Sunday, June 15, 2008

Grading and Nostalgia

Earlier today I received an email from Sensei with a link to a photo album. Not really reading the title, I absentmindedly clicked on it and went back to studying. When I came back, I was pleasantly surprised; the album contained pictures of the 2007 A Beginner's class. My class of 2007. We hadn't yet earned our right to wear hakama, and there were some familiar, though now sadly absent, faces in the group pictures. I couldn't help smiling when I thought about those earlier days, back when I had absolutely no idea what it was exactly that I got myself into. Days when, after our beginner's class, Awa, Clem, and I would go out to the cricket pitch on the sports field and do our own reviews of the basics.

The 2007 A beginners, minus a few members -
photo courtesy of Marleen-sensei

A nice little walk down memory lane, especially in the light of the 2008 A Beginner's grading.

On Thursday, this year's batch of beginners (who are a highly impressive group, I must add) did their hakama and 10th kyu grading. Since I'm usually there to help out, I came as well to give any last minute tips or assistance. I ended up being on the judging panel to replace Robin-senpai, who left his reading glasses somewhere. I sat alongside Clem, Awa, Henry-senpai, and Richard-senpai (who was our chief judge)

For the first time, I'd be sitting in front of my kohai and observing them. Not a position I'm most comfortable in, I admit, given that I'm either usually a standing little bit to the side or observing from behind, sneaking up on people to give them pointers :D. Also, I'd have to write down constructive comments for most of them, again something I haven't done much of. Hahaha.

It was a bit surreal sitting there, watching the beginners perform and writing down comments that would hopefully be useful for them. I mean, it wasn't that long ago when I did my hakama grading, along with Clem and Awa. Sensei, Jeffrey-senpai, and Terry-senpai sat in front of us, watching our moves. I could picture myself as one of them, tense, nervous, and more than a little bit stiff. Their footwork, their swings, their kiai really brought me back to that first grading.

The beginners performed quite well given the length of their training, at least better than what I remember from my own experience. Some were real good, some could use a little bit more training or confidence, but everyone impressed the heck out of me. Seriously. Kudos to them.

The grading itself went pretty smoothly, don't recall any delays. Starting with kamae, they went into footwork, the basic suburi, and jumping suburi, before finishing off with the first two bokuto keiko and a short written exam. It's a pity that we were on a pretty tight time constraint, as a little comment session would have been good, while the memory of their grading was still fresh.

In the end, all 14 of the attendees (there was supposed to be 17, but three didn't show up) passed the grading, and will hopefully continue learn with the rest of us now that they've earned the right to wear hakama. Well, I certainly hope so. Sparring with some of them will definitely be exciting.

Also, looks like I won't be going to the Winter Camp this year. Oh well.

Cheers, all.

Friday, June 6, 2008


Ah, it's good to be back. And out of the storm. Well, for the most part, at least.

So, where have I been? Study, mostly. To be honest, I wasn't doing all that great in my other (admittedly less stirring :D ) life, the one where I'm a university student. So, due to a whole bunch of bad choices I made in the beginning of the semester, I had to forfeit an entire month and a bit to get everything I should've been able to finish by the term break rushed in. So, yes, not the best way to go. But, I managed to get most things out of the way, and despite some even worse choices made (haha), I'm still on my feet, if a little shakier than before.

By the way, that was my reason for not posting anything up in a long while. Heheh.

Actually, I still owe a post on the outcome of the National Champs which happened, erm, a month ago, actually. Still need to write up that one.

Anyway, since I hadn't been doing much training in that time, I thought it would be best to ease myself in by joining this week's beginner class. Plus, it would do me a lot of good to see my good friends again. So I went.

Boy, was I surprised. Not having seen the beginners for at least four sessions, I was really impressed at how much they've improved since then. Take their kiai, for example. Some of them are developing strong, forceful kiai real fast, even little Eric, the youngest and smallest of the kohai. To be honest, I actually felt threatened by some of them. Hahaha. Facing them in the future would definitely be something to look forward to.

Beginner Class on Thursday, June 5, 2008
  • Warm-up
    • Kiai
    • Joints, Achilles tendon, etc.
    • Run (x2 laps)
    • Suburi (x10 each)
      • Jogeburi
      • Men
      • Kote
      • Do
    • Jumping suburi
      • 3x sets of 10
    • Fumikomi
      • Single stamps with men
      • Men cut, zanshin to the end of the hall.
That's pretty much it, unless I forgot to put in an exercise or two (oops).

