Sunday, January 16, 2011

I Don’t Like Your Kendo Style

One of the most common pieces of advice that we are given while we are fighting other people is to be aggressive.  It’s common to overthink the situation and start to play defensively, especially if we’re familiar with oji-waza.  The former case causes delayed reactions while the mind shifts back and forth between the internal consciousness and the fight at hand, while the latter case only prolongs the fight, and even presents openings that an experienced person might be able to take advantage of.  Instead, we’re told to give our 100% devotion to attacks and go for whatever we might see being open.  As we gain more experience, then we are taught to read the opponent’s kamae—posture, balance, shinai position—and create openings to take advantage of them.

When we attack, we all know that some hits are successful, and some hits aren’t.  The ones that aren’t successful can result in either receiving a hit or missing the intended target, whether it’s a complete miss that causes the shinai to fly to random places, or accidentally hitting an unprotected part of the body.  No matter the kind of miss, we both know what it’s like to be on both sides of the fence, so we usually tend to blow it off and laugh about it later…while possibly waiting a few seconds for the pain to subside.  We all know that accidents happen, but we still must attempt at attacking or nobody is really going to learn all that much.

However, there are those that might cross the line.  The excessive pushing and overly hard hits can really do more damage than help, especially if accuracy isn’t part of their repertoire.  Once that line is crossed, then the potential for injury goes up from getting knocked down, pushed the wrong way, or getting hit in all the wrong places.  When faced with these kinds of people, the benefits can be low since the attacker just only knows how to hit and the receiver might not know how to respond.  However, once you find out how to deal with the situation, then you can most certainly learn more about yourself and the style of Kendo that you would like to achieve.

One of the first things that we might try to do is fight fire with fire.  While the sentiment is very common, and most certainly understandable, it’s only going to just make the situation worse.  Trying to increase your aggression to get revenge on the other person might only ignite the other person to just do the same.  Also, you end up doing the other person’s kendo and not the kind of kendo that develops you and makes you feel good.  Besides, we are taught that Kendo is an exercise in controlling yourself and, through that, controlling your opponent.  If you get angry and start getting into “revenge mode,” then that means that your opponent is controlling the match which, in the end, means that they are winning the battle.

There are various ways in which you can deal with fighting against that style, and maybe even turn the tables in your favor.  One such example is keeping a strong kamae if you happen to be in chudan so that the other person can be kept away by use of the shinai tip.  However, each situation is different and your sensei or senpai would probably be able to tell you what to do based on the situation you’re in.

Over our Kendo careers, we are faced with many different kinds of kendo; the kinds we respect and the ones we don’t.  While the situations can be different depending on if this is just general practice, tournament or testing, there are various ways to be able to deal with the kinds of kendo that might not be what we “like.”  However, the most important thing to remember is that your own Kendo development should come first.  Spending too much time worrying about defeating or getting revenge on the other person is that much time less available where you can develop your own techniques and your own style.  When you think that way, then you’ll always come out on top.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Yearly Retrospection


2011 is now here.  When the year is ending, I like to go back through the year and evaluate what happened and how I performed throughout the year and think about how I can improve myself the next year.  Since martial arts is such a goal-driven activity, it’s especially important to think about these things to give yet another frame of reference for where I want to go.

The biggest achievements of the year were in the grading realm.  In Kendo, I successfully got my 2nd Dan rank in March, followed by getting the rank of 4th kyu for Iaido.  The Kendo rank is much more surprising for the fact that I was able to get it on my first try, when it took me three tries to get my 1st kyu and 1st dan ranks, each.  The differences between my dispositions for my 2nd Dan exam and the other ones brings up another issue.  For the previous ones, I was very nervous to the point where it really affected my performance.  Not being able to think straight caused me to not perform based on how I usually would in class and get very concerned afterwards before the grades came out.  However, this time, I had a plan to go out there and do what I wanted to do and feel satisfied with my performance.  Obviously, whether or not I passed or failed depended on how the judges thought I did, but it was one of those things where passing would be excellent, but failing would just mean that I need to fix some things and try again later. 

