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Info on the knee injury

2013-10-19 19:37:00

Good news about my sports injury: I went to see a physio therapist and he agrees with the previous assessment that nothing's actually damaged in my knee. The theory remains as before: I twisted my knee "in a bad way" during kendo and something got pinched. That something is probably my meniscus, a cartilege-like layer that's in between the knee joint. 

In knee injuries you'll often see tearing of the meniscus, which will result in permanent pain and will need to be operated on. That's not the case with me and the doctors think it merely got pinched or hurt. Now, whenever I get pains, that's because the meniscus is being stressed in that same spot. Doc says the pain could go away completely with a few months, or that it could be permanent. It's not dangerous, just annoying. The best way to avoid the pains is to take a good, hard look at my technique in kendo. 


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Kendo practice: intense and awesome

2013-09-11 07:25:00

 

The past few weeks have been pretty intensive! Aside from the fact that I need to take a few days off from kendo these weeks (birthdays and such), it's been hard work. Awesome, hard work. They're working us hard in both Almere and in Amstelveen.

Yesterday's class in Amstelveen again put focus on te-no-uchi training and the left hand. After the usual suburi and warming-up, we were again instructed to practice men strikes with motodachi. Five repetitions of fifty shomen, followed by two repetitions of thirty double shomen. Heeren-sensei reminded us that it's not just an exercise to make our arms tired, but that we're really here to practice our left hand. Like before:

When it comes to breathing, don't try to stick to a rhythm of in-and-out breathing that attempts to match your striking pattern. Instead, take a deep breath and keep on breathing out until there's no more. Then breathe in again. Heeren-sensei always tries to get in as many strikes with one breath as possible. 

We were all reminded that breathing should not be done "high" in the lungs, but "low" and from the "hara". In both Japanese and Chinese arts, the "hara" (or the "lower dantian", 下丹田) is said to be the seat of your energy and to be the physical center of gravity of your body. (more here) By breathing from the hara one ensures at least two things:

  1. #mce_temp_url#You are regulating your breathing and getting enough oxygen without hyperventilating.
  2. You are building force in both your body and your kiai/kakegoe.

A way to check that you're breathing right, is to tie your hakama himo pretty tightly around the hara, which ensures that you feel your hakama tightening when breathing in. A very clear difference was presented, between a "high" and a "low" kakegoe. The one produced from the hara was louder, solid and rolls over your opponent.

Our left-hand training continued after seiza, with kirikaeshi interval training and normal kirikaeshi after jigeiko. In both exercises we were told to pay close attention to aite's left hand. It should not be going sideways or wide, but through the center line. "Helicoptering" should be avoided at all costs. Even in kirikaeshi, strikes will be straight for the most part only swerving left or right close to the end. If you feel that aite's left hand is straying, drop your shinai so he will hit your men thus alerting him of the problem.

Twenty minutes of jigeiko were had. Heeren-sensei impressed upon us the importance of practicing the lessons from kihon keiko in jigeiko.

In my case I fought three people and I am happy to see my stamina returning. I did not need to sit down between bouts, but only took a short one minute breather. I feel confident about all three rounds, against Miyahara-sensei, Zicarlo-sempai and Raoul-sempai. With Raoul I took on a student role, letting him coach and warn me extensively regarding my posture and about tension in my muscles. With Machi and Zicarlo, I took a more competitive approach which turned out very well. I tried to maintain a strong kamae and looked them both squarely in the eyes (attempting enzan no metsuke). Whenever I attacked, I tried to stick to the basics: kote-men, oki-men and hayai-men. I also did many hiki-men against Zicarlo. I'm very happy that he congratulated me on my jigeiko, remarking "You don't attack often, but when you do it's good and tidy!" I'm glad that my men strikes often hit the datotsubui.

Recently, Marli has been pressing me to attempt my shodan grading. I've been holding off on that, mostly because of insecurity. I think that, as shodan, one has an exemplary role and I feel that I cannot set a proper example if I have to keep bowing out due to exhaustion. Then again, both Heeren-sensei and Jeroen-sempai reminded me that everyone can tell I'm putting in my best effort and that I keep going despite my exhaustion. Combining all of that with Marli's continued super support and yesterday's class, I now feel more confident about attempting the December grading. I'll have a chat with the NKR people to see if I've met the conditions.

 


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Start of the new kendo season

2013-08-28 06:12:00

Last week saw the start of the 2013/14 kendo season at Renshinjuku dojo. I'm very happy that Heeren-sensei is joining us again after his prolonged absence. On the other hand, I still haven't seen any of the other teachers including Tsuyuguchi-sensei. As per yesterday we moved to our new training hall at Jane Addamslaan, now that the Westend hall is getting decomissioned. 

The first two classes of the season were spent on rebuilding our physical condition after a few weeks of slacking off* and on improving tenouchi (手の内, lit. "the inside of your hand"). Tenouchi is the term used to describe a specific kind of grip or movement, made using your hands and wrists at the moment when a strike connects. Geoff Salmon-sensei has written a lot about it

Heeren-sensei reminded us of the importance of training at home. Once or twice a week in the dojo isn't enough if you want to make real progress! Doing suburi will keep you agile and will help with tenouchi. And making a striking dummy will even let you do basic kihon practice! You can even do suburi inside, but making a suburito from old shinai parts.

