a MMB! Kendo Blog: September 2005

MMB! Kendo Blog

Friday, September 30, 2005

忍耐 + 掌握人生
Psychology of Play

The Key: Left Leg
I have found 'that' feeling again. Great feeling! It was during a jigeiko on Wednesday night Willoughby training that I suddenly realised that I haven't been using my left foot to support my kamae correctly over the past 2 months. I have neglected the importance of the left foot and have placed too much weight on my right foot. As a result, I haven't been able to launch my seme-men cut in one smooth quick motion. That, however, is going to change. I have improved my kamae. Just in time before I go off to Japan.

Last night I went to train at UNSW. When I saw how many people were in the dojo, I was shocked. Inside, there were only FOUR people - Gideon, Mike, Dino and Cecilijia. They looked esctatic when they saw me. "YAY! Vivian", someone called out. haha, I felt so welcomed. It was such an intimately small class.

Most of the UNSW regulars went up to Brisbane to compete in the UniGames and that explained the small class size last night. Kenji, the Japanese visitor, also came about the same time as me. So 6 of us were training last night, and Sano Sensei came half way through the haya-suburi to instruct the class.

The 6 of us has decided to do 2 rounds of 70 haya-suburi. Mike set a super fast pace in both rounds. Luckily I have been doing some haya-suburi homework, and so surprisingly, the 140 haya-suburi was quite a pleasant workout.

Back To Basic
After we got into full bogu, we did 3 rounds of kirikaeshi and then 2 rounds each of kihon-men, kihon-kote, and kihon-doh. It was so good to put the focus back on to the absolute basics. This gave me the chance to self-examine the use of the left foot in kamae and during push-off in kihon-men.

Sano Sensei introduced the special waza routine for last night - kihon-men, kihon-kote, kihon-doh, kihon-men - which was the basis for all the exercises that followed.

Intensity and Connection
During these kihon exercises, Sano Sensei put special emphasis on the intensity and connection with our opponent, especially between cuts.

Once our energy and intensity were running high, Sano Sensei added a more active role for the receiving side. While one side still practiced the kihon routine, the receiving side will need to counter-attack those kihon cuts with men-debana-kote, kote-suriage-men, doh-uchiotoshi-men, men-kaeshi-doh.

It was difficult to grasp the correct timing and distance at the very beginning, but Sano Sensei encouraged us to keep trying and slowly I could feel a bit more success in those counter attack waza. It was at this time that Sano Sensei asked both sides to execute each cut as if we were in jigeiko or shiai. The aim was to make those cuts as realistic as possible, so to make the practice more worthwhile.

Entice Your Opponent
For the counter-attacks to work, Sano Sensei pointed out that it is important to entice your opponent into committing a cut that you have planned to counter-attack.

Jigeiko With Sano Sensei
We had free jigeiko in the last minutes. Sano Sensei told us to jigeiko with everyone in the dojo, so each jigeiko should limit to around 2 minutes each.

I had my last jigeiko with Sano Sensei. It's been a very long time since I had my last jigeiko with Sano Sensei (the last time was probably in Brisbane in July at the National Squad Training), so I was very keen to show my best kendo to Sensei.

It was a very good jigeiko as I could feel the intensity in the match. Sano Sensei told me that my cuts were much sharper after the training, which was very encouraging to hear.

During the jigeiko, I had tried to execute a type of hiki-doh waza which I learnt from the July 2005 issue of Kendo Nippon. It didn't quite work the first time. So during the next tsubazerai encounter, I tried to execute the same hiki-doh to see if there were any improvements. Gosh, not only did Sano Sensei blocked it easily, he was able to chase me down and followed up with 2 men cuts while I was moving back. And THAT was how I lost my point during Founders Cup. My hiki-doh and zanshin were very weak.

So after the class, I asked Sano Sensei for advice on hiki-doh. He told me that he was taking note when I did my first hiki-doh during the jigeiko. He was thinking whether I would do it again. And so I did. So the second time, Sano Sensei didn't hold back and came chasing after me. So I asked Sano Sensei how I could make my hiki-doh more effective, and Sano Sensei gave me some really good advices. He said that maybe I should not cut doh as my first hiki waza. It might be a better idea strategically to execute powerful hiki-men first. Once the opponent became protective about their men in tsubazerai, the doh would become a easier target and then I could score a hiki-doh more effectively. Also, after hiki-doh, I should make a distance away from my opponent as quickly as possible to prevent him from chasing me down.