On a personal note, training started out a little bit awkwardly for me. Probably more due to self-consciousness than anything else, come to think of it. As Marleen-sensei said, I might have put it in my mind that I'm not going to do well because I haven't practiced in a while. That, and I forgot to stretch properly. Very nearly injured myself several times as a right shoulder is still aching from shoddy jumping suburi, nearly twisted my hamstring running, and bruised my ankles stamping incorrectly. Oh, yeah. I'm going to need more training. Hahaha. Overall, good stuff, as always. Looking forward to more hijinks on Saturday.


Sunday, March 2, 2008

An Apology, a Reflection, and Other Things

My sincerest apologies for not having put up any new updates since...well...last month, really. The increased pace and length of bogu training (and also an increasing preoccupation with studies) has been a bit of a hamper to my *ahem* creative flow. So, to make up for the missing session updates, some of which have been posted up by Sensei on the club's blog, I offer a rather personal insight. Something that's been brewing in my mind, culminating in a late-night ramble that will probably say too much about myself than I'd want.

Oh, to heck with it. On with the show.


“I’d like to smack you over the head right now.”

That sentence, at least in my recollection, was the first thing Awa said to me when I told him I’d been training with a sore left wrist last week. And why wouldn’t he? He’s got a history of injuries that I’d probably never be able to accumulate in my lifespan. The boy’s two years younger than me and he’s built like a brick wall...possibly the last brick wall left after a bombing raid. In that sense, he’s a lot older, and probably wiser, than me. Well, among many other things. The point is, he’s been having the same injuries, at a worse scale. So it’s just fair that he’d wish to give me a friendly reminder before I do something stupid.

The thing is, I can’t learn from his mistakes alone.

Awa has had experience in this. His life’s history has given him that. He can take in a lot more pain and stress than I can, that’s for sure. From what I learned, he grew up tough and hardy, especially with recent rugby experience. Truth be told, I got off easy growing up. Very easy. And definitely a lot less physically oriented. So when he says he needs to stop training because his wrist is sore, that’s because he knows it’s sore and will be a lot more troublesome in the future.

I, on the other hand, don’t know my own body as well as he does. I can’t tell whether it’s my fears, doubts and laziness speaking when my body seems to run out of energy or start hurting in the middle of training. I’ve avoided physical strain too many times in the past, telling myself that I’m tired and hurt, that I’ve really no clue as to what exhausted really means.

I’ll be honest. The only other time I feel exhausted out of the club is when I stay up three nights in a row to beat an essay deadline. And it’s not a good feeling, no endorphins running through my bloodstream; just a dull, zombified state where all I can do after handing in the darn thing is collapse in heap on the bed and sleep for a day and a half. In other words, I never really knew true physical exhaustion. Well, apart from film club, but that’s a completely different case.

Thus, when it comes to kendo sessions, I always have to ask myself; is it really my body telling me that it’s hurt, or am I just trying to justify copping out? One thing I’ve learned from my short experience of kendo; if everyone’s doing the same thing and getting equally tired, I don’t feel as tired as when I’m doing it alone. On the other hand, if I jump out and sit on the sidelines for the rest of the session, I do feel a lot less tired...but somehow it feels wrong. The joy of getting a respite (for me, at least) is often overpowered by the feeling of regret in not trying harder (and really collapse :D) as well as getting left behind by the rest of my friends.

If Awa is reading this, he might say that I could catch up training later on, and breaking my wrist now would be plain stupid. Also, he'd whack me over the head if I did it. Fair enough. But I’m not him. He can do that through experience. I prided myself for being known as a patient person back home; in front of someone who’s sat on the sidelines for four months just watching the rest of us train and still won the Beginner’s Cup two weeks after he recovered, I realised that I've got so much more to learn. In his shoes, I’d probably get frustrated a lot, impatient as I really am. Maybe even get depressed or something equally meaningless (although it would be a good exercise in patience, for me). Needing a tough pill, no less.

