Oh, every part of my body is aching. My foot, my calves, my thighs, my arms, my shoulder and my neck are all aching. I love it!
I love how my body is aching. Really, I like it. It brings me the wonderful memory of how hard I pushed myself physically and mentally in the National Squad Training in Brisbane on the weekend. The training was very intense, of high quality and calibre. Although the participant number was down from previous squad trainings, it was met with a group of keen kendoka who have certainly thrown themselves completely into the training.SATURDAYNo Sword School
I woke up at 4am on Saturday morning and left the house at 5:10am for the 7am Virgin Blue flight from Sydney to Brisbane. The drive to the airport was quite quick in the early morning. It only took 40mins to reach the airport. However, just when I was about 5 mins drive from the airport, I realised that I forgot to take something - the shinai bag!
Oh my heaven! How could I forget the shinai bag. I have never ever forget to take anything to kendo training. I was shocked about myself. How could I go to the National Kendo Squad Training without a shinai. It was 5:40am when I made the unpleasant discovery. My dad, who kindly drove me to the airport, asked me if I want to turn back to collect the shinai. However, I knew if we turned back to get the shinai bag and drove again to the airport, I might run the risk of missing my plane and be late for training if I board the subsequent flight. So we pressed ahead to the airport, without the shinai bag.
I was one of the earliest people to check-in and so I could choose the aisle seat in the first passenger row of the plane. I did a bit of reading while waiting in the departure lounge and just after boarding the plane. When the engine started roaming, I felt very sleepy and slept all the way to Brisbane.Sunny Brisbane
When I woke up, I was met with beautiful Brisbane weather. It's sunny and warm. The weather couldn't get any better.
I caught a cab to the Wynnum PCYC, arriving there at 9:25am. When I arrived, I was met by Kate Sylvester. We had a good catch-up and chat about Nittaidai. Then I told her about my mishap with the shinai bag. Just then, Brett Smith emerged from the dojo and Kate asked Brett 'what's the penalty for someone who forgot to bring their shinai?'. Brett gave a sly smile, so eerie that I was fearing what he had in his mind. I told Brett that I was from the 'No Sword School', hoping to diverse his mind off from his bag of punishment tricks. 'Ah, Vivian. We'll see,' and he walked back into the dojo. Argh...
Anyway, I was kindly given a shinai by Hayami, and a tsubadome and a tsuba from Sharyn. It later turned out that there was no punishment for this, but my peaceful time didn't last all that long...
The first session of this weeekend ran for 1.5 hours. As with all squad trainings, we started off with the Australian Squad warm-up routine:
- Men-uchi: 3 times each twice; 3 rotations
- Kote-uchi: 3 times each twice; 2 rotations
- Kote-men-uchi: 3 times each once; 2 rotations
- Hiki routine*: once; 2 rotations
- Shiai-geiko: 2 rotations
*Hiki routine: starting in tsubazerai. Hiki-men -> men -> men-taitari -> hiki-men --> men
Where's My Bogu
After the first session, we took 30mins break. Just when there were 10 minutes left in the break, I decided to go to the ladies' room, and so I had to take off my bogu. When I came out, my mouth was a bit dry, so I went to took a sip of Powerade, and walked up and down the dojo to keep myself warm while waiting for the start of the 2nd session. Little did I know that I still haven't put on my bogu when Brett called to do a group warm-up. Ah, I was in serious trouble this time. All eyes were on me. And I felt absolutely embarrassed and stupid. So I quickly put on my bogu while everyone watched on. Brett was all smiling, but cunningly. Oh no, would it be squat suburi, or hayasuburi, or some other torture methods he came up with. I thought I was dead this time.
When I was ready, Brett was still wearing that same smile. "How many hayasuburi do you want to do?" Brett asked me. What kind of question was that! Of course I would like none, but I knew Brett would not accept that number, nor would I when Yano sensei was there looking at me. Yano sensei had helped me organise the training arrangement with Nittaidai, and he had advised me to increase the number of hayasuburi workouts. I really didn't want to disappoint sensei, but on the other hand I didn't want to exhaust all my energy in this hayasuburi punishment. "50?" I said hesitantly, thinking that it was a reasonable number. Not too large, not too small. "50!?" Brett exclaimed in his interrogative voice. "Who said Vivian should do 50 only?" Damn. I'm dead, I thought. I was thinking that Brett must have some crazy number in his mind that I would have to do hayasuburi until I dropped dead to satisfy him. Luckily, others kindly suggested 60 and Brett was happy with that number. However, the condition was that I had to do those 60 at the very end of the day when all 4 training sessions finished. I was praying that I would still have 0.1% of energy at the end of the day for those 60 hayasuburi.
