We started with the beginner class working on one-step men. That's literally it. No advancing on your partner, no jockeying for position. Square up, wait for the opening, take one step and pop their helmet.
However, most of the beginners aren't in armor yet. In fact, only the nidans armor up for beginner practice. So, we had to teach the beginners how to receive using only their sword to block. Most of them used two hands (one on either end of the shinai) while others, like myself, know how to block with one hand. You could tell the ones who hadn't been practicing very long - their eyes got REAL big when that shinai was headed toward their unprotected head. Still, sensei was also showing them that you don't hit "hard" in kendo. As I mentioned in an earlier post, it's a hit and slice motion, not a pile driver attack with a war hammer (although some beginners - and older players - still seem to forget it's technique not power that wins points in Kendo).
One thing in particular that I was working on tonight was attacking from distance. Sensei pointed out to people that at distance, the attacker can set the tone of the fight. Once you cross swords, you've entered the danger zone (where both people can attack equally) and then if you advance too close to your opponent, you're actually more open for a counter-attack than you are in position to attack effectively.
If you get good push with your back foot and extend your legs, body and arms, while still maintaining an upright posture with your body (Yeah, that sounds easy, doesn't it?), you can attack your opponent from much farther away than you think you can. I specifically tried this with one of the nidans who's probably 6'3". So, not only was I having to really launch myself into the attack because he holds his shinai further out than I do, but he's also taller. Out of ten attacks, I hit clean men on five and almost hit with the others. If I accomplished nothing else tonight, that made me feel good.
For the advanced class, we had a sandan, three nidans, three shodans, an ikkyu and two unranked players, (who're going to be ranked pretty soon). Instead of the oji waza drills we had been doing the past couple of weeks, we continued working on one-step attacks. We didn't just go after men though, but mixed up various targets as well as the receiver working on holding position if the attacker went into taiatare (colliding with your opponent with your hands at stomach level and your shinai mostly upright). Taiatare allows you to absorb the blow without being displaced too badly and maintain control of your shinai. Although there are some attacks that can come when you back out of taitare, higher level kendoka usually step backwards slowly, maintaining that aura of threat on their opponent.
After a water break (we had several), we did some mock matches. We were allowed five attacks between the two competitors (follow up attacks in the same flurry didn't count against the total). Because we had been doing so much oji waza, it seemed like everyone was hesitant to attack because they were expecting to be counter-attacked. In my match, I focused on finding an opening and I was very much the aggressor, even though I was getting tired. I hit two really nice shots, but I earned no points because I hesitated before moving through the hit. Sensei said it looked like I didn't have confidence that I'd actually hit. That's a bad habit I had in my first iteration of kendo and I definitely need to eliminate it before I test for nidan in October.
I almost made it all the way through practice, but as usual, I did something dumb. To start the third session, we did some squat strikes, (bending the knees and squatting down while bringing the shinai over our heads to loosen up the shoulders). I did about four and then my right knee (at least it wasn't the left one) said, "Time out, we're taking a break."
I left the floor for a few minutes until it quit throbbing while the others did some free sparring (jigeiko). One of our unranked people didn't have armor, so he couldn't participate. Well, it doesn't take a lot of moving around to be a target dummy, so I went and worked with him after my knee quit yelling at me. I tried to slow him down (people tend to speed up their attacks when they get tired and they get sloppy) and make him concentrate on each attack. We worked on a lot of basics (and a couple of techniques that weren't so basic) for the last twenty minutes of practice.
Sempai Chris of Kendo Frog and I had an interesting discussion on the ride home. I kind of like the fact it takes almost twenty-five minutes to drive to practice. Talking kendo in the car helps get me focused before practice and then Chris and I can break down some of the stuff we saw/heard/learned at practice on the way back.
But, now, it's time to hit the sack and get ready for day two on the new contract. (BTW, Day One was definitely Full of Win.)