Robin-senpai mentioned to Awa, after hearing our little chat, that he can only give me so much advice; the choice is mine and mine alone to make. Thanks, senpai. That’s exactly what I needed to hear. In the end, I can choose to listen to Awa’s sound advice...or follow my own intuition, wherever that may take me. Sure, I could end up injuring myself so badly I’d have to take some time off training. Unless I take that risk, I’ll never know for sure what my limit is. Just like I need to take a chance and do a level 100 pre-requisite paper to get to a level 200, with a 50-50 chance of passing, I need to find just how much my body can truly take before I can say, “ I need to stop training” without regret. If I don’t, I may as well be stuck in fear of hurting myself and shirk before every bit of ‘pain’ that registers in my mind. I've come to this still-in-the-works conclusion:

When I am finally aware of the real limitations of my body, then I can understand when the pain means ‘stop’ and when it means “you can go just a little bit more, boyo”.

Now, more than ever, I’m truly learning that my actions have consequences. I took this for granted in the past. If I made a stupid mistake, I had a safety net that consisted of family and friends. Here, if I make a stupid mistake, chances are I’m the only one who can amend it. For what it’s worth, I know Awa’s advice is gold. I trust it, I really do, but some things I just have to do in order to grow up. Even it makes me a “fool” for doing so, in Robin-senpai’s words.



Right. Probably unnecessarily personal.

On more club-related news...

During yesterday's (Tuesday, 4 March 2008) session, Marleen-sensei informed us that she had considered Darrin-senpai's idea of incorporating kata training into all sessions. Due to focusing on entering this year's Open Champ, we will have to maximize time spent on kihon and shiai training. However, we may start later from now on, as people have often been unable to come in for the 6.10 (Tuesday and Thursday) or 3.10 (Saturday) formal start. That means whoever comes in early can practice kata. Like an extended warm-up, perhaps. More details to come.

I learned that my jumping suburi technique is incorrect; I interpreted Sam-sensei's instruction on "speed up when striking" as being a sudden, whip-like cut at the end of the down-swing. Marleen-sensei informed me that the whole down-swing was supposed to gradually speed up. Not an abrupt snap, but a gradual acceleration. Or maybe I'm getting even more mixed up right now. Not good.

Also, does anyone else feel really easily drained during the sessions lately? Because if it's just me, then I probably need to eat more :D

Night, all.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Reflections on the 2008 Beginner's Cup

Note: This is a personal reflection, based on my personal recollection of what please don't be cross if I've overlooked or understated or misquoted something. Arimashita!

Well, I have a good reason for not putting the previous two sessions. Actually, several good reasons. Mainly study (no, I’m serious!), but also because my mind had been preoccupied with the Beginner’s Cup (and the fact that I didn’t record Saturday’s session “-_- ). And now that that’s over with, I can concentrate a bit more on writing.

I’m not going to go into too many technical details – this is going to be mainly a reflection.
It began with warm-up. Or, for those who came a little earlier, mopping the floors (we finally found where they stash the cleaning supplies...mwahahah). Short briefing, during which Sam-sensei taught us about the way real shiai competitors warmed up.
  • Do it together, with team captain leading
  • Do it full of vigour, so that you’re actually tired but not exhausted.
  • The warm-up should be hard enough that your heart reaches up to around 180-200 beats per minutes. Alternatively, you should feel pretty worn-down by that time. I doubt anyone’s really going to care exactly how many beats per minute your heart, beating, unless it’s the medic.
  • Do it wisely – conserve just enough energy for the upcoming battles.
With that, we warmed-up...again. Normal routine, then straight into bogu:
  • Kirikaeshi (2x)
  • Big men, 3 each (2x)
  • Big kote-men, 3 each (2x)
  • Ai-men, 3 sets (2x)
After that came the big moment; it was time to draw lots to see who’s fighting who. It would start with a preliminary round, followed by a ladder format, i.e. two people fight, winner moves up one stage. There was a bit of a problem with only nine people registered, especially with the ladder format, but was cleared up. The preliminaries would be in groups of three, each person fighting twice. The two fighters with the most wins would move up to the quarter-finals, duke it out with another contestant, then advance up till the finals. The person who lost twice...well, sits out.

A little nerve-wracking, I have to say. Of the nine, only six would move up. Of the six, only four. Of the four, only two. And from the two, to quote those Highlander films, “there can only be one”. If this was a simulation of life-and-death clashes, eight of us would be dead outright, only one person surviving (and possibly just surviving).

So we drew straws. And here are the results

Group 1 – Kevin – Dabao – Clark
Group 2 – Clement – Omar – Awatea
Group 3 – Ann – Amy – Annie

Just my luck. The two people I’ve always been preparing myself for the inevitable crash – my kendo siblings Clem and Awa. It’s quite ironic; the three of us always imagined we’d be pit against each other sooner or later. Now we had the chance to play that out. In our very first shiai, no less. Despite feeling a little anxious, knowing the guys were already dangerous in keiko, I felt quite happy with this coincidence. We would be able to show each other our outmost respect through fighting with all we’ve got, test our strengths and weaknesses, and simply see which one of us will have the drive to go all the way. Plus, we already said we'd fight each other one way or another, so it's already good.

