Andoru's Kendo Blog

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Winners are simply willing to do things losers won't!

What a weird kendo week! Had a good training on Wednesday, but things went totally pear-shaped on Friday. As mentioned in some of my kendo friends' blogs, several of us turned up to train at Sydney University on Friday. I went directly from my office (I'm an academic at Sydney University) feeling utterly exhausted. If I had a bed in my office I would have no qualms going to sleep there and then! Anyway, conscience compelled me to go because Mike Henstock once said to me that the best time to train is when one does not want to train. Addtionally, training when one is tired is good for stamina improvement. So I (reluctantly) turned up.

Heh! It's so funny how different I could be when tired. Felt like a total beginner in many ways - short stamina, no spirit, couldn't focus right etc. Jigeiko was almost too painful to bear. What's more - sweat beads getting into my eyes, and feeling dehydrated. It's one of those "what the heck am I doing here" kinda training for me. Having said that, I'm glad I did go, though I feel sorry for being such poor motodachi and training partner to the others. It's a good training, because I pushed myself.

In any case, I went nuts at the Saturday morning training to make it all up. I started really slow, having had just 5 hours sleep. In fact, I was so groggy when I turned up that Becki thought I'd awoken from death! Eventually I warmed up sufficiently for jigeiko and unleashed all the frustrations in unbelievably constructive ways. I intentionally chose to jigeiko tall guys like Isaac and Gideon, and would have had a go at Mike too if time allowed. Focus yet again was men cuts, but I threw in doh cuts and nidan waza. My last jigeiko with Sano sensei was tamed yet deep in meaning. He knew that I was focussing on men cuts, so he did just debana kote for the entire jigeiko. He stressed the importance of keeping center while executing semete-men. I tried to strike his men with sae, which is one of the things I've been working on. We had a small discussion during jigeiko and he encouraged me by asking me to "take this to the next level". I'm so lucky to have such good senseis! *sniff*

About semete-men: Fukuda sensei also gave me a very good pointer about hand and arms positioning while executing the cut. He said that keeping center is of course important, but it's also important not to extent the arms until the very last minute, right before the strike itself. Imagine this, one applies seme, moves in but still keeping hands at tanden as per chudan-no-kamae, finally extending the arms for the strike in time with the fumikomi. As Takeshi pointed out to me after the training, keeping center and keeping hands at chudan are important so as not to allow opponent to strike debana kote. If you keep proper chudan, the opponent would have to deviate from his/her center so as to be able to strike your kote. That's point #1. Point #2 is the extension of the arms - it also provides momentum for the drive because of the shift in balance.


We finally watched Million Dollar Baby last night. Eventhough I'm touched and motivated by the message in the movie, I'm inspired even more by the slogan on the wall of the gym which says: winners are simply willing to do things losers won't! BAM! Deep inside winners, like Clint Eastwood said in the movie, is a heart - the heart which gives them the desire, the want and the need, to excel. To excel, one needs to go the extra mile. I will always keep these in mind.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Seme 攻め

Wednesday (20th April 2005), SKC:

My foot is about 90%. It's been a week since I'd injured it. I still feel pain whenever I put weight on the right heel, but it's getting better.

I had the privilege of doing jigeiko with Payne sensei (and to a lesser extent, Fukuda sensei). In 30 mins, I only get to do just 1 long jigeiko with Payne sensei and it was worth it. Like any other sensei, he doesn't open if you don't break his center. Instead of wild attacks, I focused on getting good ippons. As I progress in kendo, it became clearer to me how important seme is. People talk about setting up cuts etc, but without seme, there'd be no success.

Seme could mean alot of things, as there are many elements in seme. Kigurai, ki, a live kensen etc are all part of seme. To me, at my level, keeping center is of course a prime consideration, but more importantly, I feel that I should focus on (1) ki, and (2) footwork. Accordingly, in my jigeiko against sensei, I used footwork and ki as basis for my seme.

