a MMB! Kendo Blog: June 2005

MMB! Kendo Blog

Sunday, June 26, 2005

忍耐 + 掌握人生
Learning By Teaching

The flu stayed with me. I was coughing and sneezing really badly on Friday night, and my dad urged me to stay at home the next morning to take more rest. But I just hated the idea of skipping training altogether. Although I could not join in the vigorous training in bogu, I still got the ability to help the beginners to improve their kendo. There were always something for me to do and to learn in the dojo whether or not I was in bogu. So I went to yesterday's morning training and took the beginner class.

We started off with suburi practice. I was very pleased to see that their footwork has improved. They all remembered those little points I brought up on Wednesday night.

We then did some kihon-men pair-up exercises. Again, it was generally very well done. I only need to occassionally remind them to make sure them to use sliding footwork, especially the right foot.

We then moved on to practice the full kihon-men routine - from setting up the distance, to cutting and passing through. In this exercise, the focus was on the hand-foot coordination. The points I tried to emphasise to the beginners were:
  • issoku-ito-no-maai, or one-step one-cut;
  • fumikomi and cut should land at the same time.

To make sure the beginners execute issoku-ito-no-maai, instead of shuffling the feet or taking multiple small steps before launching into a cut, I asked them to move into distance first. When they were in the position to cut the target in one step, I asked them to lift the shinai up and hold for half a second before making the cut.

The reason I asked them to lift the shinai up first and hold for half a second was because their shinai swing was generally not fast enough to catch up with the foot. The foot tended to land earlier than the cut, which made the attack looked uncoordinated.

With the shinai already up and ready to swing down, it was much easier to get the shinai to land at the same time when the right foot stamped on the floor. This allowed me to show the beginners the ideas about timing and relationship between the cut and right foot.

Fumikomi was the kind of thing that was hard to explain and could only get better by repeatingly trialling and practicing until the right feelings come. So I let everyone practice by themselves and experiment with fumikomi for about 5 minutes.

After that, we made one line again and practice kihon-kote-men. This time, one of the more advanced beginners would put on the kote and experienced being a motodachi, learning how to open the kote and receive kote cuts from other beginners. I think it was a good idea to let the more experienced beginners to receive kote cuts, as they could then understand why the sensei always tell them not to use excessive blunt force to cut. Bruised wrist and forearm were definitely not something that any of us would like to get from beginners in bogu.

In the last 30 minutes, the beginner class was splitted up into pairs and practiced kiri-kaeshi.

I have made a small breakthrough in getting the 4-year-old's interest towards the end of the training session. I found that he liked to hit the actual targets on bogu. If he gets to hit and run around, that would be even better. So in the full kihon-kote-men exercise where real dummies were used (i.e. one beginner with kote protector on, and myself in full bogu), I could see he got very excited. It was so nice and sort of relieved for me to see that he was happy and enjoying the exercise at the end. Man, I have to say you need a PhD to teach a 4-year-old kid.

Anyway, below is a photo of people in my bowling lane taken at the Sydney Kendo Club's Disco Bowling event last night.

Back Row: (L-R) Mark Szewczyk, John Hsu, Onodera sensei, Donny Chien, Karl Szewczyk
Front Row: Me!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

忍耐 + 掌握人生
Teaching is Rewarding

I was feeling slightly better but still wasn't in the position to engage in vigorous training. My dry throat would prevent me from doing any loud kiai, and kendo without kiai is just... strange.

Instead of training in the advanced class tonight in Willoughby, I volunteered to take the beginners. To be honest, I really enjoy teaching. There is nothing more rewarding than watching the beginners improve, and seeing them taking a greater understanding on the basic elements in Kendo.

For basic elements, I mean footwork and how to swing a shinai. They are very basic and fundamental things, but that doesn't mean they are simple and easy to do. For me, it was only in the last few months that I started using my left foot correctly and understand more deeply as to what constitute a good kamae.

For any beginners, naturally they would pay more attention to the arms and upper body actions instead of footwork. That's because the arms hold the sword, swings the sword, twirls the sword, and makes various other sword movements, whereas the legs are "merely" there to support the body. Well, that's my guess on what the beginners would tend to think anyway, but I guess my guess couldn't go too wrong.

