Tag Archives: Kendo

Well, I guess I’ll be going

Or, a brief tournament report.

Saturday morning, I packed up all my kendo gear, and headed off to San Jose. I was eager to make the 9:00 sign-in deadline for the tournament, and it was a beautiful day. I cruised down 880 until it became 17, then took 85 East. I cruised past a few exits, took the one that looked familiar, then cruised around looking for Leigh High School, where the tournament would be.

And cruised some more.

And some more.

And nothing looked familiar.

So I called Becky to see if she could look up the address, but she wasn’t at home anymore. So then I pulled in at the first gas station I could find, and bought a map. On the way, I passed by about 60 super-old cars pulling out of a parking lot in some sort of super-old car rally. I wanted to follow them around and oogle all the cool old race and touring cars, but remembered I had a previous commitment, and a sign-up deadline!

Turns out, I had just gone one exit too far, and just had to go west a little bit, and found the high school right quick. I grabbed my stuff from the trunk and rushed in, found the sign-up lady, and got myself checked in just as they were closing registration. Whew!

Then I changed, and went into the tournament area, in the high school’s gymnasium / basketball court.

They had the floor divided into four large squares, marked in blue duct tape. Next to each was a table where the judges sat with the scoring lights, and behind them on the walls were the tournament trees with all the competitors’ names. There were four divisions: Children – all ranks, Womens – all ranks, Men – Kyu, Men – Dan, and Team.

Kyu is the 6 ranks below Dan, and Dan is the black-belt equivalent, going 7 or so ranks up. So all the men below Dan-level would fight each other, and all the men above Dan-level would fight each other. In the other groups, all the women of all ranks would fight each other, and everyone no matter the level could fight in the Team division, which was any 5 people from the dojo against any 5 people from another dojo, in a series of one-on-one battles.

The children went first, then the women, then the Men’s Kyu, so I wound up sitting around for a long time before I got to do anything besides watch all the other matches. And my first opponent didn’t show up, so I wound up sitting through the first three rounds of elimination before my first battle. Which means the guy I fought had already beaten 2 guys.

Still, I was valiant, and gave no quarter. I went in there and gave him all I had, and it took him a while to get two good points on me and win the match. Whew!

It took a while to come down from the adrenaline high, such that I could barely hold my chopsticks to eat my lunch right after the fight. Oh, such good times.

All good stories have a flashback, and so does this one. Before my fight, the guy from our dojo leading the “Team” team asked if I’d like to fight on the team. I think someone hadn’t shown up, so he only had 4 people. I said “Sure” and just like that, I was on the team. My teammates were the team leader, a young woman from our dojo who had just (or will-have-just, I forget the sequence of events here) taken 2nd place in the Women’s division at this very tournament, and two other Dan-level guys.

So fast-forward, after the Men – Kyu all finished fighting, the Men – Dan all fought, and then there was a 30 minute break, and the team matches started. We paired off against a team of 5 from the San Mateo dojo, and I was fighting second in the line-up.

The first match started, and my teammate put up a heroic fight, but he is a middle-aged guy, and was beaten by a much younger guy with the same rank as him.

I went in next, and put up as good of a fight as I could, but was quickly beaten by a guy who turned out to be 2nd level Dan – much higher rank than me.

The teammate who was supposed to fight after me had to leave early, so he was subbed by one of our friends in the San Jose dojo – another Kyu-level guy like me, but higher ranking.

He was beaten pretty quick, too.

The last two put up great fights, but were both beaten. Shock of Shocks! We were soundly beaten by the other team. Oh well.

With that done, there was nothing left to do but watch the remaining battles and then the trophy ceremony, so I took off and got back to Hayward in time for the birthday parties for me, Amy, and a nephew.

Fun, fun!

Hopefully, one day, my nemesis Bruce will return to kendo, and I will be sufficiently advanced to soundly whomp on him.

Yes, that will be the day of reckoning.

Unless I get eliminated before our match.

Fun Kendo practices

I never posted about kendo practice from two weeks ago, but it was a blast!

On the weekend of March 24th, there was a northern California Kendo mini-camp. All the sensei from NorCal were there, and all the students who wanted could attend. In addition, a super-high level sensei from Japan was visiting.

And he visited our dojo the Friday night before the mini-camp!

So a bunch of sensei from the bay area all came over to visit, and our dojo threw a pizza party afterwards.

So, we wound up with a decent size class of our regular students, plus a few visitors from around the area, plus about 10 sensei. What a party!

The visitor was originally from the bay area, and dominated the north America kendo tournaments back in the ’70’s. Sometime in the ’80’s he moved to Japan. Now he’s one of the old masters.

We had some quick warm-ups, and then he lead our practice. He had us do some of the basic hits and moves, and coached us on it. He emphasized footwork – keep your feet pointing the correct direction and width so you have a good stance and balance. Kiai, hit, and follow through. When you step, keep your foot flat and parallel to the floor, don’t kick your toes up and come down on your heel.

After about a half-hour of basics, it was free practice. The sensei all lined up on one side, and we got to walk around, pick a sensei for practice, and go at it. They’d give instruction during the practice, rough me up a bit, and send me on my way.

It was funny watching them watch some of the students, who have really lousy footwork and other basics. The basic footwork of kendo is a shuffle, pushing yourself forward with the left foot, and extending the right forward. Then, quickly pull the left foot forward to just behind (but shoulder-width apart from) the right foot, and repeat.

But some guys, as a shortcut to learning how to do the shuffle really quick for speed, they just hit and take off running like there’s a sale at K-mart. One guy I usually practice with, he looks like he’s going to do some good kendo form stuff – he’ll swing, and just as he strikes, he pulls his shinai in to his body, and takes off running across the room as fast as his little legs can carry him. When he gets to a wall, he stops, turns around pretty slowly, and sets himself up for his next attack.

My favorite thing to do is let him take the first swing, then I calmly follow him across the room, and as he turns around, bop him on the head and back away quickly, yelling at the top of my lungs. Yee-haw!

So that was then, and then I missed a week, and then tonight, it was a nice little class. We were back to a regular class size of 10 people total, with me and the sprinter and a visiting girl the only non-black belts. Although, normally, we have 2-4 sensei, but tonight it was just our main sensei.

It was nice, though, because I got to practice with him pretty early on before I was super exhausted. But he still wore me out completely flabbergastedly in less than 5 minutes.

Balloons

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!

Kata galore!

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.

Good stuff!

Attitude adjustment

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.