I'm not entirely sure if my seme has improved, but I feel that it's much easier to initiate a cut after seme. I focused my footwork to adjust maai and to advance. When I got into range I tried 1-step uchiotoshi men. Sometimes I wasn't successful against Payne sensei if I didn't execute uchiotoshi properly, and ended up impaling myself. But I was not discouraged - try and try again. Self-impalation is also a good sutemi exercise! I also used this jigeiko to concentrate less on fumikomi and more on suri-ashi. All in all, it was an excellent jigeiko, eventhough sensei got my kote 3000 times in a row!

The Han Rim Won competition is coming up (May 14th) but my mind isn't focused on that right now. "Now" is all about working on the things that I want to improve on, train, polish and so on. Slowly, but surely, I will improve.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Blessings in disguise

At last Saturday’s training, my right heel felt tender still but it was getting better. Catherine estimated that I was 75% to 80% (how did she get those numbers I wonder). In any case, due to the injury to my right heel, fumikomi-ashi was out of the question. I had no other choice but to focus on executing cuts with suri-ashi.

Incredibly, I found that I was able to reach further with suri-ashi, and I was definitely more relaxed as well. Perhaps I was lifting my right foot too much before, thereby compromising distance and wasting energy. I did mostly men cuts as I practised it more. Interestingly, if my heel hadn’t been injured, I wouldn’t have discovered that! The Kendo Gods are definitely looking out for me.

Other thing I want to work on is the snap at the end of the cut. Sano sensei been making fun of my soft cuts (or cuts that don’t land because I applied too much “brake”). He means well though, so I have to work hard on this as well.

So many things to work on, but hey, I’ve got a lifetime don’t I? ;)

I’m in my last 3 months of my PhD thesis, so I may not be able to practise more than twice per week. It pains me to think that I have to restrain myself from kendo practices, but I have to get my priorities right. For now, I have to concentrate on the doctoral thesis. I want to graduate!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Back to Kihon...

Interestingly, Payne sensei picked me to instruct the beginners last Saturday. I have no idea why, as there were many other kendoka more qualified than me for the job. It was good though to slow down and think about kihon, especially in regards to footwork.

4 days later, I bruised my right heel on the concrete floor at Channel 9's TV studio where we did a 6 mins segment on Mornings with Kerry-Anne. I did go for training that evening, but had to resort to assisting Doug with the beginners (we did kata). Towards the end, I spent sometime doing forward ashi-sabaki along the length of the dojo. Itakura sensei saw me doing it and offered a pointer to me: try taking smaller steps. I don't bop up and down that way. Sure enough, I noticed a decrease in kensen movements.

I miss the full kendo training. Let's hope my heel heals well enough for tomorrow's keiko!

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Lightbulb moments, improvements and kendo mates

A few weeks ago, there was a thread on Kendo World about lightbulb moments. I have a big lightbulb moment, however, I didn't share it in that thread because, for some reason, the timing didn't feel right. My most memorable lightbulb moment came not at keiko but at my first individual shiai. In terms of my kendo, it was life changing.

Months leading up to the shiai, the only other people I'd ever practised with were my seniors. I don't recall ever doing a jigeiko with mates of the same rank, or those my junior for that matter. Of course, doing jigeiko with seniors is hard (that's the point!). They don't show openings, at least not intentionally. I was at a stage when I was still discovering my kendo (only been in bogu slightly more than 6 months at that time), so half the time I didn't know what to do in jigeiko. All I ever tried to do was to initiate attacks and execute them with sutemi, as per Strenger sensei's advice.

The Moo Doo Kwan tournament was held on October 9, 2004, and that was the first time in absolute eon that I'd ever been partnered with people of similar rank. I competed in the 6th to 4th kyu category, being a 6th kyu at that time. My only goal at the shiai was to try my best, and to show ki. My plan was to kiai as loudly as possible after sonkyo lol and try my best after. Anyway, from the first match onward, it dawned on me how many openings were visible to me. In the next few matches, all I did was spot the openings and went for men cuts. Rinse and repeat. Being able to "see" was such a special moment for me, and I'll never forget it. My friend Jackson calls it the "enlightenment". I played 6 matches in total that day, including the final. Up to the final, I'd played 5 matches, conceded 0 cuts and scored 10 ippons (2 in each match, 9 men 1 debana kote). I lost to my fellow dojo-mate and senpai Jayson Chaplin in the final who outplayed me in every fashion. Though the placing was a total surprice, albeit a pleasant one, I treasure that special moment even more. Whenever I see that runner-up medal, all I ever think about is my lightbulb moment, and it'll guarantee a smile on my face.