After the usual warmup routing, we proceeded to bogu-less exercises. Motodachi receives and counts men strikes on his shinai, which is held in front of his face. Each person needs to do fifty strikes, totaled up to 150 by rotating three times. Last week we also included two times fifty hayai suburi. Heeren-sensei asked us to do these exercises with three things in mind:

  1. The upswing reaches all the way back, tapping your rear.
  2. The upswing has your left hand passing right over your head, almost combing through your hair.
  3. The strike should be made strongly, focusing on the left hand.

These three factors combined help you train tenouchi.

For similar reason we then proceed to interval training, with each couple doing kirikaeshi all 'round the perimeter of the dojo floor. Each person needs to make a minimum of four rounds. Heeren-sensei pointed out the following:

Class is finished with 10-15 minutes of free jigeiko and kirikaeshi.

*: In my case that's three months due to my knee injury. After visiting my GP I stopped kendo a month early. Despite the doctor's expectations it took more than two weeks to get rid of all the pains. More like six to eight. After that the pain was gone, but reappeared after last week's class. I've now bought a knee brace, which appears to be helping a lot. I still need to have a checkup by a physio-therapist.


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And so it starts

2013-07-20 21:01:00

This morning, Dana and I were lazying about, just watching TV together. I was itching to do something, but I didn't really have anything planned for the day. We ended up gardening, playing, and cycling, but what started it all was sporting together. 

I'd been thinking of starting kendo with Dana for a while and today I did. I simply took her through all the stretching exercises that we do in the dojo and then taught her how to hold a shinai. You may recall that I made her a suburito a few months ago, that's what she's using. I then got her started on jogeburi, simply to get some swings in there. And that's it. We moved on to football and playing in her sand pit. But she did her first kendo! :)


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Finishing the 2012/13 season early

2013-06-16 10:35:00

Ever since the 04/28 Centrale Training my right knee has been giving me trouble. Sharp pains below the disc, probably where a bunch of muscles connect, occur whenever I walk stairs or when I rotate my leg. 

Aside from having to see a doc, I've decided to finish the 2012/13 season a bit early. My knee needs rest. I'll still be attending class for the last few weeks of the year, but only for mitori geiko, for social contacts and to help out with shinai maintenance etc. That's exaclty what I did yesterday: I fixed six shinai, had a short chat with a few people and helped out Kris-fukushou here and there.


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Here's the mountain, now start climbing

2013-05-26 20:28:00

Today I passed my ikkyu exam in kendo.

Ikkyu, being the final grade before shodan ("black belt"), means that you're on your way to understanding kendo and that you almost grasp all of the basics. Almost. The real hard work starts now :)

As I said to my friends who also took their exams today: "The introductory class is over, we are now rank beginners". Another analogy would be that a guide has shown me the mountain and that I now need to start climbing it. My foot is on the first step of the stairway. 

I am very happy that all of the help my sensei and sempai have given me and that my 2.5 years of effort have led to at least some progress. Also, obviously I wouldn't have come this far without the continued support of my lovely wife and of my friends who cheer me on.

If anyone's interested, my dear friend Menno shot a video of my kirikaeshi and my two jitsugi. I was very happy to hear his reaction about my kendo, to paraphrase: "This is cool stuff! I now understand what you meant when you said your lung capacity was useful; your kiai kicks ass!". ( ^_^) I'm the one starting on the left, as Tomokiyo-san put it: "Lucky number 7".

ThomasIkkyu.m4v


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A sobering review

2013-05-18 21:45:00

a graph

"I don't think you understand what this thing is for." he said, gesturing with his shinai.

It didn't hurt as much as Zicarlo-sempai's stab to the stomach, but it stung a bit anyway. Only a little though and I'm putting aside the emotional aspect, to analyze the technical message behind it. Instead of sulking, it makes me want to train three or four times each week! Were I not a family man, I'd sign up with Museido right away for more practice.

But let's backpaddle a bit to the beginning. 

Today's class in Amstelveen was great, with a big turnup and an all-star cast. Our usual crew was expanded with a few high placed teachers and students from Museido and Fumetsu. A chance for us all to learn something new!

Class followed the usual structure: kata, warming up, kihon, jigeiko. To prepare for my upcoming ikkyu exam I practiced kata with Zicarlo and Hans, learning the fifth kata along the way. I'm actually pretty happy with how that went, though there wasn't much tension between us. That's something to work on. 

Kihon practice went alright, though I let myself coast through it too much. I often let my body run on autopilot instead of paying attention and being fully aware of what's going on. That's not right. And yes, my chisai techniques are still awful. Given my lack of stamina I'm happy to say I did not take the short break that was offered between kihon and jigeiko, but instead jumped into a little shinsa practice with Zicarlo. "Every week a little stronger" as I keep telling myself in mokuso.