Some analysis on that fact makes me think of a few reasons as to why I might have felt more calm under pressure than I usually have been.  First of all, I have been instructing classes and helping out with Kendo demos pretty often.  Over time, I began to get used to performing in front of people which started to carry on into other points in my life, even promotional exams where the stakes are much higher.  Because I was able to think more clearly, I was able to go out there with a plan and execute that plan and just leave it up to fate whether or not I passed or failed.  Another reason could just be as simple as just being used to the grading environment after going through the cycles quite a few times.  While the stakes are still pretty high, sensory adaptation could be present.  In other words, going through the same processes bring out the same sensations which begin to have less of an effect on me.  Whatever the case may be, I hope that this is able to continue so I can put my focus on the things that really matter when doing a performance.

This year seemed to be the year of learning how invincible my body REALLY is.  I’ve been able to go through Kendo for seven years without any major injuries until I messed up my back in April.  Luckily, all it took was some trips to the chiropractor and a little time off of Kendo and Iaido to make myself as good as new.  Then, about a week after I was able to go back to classes, I sprained my ankle while doing suriashi-men early during Kendo practice.  While it was painful due to not being able to take any medication for it, the injury wasn’t too severe and I was as good as new by the following week.  What I’ve learned from these events is that doing martial arts as often as I have been doing requires much more work with maintaining my body than usual.  More care has to be taken to take preventative measures so that I can avoid injuries as much as possible, especially considering that problems will only be compounded as I get older.  Unfortunately, the information I have now is pretty small, but I would like to try to find out more and report those findings on the blog when I do.

Now is the time to think about next year and make goals or resolutions that I would aspire to achieve over the next 365 days.  Before I begin that, there is a small concern that I would like to address when it comes to making them.  When making goals, we have to be very careful of the kinds of goals that we make for two important reasons.  First, there needs to be a metric of improvement when the goal is being made.  For example, some common goals for Kendo would be to be able to hit men better or perform better seme when going against an opponent.  Well, both of these are things that even 8th Dan people are working on so it’s not like there’s much of a clear end goal for improvement.  Second, the things that we work on tend to change pretty constantly.  One practice might be spent working on men, but another practice could change to working on fumikomi due to other issues that might crop of.  Of course, you could go back to working on men, but then there’s the chance that the derailments become too numerous to where it’s hard to go back…or the original goal gets forgotten in the mix.  Thus, when I’m making these goals, I’d rather try my best to provide a metric of improvement and/or base my goals on events that will happen next year.

In Kendo, I don’t have any promotional exams to take next year.  However, there are a lot of tournaments and perhaps a seminar or two that will still be occurring.  What I would like to do is work on improving myself so that I can do better in the tournament setting.  I can see that my basics are very sound, as evidenced in the video taken of me during the Johnson Cup.  But, due to some weak strikes, anything that I was making contact with wasn’t convincing enough for the judges.  Thus, I would like to be able to do what I can to make my hits more solid so that there’s no question to the quality of the attacks that I’m making.  Also, there’s this issue of me lowering shinai before I make an attack, which needs to be addressed as it’s making me lose precious seconds in attacking and tips off the opponent that I’m about to do something.  They may not know what it is, but it’s just enough to react and nullify my attempts.

Iaido is looking to be pretty void in terms of events going on.  There is the seminar going on in the summer in Cleveland which includes a tournament and promotional exam, which are things that I would like to try for.  As I don’t really have any specific issues that I can think of that are holding me back from anything, I’ll just continue training like I have been and addressing any big or small issues that tend to crop up after during practice.  When I’m out there, my body is going to just do what I have practiced for months and months through practice so there really isn’t much additional that needs or can be done.

From what I can see, next year will be filled with the usual events of Kendo and Iaido events that are within reach for me.  Whatever the case, I’ll do what I can to just continue training to reach my goals for improvement and take care of any issues that crop up during training.  However, no matter what the result at the end of the year ends up being, I will be happy as long as I feel decent improvement over the previous year.

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