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Sore but pleased

It's another Monday which means it was another Kendo practice. Chris and I arrived while the iaido class was finishing up and got changed for beginner practice. After warm-ups, Bob Eitel, our sensei, had the beginners working on basic waza and footwork.

We lined up across the community center's floor and as a group worked on doing basic men (head) strikes. As the sempai (senior student) called the cadence, we were focusing on good footwork, a nice big swing, focus and spirit. Bob wanted to hear the center ring, and I certainly contributed to the noise. We did eight strikes in unison, turned and did eight strikes moving back across the floor. After four sets, we shifted to doing kote (wrist) strikes, forcing the beginners to focus on swinging their shinai further down and then stopping it waist level instead of letting it go all the way through.

Bob was really working with the beginners to get good focus on their swings. In kendo, it's not a matter of hitting hard, unlike an European sword. The Katana, which the shinai represents, is a slicing weapon rather than a cleaving one. So, the object is to hit and then push the sword forward slightly, letting the weight of the weapon and the slicing movement do the work.

We did this for a while and then he had us work on striking men, kote and do (body armor). By the end of practice we were working combining attacks and he introduced them to oji waza, which is letting your opponent begin their attack and then countering it.

Unlike fencing, Kendo doesn't use the idea of a parry without an immediate riposte. It's a hard concept to master when you're first starting out, because the idea of blocking an attack is instinctual. In Kendo, you have to commit yourself to the attack, so if you're parrying, you must move right into an attack.

After beginner practice, we armored up and Bob went further into oji waza with the advanced students. We had three nidans, myself (a very out of practice shodan) and several kyu students, so there was a large variety of levels of understanding and skill.

Bob had us line up four on a side and one side was to attack a specific target (five men) and the receiving person was to counter. You could either block the shot and strike men yourself, block the strike and strike do, hit the person's men before they could hit yours, hit their kote before they could hit your men, etc. The object was, you had to watch your opponent and determine exactly when they started to move and then see what target they were opening.

The object of the exercise was to react instinctively. If you have to stop and think about what you're going to hit, you're the one who's going to get hit. You can't watch any one thing on your opponent. You have to learn to look without focusing on any one thing. The technique is called "Looking at Far Mountain" and it's tough. Being an analytical type, I catch myself thinking, "if he does this, I'll do this move, and if he does that move, I'll do this other move." What actually happens is I commit myself to an attack that may or may not be there and get tagged for my efforts.

We did this for a while, altering the point of attack and picking up speed. After a while, Bob shifted the practice to two lines on opposite ends of the court and each of us took turns being the man-in-the-middle. We were to receive and counter an attack from one line and then immediately turn around for the next person to attack us. I was doing all right until it was my turn in the middle. I saw one of the guys was going to attack my kote, so I stepped backward to let him miss and then stepped forward to attack. Unfortunately, I stepped backward awkwardly and I felt something pop in the back of my knee. I was able to finish practice, albeit with much spitting and cursing, but the muscle at the top of my calf is very tight right now. I'm hoping it'll loosen up by morning, but I know I'm going to have to be careful next week.

I did find as the man-in-the-middle, my oji waza was better because I didn't have time to think. It was react, turn and wait for the next attack. Sometimes I hit my target, sometimes they smacked me, but all in all, I think I did O.K.

Chris and I squared off for some jikeiko and he pushed me around pretty well. With my knee hurting, I was trying to keep some distance but he took advantage of my injury to really dominate the spirit part of our competition. I was doing a good job of maintaining a strong center, but I spent a good part of our match retreating. I never got comfortable against him (which is good, since he's a nidan who'll be testing for sandan soon.)

After this, I had to take a break because of the knee and the others practiced doing kata. I shadowed along with a pair but didn't actively participate for the last fifteen minutes of class.

On the way home, Chris and I discussed the differences between sen-no-sen, go-no-sen, and sen-sen-no-sen. These are three techniques when dealing with oji waza. Sen-no-sen means taking the initiative and attacking before your opponent can launch their attack. Usually you wait for your opponent to "just" start their attack and then you launch yours, counting on scoring before they do. Go-no-sen is pure oji-waza, let them attack, parry and counter-attack. These are pretty standard techniques.

Sen-sen-no-sen is the art of intimidating your opponent into attacking when and where you want them to. It's much more dependent on your focus, how well you can hold center and then how powerfully you can project your spirit to make your opponent lose their focus. Once they lose focus, their attack will be weaker and easier to counter. It 's a higher level technique and one I'm trying to learn. Chris did a much better job of it on me tonight.

And with that, I think it's time to go clean up and call it a night. Now where did I leave that Ben-Gay?


( 3 howls — Howl with the Pack )
Mar. 2nd, 2010 08:58 am (UTC)
There are a lot of resonances with German Longsword. Our parries are really very much counterattacks, some of them single time ("splatbong"), some of them two-time, ("Bong! Splat!") but never the tit-for-tat you see in old-style stage fighting ("Bong... Bong... Bong...").

At first glance there's no spiritual content, but actually it's all about maintaining an aggressive but flexible spirit.
Mar. 2nd, 2010 01:24 pm (UTC)
Re: Interesting....
While all three of the sword fighting techniques I've learned over the years (Fencing with a foil, SCA recreation fighting, primarily sword and shield, and now Kendo), the aggressive spirit, the dominating your opponent has been there. It's just taken me a long time to figure it out.

One of the sensei in this area is confident almost to the point of being cocky, but he really is that good. While most people tense up before the match, he's very relaxed. His attitude seems to be, "Breathe or don't breathe, attack or don't attack, move or don't move, it doesn't matter . . . you're already dead." In his mind, he's already past your body and moving on to the next opponent before he even draws his weapon.

That's what I'm aspiring to, but it's easy to say that at the keyboard and another thing to project that on the floor.
Mar. 2nd, 2010 02:55 pm (UTC)
Re: Interesting....
>. . . you're already dead

LOL. When I fight well, the combat is a series of "executions".
( 3 howls — Howl with the Pack )

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