Footworks and Hand-Foot Coordinations
The beginner class (7 people) I took tonight had a good grasp of how to swing a shinai. The upper body movements were generally good. However, I identified that footwork and hand-foot coordination still needed some improvements.

The most common footwork problems were:
  • Left heel was flat on the floor, instead of slightly elevated;
  • Foot stance was too narrow;
  • Sliding footwork was commonly neglected;
  • Weight distribution was too biased to the right front foot; which results in
  • Not enough pushing power from the left rear foot.

So we did a lot of footwork up and down the width of the dojo in groups, as well as practicing kihon-men on me (I was in full bogu) one-by-one. I gave more general comments on the more common mistakes when practicing in groups, whereas more specific one-on-one feedbacks were given during the one-on-one rotations.

Oh, one thing I like to mention... I was planning for how I should take the beginner class during the day and I thought the beginners would probably be excited to hit a real dummy in full bogu, rather than a shinai. So I tried out this idea this evening. Oh wow, what an encouraging response from the young kid when I announced that each of them would be able to practice 20 men cuts on me. The kid exclaimed 'Oh COOL!' and all the beginners took turn to execute 20 men cuts on me enthusiastically. Glad that they weren't too carried away with their excitement or else my head would suffer. All credits to them. They did very nice kihon-men cuts.

For improving the hand-foot coordination, we did a few sets of kihon-men executed in full lunges across the width of the dojo. This exercise clearly showed everyone that the right foot and arms should start moving at the same time, instead of foot first and hand next, or hand first and foot next, as commonly seen amongst beginners.

After a few rounds of these full lunges kihon-men exercises, I could see a vast improvement in their hand-foot coordination when they executed kihon-men on me in the one-on-one rotations.

We only did kihon-men, kihon-kote and kihon-kote-men, but there were already enough things for them to focus on, so there was no need to introduce kihon-do and distract them from practicing straight cuts.

In the last 15 minutes, I splitted the beginner class up further. The 6 beginners who have done kirikaeshi in other training sessions before made pairs to practice kirikaeshi and other things they wish to practice on. And for me, I put my attention to the one beginner who joined our club last Saturday and introduced him to kirikaeshi for the first time. I like teaching beginners kirikaeshi because, personally, I think kirikaeshi looks cool, and it should make beginner practice a bit more challenging.

This new beginner's name was Timothy Stephens. I know it was a bit too early to say, but I reckon he got tremendous potentials to become a kendo champion. He has got superb hand-foot coordination, very quick on learning new things. A common problem with beginners is that they tend to rush the exercise, thinking that fast means good. But not with this youngster. He got the right mindset of focusing on doing each exercise correctly instead of quickly. A real potential to watch out for. Hopefully, he will stay in kendo for the long-term. Oh, btw, he has been playing Western fencing at national and international levels and was two times Australian Champion in his age group. So my prediction of him becoming a future Kendo champion was not without base.

After the training session, some beginners came around to rei and say thank you for the training session, which was so nice. For me, the best thing was to hear that they have learnt about the shortcomings of their footwork and, instead of avoiding the problems, they acknowledged and came to seek advice on how to improve on the footwork. It was so encouraging to see the beginners were so motivated to improve their own kendo.

Let's bring up our future hopefuls!

Monday, June 20, 2005

忍耐 + 掌握人生
My New Kote and Shinai

My throat was very dry in the early morning hours, but I was still planning to go to tonight's training in Pyrmont at that time... until this afternoon. Not only had I got a very dry sore throat, but a congested and runny nose as well. My eyes were watering and my ears were blocked. I just had to stay home to rest myself.

Although I cannot write about tonight's training, there is another thing I would like to write about. My new kote and shinai have arrived from Koei Budogu!

1.2bu 武聖 (#06-370)

As shown above, this is my new 1.2bu 武聖 kote from Koei Budogu.

I have tried the kote on and it is really comfortable. The wrist part of the kote allows me to rotate the shinai freely. The forearm section of the kote is so nicely and tightly stitched that I don't have to worry about receiving kote blows from hard-hitters. The knuckle parts are full of soft padding it feels so nice and safe.

I am looking forward to putting the new pair of kote on.