Perfect Practice Makes Perfect
We did more technical, ippon refinement type of practice in the second session, which lasted for one hour. At the start, we were cutting men, kote like we normally did in practice. However, Brett was not satisfied with that kind of cuts at all. He commanded a more aggressive, ippon style cut from us in every single cut. No more practice cut. Every cut must be a decisive ippon cut. "From now on," Brett continued, "we must all practiced making ippon in every cut and should carry on with this type of practice back in our own dojo." Brett said that the Motodachi also had an important role to play to help and urge their partner to bring the best out of them.
In this session, we also practiced a few rounds of more shiai-focus type of waza routine. There was one where Motodachi would cut men, while the other side would choose whatever type of oji waza to counter-attack the men-uchi. Brett emphasised that the Motodachi must fully committed to the men cut to allow the partner to practice the oji waza. Another type of shiai focus waza practice was quite similar to the one I just mentioned, but the Motodachi would cut kote while the other side did the counter-attack. We then splitted into several groups of four, and had shiai-geiko where one person would be motodachi in 3 matches in a row and then swapped with the next person in line, and so on.
At 12:30pm, we stopped for a one-hour lunch. Kirby kindly drove me to a nearby fish and chip shop along the Manly beach. I ordered a fish burger while Kirby had some pasta. Oh, that was the best fish burger I have ever had. The burger was HUGE, and the fish was so fresh. The fish was crusted very crisply and the silky flesh was so juicy inside, it's SOOOOO DELICIOUS! For all this, it only costed $5.90. Amazing value that you would never find in Sydney.
When I got back to the dojo, I put my bogu on straight away, leaving no chance for Brett.
The third session, which lasted for one hour, was really tough. We started off with stretching and suburi warm-up. When the suburi warm-up finished, Brett, who was right next to me, turned to me. "Vivian!" Oh no! What have I done wrong this time! "How many hayasuburi do you think we should do?" Oh God, couldn't you just pick someone else. So I looked around, trying to see what the others were thinking, hoping to get a clue on their faces. I didn't want the others to suffer if I said a number too large. On the other hand, if I suggested a small number, then it wouldn't reflect too well on me as it seemed that I was slack. "50?" I suggested. "50!?" Brett exclaimed in a surprised tone. "I have trained hard enough I don't want to do 50." Brett continued. Argh, I have fallen into another trap set up by Brett. "Vivian can do 50 hayasuburi, while the rest of us will do 30. We will start when Vivian reached 20." Okay, so I did 20 extra hayasuburi than everyone else.
We then put on our men and kote, and did the National Squad Warm-up. Then Brett introduced the ippon shiai-geiko. In 1 or 2 minutes, both sides would try to score ippon. When an ippon was scored, the shiai for that pair would stop. The winner would rest; The loser, however, would have to do 50 hayasuburi. If it's a draw, both sides would do 25 hayasuburi.
I was thinking 'oh my god' when Brett explained the rules. I looked at Kirby and knew that I was almost doomed. Nonetheless, I tried my hardest, and I think I actually played pretty well against Kirby, and was happy with my performance. In the end, it was still Me who had to do the 50 hayasuburi when Kirby scored a men-cut on me. Following that was matches against Nick Bartlett, Ben Kelly, Okamoto-san and Tamura-san. Man, I did 250 hayasuburi after 5 rotations. In the last round, I played Yukita-san - a Japanese girl from Queensland. Brett increased the loser penalty to 70 hayasuburi for that last bout. I knew I got a chance in this last match I was very determined not to let the chance slip by. In the end, God looked kindly on me. Yukita, however, had done a total 320 hayasuburi after 6 rotations. I felt sorry for her, but I was just glad to take a rest in the end.
We finished this exhausting 1-hour session with 2 rounds of the following routine:
kiri-kaeshi -> men-taitari-hiki-men -> men-taitari-hiki-kote -> men-taitari-hiki-do -> kirikaeshi
After a 30mins break, we moved on to the final session of the day. We did a few cuts to warm-up, and then off to jigeiko. I was so lucky to be rotated to Yano sensei at the last warm-up rotation, so I lost no time in being the first person to play Yano sensei.
Playing Yano sensei was awesome! Of course I played my very very best kendo against Yano sensei, but he was able to deflect and counter-attacked most of my cuts. Even though I was cut many thousand times by Yano sensei, I felt I played really sharp and nice kendo. I was very focused and determined. My movements were more fluent and explosive than ever before. I was REALLY going for the ippon. In the end I scored a quick debana-kote on Yano sensei. I was really happy with that de-kote because I think it was really nice, and Yano sensei acknowledged that too.
