Sempai Chris and I got there early so I could do some extra stretching and then we worked on the first three forms of Bokuto Kihon Waza. It's a technique where you go through the basic kendo waza except you use the wooden sword (bokken) instead of the shinai. It's very scripted, not unlike Kendo no Kata, but it focuses more on the basic strikes and techniques. It's becoming popular in the US/Europe as a training technique and I believe the British Kendo Federation has incorporated it into their testing.
It was a little nerve-wracking at first. Even though it's not done at combat speed, we're still working with the bokken and not wearing armor, so if you screw up a strike, you could really hurt your partner. After a few times through, I began to get comfortable with the idea and the fact that Chris and I have been sparring since Summer 2000 certainly doesn't hurt. Just have to remember to take it slow and be precise. In any kata, precision and "gravitas" is much more important than speed. The judges don't care how fast you can rush through a kata, although they don't want you to do one so slow, they begin to believe you don't know what it is.
We had a large turnout for the beginner practice. I suited up to be a motodachi (receiver), but we had enough that it worked out better for me to rest my knee and work with a couple of the newest players. One of them, who appeared to be almost in Jr. High, was very good at taking instruction and by the end of the practice was doing reasonably well for his first time holding a shinai. The other player was slightly older and, well, let's just say, he didn't take to getting suggestions as well. He may turn out to be a good player, and he did hang around and watch part of the advanced class, but he's going to have to be careful or he's going to learn some bad techniques because he doesn't want to take advice.
The beginners worked on hitting men, kote and dou coming out of tsubazeriai. Tsubazeriai is when you strike someone and instead of passing by them and turning around, you wind up bumping into each other. You wind up with both kote matched up and it's a bit of a wrestling match. Now, some people just back out slowly, maintaining their guard from this position, but there are several attacks you can use from here. Pushing down on a person's kote and then releasing it opens up their dou as their hands rise back up from the sudden release of pressure. Pushing up and then releasing opens their men because they're fighting to get back down into position and it's hard to go down and then get the shinai back up in time to deflect your attack.
I'm not sure, given the large number of new people we had tonight - six not in bogu and two brand new people - that this is what I would have done if I had been leading the practice, but then again, that's why I'm not a sensei. Yet. Maybe one of these days. Although, there were a few times with Washington Kendo Club where they made me run the Thursday night practices when I was studying for Shodan. Of course, I always over-prepped for them, with tons of notes and ideas on what we could do for the practice. It's the analyst in me. Why plan when you can over-plan, right?
The advanced practice had six people. Chris had be dig out his old set of bogu that I'd been holding while he was over in Japan and we brought it with us to let one of the newer members enjoy the fun of getting hit back. (He's been whacking us with impunity until tonight.) One of the interesting drills we did was attempting to displace someone by striking their men and then bumping into them dou to dou. It was good for my dojo mate's first time in bogu because he hadn't been really hit while in regular keikogi/hakama and he learned how to receive an attack followed up with contact and hold his position. If he didn't hold position, if he let himself be displaced, then it opened him up for a follow-on series of attacks as he tried to regain center.
The advanced class actually worked on some more basic stuff than the beginner class did, which was odd. We drilled some basic strikes and did a little jigeiko (sparring). I was matched up against one of our nidans and even favoring my knee like I was, I managed to score a couple of points on him (course, he scored many more on me, but who's counting *grin*). I was particularly pleased with a debana kote, considering I kept watching the video of my second team match and realized how easy and fluid my opponent was when he scored the debana on me in the opening seconds of the match.
Later on, we worked on tsuki and how to defend against someone who is attempting to tsuki you. Tsuki isn't taught very much because people tend to be very cautious about thrusting a sword at someone's throat, even if it's bamboo. Still, tsuki teaches the kendoka how to control their shinai, how to hit the target with just the right amount of force and how to hold center, whether you're doing a one-handed tsuki (lunging with the shinai in the left hand) or a two-handed one (just extending your arms forward from Chudan - basic position.)
Sempai Chris pointed out on the ride home that men and tsuki are the two strikes that need to be done until they're second-nature. Kote and dou are legal hits and they have their place, but they can be "tricks" that people learn for tournament. Men and Tsuki require you to "own" the center line in the match. Ideally, you use your spirit and strong control of your sword to force a weakness in their center line and take advantage of it.
Toward the end of practice, Sensei Bob had me get my nito shinai out and we did some drills. It's been six years since I've actually used these in practice, but I was game since I'd fought that nito player at the last tournament. Sensei wants everyone to at least be familiar with the techniques before our next tourney.
For the first time through, he and I did a small demonstration, both showing how I could attack and then how he could defend against my two shinai (daito - long sword, shoto - short sword)and then he had me attack each of my dojo mates three times. I did one straight men shot with the daito, one men where I moved their shinai with my shoto (harai) and then hit men and finally, I harai'd their shinai to the other side and took kote. After that, we ran through the drill where I hit men and then they attacked my weak spots. I definitely have a lot of things to work on before I'm going to be considered a "threat" with my nito work, but it was fun to see that my dojo mates, especially the mudansha, weren't overly weirded out facing two swords.
All things considered, it wasn't a bad practice and I finished practice tonight without having to drop out and take a break. I did have to take a few times to stretch a knot in my right calf, but I only missed a couple of spots in a rotation. I have to admit, even with the knee being wonky, it felt pretty good out on the floor tonight. I'm not 100% sure the doc would have been too happy, but I don't think I did anything to aggravate my knee (still feels pretty good three hours later), so all's well that ends well.
Oh, and yes, this is still primarily a writing journal. I have been doing some writing and hope to post something tomorrow . . . O.K. later tonight . . . about Steel.
Thanks for indulging me in my kendo habit. *grin*