Tonight’s practice at Oakland was the last for this year, so they had a special surprise for beginners.
We began as normal, except practice was led by a young woman, who, with her brother, dominated the US Nationals when they were teenagers. She led keiko with an emphasis on doing everything with proper spirit – that of combat. Even when practicing and receiving strikes, you should be looking for openings to strike, rather than just standing and letting yourself be hit.
After that, we went into a hugantic sparring rotation, which quickly exhausted me. There’s a few kids in the class, who’ve been doing kendo for years, have earned several ranks, and they are fast!!
Anyway, at 15 minutes before ending time, they pulled all the kids and beginners to one side of the room. The beginners who didn’t have bogu were loaned a set from sensei, and suited up. Then, they tied balloons to the top of the helmet, right wrist, and right side of the waist.
They were split into two groups by color of balloon, red vs white, about 7 people on each team. They were then set free on each other, with the objective of being the last one with balloons unpopped!
Mass chaos ensued, as they went at it. As I said, some of the kids were quite skilled, while the beginners were not. And those balloons were really hard to pop!
Ivon kept chasing around another kid about two years older, and 6″ taller than him, and they kept bopping and pushing each other. In the mass of chaos, kids just wandered around, bopping balloons, yelling kiai, and chasing each other around. Someone would wander in and help Ivon double-team his opponent, then wander away.
Ivon’s helmet balloon slowly deflated, until it hung limply in front of his face, blocking his view, and still he kept fighting. What a kid!
After about 15 minutes, sensei called it to an end, and everyone laughed heartily. We all did one last kirikaishi, bowed out, and concluded practice.
What a fun year! My technique has improved, I have one level of rank, and half-decent technique!
Hope I can remember some of it next year!
Tonight, I had the great fortune of pairing up with a ni-dan (second degree blackbelt) for kata.
Normally, you pair up with someone about your same height and skill level, and run through the kata. A sensei will wander through, and correct your form where necessary. Only problem, though, is that you’ll frequently practice the same wrong things, over and over, before it’s caught and corrected. In addition, you only get to practice at a level equal to your opponent, and fellow beginners don’t push each other very hard.
But since my son and I get to Kendo so early to help with the pre-practice prep, today we had tons of spare time before practice. I was talking with one of the yudansha about kata, and he decided to just run me through a few. Before practice even started, we had done forms 1 through 6!
After class started, and we did warm-ups, he grabbed me again, and we went through 1 through 6 again, and then number 7! I was surprised, because normally, you aren’t taught a new form until the previous ones are relatively mastered. But he just kept encouraging and coaching, and fixing my form.
What a blast! I love learning new stuff. Now I just have to remember it next week!
Kata ran 15 minutes over, 45 minutes in all, making practice a bit short. Despite that, they ran us extra intense, and I was exhausted well before the night was through.
Kendo was interesting tonight.
We haven’t had as many attendees these last few weeks, probably due to the holidays. Last week, barely 9 beginner-to-intermediate level people came, plus 4 or 5 instructors. That made for an intense practice, let me tell you! On the plus side, one of the women who went to this years National tournament complimented my progress, and said that she could take it up a notch when fighting me!
But tonight, we had a good number of intermediates, and only one person too new for bogu. This meant we had a much closer instructor-to-student ratio, and more hands-on instruction. I always appreciate getting tips on what to work on, and am frustrated when I get through a practice without anyone pointing out something to work on. I know I’m not doing it perfect, but need the pointers to improve my technique!
However, being a sensitive fellow, and hating the spotlight, I always get this weird feeling in the pit of my stomach, and my eyes start bugging out, whenever a sensei comes over and gives me pointers. It’s the oddest sensation. I’m happy to be getting instruction, and try to look attentive, with this horrible grinding spinning through my gut. I know they are not picking on me, or being mean, and I don’t know why I get all figgley inside.
But tonight, during warm-ups, I was doing the do strike with some kind of funky form. I’d step forward diagonal, while swinging up, then the sweeping strike downward towards an opponent’s belly, turning the shinai so that the blade would strike the imaginary opponent in front of me. My hands would wind up somewhere out in front of me, outstretched.
Sylvette noticed this, and paused the warm-ups. She came over, and demonstrated the correct form, watched me attempt this, made corrections, explained it some more and answered my questions about hand positioning and the swing. When she was satisfied, she went back to the front, and restarted practice.
And amazingly, I realized I did not feel the least bit awkard, figgley, or stressed during the instruction. Even though the entire class was paused, I did not feel the spotlight bearing down on me, and went right on into practice as if nothing were wrong.
We got right back into the groove of practice, and I tried to apply what I had just learned. I pulled some tips out of a few other sensei, and worked hard.
It was a difficult practice, intense in effort due to the low number of people present, but it was good. I like being completely sore the next day, and my technique improved.