Seeing how the chance rarely occurs, I lined up with Mark Herbold-sensei for my second jigeiko. I first met him a few weeks ago at the CT where he impressed me with his teaching style and personality. After Tsuyuguchi-sensei's admonishment ("You should hit!") I'd picked up my pacing considerably, so I tried my best with Mark. In my mind I was not backing down and I was giving it multiple shots in a row. Compared to a few weeks ago I thought I was doing better. Maybe I was, meaning that I was pretty darn bad a few weeks ago ;)

After class I went to pay my respects and to get some feedback from Mark. You already know how he opened: "I don't think you understand what this thing is for." he said, gesturing with his shinai. Direct. No sugar coating. But definitely not the only thing he said, because he took quite some time to explain. 

That was the big take-away from today: be ready to jump and kill from the get-go, don't start building your energy after you've already engaged your opponent.

It was a sobering experience, which is something I need from time to time to remind me that I really am a rank beginner. But I'm going to use it to motivate myself. And yes, I'm still going to take the exam next week, simply to get an appraisal of my current level. It'll be a learning experience, however it turns out.


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It's the small things

2013-05-08 08:38:00

mr Miyagi

Yesterday's training has two big take-aways for me.

  1. I should never break kamae, especially if I'm tired.
  2. I should hit. ( ^_^)

Throughout class I had been paying attention to all my weak points: only use my left hand, relax in kamae after kakegoe, don't have my left heel too high, proper timing of strikes and fumikomi, practice my chisai men strikes in the right way and keep on pushing through the exhaustion. I was feeling pretty good about myself! I managed to get through five of the six rounds of jigeiko too :)

Then comes the time to do jigeiko with Tsuyuguchi-sensei. He attacks me a few times, I attack him a few times but I leave plenty of openings unused. Then we get into tsubazeriai and he looks me in the eye smiling and says:

"You should hit."

I keep on making glancing blows against him and I often fail to grasp an opening he makes for me. Again in tsubazeria he smiles and repeats: "You should hit. You should hit." And he's right. Obviously. :)


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Working towards my exams

2013-05-06 08:19:00

Change of plans! A few weeks ago I had a chat with Marli, who'd asked me if I still wanted to take my ikkyu exam by the end of May. Originally I'd take the test in winter because of our wedding anniversary, but since we're taking a few days of fun midweek she wanted me to go anyway. Yay :)

I'm feeling pretty confident about taking the ikkyu exam, insofar that I -know- most of the things I need to demonstrate. Most of the things I can actually do well, but I am not certain that my fighting skills are at the level that's needed. The most important weak point is my hunger/bloodlust: as Donatella-sensei remarked months ago I attack a general direction, not a specific target.

Saturday's class was great and started off with a nice surprise: our friend Sebastian, who departed for Germany a few months after I started kendo, came to visit for some jigeiko! In the absence of Ton-sensei and Hillen, Kris-fukushou led class with kihon and jigeiko. Many things were said and done, some important pointers being:

For me personally, Kris had two important points of feedback:

As my mantra for mokuso goes these days: "every week a little stronger"... Despite getting more and more tired, I fought myself through jigeiko.


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Centrale training: shiai and shinpan training

2013-04-28 21:03:00

Today was hard work! Over sixty people traveled to Sporthallen Zuid in Amsterdam for the national level 'central training'. This month's edition focused on shiai and shinpan skills, meaning both the fighting and the referreeing of competitions. Today, Renshinjuku's turnup was also impressive with a dozen members attending. Excellent :)

It was a lot to take in! Before lunch, Mark Herbold-sensei took us through kihon in order to practice legwork and speed. He impressed upon us the importance of moving from the legs and hips, with 80% of your effort coming from there. The remaining effort is 10% stomach to retain posture, then 8% and 2% left/right hands for the strike. By properly using your hips and legs you assure that you close in quickly and that you retain control of the situation.

Exercises included kirikaeshi, oki-men, oki-kote-men, hayai kote-men and then a number of hayai variations of kote-men, kote-men-men, kote-kote-men, kote-men-kote-men and so on. In each of these, the connection and distance between both kendoka was key: kakarite needs to move in fast enough to pressure motodachi backwards. Motodachi needs to be surprised and should not dance backwards before the attach. Learning this speed and pressure is what will help you overwhelm your opponent in shiai

After lunch Vitalis-sensei went over a few basics regarding referreeing: valid strikes and hansoku (violations).

A valid point only has the following five requirements:

  1. Using the kensen, the top 1/3 of your blade.
  2. Using the hasuji, the cutting edge of the blade.
  3. On the datotsu-bui, the proper part of the target.
  4. With fighting spirit.
  5. With proper zanshin.

Salmon-sensei has written a little more about what makes a valid ippon. Vitalis-sensei remarked that many things that we learn are important for a strike (like ki-ken-tai-ichi) are NOT in the rulebook. This means they are NOT required for ippon. He also impressed upon us that there are two common mistakes that beginning shinpan make:

After Louis' introduction the sixty kendoka were divided across three shiaijo, each led by a high ranking sensei. I was assigned to Mark Herbold-sensei's shiaijo. He led the session with clear instructions and a pleasant amount of humor. He explained so many things, it's hard to remember them all. The following will simply be a stream of conciousness, trying to recall as much as possible of what was said.

