comes to mind. From what I understand, it means that trying too hard to achieve something can cause you to lose the original purpose of achieving that goal which can lead to even more frustration. With that in mind, I might want to try focusing on some other things that I need to work on and come back to it when it might be easier to accomplish. There are a lot of the mechanical things to think about such as weight distribution, lunging and body positioning before and after the strike. Then, there are some other things, like kuzushi, sutemi (捨て身) or releasing one's thoughts to strike and tame (溜め).

On a final note, we had an accident the week before last where someone tore their Achilles tendon near the end of practice and will be out for several months. It really brings home the necessity to be well stretched and rested before practice to prevent injuries. While it won't get rid of 100% of the risk, it will at least reduce the chances of injuries. I did get to talk to him again last night and he's doing fine and really excited to start practicing again as soon as he recovers. He told that, during his free time, he's been thinking a lot about his future in Kendo and how best to approach that. I think that this is something that every kenshi should think about from time to time to build a path that one wants to follow and possibly reignite the flame of desire for improvement for those that might have their flames slowly dissipating in monotony and disappointment. It's one thing to do Kendo, but it's best to eventually begin exploring why one chooses to do Kendo and what they hope to get out of it.
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