This lesson reminded me that Kendo is a psychological game.

Dino Zafirakos = Luciano Pavoratti?
Oh, almost forgot to mention about my jigeiko with Dino. Gosh, I thought both my eardrums have broken when Dino made his Pavoratti-styled kiai during tsubazerai. Now, that's the most fearsome tsubazerai waza. Gosh, scary stuff!

Monday, September 26, 2005

忍耐 + 掌握人生
Power From Subtle Movements

I left work relatively early today and made it to Master Kim's 7pm class on time.

My goals tonight were:

  • Push from the hip when executing cuts.
  • Practice debana-kote when opportunities open.
  • After cutting, move in quickly to deny my opponent the opportunity to cut with enough distance.
  • Explore opportunities to attack in tsubazerai.
I led the class stretching routines, and Master Kim took over the class after that. We did the usual suburi routine and some ashi-sabaki exercises before putting the men and kote on.

In our full bogu, we practiced a few rounds of kirikaeshi, kihon-men, kihon-kote, seme-men, seme-kote-men, uchikomi-geiko, and the last 20minutes on jigeiko with Master Kim.

Power Forward From The Hip
While doing uchikomi-geiko, Master Kim kept urging me to push from my hip to execute the men-cut. I tried my best to move in from the hip as fast as possible but, I too, could feel that I was not moving in fast enough even though I pushed off with my left foot as powerful as I possibly could.

I am wondering if my abdominal and lower back muscles are not strong enough to stablise the upper torso and the extended arms while leaping forward. As a result, the body has the tendency to lean forward, and the power from the lower body cannot be transmitted effectively to the cut. I don't know how correct my proposition is. I will have to try focus on the abs and lower back muscles in the next training to see if it would make a difference.

Kote-Men - Do Not Raise the Tip of the Shinai
Master Kim found that my seme kote-men is not fast enough. The reason? He said I was lifting my shinai up to cut kote. To execute a fast seme-kote, however, there is no need to lift the shinai up and cut the kote in a up-down action. Master Kim demonstrated a few seme-kote cuts to me. The way he executed the kote cut was like slicing the shinai forward into the opponent's kote. To be able to slice into the kote and make the 'BARN' sound, there must be sufficient forward momentum propelling from the hip.

  • Slice forward into the kote. No up-down movements.
  • Must have sufficient foward momentum.
  • Relaxed right arm before cut and tighten it on impact to generate the correct power.
Jigeiko with Master Kim
In the last 20 minutes, the whole class sat down to watch Master Kim jigeiko with the more advanced students one by one. I had two rounds of jigeiko with Master Kim, each lasting for approx. 5 minutes.

Through these jigeiko, I realised that I have been using too much upper body power. At the final moments of each round of jigeiko when my body became tired, my upper torso was not very stable at all, twisting to the left every time my men-cut was blocked. These were the result of the lacking of power in pushing in from the hip.

Next Training...

  • Experiment with the use of abs and back muscles during the cut.
  • When cutting, push from the hip.
  • Practice the slicing-forward action in cutting kote and men.
  • Explore cutting opportunities in tsubazerai.

Battle Scars
What would happen if your friendly fellow kendoka keep missing the targets and ended up hitting on the same non-target area every time?

Answer: see for yourself in the photo.

...Btw, that's my right arm in the photo.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

忍耐 + 掌握人生
Taking One Step Further

I am very happy that, right now, I can sit back, relax and slowly reminiscence the events in the past two weeks.

It has been an eventful two-week. Too eventful, in fact, to have the luxury to sit down and carefully think about what's been happening.

You have probably heard about the spider bites stories in the last blog entry. My right hand and arm were bitten by a spider at 4 different locations almost 2 weeks ago, and was swollen up like a blown-up latex glove for a few days. It's only yesterday that I finally finished all the prescribed antibiotics tablets. And so, I only trained at a dojo once in the 1st of the past 2 weeks at Willoughby on Wednesday night - teaching the beginner class with Andrew van Hamond. This week, however, I am back into training 4 times in various dojo.

So I report what it's been happening for me kendo-wise.