Above is a comparison of my new pair of kote from Koei Budogu (top), and my first and existing pair of 1.2bu kote from Tozando (below).

I will use both kote interchangeably from now on, so that both pairs of kote are given time to air and dry.

Kyoto Matake Shinai (Large-handle style) - 京都真竹(柄太型)
I have purchased two Kyoto matake shinai of the large-handle style as well. The first time I took a grip on the handle, my gosh, it was huge! Each of the four bamboo slats were super-sized. They were so thick.

I trained with the new shinai last Saturday. At first, the large grip felt pretty weird. However, after some time it felt really good. The balance was spot on. Also, using this shinai to cut kote was absolutely beautiful. It got the most wonderful, nice PAMMMM sound on the kote I have made!! Such music to the ears. Due to the size and thickness of the shinai, my men cuts also became very powerful. No more light and if-or-but men-ari. If my shinai landed on the men, you could see and hear that the cut made were definitely of ippon-quality.

Top: My favourite shinai used only at shiai. I first used it at the 2003 NSW State Championships and it won me my first podium position in a state Kendo event. It is still serving me extremely well at the moment. It got the best weight and balance.

Middle: My new Kyoto matake shinai. Excellent weight and balance. Note the huge slat and handle.

Bottom: Just another shinai I used at training. Nothing really special about it.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

忍耐 + 掌握人生
My Kendo is Back

I love it! I absolutely and thoroughly enjoyed tonight's training. That great kendo feeling was back again.

I was so full of energy that tonight's training session seemed shorter than it was. I really could go on and do a few more hours of kendo. Oh, it was so fantastic to be able to train hard again.

Yes, yes, yes! No more consecutive 8:30am - 9:30pm workdays. The immensed pressure to get assignments done within a challenging timeframe, and at one time, putting my own bonus package on the line are now truely over. Yes! It's finally over! I can finally breath again. The events in the past few weeks have made me realise how precious and fortunate it is to be able to have good health to go to training. That's why I am so happy now. Kendo is back!

I went to UNSW training tonight. I arrived to the training a bit late because I had to rush home from work (I still got calls from work when I was on the train going home) and drove to UNSW after a quick dinner. At the entrance to the dojo, my brain was asking me if I was really sure I wanted to train. Do I really want to put myself into this? While in deep thought walking into the dojo, I tried to be as quiet and non-disruptive as possible while the class was doing group stretching. I didn't notice that everyone was actually watching me when I walked in. Then Kirby called out "Hi Vivian", then Yoshiki and Jackson also said "Hello Vivian". And then the rest of class who just finished stretching turned to look at me. It was pretty embarrassing getting everyone's attention like this. Oh, I need to get myself ready quickly.

By the time I was ready, I have missed part of the suburi session, but still in time for the 100 hayasuburi. Then we put on our men and kote, and did 5 rounds of kirikaeshi along the length of the dojo. Afterwards, we made two lines and went straight into 10 rounds of uchikomi-geiko. Followed by 5 more rounds of 2-breath only uchikomi-geiko. Although I was breathless at the end of that 2-breath only uchikomi-geiko, I really enjoyed it. It's tough on the body, but it quickly brought up the adrenalin level in me. I felt so pumped up. It felt so good!

We then moved into a short waza-focused session. Today it was on kote-nuki-men. Based on the 1-2-3 timing and doing it slowly at the first two rounds of practice, my body was able to execute this waza in full speed in the third round of practice which was with Dino. All four nuki-men cut landed solidly.

Correct Distance: Kote-Nuki-Men
Kirby then told the class to move into a more realistic kote-nuki-men practice where both sides would apply seme and launch kote-cut at the right opportunity. I paired with Kirby in the first round of the seme kote-nuki-men practice. In my first attempt, Kirby told me that the cutting distance was too close. So I put extra attention to the cutting distance to the subsequent cuts and they all landed beautifully, which was very encouraging.

After one more round of kote-nuki-men, we moved on to mawari-geiko. After playing a few rounds of mawari-geiko, I finally rotated to play Jackson. The prospect of playing jigeiko against Jackson instantly made me pumped up. I knew I had to play my best if I want to execute good cuts against Jackson and be able to stay on when Jackson executed "the Great Wall of Jackson" taitari. My left foot was serving me well. I was able to launch into cut with one movement. I was also able to match Jackson in tsubazerai situation and made a good hiki-men cut.