To cut the story short, I wasn’t the one who had the drive. Well, maybe I did, but not as much as Clem or Awa. I did, however, give them both everything I had. For the first time since the jigeiko with that inhumanely fast Japanese sensei during the Winter Camp (see that previous entry), I got that same “it’s a good day to go down fighting” feeling. A few butterflies in the stomach, but the moment we entered the arena, there was no time to feel sick or scared. I promised myself that I wouldn’t hold back. I kept that promise, somehow.

Against Clem, I actually managed to get my first ippon in a shiai. Ever. Funny thing was that I didn’t realise it until I nearly stepped out of bounds. Didn’t even think, just automatically did something and managed to convince the shimpan that I scored a hit. No pride in that immediately after - our scores were tied and I already had a hansoku from stepping out of the arena. About a minute later, I’d lose the match from going one step too far. That’s my big regret. Who knows what the outcome would’ve been had I not hansoku-ed myself out?

Fighting Clem was almost like fighting a mirror image...only one that’s faster and has better reflexes than myself :D I learned from the last few jigeiko that it’s no use to jump around and be too tense (thanks Ruby-senpai and Do-Hun-senpai!), so this is the first time I’ve managed to try to stay calm and maintain my centreline . My timing was a little off, but no worse than usual. The one thing I can clearly remember from this match was that the movements we were both doing now have changed significantly from the ones we did during our shiai at our last session in 2007. We only attacked when we thought we saw openings, and even then we had some vague idea at least of what were aiming to do. That’s also probably why our match didn’t last for long, bar getting penalized for stepping out one too many times. Short, and intense. No nervousness here, come to think of it. Almost too calm, if it weren’t for our kiai every now and then.

Against Awa...well, that’s a completely different. No ippon at all – I think we had the shortest match in the whole tournament. Haha. Two shomen-ari before the first round was even up. One before the first ten seconds were up, actually, if my perception of time isn’t distorted. What surprised me the most, however, was how quickly he could get me. Not just his attack speed, but also the way he could move into his issoku-itto-no-maai without me noticing. All of a sudden I see him lift for an attack, and by then it’s too late for me to counter. Just attack after attack after attack from him. And when I finally attacked, I realised that I projected my attack too early.

Also, I felt a different kind of atmosphere from Awa as we fought. It wasn’t intimidating, but solid. I don’t think I was so much afraid; it was more like being blocked by a brick wall. For that short time, I could see some openings, but was always a second too late before he covered it and went forth. In the end, I simply couldn’t beat him. I don’t recall ever facing that in jigeiko. I mean, I can’t really beat in jigeiko yet either, but this was a completely different feeling. Perhaps that was the psychological manifestation of his will to win? How very mind blanketed by his overwhelming ki.

What I noticed afterwards from Awa surprised me even more. From the beginning till the end, all his ippon were men cuts. Just simple, small men cuts. Whereas Clem and I (or maybe just myself) tried out kote and men cuts, Awa seemed to focus on making his men cuts more accurate and well-timed. Perhaps that says something about it better to use the one move you know you’re good at all the time, or try to surprise the opponent by using the entire arsenal?

It couldn’t be any more ironic that Clem and Awa would face each other first thing in the quarter-finals. The look on Clem’s face was priceless when he found out, and we had a good laugh. It was as if the three of us are destined to be always facing one another during our kendo lives. And it was an impressive match. Neither of them would back down, but only one would move on. They really went all out for this one, both relentlessly attacking and countering. A truly intense battle. It took almost the whole two rounds before Awa got the winning score – a clean shomen-ari. I had a hunch early on that Awa would be the one who’d win, but the way they both fought made it clear that anything could happen. Clem also had a good chance of winning – he also made many good hits with good timing. It was mostly due to his incomplete zanshin that he didn’t score as well; still, he could have won, if Awa made a mistake somewhere. It’s a pity that they had to fight so early, as it would’ve made a great final match. Epic, in beginner terms. Heheh. I wasn't surprised that Awa would win the whole tournament, and Clem awarded both Smartest Fighter and Most Promising Fighter, the latter award along with Kevin and Ann. Epic, I tell you.