Up til recently, I've never seen the videos of my matches simply because I didn't know who has them. At the Australian Nationals, Dino showed me the match between us in the semi-final. The exposure was abit on the dark side so it wasn't really clear. After the nationals, I discovered that Vivian has videos of my matches! She lent it to me last Sat and I didn't touch it until yesterday. You see, I was, for the lack of a better word, afraid to watch the DVD. That day was indeed magical, and I know I'd done well. I was afraid to view it because I wasn't sure whether my kendo was better then (flawed logic I know). 6 months after the shiai, and after many keiko (including those many squad trainings), to find out that my kendo is worse off now would indeed be heart-breaking. Anyway, I bit my tongue and watched it.

Ha! Geez...was I THAT slow 6 months ago?! At times it's almost painful to watch. Perhaps the feelings I felt on that day was special because of what happened. I realise that I've now moved on in pursuit of better ippons. All in all, I'm very relieved after seeing those matches - it goes to show that my kendo has improved 6 months later. Yay!

If you want to see whether you've improved, the best way is to watch a shiai or keiko from the past. Sometimes I don't feel like I've improved. Heck, at one stage I actually believed that the more I trained, the worse I became. I suppose, at the end, one's kendo is improving without one realising it. As long as one goes for keiko, one is almost guaranteed to improve. Perhaps slowly, but SURELY.

I noticed that my opponents in the shiai have also improved too. In fact, 3 of them, Dino, Chris and Jayson, as well as myself, are all sankyu now. Chris and Jayson are from my dojo, and I do often keiko with both of them. I learned alot from them: Chris's tai-atari is absolute gut-wrenching (he did that to me just last night), Jayson's men is fast and Dino has nice reach. For me, the single most improved cut is definitely kote (thanks Master Kim!). There are other sankyu as well, such as Adam, Anna and Gavin. I look forward to walking the kendo path with them as we progress together.

By the way, I've linked up quite a few kendo blogs. You can find them at the right hand side.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

It's raining men!

Well well I said in the previous post, life goes back to normal after the Nationals. The dojo was quite packed out today, with good attendance from the yudansha group, including our visiting sensei Masaru and a visiting yondan, Takeshi (I think that's his name). Cath and our newest yondan, Yoshi, were there too, along with Isaac, Doug, Taek, Vivian, Michael and Sano sensei. Nothing inspires me more than to see these people all in the same place! Their presence made me want to do better kendo! I was able to train all out knowing that there is no NSW squad training afterwards (we get to go for a proper lunch instead). The attention shifted from shiai-kendo to focussing on self-improvements.

Today's focus was MEN. I want to "re-discover" men strikes by focussing on the hara and footwork. I practised striking men using the hara with a big push and a horizontal footwork action as much as possible. I tied my obi a little tigher so as to constantly remind myself. In the first few jigeiko, I confused myself by thinking too much about it. Isaac sorta guessed correctly what I'd been trying to do by observing my jigeiko, and gave me a few pointers, such as the importance of holding center even while doing a men cut, and again the emphasis on using the hara. Things started to get better when I practised against Cath. I concentrated on pushing with the hara and didn't really cared what my hand movements were - and they all began to come together. At one stage I was almost doing suri-ashi with the men cuts. Cath remarked that there were nothing wrong in regards to the speed and reach of my men cuts. Of course I'm still not as quick as Jayson. Fortunately, speed will come with experience, Isaac said.

I hope to do men cuts with a POW one day. Explosive kendo indeed.