1000 Haya-Suburi
While I was unable to put my kote on to do normal training due to the swelling of my hand and arm a week ago, I have been doing some haya-suburi practices at home every day, with the aim of increasing the number of continuous haya-suburi. It's been OK doing 200 continuous Haya-suburi, 300 was barely OK. Beyond 300, I couldn't do Haya-suburi without lazy jumps and small swings. And so I normally stopped at the 200 or 300 mark to catch my breath and stretch my calves and achilles tendon, especially the left side, as it tends to tense up quickly when jumping forward in Haya-suburi. To prevent overly tight calves and achilles tendon injuries, I stretch them as much as possible.

Depending on my mood and time of the day, I might do a few reps of the few 100s Haya-suburi. Last Friday while watching the AFL game of Sydney Swans vs St Kilda in front of the TV, I did a few reps of 200s and 300s Haya-suburi to reach 1000. The next day, my chest and shoulder were aching from muscle tiredness. I couldn't imagine what it would be like if I didn't do the stretching... I probably wouldn't be able to lift my arms up. Surprisingly, the calves were tired but generally OK.

4 Trainings, 4 Dojos
I have revved up my training back to 4 times at 4 different dojos this week. Monday at Master Kim's dojo; Wednesday at SKC, Thurday at UNSW, and Saturday... Ah, yes, I am training again on Satudray... at USYD.

Seme in Kamae
It's been half a year since I last trained at Master Kim's dojo, and my first time since Master Kim's dojo moved to North Sydney PCYC. It was great to see a lot more beginners training here than back in Artarmon. On Monday night, we practiced some basic waza, followed by jigeiko.

I had the opportunities to jigeiko with Master Kim twice in the final session. It's great to play against opponent's with powerful seme, which really made me re-think about my own kamae and the strength of my own seme on my opponent. I could feel that Master Kim's seme was overwhelming my composure, and this really shows that I need to improve my own kamae and the application of seme to suppress my opponent's seme.

What contribute to powerful seme in kamae? I can think of the followings:
1. Holding the centre-line
2. Good, straight posture in kamae
3. Push forward from the hip

I can only think of the above 3 points, which, I think, are the keys to generate powerful seme. Although there are only 3 points, it will take years and years of persistent practice to perfect them.

Holding the centre-line and keeping good posture were generally OK for me until my arms and shoulders became tired. When the tiredness kicked in, my mind couldn't focus on holding the centre-line. Then my shoulder slumped, which affected the ability to leap forward when the opportunities to cut become momentarily available.

How to Increase the Power of Seme
From what I gathered, I think I certainly need to improve my endurance level which would allow me to maintain strong seme for a longer period of time. Also, I must consciously remind myself about the abovementioned 3 points especially when I become tired, so that maintaining a strong kamae will become a natural part of my kendo.

Cutting with Straight Posture
After the training, Master Kim pointed out that my body leaned forward when attempting to cut kote. As a result, my left foot was not able to follow up, which rendered nidan waza impossible.

So the main focus for me now is to get my body straight when cutting, especially for the kote cuts. Once the posture is straight, make sure I am bringing my left foot up and be ready to execute nidan waza.

Paul Rixon Sensei visited SKC on Wednesday. He introduced us to a new seme-men exercise. The motodachi maintains the shinai in the centre. The student will then attempt to cut the motodachi's men by moving forward and sliding the shinai against the motodachi's shinai, which will push the motodachi's shinai to the side with the fatter part of the shinai in the process, and then take the centre to cut men.

Of course, I grabbed the chance to jigeiko with Rixon Sensei in the final session. Rixon Sensei's feedback on my jigeiko was scarily close to what Master Kim had told me on Monday. I really need to focus on cutting with straight back and aim to execute nidan waza.

On Thursday's UNSW training, we did about 100 haya-suburi, several rotations for each of the kirikaeshi, uchikomi-geiko, and ai-kakari-geiko exercises. These were followed by the waza session, which Kirby led us to practice kote-nuki-men. Kirby pointed out that this waza is particularly effective in shiai, because nuki-waza is clean and the point can be easily identified by the shimpan. Importantly, the men target area is protected by the hands during the arm-raising process of nuki waza. So even if the opponent cut men instead of kote, the men target will be blocked by the hands.