In retrospect, I had gained so much from something that I had almost nothing to lose from. I gained a better understanding of how a shiai works, and how it feels to be in one, if only among my kendo family. I learned more about my 2007 beginner friends through challenging and observing them. I understood a bit more about my own fears and will to win. I was able to show my best friends that I too would take them seriously, even if I couldn’t win against them. And what had I to lose, except the money I paid to register and a good bit of my ego?

There had been a moment, right after my second and final defeat, that I suddenly felt numb. For the first time, possibly in my life, I lost even after trying my best. And I really mean my best – I had no intentions to lose against Awa or Clem, and really wanted to give them a real fight. As I went into seiza and took of my men, I stared into it for a moment. I felt a little sad, with a twinge of regret. Why didn’t I win? Why didn’t I move faster? I certainly didn’t expect to be put out of the fight so soon, yet I’m holding my men in my hands, knowing that I won’t be putting it back on for the rest of the evening. But the shock of defeat was soon washed away, replaced by a content acceptance. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. I fought the two people I’ve always seen myself fighting, even got a good hit in once. Better yet, one of them had the chance to go all the way to the finals. I could make up for this defeat next time, even it may take years. In the end, those were both matches I walk away from without any regrets. Well, except for the regret that I won’t be able to join a Beginner’s Cup anymore. To regret and despair now would only hold me back from going up that next stage. Next time, boys, next tournament I’ll try even harder to meet you somewhere further up than just the preliminaries. And perhaps next time, I’ll be a little wiser and be able to give you both a better challenge. Yar.

Overall, everyone did very well, even if there was only one winner/survivor at the end of the day. We all fought to the best of our abilities, some of us to the brink of complete exhaustion. I was surprised at how fiercely Ann, Amy, and Annie fought...looked far more brutal than any of the guys :D Though some matches seemed to favour one fighter, the one who was perceived to be at a disadvantage would still give a serious effort to win. Like Amy going against Awa, but still fighting her hardest. Several senpai commented how our fighting spirit was impressively high for our level, and Sensei was pleased by our performance. That’s already something we can take with pride, regardless of outcome.

From now on, it’s only logical to fight even harder. We’re no longer beginners – the Cup was our rite-of-passing into a wider world of kendo. From here onwards, though we’re still beginners in terms of kendo experience, we’re a bit wiser and more mature than when we first started. Soon we’ll have to look beyond our own club and start meeting our peers from other clubs who will challenge us, sometimes winning and sometimes losing. The first hill has been climbed – the next mountain in a long range of mountains is waiting over just over the plateau.

We have all won, in our own ways. And maybe by losing enough, we’ll start winning more. Until then, though, it's time to train. I'll have the session review as well as the missing session up, hopefully before Monday next week.



Update: After watching our shiai DVD, I realized a few things. First, I need to be more aggressive. A lot more aggressive. Second, I need to train my eyes and senses so that I'm not solely dependent on sight to measure maai (which is extremely dangerous if I'm not fully aware). Third, I need to master the basics. Awa got through solely on his men cuts - perhaps if I focused more on that the rest would start to flow naturally. Fourth, I need to 'let go' of myself like Awa did...focusing to the battle ahead and be reasonably detached from everything else. Now that I think about it, it was a bit unnerving to face someone who was composed. Lastly, I need to learn how to look less comical when I hansoku myself out. That was rather...silly, to say the least. Haha.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Training Session on Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Well, I'm back in training. Carefully, of course. My wrist was acting up a bit after the session, but otherwise it's all good. The bad news is that I wasn't able to completely note down what was taught today. So it'll be mostly from memory...and please tell me if I missed anything important. Haha.