The following points were made for me specifically:

 

The last hour of the day was free jigeiko. Sadly I had to leave early, but I'll get another chance later :)


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I was going to write, but then I fell asleep

2013-04-17 08:11:00

Hoooo boy, last night's training was good! Despite my hay fever I soldiered on and because of that I was dead tired when I came home. I managed to unpack my equipment bag, but nothing more. The moment my head hit the pillow I was g.o.n.e. Boom. I showered at the office just now ;)

Last week and yesterday class was led by Jouke-sempai, who was in the Netherlands for last weekend's EKC. Where we usually practice upwards of six techniques a night in 2x(2x5) bouts, he now had us repeating the same technique in a 2x(5min) setup. This dramatically lowered the amount of different things we got to try, but there are two huge benefits:

  1. Muscle memory
  2. The time to reflect

During kihon practice we focused on men (both oki and hayai), hayai kote and kote-men and finally hiki waza. The following points were made:

The past weeks, Hillen-sempai and Ton-sensei reprimanded me for my horrible hayai kote. I keep going in arcs, which messes up the practice we're doing. Yesterday I got the same reprimand from Miyahara-sensei. She had me do it over and over again, until I started showing something resembling a good kote-strike. Straight and through the center, no need to raise it high, no need to go wide.

Tsuyuguchi-sensei spent a lot of his time explaining hiki waza to me. Most of it was in Japanese (probably because I had given the impression that I speak it) so I missed big parts of it. However, the essence of what he tried to convey is this:

  1. Keep your hands low and lock the tsuba.
  2. Tsubazeriai is all about the hips, push from the hips.
  3. Put strong pressure against your opponent and push away.
  4. Did I say it's about the hips? Because you need to work from the hips!

I really appreciate the effort he put into explaining these things to me! It's the first time we've really spoken, so I went up to him after class to thank him again. Point #3 is a bit confusing for me, because I have often been told not to put any pressure in tsubazeriai. Not until you actually push off for your strike.

In jigeiko I had the chance to spar with Miyahara-sensei, who went over hayai kote with me some more. Try, try, try and try again. We also tried a number of other techniques, with her seemingly focussing on hayai men and debana kote. I also started jigeiko with Onno-sempai, but I had to bow out early because of my dizziness (thankyouverymuch hay fever). I spent the last ten minutes of class helping out our kouhai Gaby in practicing her kote strikes and footwork.

I haven't written much about kendo the past two months. Here's what happened.


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A visit by Furuya-sensei

2013-03-06 10:29:00

It has been a month of remarkable kendo! First there was the big party, then last week was a tiny group of people and yesterday Furuya-sensei paid us a visit. Stopping over for a single day on his way to the Furuya Cup in Peru, he made sure to come observe the dojo he helped raise in the Netherlands. We were also joined by Mark Herbold-sensei, who recently achieved 7-dan.

With roughly thirtyfive kendoka attending the training session we used the motodachi system, with anyone 3-dan and higher acting as motodachi. We worked on solidifying our basics: kirikaeshi, men, kote-men and kote-do. We closed with half an hour of jigeiko.

The following points were stressed during class:

Because our founder's sensei was present, a lot of attention was paid to mistakes in etiquette. For example:

Furuya-sensei indicated that he was happy to be back in the Netherlands and to train with us. He hopes that we will continue training hard, working on improving our kendo. He also hopes that next year we can organize another Furuya Cup in the Netherlands, as it is an important tourney in Europe.

In jigeiko I practiced with four people:

  1. I started with Bert Heeren-sensei. He took me through a mix of uchikomi keiko and kakari geiko, where he either showed an opening, let me make one or where he attacked me. He indicated that he was pleased with how I was doing, with regards to the effort I'm showing. He didn't comment on my kendo, as his goal with our jigeiko is mostly to make me fearless. I should not fear my opponent, nor should I hesitate, regardless whether I'm up against a kouhai, a sempai or a 6-dan teacher.
  2. After being absent for a few months, I'm glad I got to spar with Mischa. I mostly tried to practice chisai men and debana kote, but threw in some other stuff as well. I'm nowhere near his level yet (obviously, as he's 3-dan I believe), but I hope that we both took something away from the practice.
  3. I also ran it hard against Jeroen and Davin, with whom I am roughly on par. These two rounds of practice were excellent to go all out and thrown in the last shreds of energy I had.

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Booyah! My biggest failing in kendo analyzed

2013-02-24 21:49:00

My wife, ladies and gentlemen! My dear wife just helped me figure out one of my biggest failings in kendo!

Countless times I have been told by various teachers that I double-step or step through when jumping in for a strike. I keep getting warned about it, but I've never conciously felt it happen. Sure I was aware that I keep shuffling my feet to find footing for the lunge, but I've never felt the "step through with left" happening. Until last night during the big training, when I think I felt it happen at the back of my head. 

But that's not the big succes here. No, that's my wife's analysis of the same situation!

Watching me do kihon practice, she noticed that my whole body teeters to the right when I'm about to lunge. It happens especially when I start leaning in for the lunge. And then, when I lunge, she sees me pull left up to the right foot (or past it!) after which I actually jump.