It was from the Jackson's jigeiko onwards that I really felt alive. We went on to do a few more rounds of jigeiko until Sano sensei arrived to the dojo. Sano sensei introduced a men-cut only one-point 30-second shiai. Winner would be promoted up to the further side of the dojo, while loser would move down one spot plus having to do a 5 seconds kakari-geiko. I had some wins and losses plus heaps of draws. It was really fun to do so much kendo in such a short space of time. And everyone was really giving their best shots in each of the matches, so I was able to really enjoy the exciting kendo.

If only the training could run longer... I am looking forward to the Saturday training!

Saturday, June 11, 2005

忍耐 + 掌握人生
Lifting Out Of Kendo Doldrums

Today I finally had the chance to sweep away the week-long kendo dust and put on my kendo gear after a busy, hectic, stressful, straining week at work, pushing to meet demanding project deadline.

I finished work at 9pm last night, caught a cab home, relaxed for a while, then went straight to bed at 10:30pm. Woohoo!! I achieved the "sleep-early-on-Friday-night" goal I set myself last weekend. It was so easy getting up this morning. I got out of bed before the alarm set off. I felt so light, so free. It's finally the Queen's Birthday long weekend. There were no more work obligations I needed to worry about. I could finally go off and do things I enjoy the most - kendo and meeting friends in a relax and casual way.

There were about 40-50 people training today. After stretching, suburi and ashi-sabaki practices, those with bogu put their men and kote on. The whole class, including the non-bogu beginners, made 5 lines against the 5 motodachi. The lines were really long and so there weren't that much cutting opportunities and most of the time was waiting. We practiced the basics today - kirikaeshi, kihon-men, kote-men and uchikomi-geiko.

In the kihon-men practice, I had trouble doing the most basic kendo cut. It was really worrying when my first kihon-men cut missed an absolutely opened target. The shinai slid off the motodachi's men. Goodness heaven. What's wrong with me? I couldn't believe myself with that horribly wrong men-cut. I really couldn't believe it. You wouldn't believe how much effort and concentration I had to put in to my second kihon-men cut. It was so difficult. I had never found doing a men-cut to be so difficult before. It was a relieved when the second men-cut landed on the target.

Slowly, I found my basics back. However, it will take many more frequent training practices to get my kendo back to my peak where I can really enjoy the more exciting elements of kendo.

I had three jigeiko today with Cath, Sano sensei and Yoshiyuki. I didn't set myself a specific waza to practice on today. I just want to let my body get used to kendo again - concentrating on the absolute basics, such as foot movement, hand position, focused-mind, and be able to make a hand-foot coordinated strike.

Attack After Making an Attack
Yoshiyuki gave me some good advices on attacking opportunties during the jigeiko. He observed that, at the moment, I was doing one cut, then pass-thru, then back to chudan-no-kamae, before looking for the next attacking opportunity. The time between actively looking for attacking opportunities was too long.

He said that when I passed through my opponent after my first cut was blocked, I should maintain high alertness of whether my opponent's targets were opened just after he blocked my attack. If the opportunity presents, I should instantly make a follow-up close-distance strike, almost like a hiki-waza itself.

I hope my kendo life will get back to normal after the bank's next Thursday's CRM system Release 9.0. I want to play kendo and I want to feel comfortable with my kendo again.

I really miss the energetic, kendo-craving Me.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

忍耐 + 掌握人生
Wanted: Kendo Mood-swing Firewall

Every weekday, I always look forward to Saturday. Not only because it is weekend, but also because I like kendo training on Saturday morning. On Saturday, there is no need to catch the peak-hour train home from work, rush to eat dinner, pack the kendo gear, and then rush to wherever the training is on for that particular weeknight. I can feel much more relaxed and focused on kendo on Saturday.

Last night, I was really looking forward to today's kendo training. I could feel my adrenalin pumping through my body just with the thought of kendo training. I was telling myself to go to sleep early last night so that I wouldn't need to struggle to wake up the next morning.

