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.