And the answer is!.... *drumroll* Weight distribution!!!

I keep my weight too much on the front leg and then I only increase that when I start leaning in for the lunge. Earlier, I learned that back-front should be 60-40 at rest. In my case it's probably reversed: back-front is 40-60. Then it gets worse when I lunge, going to 20-80! THAT'S WRONG! How can I jump from the left foot, when all my weight is on the right?! That's right, I cannot! Which is why I instintively doublestep/overstep, to get the weight back on the left foot. 

I'm so grateful that she saw through that! This really gives me clear details to work with.


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An awesome night of kendo with friends

2013-02-24 20:16:00

Training

Yesterday was wonderful, a great night of kendo and of building friendship. Renshinjuku Kendo Dojo organized a big training and buffet party in honor of a few of our members. Fukuyama-sensei and his family, as well as Tanida-sempai and his family are returning to Japan. Also, Kurogi-sensei recently achieved seventh dan ranking. Great reasons for a 'Sayonara & Omedetou' (farewell and congratulations) party.

Marli came with me, which means a lot to me. Last time she hadn't enjoyed the buffet very much, so it says something that she tagged along again. Sweetie <3 Double-sweet, because she spent some time taking notes about my performance.

I was expecting a bigger turnup than usual, as it was the Saturday afternoon training. What I did NOT expect was sixty to seventy kendoka turning up! Kurogi-sensei brought along a number of his students from Belgium and a five-strong delegation from Scotland was also in town, for today's Iijimia Cup. Because it was such a big group we ran the night in the motodachi system, with twelve higher ranking teachers lining up to train with all students. Roelof-sensei took care of the fifteen beginners.

Training consisted of kihon and a few waza: kirikaeshi, oki-men, oki-kote-men, chisai-men, chisai-kote-men, men-taiatari-hiki-men-men, men-taiatari-hiki-kote-men. Then an hour of jigeiko! I sparred with Fukuyama-sensei, a gentleman I am not familiar with and with Tsuyuguchi-sensei.

I always enjoyed working with Fukuyama-sensei, so I'm sad to see him go. There's just something cool about his ever-smiling face behind the mengane. In the photo above I'm at the far right, practicing chisai-men with Fukuyama-sensei.

During jigeiko I was feeling the effects of the afternoon's anxiety and I was close to quiting three times. But every time I thought "just one more fight" and then I pushed through. It sure helped that, during waza practice, Heeren-sensei shortly took me aside to compliment me, reassuring me that I was doing alright.

Dinner was nice and we enjoyed a good, long chat with my kendo friends. Jeroen, Zicarlo, Davin, Nienke, Gaby, all fun people to talk to about kendo and other geekery :) I also had a nice, open-hearted talk with Heeren-sensei which provided me with some much-needed insights.


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Bad kendo, great training and moral dilemmas

2013-02-13 07:49:00

Last night's training was awesome: I was beat by the end, knowing I certainly gave it my best effort.

Unfortunately my kendo was crap, because every little bit of basics was wrong. I was pulled aside by every single senior sempai with whom I crossed shinai! Heeren-sensei grabbed me twice, once to point out mistakes in my striking and once adminish me on my footwork. The same footwork issues were also reported by both Koseki-sensei and Kiwa-sempai. Ran-sempai sternly indicated that I constantly dropped pressure in jigeiko and that I was not even responding to any of the openings he made. Makoto-sempai saw right away that my timing of ki-ken-tai-ichi was completely dead and Miyahara-sensei complained about a headache from my men strikes by the end of class. She didn't think I was striking too hard or with too much right-hand, but mostly from too close range.

So every little bit of basics was wrong: footwork, striking, tenouchi, timing, ki-ken-tai-ichi, swinging, shinai grip. Everything. I didn't allow myself to get too frustrated because all of it, only getting irked a little right after the explanation and then moving on.

On the way home I had a good talk with Jeroen-sempai, about the future of our Almere dojo. We both feel that the dojo could use a heavy dose of discipline and rigour and that it would be great if it started mirroring the Amstelveen dojo. We are however unsure how this could be achieved under the current leadership. In the past I've already been told by sensei that my stance is to strict and that my teaching of the beginners' group was too harsh and that enforcing discipline to the degree I'd desire would scare off all the beginners.

Jeroen and I will be submitting a few suggestions pertaining to class structure and instruction to beginners. Most importantly, Jeroen thinks that our whole group would be best served by focusing more on basics than on waza practice. Every week the bogu-group spends a lot of time practicing many different waza for a tiny amount of time and Jeroen would suggest that we instead divide our practice into a monthly schedule: weeks 1, 2 and 3 are spent practicing one specific subject and week 4 will merge them all. I certainly think his idea has merit!

One thing that I am conflicted about is the following: both Marli and myself think that I would make faster progress if I trained at Amstelveen twice a week, instead of once and once in Almere. However, to me this would feel like "abandoning" and disrespecting Almere after all their hospitality and because I truly feel that I can help them grow through the years. So it's a moral dilemma for me: do I choose harder training and faster progress, or do I choose loyality to the group that first took me in?

