反芻 We had a visitor from Northern VA Budokai, so I wasn’t able to get G or K to lead the youths while I instructed the new beginners, A & his brother V. B sensei was insistent to keep both of them for the visitor and for instructing other women in the group. So, I gave H the charge over youths while I instructed A & V on ashi kamae, and chudan no kamae. I noticed the time goes by very quickly when you have to repeat the commands to a couple of constantly distracted kids. A kept on putting his shoulder down as if repeating the same drills is too much for him. He’s impatient. He also kept on grabbing the jinbu with kensen pointing upwards over his shoulder even though I’ve repeated told him to hold his chudan. His brother is able to hold better. It’s easy to tell from early on who’s going to be able to endure the repetitive drills in the future. I can’t say this is indicative of their future success in life, but the old East Asian proverb quickly floats up in my mind. However, I do get that it’s hard not to be distracted with four groups simultaneously practicing at each corner of the floor. We had female group, the more advanced group with the visitor, and then the youths, and us. And I know A has been doting on bogu itself, and he was so eager to wear it himself on the first day he visited. I’m quietly building up his internal drive by periodically reminding him that he has to master the basics first, and that can take weeks, and depends on how much he’s able to focus and concentrate. If he keeps on being distracted then it will take twice as long, I remind him. I know it’s not going to be an easy fight for him, but I see no other way then an attempt at a immediate behavior modification. At the top of the first hour, I let them go after a sonkyo and a rei. My energy was pretty much sapped at this point, because I could tell I myself was growing impatient with giving of repeated commands to constantly distracted kids.
I pay my attention the rest of youths, and have them take a short break, and then instruct them to put their kote and dou on. They have been doing men uchi and kote uchi. Now, it was time for men uchi, and one-step dou uchi in mawari geiko. Twenty minutes in, I’m also eager to join the adults with a yudansha visitor, so I finish with reiho for youths and tell them they have three options: 1) leave, 2) stay and watch, or 3) join the adults. They all leave. It’s Wednesday, after all. They’re used to leaving on the first hour on Wednesdays, and then join for longer keiko on Fridays. Adults just started jigeiko, and I join in. 30 minutes of jigeiko passes extremely quickly. I was able to face the visitor twice, G twice, B sensei once, and D once; and stand as motodachi for others.
With a constant lack of practice with adults, I realize my options for waza during jigeiko become extremely limited. With a full cognizance, it’s a fight with myself to raise my kigurai, and not feel overwhelmed. After all, this is more than merely executing some clever waza. He doesn’t know me, I don’t know him. The pretense of having no doubts is thick in the air. He nods his head to the side as if raising a question mark over his head. Thank you — I needed that. I go in for a plain datotsu. Little short, and I immediately realize that he isn’t a young person, but his eyes reflect a high level of concentration. The nimbleness and the precision with his shinai are indicative of someone in yondan or higher. A kakegoe. I’m not lowering my tail. my kensen goes slighly underneath his kensen, and with no second thought I go in for another datotsu w/ shinai going up back to the center from his right side, and an ippon. He wasn’t expecting that at all, but I know it was more out of luck on my part. He admits maita in European style with his left hand opening wide to the side with a slight bow as he backs away. Interesting. With several more bouts with me, he would have figured me out already. I’m an open book with no difficulties to decipher. I’m badly in need of godogeiko. Next best thing is to continue in my daily private routines with suburis.
深思 Each person has an internal rhythm. Having done jigeiko with him for over a decade, I can easily tell when D is about to strike, especially when he’s little out of practice. That internal rhythm is the primary drive of the timing when one decides to strike. It could follow a series of certain visual cues one has mentally prepared as triggers. Such timing would probably be more related to go-no-sen, or sen-no-sen. sen-sen-no-sen may be little more advanced form of timing, but it still follows that internal rhythm. Visual cues, or gan, once highly developed, could be an immense advantage, but I wonder about the possibility to develop and be able to adjust one’s own internal rhythm. This seems applicable only in sen-sen-no-sen.
