Travelling to Ballarat
The Australian Squad Training was held in Ballarat last weekend. It was one of the 4 - 5 training weekends per year designed to get the group of aspiring Australian Kendo team representatives to practice high quality kendo in preparation for the 2006 World Kendo Championships (WKC). The next WKC will be held in Taiwan in December 2006.
Back to the Aust squad training weekend. The actual training session was scheduled to start at 10am on Saturday, but my kendo 'battle' started waaaaaaaaay before that, having to wake up at 3:30am for a 5am flight check-in to catch the 6am Qantas flight which arrived to Melbourne at 7.20am. I wasn't alone in waking up way before the crack of dawn. Sano sensei, Master Kim, Jimmy and Michael also caught the earliest Qantas flight of the day. I fared pretty well compared to my fellow kendoka in getting the most sleep - a good 8 hours compared to Sano sensei's and Mike's 3 hours(??!!) sleep. Not surprisingly, Mike slept all the way to Melbourne, waking up only for the on-flight breakfast.
We picked up our Blue Ford Falcon at the Melbourne airport and drove off at 8am, 106km from Ballarat. At around 9.15am, we stopped by a McDonald's along the M8 motorway for some more breakfast and was met by several other kendoka from NSW and Victoria. From there to Ballarat, there were 36km between them. So we predicted that there would be another 15 minutes drive. We left McDonald's at 9.25am and continuous our journey. When we turned off at the Ballarat motorway exit, it was 9.40am. Theoretically, that should be enough time to get us ready for the 10am start. But in reality, things were different. We were lost in direction. Having no clues of where the Eastwood Leisure Complex was located. We asked a couple of locals but they didn't know either. At last, Jimmy and I found out the direction from a young delivery truck driver from 'The Good Guy'. It was 9.50am. Turn right at Peel Street. Straight ahead at the light. Go pass the speed hump. There's the kindergarten. Yes, it's Eastwood Street. Finally, we could see the Eastwood Leisure Complex.
By the time we walked into the dojo, Brett Smith - the Team Coach, and all the other kendoka were ready to start. Brett gave us a final 2 minutes warning to get ourselves prepared. There's no way I could undress, and put on my gi, hakama, contact lenses, and bogu and be ready to go in 2 minutes. Fear ran through my body as the thought of being late and the type of punishment we had seen and experienced in the other squad training re-surfaced to me. Luckily, we were saved by a nice Brett.The Training
The focus of this weekend's training was not so much on the physical side of kendo, but more on the mental aspects. During the weekend, Brett Smith emphasised the importance of forging a connection with your opponent. He detested the slash and bash kendo, the kind of kendo that depends on quickness, and constant repetition of techniques until a valid one was landed. Rather than exhausting your energy in playing irrational kendo, he said we should aim to make each cut a perfect and effective cut. We should set-up the point, look for the right opportunity and launch the attack. And that, I thought, was what constituted a 'rational' cut - the type of cut that you could show full intention and committment to the shinpan. As Brett concluded at the end of the weekend, we should strive to play 'rifle' kendo, not 'machine-gun' kendo.
Yakov Macak sensei visited and observed the squad training on Sunday. He made a comment about the importance of hasuji - cutting at the correct angle or correct flight of path. To execute a perfect scoring cut, we must check that we cut with the correct part of the shinai and at the correct cutting angle.
During the weekend, we went through a variety of training method. Amongst them, I found the '3 attacks only' training method very interesting. The idea was this: you and your opponent were given 3 attacking opportunities each. You could execute whatever attacking waza you liked in those 3 attacking opportunities. You could do ni-dan or even san-dan waza if you wished to, but that would mean using two or three attacking opportunities respectively. Once you exhausted your ammunition, you could only defend but not attack.
I found this training method required very intensed concentration and awareness of attacking the opponent's centre-line while defending my own. Here, there's definitely no room for the slash and bash type of kendo as we were given only 3 attacking opportunities in each match. During those 3-attack matches, I could really practice seme and at the same time feel my opponent's seme at his or her best. The quality of those 3-attack matches were really high.
I played Sano sensei at the last of those 3-attack matches. I had to say I couldn't withstand Sano sensei's seme. In our first attacks, we both went for aiuchi-men. Then each of us did another attack but I could not quite remember what they were. The last of my 3 attacks, Sano sensei applied really strong seme and my kamae wavered. I thought he must be planning to attack soon. I thought if I didn't act, he would come for cut. So I was lured into attack even though the opportunity wasn't there, and of course, I was easily blocked by Sano sensei, wasting my last attacking opportunity. From this match, I could feel that Sano sensei had a much stronger seme than mine and I was affected by his actions. What I should have done was to hold my composure, to hold my centre-line, keep calm, and above all, work with my own plan instead of succumbing to Sano sensei's seme and make irrational attack.
Takashi had been helping me to fix the leaning forward problem in cutting. He asked me to tsuki him during one of the technique sessions when we could choose our own technique to practice. After executing a few tsuki, the feeling of pushing my hip forward stayed with me and I was able to do a good-postured men-cut. Hmm... it's time for me to start practice tsuki.
Takashi also pointed out that I was lifting the shinai up after completing a strike. I should maintain correct posture after the strike, so that I could launch another strike if necessary. I think this boiled down to showing good zanshin after the cut.
The Aust Squad had a special warm-up routine that we went through at each training session. Brett asked everyone to learn the routine by heart, so that at the next squad training everyone should know it back to front.
So just in case I forget by the time I go for the next Aust squad training, here is the Aust Squad warm-up routine:
- 3 men cuts, twice. 3 rotations
- 3 kote cuts, twice. 2 rotations
- 3 kote-men, once. 2 rotations
- 1 set of tsubazerai routine. 2 rotations (starting from tsubazerai, hiki-men, men, men-hiki-men, men)
- shiai-geiko. 2 rotations
Both training days ended with jigeiko. I played Chiaki Kobayashi, Hayami Aboutaleb and Claire Chan in the Saturday jigeiko session. I was privileged to be the last person to play Brett Smith in Sunday's jigeikko session. Although the jigeiko with Brett was short because of the limited time and the number of people before me queuing to play him, Brett pointed out two things about my kendo:
- I should push with my whole body forward. Aiyor, another sensei pointed out the same problem that seemed to be bugging me on and on and on... He said if I push my body forward, my kendo would become much stronger.
- Don't bounce too much. Brett said I was bouncing up and down too much during the jigeiko. I guessed I was extra bouncy in that jigeiko because I was very excited to play against Brett. The excitement made me go bouncing crazy.
Another important thing that Brett told me was that I wasn't showing enough zanshin after my men cut. I was too relaxed when I turned around, which showed no zanshin and was very vunerable to my opponent's follow-up attack. What I should do now to correct this problem was to take a few more steps forward after the cut before turning around, plus hold my kamae and show strong zanshin. If I can maintain a strong physical posture followed by an unrelenting mental posture after an attack, my opponent will be unable to follow up with anything. That is what I should be aspiring to. True zanshin is born through maintaining an unbreakable physical and mental presence and alertness.
Thinking about it now, I think the All Japan Kendo Championships is a very good example. In AJKC, when a player scored a valid cut, they took a few more steps to follow through, then turn around to face the opponent and hold super strong chudan no kamae. That's what good zanshin was supposed to look like.Conclusion
- Keep working on pushing from the hip
- Show good zanshin with good physical and mental posture
- Don't bounce too much
- Experiment with seme. Don't waver under opponent's seme.
- Hasuji - cut with correct flight of path
- Set-up --> create opportunity --> attack