EDIT 17/02/2013:

Yesterday we did not end up talking to Ton-sensei, because I was occupied before class. While the group practiced kata, I took aside three beginners and Ramon to teach them the basics of shinai maintenance. The night before I had put together a cheapass kit of tools needed for the job: sandpaper, nails (to use as makeshift awl), an exacto knife and a few waxine lights. I taught them how to tighten the tsuru and the nakayui and how to look for splinters. I'm proud of Peter for spotting a bad take in his shinai, correctly noticing that it was splitting across the breadth. 

After warming up and legwork practice I was asked by Ton-sensei to teach the beginners group, while the guys in bogu did kihon practice with those whom already have had a few months' practice. But before we got to that, I taught Felix how to put on a tenugui and his men. The beginners, I took through oki-men and oki-kote by simply doing the suburi strikes back and forth across the training hall. The biggest problem I noticed was that all three of them end up with their arms far too low when striking men: the angles are all wrong. Just like they were with me ;)

My part of their training was ended with me introducing the mechanics of seme-to-tame-to-butsu to them. I didn't tell all of it to them, just to kakegoe, hold their breath, focus and then strike.  This showed good results with the two older beginners who were indeed more focused. But the youngster (I think he's 11) was afraid to kakegoe, he felt weird yelling at me, very embarassed.


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Whittling down the mistakes

2013-02-06 11:10:00

Last night's training was very nice: no lessons or class, just simply training, training and more training. Kihon, waza and jigeiko. Along the way I received pointers from our higher-ranked kendoka Kiwa, Machi, Makoto and Ran. Many of the pointers come down to improving techniques that are basic and important for my ikkyu ranking.

Funny detail: we relied heavily upon our prior seme-to-tame-to-butsu training last night. During our practice of hiki-men I faced against Makoto and against Loek and both gentlemen really succeeded in making me feel the seme building! Because a second or two after their kakegoe, I instinctively felt chills down my neck and found myself thinking "ohcrapohcrap, here it comes!" ( ^_^)

Also, it's interesting how I tense up in jigeiko. During most of practice my breathing was fine, but in jigeiko I got tired really fast, because my arms and shoulders lock up and my breathing goes to heck.


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A new motto for this year: katsubou

2013-01-29 21:20:00

katsubou

Well! It's not every day that I get a mention on a 7th dan sensei's blog :D

My motto for 2012 was enryo (遠慮): "restraint". 

The motto has served me well and I will continue to be inspired by it. It still adorns my desk and it is on the inside of my dou. At the office I have become better at communicating and at sticking to boundaries and in kendo I have become less apt to rush in foolishly. 

For 2013 I will be adding a new motto, katsubou (渇望): "hunger, craving".

This motto comes through inspiration by four people whom I've come to respect very much. Donatella-sensei and Vitalis-sensei, after their instructions at the last Centrale Training. And Kris and Hillen-fukushou, based on their feedback to our recent kyu exams. Summarizing it: without stupidly rushing in (see above), I need to crave achieving yuko datotsu on my opponent. I need to hunger for "kills" and to show eagerness in all my undertakings. Only then will I be properly training and will I be able to show my current skill level in a shinsa.

Interestingly, this motto is also applicable professionaly insofar that I'm working to retain my CISSP certification. I'd slacked off over the past two years, but now I'm working hard to make up for that. In order to achieve this plan fully, I need to be "hungry". I need to keep at it, working on each successive goal in order to reach the final destination. 

It'll be an interesting year :)


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Kendo kyu exams in Almere

2013-01-26 16:51:00

Photo gallery of the morning.

This morning were the (semi-)annual kyu grade exams at Renshinjuku kendo dojo. I'm told that we're the only dojo in the Netherlands that actually do intermediate kyu exams, but personally I think they're a good thing. These exams help prepare our students for the actual exam, making the real thing a lot less scary.

Today, thirteen students were testing: five for 5th, one for 4h, two for 3rd and five for 2nd. The way we test 2nd kyu is actually identical to the official 1st kyu exam, meaning that we're getting a full prep for ikkyu

The good news is that everyone testing up to 3rd kyu passed their grade. So congratulations to Ainar, Lukas, Dennis, vincenzo, Herman, Ramon, Aaron and Hugo! Good work eveyrone!

The group testing for 2nd kyu wasn't as successful. Only Jeroen was deemed to be ready to take and pass the ikkyu exam, so many congrulations to him: you've worked hard for this Jeroen!

Bobby, Martijn, Tiamat and myself were all given valuable pointers on what we need to improve to be ready for the 1st kyu exam. Two pieces of advice were applicable to all of us:

  1. In jitsugi, you need to be hungry! You need to really want to make those ippon! Don't be passive and don't do shiai kendo. Instead, have at it!
  2. Stick to kihon. There's no need for über-special techniques, because if you -do- try those they'd better be done right!

At this level you're trying to prove that you fully understand and control the basics.

I had already set a number of goals for myself to work on, in order to attain ikkyu rank: get a decent hayai-men, control my breathing, and less cueing before a strike. Also: make for a neat and tidy kirikaeshi, because a few weeks ago I was still all over the place. Added to this comes the feedback from Kris and Hillen:

After the exams, Aaron said his farewells to me. I'm sad to see him go because he shows a lot of promise. Maybe he'll be back in a few years. 