Taking One Step Further
I haven't been able to train in Willoughby on Saturday morning since my physiotherapy work experience started in late July. The non-kendojo training days between Thursday and the following Monday left a big gap in my training routine every week. So today, I have decided to turn up to USYD 3:30pm - 5pm training... and it has turned out to be very beneficial.

The UniGames will be held this coming Wednesday, so today there was shiai-geiko practice.

I played Yukari in my match. I think I played a OK match. My stamina was there and I was able to follow through my cuts and close in to my opponent, instead of stopping in front of the opponent after the cut. However, I could really feel that my inability to execute nidan waza was detrimental in my shiai performance. After one cut, it took me a while to re-adjust for the next cut.

On the other hand, Yukari was very strong overall, particularly in tsubazerai. She possessed a good repertoire of techniques and were able to apply them throughout the match. She really made me guess what she would do in the next moves throughout the shiai. She was very good at exploring cutting opportunties from her bags of feinting techniques. tehehe, something that I would like to acquire too.

The match ended 1-0 to Yukari who scored a hiki-kote just before my hiki-men from the tsubazerai position.

Following the shiai-geiko was free jigeiko. It was during this jigeiko session that I had a really good look and practice in keeping my body straight and my left foot up when executing kote-cut. As a result, I was also able to do a few nidan waza, such as kote-men and men-men.

I have also focus my waza practice on debana-kote and zanshin that followed. It is happy for me to say that I feel I have made some progress in this.

Focus At Next Training
1. Keep an eye on the cutting posture
2. Aim to execute Nidan waza
3. Keep practicing debana kote and the zanshin that follows

Transthoracic Echocardiogram Report
After having the cardiologist visit 2 weeks ago, the ECG report has finally arrived to my doorstep this week. The report was very encouraging and the 'resting ECG confirms sinus bradycardia of 45/minute with normal conduction and repolarisation'.

For those who have an interest in cardiology and scientific data, below are the technical section of the report.

History: Physiological sinus bradycardia.
2D and colour doppler study; M-Mode measurements

Dimension------------Result---Adult Normal Range
Septum---------------1.0------(0.7-1.1 cm)
Posterior Wall-------0.9------(0.7-1.1 cm)
LV End Diastolic-----5.0------(3.5-5.6 cm)
LV End Systolic------3.4------(2.5-4.1 cm)
Aortic Root----------2.6------(2.0-3.7 cm)
Left atrium----------3.1------(1.9-4.0 cm)
LV ejection fraction-65%-------Tape 815/

Mitral inflow velocity E point----90 cm/sec
Mitral inflow velocity A point----37 cm/sec

While doing some research on ECG result, I came across this research article - Echocardiographic findings in strength- and endurance-trained athletes. This article is quite lengthy, but the findings on the relationship between heart size, body weight, body dimension and the type of sports engaged are very interesting.

Monday, September 12, 2005

忍耐 + 掌握人生
Kendo and Some Thoughts

I have kept up with my kendo training schedule last week, training every night from Monday to Thursday.

Gyokuryuki High School Kendo Tournament
Remember I bought the latest Kendo Nippon magazine which contain a DVD of the best footage in the Gyokuryuki High School Kendo Tournament. I have been watching this DVD a lot, and have been greatly inspired by the amount of energy and the intensity of the matches. Gyokuryuki is a team tournament with a very special match rule. Each team has 5 players as usual, but it is not necessary senpo vs senpo, jiho vs jiho, etc. In Gyokuryuki, the winner of the match stays on until he / she loses a match. So it is possible to have a senpo beating everyone in the other team, and that senpo's 4 teammates can just sit back and watch. This tournament really tests the kenshi's ability to the extreme by daring the shiai-sha to keep winning. And that's the beauty of this competition. There were actually a guy and a girl (both senpo) who did just that to the extreme. They each beat more than 15 players one after the other in one streak. That's 1 person vs 3 teams! That's Fighting Spirit!

Anyway, I have been paying particular attention to how these Japanese high school kids execute their beautiful debana-kote cuts, espcially the zanshin afterwards. I also observed how they approach each other in tsubazerai.

I love their quick and sharpness of their de-kote, and how they expresses their zanshin so beautifully after the cuts. I think learning how to cut requires one set of skills. Knowing how to display zanshin convincingly yet elegantly requires another set of skills. Zanshin is an area I would really like to improve. Convincing zanshin = Displaying self-confidence.