Training Schedule on Tuesday, 29 January 2008

  • Briefing
    • Benji visited! With his girlfriend too *wink, wink, nudge, nudge*.
    • Certificates and DVDs from Saturday's grading are ready
      • If you attended the grading and haven't sent the required reflection email, please do so to get your certificate.
  • Warm up
    • Normal
  • -Break-
  • Discussion
    • Received certificates
      • Anyone who graded and sent in the email but hasn't gotten their DVD can contact Omar to get theirs. Note: He doesn't actually have them...but you can ask anyway :D
    • Beginner's Cup
      • 5th of February...that's next week, folks! (and right between my essay and assignment due-dates! Gah!)
      • Anyone from any of the three 2007 beginner classes is eligible
      • Register to Clement, and don't forget the $20 registration fee.
    • Goodwill Cup
      • 12th of February - exactly one week after the Beginner's Cup!
      • Will have four categories - dan grades, kyu grades, youth/under 16, female-only - if you're eligible for more than one (e.g. female, kyu-grade, and under 16) you can enter all of them if you want.
      • Register to Omar, registration fee's also $20.
  • Suburi exercises
    • 100x shomen uchi to relax shoulder muscles
    • Jumping suburi (not haya suburi) - similar to what we did during the Winter Camp last year.
      • Type 1: Start with raised shinai and feet closed -> jump and hit men, land in normal kamae (right foot in front) -> jump, raise shinai, land with feet closed -> jump, hit men, land in reverse kamae -> jump and repeat the first step.
        • Did this 4 times - hard at first, but becomes more natural after doing it for a while. Surprisingly, I could feel that having tennouchi made it easier to pull up the shinai for the next cut.
      • Type 2: Same as Type 1, but add - jump, hit men, land with legs apart -> jump and repeat - after the second land-and-raise phase.
        • Did this 4 times - also odd at first, but gradually became easier. - kendo calisthenics?
      • Type 3: Jump as high as possible, hitting men at the highest point of the jump
        • A lot harder than it looks
  • Stamping exercises
    • Stamp, follow up with jump and a few steps forwards - 6x
      • Use the natural momentum from stamping to propel self forwards, landing with the left foot roughly where the right foot was when stamping.
      • Don't 'add' the jump - it's more of taking a long step rather than pushing vertically off the floor.
    • Fast kirikaeshi practice - 4x each, no motodachi
      • No big men cut at the beginning
      • Rather than taking steps, 'hop' forwards and backwards to increase speed
        • Don't sacrifice correct cutting and posture for speed, though.
        • When going forwards, push from left foot; when going backwards, push from right foot.
          • Quite difficult to raise the shinai any higher than eye-level in order to deliver the cut fast enough, while maintaining footwork and correct posture.
      • During bogu keiko, motodachi should encourage partner to be faster by moving backwards and forwards faster.
  • - Break -
  • Bogu keiko
    • Small men (static) - sets of 5x each, partnered.
      • Don't pull arms back or extend them too far, as it exposes kote.
      • Raise shinai slightly forwards and push left hand forwards, then cut by pulling it back and letting the cut 'fall' into opponent's men.
    • Small men with stamping (static) - sets 5x each, partnered
      • Same points as previous small men exercise
      • Raise and cut simultaneously with the stamping motion - raise shinai when going into stamp, cut as you make the stamp.
      • Has to be fast and precise.
    • Small kote (static) - sets of 20x each, partnered
      • Same as points as first small men exercise
      • Use small footwork to coordinate - when raising slightly lift right foot, when cutting raise left foot - almost stamping
      • Start slowly, then gradually pick up speed
        • Kind of like tapping to a metronome which is continually speeding up
        • For kote cuts in general, height that shinai should be raised depends on the target - e.g. if the opponent's kote is high after blocking, shinai can start cut from the same height
    • Kirikaeshi - sets of 1x each, with motodachi
      • Using the same principles as earlier 'fast kirikaeshi' - hop rather than step
      • Full kirikaeshi, with big men cuts.
        • Sensei: Kirikaeshi should be seen as warming up - if not feeling warmed up after doing kirikaeshi, better run 100 times around dojo.
  • - Break -
  • Discussion
    • On competition
      • Practice so that we can win with good kendo
        • Victory is only temporary and within that one moment; fortunes can change in an instant
          • Remembered something Sam-sensei said last year: You can train up to become the best, but you will inevitably lose to an unknown challenger.
        • The amount of real practice done is often reflected in performance during shiai
      • Strengthen both mind and body
        • When facing someone of equal skill and at a stalemate, having the strongest will to win could shift the balance and cost you the match.
          • Especially true if moving into overtime matches - if a 4-minute jigeiko already feels like an eternity, how would a 15-minute extension to a 5-minute match feel?
      • The upcoming cups will be a good place to test skills and resolve
        • Tip: time in a shiai should be used to the fullest. Use the first two minutes or so to study the opponent for strengths and weaknesses, then use the remaining time to experiment whatever waza may work against him/her. Scoring ippon early in the match may not be the best thing; you may have already shown your strength and weakness in that one cut, which the opponent has had time to study.
  • - Bow off -

Well, that's all I can remember. Thanks to Clem for reminding on some of the points. Fun session, though not as hard as we usually do. Definitely getting a bit nervous with the prospect of two shiai practically back-to-back, but looking forward to testing my own limits (at the same time realistically keeping in mind that it may take up to five years to actually start win :D). Until Thursday, then!