All in all it was a very educational morning! I am confident that I showed my best kendo:

While my kendo was not up to par to pass our 2nd kyu exam, I am confident that I gave it my best. I simply need to keep on getting better! :)

EDIT: Woohoo! I've spoken to Ton-sensei and he indicates that I defaulted to 3rd kyu, meaning that I have at least improved my kendo since last year. So when it comes to the line-up in class, the only thing that changes is that I have now hopped at least six spots to the right :)


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Learning a new skill: seme to tame to butsu

2013-01-22 20:09:00

Tonight’s class was guided by Fukuyama-sensei, in the absence of Heeren-sensei, with Kiwa-sempai providing translations for those not familiar with the Japanese language. After the usual warming-up routine (no kata practice tonight), we moved on to two separate but entwined subjects:

  1. Seme to tame to butsu
  2. Hiki waza

In kendo we are often taught to “build pressure”, to “feel tension” before launching an attack. This pressure is described with the word seme (攻め) and it is something that is learned through long practice. The Glossary related to budo and kobudo by Guy Buyens offers the following:

SEME (攻め) in BUDO (武道) is usually used to indicate the initiative to close the distance and maintain the pressure when launching an attack. This can be part of a very decisive and even explosive technique or in combination with TAME (溜め), where pressure is build in a more gradual way and where the final target depends on the reaction of that opponent.

Tame, from the verb tameru, meaning “to ammass” or “to accumulate”. In this case we are creating seme and then gathering more and more tension. For this particular session, Fukuyama-sensei described our exercise as follows:

  1. Assume issoku itto kamae.
  2. Generate seme.
  3. Inhale deeply and kakegoe (*) strongly.
  4. Do NOT inhale, do NOT exhale further.
  5. Hold your breath for five seconds.
  6. Attack at your fiercest, with a very strong kiai.

Fukuyama-sensei explained that, in this exercise, holding your breath will help you retain focus on your opponent and on seme. This way you are deeply invested in your attack, almost guaranteeing a beautiful strike. He compared it to a story he once heard about olympic sprinters, who would finish their 100m dash without breathing to retain 100% focus.

We practice seme to tame to butsu with different kihon and waza: first with chisai men, kote and dou, then in oji waza where motodachi would attack with chisai men. As usual we were told to do our very best attack, because otherwise the exercise would be useless.

Before moving on to jigeiko, we practiced the various hiki waza: men, kote and dou. These exercises were combined with the previous tame exercises. When it came to hiki dou, Fukuyama-sensei explained that moving backwards can be done in three backwards directions.

  1. To the left is sub-optimal, as it makes it hard to properly strike and follow through.
  2. Straight, where you remain on the center line of your opponent.
  3. To the right, making for an easier strike while also putting you off the opponent’s center.

For showing zanshin after hiki dou, Fukuyama-sensei said that you should relax after striking. Your arms should not be tense and your shinai should not be immovable. Instead, follow through downwards in the natural arc of your strike and relax your arms (so you are also ready for a counter attack).

*: For extensive information on kakegoe, what you could call the “kiai in kamae”, please refer to chapter 13 of Noma Hisashi-sensei’s ‘Kendo Reader.


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Preparing for my exams

2013-01-20 09:37:00

2013 will be a year of exam preparation for me. Not only at work (ITILv3, RHCSA, maintaining my CISSP), but also in kendo. 

Last year I decided that I want to take my ikkyu exam this summer, ikkyu being the first grade that is tested on a national level. I wrote the shinsa prep guide for the RSJ website and based on my research, I will need to do the following for my ikkyu exam:

In the first three tests, kiai is highly important at the ikkyu level, so I'll definitely give that my best!

The NKR exam is still a few months away, so I'm very happy that I'll be getting an extra exam in between. A month ago Ton-sensei announced that Renshinjuku Almere would be holding their local kyu-grade shinsa on 25/01, which is next week. I've asked Ton-sensei and Hillen- and Kris-fukushou to keep in mind my aspiration of testing for ikkyu. For our own exams this means that I'm asking them to allow me to skip a grade and to test for nikyu instead of sankyu, while at the same time asking them to judge me at ikkyu level. That's a bit of a leap (I last tested for yonkyu a year ago), but they appear very willing to help me out for which I am very grateful. 

To do list before next week:


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Taught kendo for the first time

2013-01-20 08:43:00

Ahhh, life :) I've just gone over the last weeks worth of blogposts from when I was still in college, working on getting my teaching degree. On the one hand I love reading about that time, on the other it makes me a bit sad because it's all done and gone. There's that 'mono no aware' again: the beauty of passing/fading. One thing that has never left me though, is the fact that I love to teach. 

That's why I was thrilled when Ton-sensei asked me to teach the beginners group for a part of class. :)

After warming up and doing footwork practice (laps of okuri ashi, lunges and fumikomi), my sempai suited up for kihon and waza practice (suriage-men, ai-men etc) and I took the group of a dozen newbies. Because I hadn't prepared anything beforehand and because Ton-sensei didn't have any specifics he wanted me to teach, I went through the following thought process.