Last Week Training
I have been able to imitate the debana-kote I saw in the DVD in various jigeiko during last week's training, especially the one against Doug on Tuesday night at Hornsby.

Thursday training at UNSW was a killer. After some 6 rounds of jigeiko, 10 rounds of uchikomi-geiko and 10 rounds of ai-kakari-geiko, we went straight into jigeiko. Goodness. The continuous uchikomi-geiko and kakari-geiko really took toll on my body. It really showed how much I need to improve my stamina and endurance greatly before my Japan trip. Yesterday, I did about 300 haya-suburi at home in the hope to ramp up the haya-suburi in one go to 500 by the time I leave for Japan.

Athlete's Heart
On a different subject, I had my cardiologist appointment on Friday and did the echocardiogram. The echo test was an interesting process. It's so weird to look at my heart pumping on the screen.

After looking at the echo results, the cardiologist declared that my heart is clear of any problems. He said I have an 'Athlete's heart', just like what my friend who has extensive knowledge in the sports medicine area has suggested. The cardiologist said the low bpm is very normal for athletes, and would be more worrying if my bpm wasn't low after exercising so much for so many years. He used the term 'efficient' to describe the functioning of my heart, which was very nice to hear.

It's funny that when I told him I do Kendo, the cardiologist got really excited and even asked me where he can learn it. He said he has done Tai Chi, but want to find another martial arts that is more exciting. He asked me how I started Kendo, and I told him I got inspired by the cartoon Musashi No Ken when I was a kid. Anyway, it will be good if the cardiologist will actually start learning Kendo.

New Zealand Trip - On and Off
After my Saturday morning physio clinic observational training finished at 12noon, I drove to the Sydney Kendo Club to say hello to fellow kendoka. Yoshiki and Yoshiyuki were having this idea of going to New Zealand for the Rembuden Kendo Taikai to be held in October and asked me if I would like to go too. At first, I thought I wouldn't be able to go because, to me, October = Japan. I thought I would be in Japan and would not be able to go to New Zealand even if I want to. However, Yoshiki reminded me that I will still be in Oz in the first week of October, so after a few hours of consideration, I said I would go with them too.

Yoshiki and me even did a thorough research in the afternoon on that same Saturday, and gathered the flight details of the best-value tickets. I rang Yoshi on Sunday morning to inform him about the flight plans. It was looking really good and I was really excited to go to New Zealand for the first time.

Everything happened so quickly it's like a drama.

The drama kept unfolding in an interesting way. A few hours after I rang Yoshi on Sunday, Yoshi rang back and said he couldn't take leave off work on Friday and Monday around that Taikai weekend, so he couldn't go to New Zealand.

Yeah, it's a real pity that work prevented Yoshi from going to New Zealand. It would be so good if the plan went ahead.

The upside is, I can save at least $600 to contribute to my Japan trip. To travel to New Zealand, it will cost around $500 to get a return ticket.

Spider Bites
I had a birthday party at Brooklyn, which is near the Hawkesbury River yesterday. The weather was beautiful, the food was plenty and delicious. Everything was great. The problem for me with good food is that I tend to lose my self-control and almost over-eats everytime. No exception for yesterday. So I ended up gaining a whooping one kilo. I was on the cross-trainer this morning for 50mins trying my best to lose some of those weight. Luckily the Andre Agassi vs Roger Federer US Open Finals kept me going hard all the way.

Btw, I found my right hand and forearm were red and slightly swollen in a couple of spots during the home-bound trip from Brooklyn. I thought they might just be mosquito bites. However, those spots are getting worse and worse, and now I am typing with a very swollen right thumb and right forearm. Those swollen spots are not itchy and have little white dots in the biten areas, which makes me think that I might have been biten by a spider. My colleague said that the insect poison can spread and can get worse if not attended properly. So I think I may go to the RNS Hospital after work today and have a check just to be on the safe side.

Friday, September 02, 2005

忍耐 + 掌握人生
Kendo is back!

I have had 4 kendo training in 4 consecutive nights – Pyrmont on Monday, Hornsby on Tuesday, Willoughby on Wednesday, and UNSW on Thursday. Every night, I felt that the bits and pieces of my kendo jigsaw puzzles were slowly but very surely piecing together.