In swimming, the combination of kicks, body rotation for breathing, arm motion, and controlling the axis of the body all come together to create a certain flow that can help to improve the speed. Anything that hinders, such as moving the hand down into the water instead of parallel to the floor, or not kicking with the bigger muscles of the legs, or axis of the head, and so on could pointed out and improved upon. Can this be analogous to improving a swimming performance? In water, the forward motion is generated using the whole body, and the rhythm is a mere kinetic byproduct; in kendo, the direction is determined primarily by the lower body, and the motion of the ken by upper body, and the rhythm is a dialectical byproduct that is premeditative in nature. It is said that godansha’s heart becomes like a mirror of your aite, but that’s not very applicable here in regards to developing one’s own internal rhythm. Just as how rhythm in swimming is a combination of all of the little things, it’s probably true in kendo as well. So, say, fast forwarding to the kinetic parts, the timing of one’s footwork, which also determines the timing of the arm movements, may hold the key to deciding the rhythm of the kinetic stage. This should’ve been rather obvious, considering the amount of emphasis we put on ashi sabaki, but not necessarily on timing. We hold to a traditional group drills, where everyone synchronizes their timing to each other, and over time, the rhythm matches to one another, probably for obvious reasons. Going backwards to premeditative stage, the setup of triggers may work well against naivete, and may even carry one very far with a highly developed gan. Some may describe it as a state of mushin, but it’s a type of consummation of all of the years of past practice. It’s more likely to be a product of highly developed gan, and kudos to that.
ayumi ashi, okuri ashi, chudan no kamaede okuri ashi
5 mae, 2 ato — 4 mae, 2 ato
5 mae, 2 ushiromawari
nidan, sandan, yondan kihon waza
hansuu 反芻 With Begay sensei absent, I prepared to combine the groups today so both youth and adults would have the keiko together. As usual, I got to the center an hour earlier to move the tables, and mop the floor in preparation. With extra time and no one else around, I did some stretching on the floor, and then started to do light jogging around the hall. L came little early, and she also joined. The youths stayed in the middle to practice kukan datotsu, because that’s usually what adults do prior to the practice. I told them to join, but I guess it fell on deaf ears. Near the top of the hour, L and I went side stepping, then backward jogging, and then alternating side steps. I know this would help us to warm up earlier, and hopefully make the rest of enbu easier on the joints.
As usual, about 1/4 of the group always arrive late for whatever reason. Without a superior around, I become more conscious of the time, so I started junbi undou 5 minutes after the hour. Knowing one of the members has been having difficulties with ankle, I’ve added an extra stretching exercise that may help with that. I think the warm-up jogging before junbi undou was a good idea, and we should do it more often.
Overseeing 16 people doing ashi sabaki becomes little easier when we have a plenty of space. I can walk behind them and watch their footwork, and watch their posture from the side. They were almost shoulder to shoulder, but we had enough space to not bump into each other. I see some have their left foot pointing slightly outward, but as long as their knees are pointing forward, and the angle of the foot isn’t too wide, I let go. Then comes kamaede okuri ashi. The sword should be held as if it’s heavy, and kensen should not be bouncing up and down. Some of the kids are moving very fast, but they’ve nailed it, so there is really nothing to correct.
During warm-ups, I’ve recently added alternating lunge men suburi and korogashi suburi (alternating left & right foot while doing men uchi) to help younger ones to build up their leg muscles. During ashi sabaki this translates into doing lunges while doing kukan datotsu. I make sure on each reset, they come back to good ashi kamae. Even though they’ve been doing the kihon ashi sabaki for many months, they have trouble coming back on ashi kamae (regular kendo stance) when alternating both left & right feet in lunges.
And then kakegoe, hassei with a kukan datotsu while holding the kiai across the floor ’til they make a turn. This is to build up their stamina, and help them to be trained in producing kiai that comes from their hara instead of their throats. With masks on, this is rather challenging for some, so I have them to keep their right hand raised until they’ve caught up w/ their breath. Once I see that no one has their hands raised, I have them go one more time across the floor. Rei, then 5 mins break. I instruct them to put their dou & kote on when they come back.