Almost forgot, here are some pictures of Benji (why so dark lah?)...

That's how much we love you, ya big lug.

So, best of luck in Japan, have fun, and train hard so that we can beat each other up seriously when you get back! Ganbatteyo, Benji-kun!

p.s. For some reason, my men always feels like it's somehow connected to my jaw. So when I kiai, my men slightly tips forwards, and when I finish the men moves back up. Almost mask-like. Weird.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Training Session on Saturday, 26 January 2008 - First Grading 2008

Shaving dangerously close to the deadline, here's a look back on the first grading of 2008.

Training Schedule on Saturday, 26 January 2008 - Grading
  • No warm-up
  • Grading
    • 2 groups
      • Below 6th kyu
        • Ashi (Footwork)
          • Forward and backward, 2 steps each until stopped
          • Left and right, 2 steps each until stopped
        • Suburi
          • Jogeburi
          • Men
          • Kote
          • Do
        • Suburi with motodachi
          • Big men, 8x
          • Big kote, 8x
          • Big kote-men, 8x
      • 6th to 3rd kyu
        • Bogu keiko - in pairs
          • Big men cuts, 4x
          • Big kote cuts, 4x
          • Big do cuts, 4x
          • Big kote-men, 4x
          • Big kote-do, 4x
          • Go-hon waza - only for 4th and 3rd kyu
            • continuous: men - kote - do - kote-men - kote-do
        • Kata
          • 6th - 5th kyu: ipponme and nihonme kendo kata
          • 4th - 3rd kyu: ipponme, nihonmen, and sanbonme kendo kata
  • Jigeiko session
    • from 5 to 6 pm
    • Terry-senpai joined up!
  • Debriefing
    • Grading
      • It's like growing up; you have to do it anyway. It means more challenges and responsibilities, as well (I assume it also means we'll be more experienced...).
    • Jigeiko
      • Always try to reserve some energy for sensei or senpai - don't make them wait (or give them a chance to rest :D)
    • Homework
      • Write an email to Sam-sensei regarding what we've learned since he left us in 2007.

Ah, and before I forget:

  • William: 8th kyu
  • Amy, Ann, Annie, Clark, Dabao: 6th kyu
  • Awa, Clem, Douglas, Kevin, Min Seong, Omar: 4th kyu
  • Andrew, Ari, Darrin, Min Gi: 2nd kyu
Congratulations to all of us for passing! Hurrah! Now, on to the next stage!

On a personal note,
  • My wrist is strong enough to do suburi, so hurrah for that.
  • Do cuts still a complete mess! Argh. Might also be because I was pretty nervous.
  • Note to self: try not to get over-anxious during grading. Forgot to drink before and that kind of messed me up. So don't do it. Mm'kay?
  • Train some more on kote cuts. Kept missing distance (and hit my partner on the arm several times - gomen)
Hang on, doesn't putting this on a blog mean I'm letting people know my weak points? Hmm...

Friday, January 25, 2008

Training Session on Thursday, 24 January 2008

So, it's two days before the first kyu grading of the year, and everybody (well, mostly everybody) who's planning on doing it seems a bit on the edge. Myself included, although that may also be because I haven't been training for the last three sessions :D Just to see how far I've progressed of course, as there will (hopefully) be other gradings in the near future. Therefore, it's a good time for a review session!