I also played Ben Kelly, Hayami and John Isaacs. My men-cuts and de-kote were really sharp and were working really well for me in those jigeiko too. It's really good to play against great players, which noticeably pulled my kendo level up higher. I had to say I worked really hard on Saturday, and during the jigeiko with John, my left calf muscle started to twitch and get muscle spasm. So I had to stop and stretch the calf muscle. I went back to fight a final ippon-shobu against Dave Bunder before Brett called it a day.
When everyone was lining up to thank the sensei, I walked up to Brett and asked about my 60 hayasuburi punishment. He said I could just do 40 because he made me do an extra 20 in the mid-session. I happily complied and was glad the training was over for the day.
When I thanked Yano sensei, he said my men-cut has improved a lot. It's much shaper now. The last time I played Yano sensei was in the National Squad Training in Wollongong last October. My men-cut was executed two-movement at that time, but now it was a fluent one movement cut. I could tell that Yano sensei was very happy to see my improvement. I was very happy too. The key, I think, was in the left foot.
Nick Bartlett has kindly offered his apartment for Kirby and me to stay. We took showers before making our way to dinner.
Kirby's ladies set
We had dinner at Azabu Japanese Restaurant with Shigeoka sensei, John Isaacs, Tamura-san, Martino and Sharyn. I had some Eda Mame, Yakitori, seafood dumplings, potato crochet as well as Tonkatsu curry as main. The menu was quite unique. There were a lot of authentic Japanese dishes I have never seen in other Japanese restaurants before. It took us a while to order the food. Sharyn ordered a ladies set which has 6 courses, and all for just $14.50. What great value! So Kirby wanted to order the same set too. However the waitress refused to take Kirby's order at first, saying that the set was only available to ladies. "But I am a lady", Kirby said in his most feminine voice. For a moment, the waitress wasn't sure whether Kirby was a guy or a girl, and seemed a bit embarrassed. The rest of us just watched the entertainment before us, and cracked out laughing. In the end, the waitress gave in, and allowed Kirby to order the ladies set too.
After the dinner, Nick drove Sharyn and Martino back to the backpackers in the City. We stopped by gelatissimo and watched the Wallabies played the Springbok match in one of the pubs on Queens St Mall before heading home.
Nick played the 30AKC DVD and we watched a few matches of Nick's and Kirby's matches before we decided to call it a day at 10:30pm.
Me Versus Kate
The squad training started at 9:30am on Sunday. We were told that the first session would be shiai. When we were told to do our own warm-ups, it was much quieter than usual. I could sense that everyone seemed a lot more serious, probably mentally preparing for the shiai to follow.
We did the National Squad warm-up routine together, and after that, shiai began. I was assigned to play against Kate Sylvester. Brett told us to prepare ourselves just like the way we would do in a real championships.
For me, I like having my men on way before my shiai began, so I didn't bother to take it off even though there were 6 shiai matches before mine. My way of preparing myself was more like meditation style. With my eyes shut, I visualised my winning cuts, trying to make those winning cuts clear and perfect in my mind.
With about two matches to go, I started to do some light stretching and warm-up for my match. I tried to be focused and set the right mentality and instil the right shiai attitude in my mind.
Finally it was my match against Kate. The last time I played Kate in shiai was back in the 2003 Nationals. It's been a long time and much have changed since then. She has become the new National Champion and I have improved my kendo a lot.
We were quite cautious about each other at the very beginning of the shiai. I could sense that both of us were quite tensed up. I made the first men-cut and Kate blocked it. I felt the nervous energy flowing within me at the beginning of the shiai, and that we were both quite defensive. When one moved, the other would move to cut too, even though the opportunity wasn't there. The first part of our shiai was, I think, too much slash and bash. Slowly, we both re-adjusted and worked in from toma and seme in. I was determined to seme in, and launched a powerful men cut when I just moved within my cutting zone. Unfortunately, Kate sensed it and succeed in her debana-kote, stealing the split second off my men-cut which also landed after I was scored. Kote-ari (1:0) to Kate.
After the re-start, I told myself not to rush things and setup my attack carefully. I inched forward as I constantly applied seme on Kate. Wait, wait... tap on Kate's shinai to test her kensen... tap on the other side of her shinai... point my kensen upward to see if her kensen would follow... keep applying pressure forward... BAMM!!! I scored a men-cut on Kate just before Kate's kote cut. Men-ari (1:1) to me.
C'mon! I need to take one more point. Just one more. However, not long after the match restarted, Brett called time's up. So my match against Kate ended in hikiwake.