Monday Lesson: Stamina
I had my first kendo training at Pyrmont after a full 2 weeks break. My goal on Monday was to allow my body to adapt to kendo training again. I was also keen to see where my stamina was after the 2 weeks break.

My attacking and defending movements were quite unnatural, which I had expected. The intuitive feeling wasn’t there. I had to force myself to think about seme – putting pressure on my opponents. I had to think a lot about how to create attacking opportunities and when would be a good time to go for the attack. As I had to consciously remind myself of so many things, it was difficult to launch an attack when the opportunities momentarily opened. Despite all that, I would say I had a relatively good training. My body was able to hold up surprisingly well after the one-hour jigeiko.

Tuesday Lesson: Confidence & Realising the Intention of Seme
I had much trouble in the jigeiko with Strenger Sensei. The style he played on Tuesday was closed distance quick consecutive attacks. I couldn’t adapt to Strenger Sensei’s distance and attacking rhythms, and was placed in a very defensive mode. Every time Strenger Sensei moved into, what I think, too close a distance, I took a step back to adjust the distance back to issoku-ito-no-maai. However, Strenger Sensei would push forward again, so I took yet another step back. In the end, I was just being pushed backwards all the time, and Strenger Sensei was able to launch his renzoku-waza attacks.

I felt so pressurized by Strenger Sensei closed distance renzoku waza I was very confused and in fear. I tried to steady myself and applied seme, but it wasn’t going anywhere. I was so confused that I told Strenger Sensei that I found it very difficult to play against his closed distance attacking style.

Strenger Sensei pointed out two important things which were exactly what I was having trouble with – Confidence in my own ability and knowing how to capitalise on seme.

Strenger Sensei’s words have definitely helped me greatly in speeding up my comeback in playing my own kendo. The feeling was finally back with me on Wednesday night training.

Wednesday Lesson: Overcoming Fear by Fully-committed Attack
The jigeiko with Doug was the turning point of my comeback to my kendo. Somehow that special energy and pumped up feeling were rushing through my body. I was feeling so good, so eager to make a fully committed attack and my body was just working the way I wanted. It felt absolutely fantastic.

The differences in the cut on Wednesday night and the nights before were that the cuts on Wednesday nights were much more explosive. The follow-through footwork was also quicker and the zanshin was sharper.

Thursday Lesson: Building Stamina & Kendo Fluency
It was such a good decision to come to train in UNSW. Mike took the warm-up and we did about 110 haya-suburi. Although it was only 110, they were done in a super fast pace.

Kirby then led the class after the suburi session. We did numerous rotations of kirikaeshi, uchikomi-geiko, shiai-styled men-uchi, debana-kote. Then we had jigeiko in the last 30 minutes of the training.

I played Sussan, Cecilija, Mark Stone, Yoshiki, Mike and Adam in that order. The jigeiko were so much fun again. My swings were more natural and the cuts were based on intuition rather than on a plan. I had a super long jigeiko with Mike. Well, maybe it wasn’t that long but my body was so exhausted after playing Mark and Yoshiki that the jigeiko with Mike seemed to go on for a long time. But it wasn’t a stale jigeiko, we were both really going for the cuts and the tension was there. Playing against good players really boosted my kendo level and I was so mentally pumped up in that jigeiko. It was certainly my jigeiko of the week.

Two feedbacks after training from Mike and Mark:

  • Mike: Don’t hold the shinai up just to block because it doesn’t achieve anything.
  • Mark: After debana-kote, I had the tendency of staying in the same spot, which gave my opponent opportunities to cut again. For example, during my jigeiko with Mark, there were numerous time where we went for ai-kote. After we both missed the kote cuts, I stayed in the same spot, while Mark followed up with men and scored. So I need to be more aware of my position after kote, or try following the kote cut with, say, men-cut.

Btw, I was looking at the Kendo Nippon website yesterday morning and found that its latest issue has a DVD video on Gyokuryuki High School Kendo Tournament. So I went to buy a copy at Kinokuniya in the afternoon and borrowed my colleague's laptop to watch it. Waaaaaaaa, the kendo is so full of life and energy. I am going to watch the video properly again tonight. http://www.skijournal.co.jp/kendo/book/0510/main.html