We pair up in mawari geiko. Younger ones still have trouble pairing up quickly. Surely, this isn’t their first time, but I guess it’s not in their nature to just to partner up with someone that isn’t their close friend. I’m probably expecting too much too early. Anyway, with a limited time and so many members at once, I just have them do 5 reps of kihon uchi to each other, and then rotate after formal reiho that includes sonkyo. Everyone is standing too close to their aite. We should be 9 steps apart, but I don’t enforce this, since I know the younger ones still lack the sense of distance to tell how far apart they should be. Instead of taking three steps in before sonkyo, I end up basically taking a half step and then doing sonkyo. It’s okay, I’ll find another time to drill that in, but not today. Everyone is starting with a rei and ending with a rei on every koutai — that’s good enough for now. I want to at least get to yakusoku geiko w/ most of the bases covered.
I have them do two sets of each type of renshu, so two koutai, and then move unto renzoku wazas, nidan – kote/men, sandan – kote/men/dou, and yondan – kote/men/men/dou. Rei, then another 5 mins break. This time, men tsuke.
men uchi & kote uchi in mawari formation, then onto yakusoku geiko. men/hiki men/men datotsu. Oh, it’s already 5 mins to the end of the second hour. Maybe I could squeeze in a men/kaeshi men… but nope, S’s tenugui has loosened up and covers his eyes, and he’s calling for help. I let G take the lead, and go to him to help redo his tenugui and men. Yeeks, as soon as I finish tying his men, it’s seiretsu! We finish with a formal reiho.
shinshi 深思 There’s an old saying that students can never grow beyond their teacher. This becomes especially true in the context of a traditional martial art, in spite of the teaching of shu-ha-ri, because as far as I can tell there’s no such awareness, or encouragement for that type of transition. Some even remind me that whole of kendo is one of hierarchy. I get their point, but when you see that over the years, some enbu start to reflect more the conditions of its instructors rather than helping to build up its students to expand themselves, the stagnation becomes inevitable, especially in a place where a kai is like a small pond with no easy access to other ponds, much less any access to the ocean. This is one of the reasons why it’s better for the instructor to get out of the way of the student once the essentials are passed down, and internalized. ’nuff on the didactic method. You can’t make shugyoja out of everyone. The personal cost is high, but we can help to reduce the degree of stagnation no matter.
reiho emphasized in all drills; sonkyo on every kootai during mawari geiko
kakegoe, hassei / kukan datotsu men while holding kiai
bogu no chakuso
mawari geiko (kihon uchi, (yakusoku) jigeiko)
Reflections J1 continues to demonstrate good posture and form; she habitually has her feet too close together during suriashi J2 was unusually conforming to the rest of the group today, with the loudest kiai; I think all of the other members starting to wear bogu had an emotional impact on him. He was much more focused than ever before. Not sure how long this will continue, but it’s an obvious motivating factor for him, albeit a slight discouragement. J, the top student, continues to do well, but with more time given to bogu no chakuso for others, it’s become harder to give more dedicated 1-to-1 time for him. With others moving unto bogu, it’s a natural progression, and with the increasing number of students the amount of dedicated time on each one will only decrease. I’ll need to focus more on developing the leaders of the group, and develop them as better motodachi for delegation. B, being somewhat small in stature, seems to be more hesitant to be wearing men. (His grasp of fundamentals are very good.) He’s wearing the one my daughter had used when she was little, and it fits okay, however, it may be that his overall muscle groups are still too weak to handle the weight of bogu. To accommodate for him, I’ve had the group only wear dou and kote in the beginning, and had him retire earlier (younger students have option of leaving early after an hour of keiko) when we moved unto bogu. He was able to play with two newcomers who joined today. Will need to make parts of drills more enjoyable for likes of him. S continues to show his strength, but I’m thinking he may need more aerobics to improve on his agility. Nevertheless, he has been showing improvement during faster parts of ashi sabaki, so no need for concern. I continues on well as usual. Cyclic kihon drills to make them more disciplined in general, but overall, he’ll probably be a good candidate as a level aite with J soon. A & V brothers joined anew today. They were fascinated with their peers wearing