First Match Syndrome
After 3 more matches, we had a post-shiai review discussion. Brett wasn't satisfied with our shiai performance. He said that as a group, we suffered from the first match syndrome. The intensity wasn't there. Our minds weren't focused on the match enough. There were too much wasted cuts and we seemed to forget about setting our attacking opportunities up. He re-iterated the importance to make every practice perfect. The old saying that practice makes perfect is crap. If we practice low quality shiai, we will only become good at playing low quality shiai. Only perfect practice makes perfect. We should take every opportunity to play our best, so to become the best.
After the 20mins break, we entered into the second session of the day, which lasted for an hour. Similar to Saturday's second session, we focused our attention our shiai-effective waza. As I became more and more shiai-minded during the training, my debana-kote became more fluent and convincing, and the body movements for zanshin that followed the debana-kote also became very natural when I was full of confidence of my cut. I felt I have moved a step higher after this session which made me feel very happy.
After the second session, we had an hour break for lunch. Shigeoka sensei has kindly prepared some onigiri breakfast bento for Kirby, Nick and me in the morning, but because we had already eaten our breakfast when we got the bento in the morning, we ate them for lunch instead. The bento was really nice indeed, especially prepared from a 7th Dan sensei. Wow, I felt so previleged!
The goal for the third session was to teach us how to set up and make effective ippons. We had mawari shiai geiko. Brett introduced this rules that each side both had 3 cuts for attack. It's like your 3 bullets. Once you fired your 3 bullets, you could not attack anymore, but would still be able to apply seme and defence the attack from your opponent.
We splitted up into guys and ladies groups and rotated within the groups. This exercise was my favourite exercise out of the whole training. The high intensity and concentration involved made this exercise very challenging and exciting. It kept my adrenalin pumping. Through this exercise, Brett wanted us to understand how precious each attacking opportunity was. We should not make wasted cut, but should set up our attack, and when the opportunity presented itself, BAMM! Commit fully into the ippon.
Jigeiko with Brett Smith
After a 20 mins break, We went into the final session of the weekend - jigeiko session. Like the February National Squad Training, I played my last jigeiko of the weekend with Brett Smith. I really gave everything I got into this one jigeiko. I tried my hardest to search for attacking opportunity, gathered up all my energy for one burst of men-cut. However, Brett was able to easily deflect all my cuts.
Brett stopped me in the middle of the jigeiko, and told me that he was impressed with my performance over the weekend. From now on, he wanted me to train like this back in my dojo. He said that he was happy to see that my cuts were sharper than the previous squad training, but my body still needed improvement. He said I was leaning forward in my men cut, leaving my hip behind. This problem was more apparent when I was tired towards the end of the training, and my chin started to lift up too. He made me do a few men-uchi on him with my hip pushing forward and my chin tucked in until he was satisfied. Then we resumed the jigeiko and had ippon-shobu. Brett made me worked really hard until I finally scored a men-uchi. I was so tired after this jigeiko but it was so satisfying to end the squad training this way, knowing that I have made progress and what I needed to work on.
Australian Team & My Dream
This time next year, I will be ready for the Australian Team selection trial. My dream is to represent Australia in the World Championships. I will definiely keep training hard to realise my dream.
To The Airport
After the training, Sano sensei kindly offered to give me a lift to the airport, Yano sensei and Itakura sensei were all flying back to Sydney after 7:30pm and we had a bit of spare time, so they have decided to go and eat and have a chat before heading to the airpot. Sano sensei asked me if there were anything I would like to eat. Without second thought, I excitedly told them about the Fish Burger cafe. So Sano sensei, Yano sensei, Itakura sensei and I all went to the Fish Burger place. It's great to try the Fish Burger again before I left Brisbane.
After about an hour at the cafe, we parted for the airport. Sano sensei was kind enough to offer me a ride around Brisbane before we headed for the airport. Following Sano sensei, I had the opportunity to see what the Qantas Club was all about. tehehe, I certainly made use of the services provided in the Qantas Club, by having two bowls of vegetable and beef soup, as well as a glass of orange juice. Itakura sensei, who also had Qantas Club membership, joined us about an hour before the flight. We had some interesting chats about kendo and othe stuff, and listen to their thoughts while in shiai. And I have to say it's quite funny listening to the sensei's conversation and comments about each other's kendo. tehehe, very entertaining indeed.
My dad picked me up in the Sydney airport and I got home at 10:30pm. After unpacking and taking a shower, I went straight to bed and was soundly asleep not long after.
It was a tiring, but definitely an exciting and memorable weekend. I was very happy with the way my body coped with the training I had in the past week. Woohoo, I am feeling 110% now.