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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