bogu, and kept on asking when they can start wearing them. I had them join warm-ups with no shinai, but told them to clasp their hands together and just try to imitate others. They seem to have been endowed with better than average motor reflexes, because they seemed to pick up things very quickly. Need to go through formal reiho, shizentai, ashi kamae, and so on. It was good to have Donovan and Kayleigh available to help out w/ shobo ashi sabaki while I was able to focus on the rest of the group. Thank you, Donovan Heimer & Kayleigh Norman In jigeiko, I’ve been emphasizing the following: big motion (raising the shinai above the eyebrows); going straight forward; not being afraid to receive strikes; not blocking, but responding with a big kihon uchi with less concern on yukodatotsu. Once they get better into habit of responding or taking initiative that way, oji waza drills such as suriage or kaeshi men, and shikake waza drills such as osaerarete men could be incorporated. However, I’m somewhat hesitant to actively have them execute those on a regular basis before they take their first shinsa… which at this point may be summer of next year at the least, and six hours away in Denver at that. I’d have to inform the parents early this time to reserve those dates and prepare in advance. It’s probably not a good idea to hold them back for another 6 months, so maybe I should go ahead and have them drill on those, and then as date approaches for shinsa, I could have them to refocus only on doing the kihon for shinsa.
Outlook With more members in bogu, two things come to mind. A playful event using balloons on men, and a kai-level competition with all of the formalities of a taikai, since almost no one except for yudanshas of our kendo kai have ever been exposed to kendo outside of Albuquerque.
Personal note During the weekend, I read about an abstract aspect of seme where it encompasses the aura of presence, which affects your aite. It seemed to be a too broad of a definition. The alertness of mind is what’s generally expected from a kendoka, and a more dedicated one ought to have such mind even outside of the dojo. Whether or not this type of mind is merged with someone’s expanded understanding of seme seems little too scholastic. Nevertheless, it was a good reminder on the aspect of the presence of the mind.
Participants (14) Henry Lauren Donovan Kayleigh Begay sensei Jared Chuck David Michael Jueun Juha Sean Ian Benjamin
– ashi sabaki- kakegoe, hassei / kukan datotsu men while holding kiai – kirikaeshi – how to wear bogu – adults on nihon kata
S has a unique way of doing the drills. He’s methodical, thoughtful, and more patient than others, so his fundamentals are turning out to be stronger than others in the group. He has a unique way of processing information around him, which can also be used to his advantage. No need to rush him, although it does force everyone else to wait for him.
Younger the students, the easier it is for them to break out of the mold. However, there are both positive and negative sides to this. The repeated drills don’t seem to exactly translate into actual use at the moment, but once they’re in bogu for drills, I hope things would improve on this point.
J2 is also unique that he’s naturally inclined to differ from what others are doing. This seems rather disruptive, but he does sit himself down earlier than others. Not sure what the future holds for him.
J1 is tenacious and intentional. The focus demonstrated is often intense; this is something to be desired, but she already practices regularly even in basic drills.
These days, it’s mostly instructing younger members, and then I join jigeiko of the adult group, which is still mostly beginners. I’m badly in need of more keiko time for myself, so I tend to stick to basics when doing jigeiko. It’s easier with beginners, but when facing yudansha, I’m realizing the dullness of my tosshin datotsu. After keiko, I was reminded of the utility of kakegoe as an instrument to cause shikai. Need to firm up on kigurai, since near at the end, the energy level seems to go down, therefore the kiai as well.
– ashi sabaki, kihon uchi, shoho fumikomi- kirikaeshi
J has very quickly caught up to higher levels than any of the adults who had started about the same time. His basics are strong, although his muscles haven’t caught up yet, and his intuitiveness, and situation awareness is very acute. He could very well be trained to become a top-performing kendoka under a good instructor. I’m hoping not to be a hindrance, and careful about suppressing his natural speed, agility, and gan. It’s as if he joined our club with kendo built-in in him. It’s up to us help him to release it. It’s little unfortunate that we don’t have another young kid like him, but I do see a couple of potential matches, if guided well.