I was still next to the computer at 1am. The reason? To get rid of the very annoying malware that has been annoying me for about two months. When I opened the Internet Explorer, an Aurora advertisement would pop-up. I tell you, it was so bloody annoying. I spent the whole night trying to clean out cache/temp files, run Spyware/Adware scans, antivirus scans, get Windows update, etc... I tried to complete as much as possible, but it was just too much to do for one night. So when my eyelids were half-shut, I told myself that it was really time to go to sleep. By that time, my adrenalin was running low. Argh, I have let the stupid intrusive browser pop-ups affect and control my kendo mood. Bloody unkind pop-ups!

Anyway, I eventually got rid of the Aurora pop-ups completely tonight. After running so many different type of scans, clean-ups and updates, my computer is now super clean and fresh. So I guess this annoying Aurora pop-ups have helped me in a way to make the effort to install and update all the scans and clean-up in my computer.

Btw, if you have any malware you want to get rid of, the Geeks To Go Forum is extremely helpful.

Okay, back to KENDO.

I dragged my adrenalin-flat body out of bed to this morning kendo training at Willoughby. After doing warm-up stretching, suburi, ashi-sabaki and without-bogu kihon-waza practice, I was one of four motodachi to hold the shinai for the 30+ others to practice kihon-men, kote and do cuts. Everything is normal, except I just couldn't help but smiled when this really cute 3 years old little Japanese kid trying to do the kihon waza. I don't know if he had any ideas why he was in the dojo besides the fact that his mum and his slightly older brother were there too. For some strange reason, this cute little Japanese kid reminds me of Totoro. Ah, he is SOOOOOOO CUTE!
In the waza session, I had Kirby as motodachi. Today's waza session was more stamina-intensive than waza-focused. We did kiri-kaeshi, kote-men, kihon-doh, uchikomi-geiko plus a set of kiri-kaeshi, and kakari-geiko plus a set of kiri-kaeshi. Then we were off to jigeiko session.

There was a new Japanese visitor at today's training. From what Jayson Chaplin told me, she is a 4th dan and plays really good kendo. I later found out that her name is Kana Amano. She will stay in Australia for one year. And yes, she will be able to play for Sydney Kendo Club in the Founders Cup. YAY!!!!

Kirby was so fast today. Not that he was not fast in the other days, but today, I felt totally overwhelmed. Kirby kept showering attacks after attacks on me, and all I could do was defence. I didn't have time to hold my kamae properly and Kirby would come for another cut. I was super slow compared to Kirby. The jigeiko ended with Kirby landed a men cut in ippon-shobu.

After catching my breath while lining up for Sano sensei, I think I did better in that jigeiko. I didn't have to worry too much about the frequency of being attacked. Sano sensei and I both worked in from chudan no kamae, applied seme to try an control the chusen and create openings for attack. I really enjoyed this type of kendo. I think eventually I will get to Kirby's speed when I become more proficient in seme and taking the chusen. But for now, I am happy to practice these slowly and experience the feeling of doing all these things correctly.

I could feel that Sano sensei was allowing me to practice on making attacking opportunities. For a while, I was sort of repeating the same attack again and again. Obviously repetition of the same thing won't get me a point. So I decided to try katsugi-waza. BAM!! It landed a good men cut on Sano sensei. And so the jigeiko ended.

Next, I played Cath. In this particular jigeiko, I was trying to practice lifting the shinai as close to the chusen as possible when going for men cut, and also aiming to do good one-step one-cut waza. In ippon-shobu, I scored a tobikomi-men on Cath to finish the jigeiko. One thing I still need to work on when I played Cath is that, I must protect myself after completing a cut. Cath is really good at followed-up attack.

After Cath was jigeiko with Kana Amano. Kana was very good at doing the fake-do, then men hiki-waza. She landed a couple of very beautiful ippons on me using that waza. Another of her favourites was debana-kote. We played for about 5mins and finished with ippon-shobu. I landed the second katsugi-men to take the final ippon.

With about 2 minutes till the end of the training session. Dino and I played for ippon-shobu. I scored a tobikomi-men in my very first cut. It was too quick to end so we basically carried on the jigeiko. I think we did about 3 more cuts and that was the end of the training session.

My goal for next Friday night - SLEEP EARLY!