Training Schedule on Thursday, 24 January 2008

Today's main course: Grading Review.
  • Pre-Training Briefing
    • The most important part of grading - wearing hakama and bogu correctly
      • Kendogi
        • Back must be flat and without creases.
        • One fold only on each side to tidy up loose sections.
        • Knot (for the outer tie) should be horizontal.
        • Don't look sloppy.
      • Hakama
        • Don't wear ittoo short or too long - just enough to cover the top of the feet (maybe a little less, even).
      • Tare
        • Make sure it's properly secured (i.e. not shifting all the way to the side when doing suburi) on the right place.
        • Make sure the name bag has been pulled up completely over the tare (also, it might help to wear it right-side up).
      • Do
        • Like hakama, not too high and not too low - approximately halfway up the top half of the tare.
  • Warm-up
    • Normal
      • - new - 20x men cuts every session
      • - 50x haya suburi, same focus as last two sessions
        • For Beginners - focus on 'throwing' the shinai and catching it at the last minute, it should bounce naturally back and help maintain the flow of cuts
        • Developing left arm muscles through suburi will be useful for these exercises in the future
        • Personal note - I find imagining the shinai to be a whip to help sometimes; you raise, throw it forward, and pull it back with a snap. Just my two cents.
      • Members who are over 5th kyu and over 16 years of age are encouraged start using two shinai for warmup again.
  • Review
    • For kyu grading
      • Objectives
        • accurate, correct cuts and ki-ken-tai-ichi
        • Ikkyu should reflect the ability to do all basic cuts correctly
      • Make 100% effort second nature
        • Kiai - make most out of training by doing 100% kiai whenever training
        • Hakama - always try to look proper when in dojo
    • Technical matters

      • Men cuts
        • If opponent is smaller
          • keep correct angle, but make the cut lower; right arm doesn't always need to be perfectly horizontal.
        • If opponent is taller
          • keep correct angle, focus more on using left hand so that the cut hits the top of the men rather than the faceguard.
        • There is no power to the cut if the shinai is completely horizontal.

      • Cuts in general
        • Speed is not as important as timing and reading opponents correctly.
        • If you can master the cut, you can be fast through more efficient movement. However, you won't necessarily get the timing right.
          • For timing, do plenty of keiko, especially kakari-keiko
        • Sometimes being slower can be good - the opponent can react to a feint, giving the opportunity for a surprise attack.
        • Bear in mind that one naturally always has limitations.
      • Bogu keiko
        • Power should come from left foot and ground, not solely from the hands and arms.
        • Use issoku-itto-no-maai (IINM hereafter)for natural striking distance
          • No jumping.
          • Don't step in so far that the opponent's nakayui has been passed.
        • In kamae, be focused with a point in your feet that is (apparently) the base of your big toe. This is supposed to be where the earth's energy goes up into your body, the "bubbling spring". Couldn't get the proper Chinese acupuncture term for it, my apologies.
        • Always be aware of maai, as everyone is different and will need adjusting to in order to keep IINM.
        • For semei, stop at appropriate distance (IINM) before going for a cut - not distinguishing between movements may detract points.
        • Don't change breaths when in IINM, keep breathing out
          • Inhaling will delay reaction - when in striking distance whoever runs out of breath first will lose the initiative.
          • The "yaaaa" done during training is to train breath control
            • In shiai, doing a "yaaa" may warn the opponent you're coming, so silent exhalation replaces it.

      • Ancient strategy - deceiving opponents
        • When weak within, present a strong appearance
        • When strong within, it may be beneficial to present a weak appearance - can trick opponent into false security
        • When weak within and weak on the outside, you're doing it wrong.
      • Kirikaeshi
        • Rather than doing a drawn out succession of "mennnn, mennn, mennn", try to make the 'men' part shorter and more emphasized ("menmm, menmm, menmm") to keep ki steady <= probably not a very informative use of onomatopoeia.
        • Maintain high kiai throughout kihon, breaking off when strongest rather than letting it drop.
      • Kata
        • All three will be tested.
      • Do cuts
        • Cut the motodachi, not his side - don't zanshin before you actually make the hit
      • Tsuba-zeria
        • Keep tsuba low
        • Don't be too close, just enough so that you can jump back immediately into IINM
        • Know where the right foot should be in advance (i.e. approximate distance from which you can make a proper hit)
      • Zanshin
        • For backwards zanshin, use the "pulled back" one to give better backwards momentum and make it harder for the opponent to cancel out an ippon.
        • Don't draw back shinai with force; let it bounce back naturally then keep it in its proper position.
      • Misc.
        • Kyu gradings are mostly for encouragement, and to show kyu grades how far they've progressed.
Well, that's about all I got written down for the whole session. It's a pity that we only had one and half hours for this session and we couldn't practice kata. Tried to practice with Clem after, but managed to slightly (honest!) injure both him and myself doing so. Hahaha. Not a good sign, indeed. Hopefully the gym should be available before 3 pm on Saturday if anyone wants to get in some extra practice or warm-up before the grading takes place.

Oh, and please read Marleen-sensei's latest email. It's supposed to be a newsletter or manual of some sort from the BKF.

Tune in this weekend to find out what happens when the kyu grades take their grading!

Good night, and good luck.