Putting all of that together, I decided to work on ki-ken-tai-ichi: the unity of mind, sword and body during a strike. This builds upon what we've done so far and is something that the group could use in kihon practice with Jeroen. These are the drills I went through with them:

In each of these practices, I first let the group do them a number of times without me saying anything. Five men strikes, twenty haya-suburi, two laps of okuri-ashi, etc. I only observed them, trying to see what everyone is doing. After the initial round, I would provide general feedback without singling anyone out. Then I'd let them repeat the exercise again, doubling the amount of strikes/laps. During this second round I would provide the students with personal feedback.

I'm very glad that the group paid full attention! At no point in time did they start drifting away or were they slacking off which, I hope, was caused by my demeanor and posture: stern and polite, speaking clearly and loudly and giving precise instructions. Once again my strong lungs came in handy, as I was able to address the group as they lined up (no huddle needed) and still being heard over the loud group in bogu

I certainly hope to teach again sometime soon :)


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Not much to say: it was good

2013-01-12 13:33:00

There's not much to say about today's training as it simply was a good, solid training. 

1.5 years ago I wrote about a kendo dummy that I would love to build. Lo and behold! Ton-sensei has built two for the dojo: one child-sized and one adult-sized. They look cool and after tweaking them a bit, many of our beginners were very happy to use them in training. 

After inspecting the dojo shinai I proceeded to go through kata #1-#4 with Hugo. Since he told me he was pretty rusty (he's often absent because of school) I took a firm lead and escorted him through the first three, correcting where needed. When we got to #4 I'm glad that Ton-sensei corrected a number of things I was doing wrong (most importantly, stab too high and at a wrong angle).

During footwork practice I was reminded yet again that I have trouble combinining okuri ashi with fumikomi: whenever I need to jump while going forward, I always overstep with the left foot before the jump. The timing is completely off: instead of jumping right after pulling the left leg in, my body tries to jump after the right foot has gone forward again. It's crappy.

Kihon and waza practice went pretty well, but it was jigeiko that stood out for me today :)


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A great session in Amstelveen

2013-01-09 08:50:00

I'm not entirely sure what happened, but last sunday's Central Training did wonders for my confidence. Last night was the first time I can recall that I went to Amstelveen without feeling nervous. I was aching to practice with my sempai and I'd prepared to answer any questions I might get about what we learned during the CT.

I reckon that attending the CT was a good step in my continued 'exposure', trying to alleviate my anxiety issues. The CT was outside my comfort zone and because it went so well, it seems my boundaries have shifted a bit. Nice!

Class was started, as has become custom, with half an hour of kata training. I again partnered with Nienke and we did many repeats of kata #1 (and a bit of #2 and #3). Why focus so much on kata #1? Because of some contention we ran into! I'd been taught by Ton-sensei and Kris-fukushou that after being struck by shidachi (and after letting the bokken sink to eye level), uchidachi would be "pushed back" by shidachi. Shidachi would "threaten you away". Instead, Kiwa-sempai and Ran-sempai informed us that "uchidachi always moves first", so the new analogy would be that uchidachi attempts to flee, with shidachi preventing this by assuming a threatening pose. Interesting!

After kata a shinai check was performed, which has also become customary. I heard that last Saturday ~70% of the students' shinai were rejected during the check, leading to an impromptu lesson in maintenance. Hence Renshinjuku kendo dojo have instated the rule that, if your shinai is rejected, you will now spend the training repairing the big collection of dojo-shinai. Both of my shinai were in an "okay" state, though not very good. After tightening the tsuru of my second one, I was allowed to join class. So, time for another evening filled with maintenance!

After warming up, we moved to waza practice. A few rounds of kirikaeshi variations, followed by oki-men, oki-kote, hiki-waza from tsubazeriai and men-oji-waza. There wasn't any explanation of techniques, just the chance to practice a lot.

I had jigeiko with Onno-sempai, (I think) Tsuyuguchi-sensei and with Raoul-sempai.


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Intensive kendo training: "central training"

2013-01-06 19:08:00

Almost a year ago I visited the Landstede sport center in Zwolle, to participate in the NK kyu-graded kendo. Today, we made the trek to attend the first 'central training' of the year. It's "central" insofar that it's a large kendo training, for all dojo in the Netherlands. Marli took Dana for a fun-filled morning at Ballorig in Hattem, while Jeroen-sempai, Nienke and myself went to the training. Marli 'sacrificed' her usual day off, so I could have a great training day.

And great it was! Today's practice pulled in about 50 people (est. 15 beginners, 15 kyu-graded and 20 dan-graded), with four high-placed sensei and our honored chairman Odinot taking the lead. Today's agenda was as follows:

  1. 25 minutes of joint kihon practice of hayai-techniques. Also, ki-ken-tai-ichi exercises.
  2. 80 minutes of waza practice under Vitalis-sensei, while Wouters-sempai instructed the beginners.
  3. 20 minutes break/lunch.
  4. 60 minutes of jigeiko.

Under Vitalis-sensei, the group was split into mudansha and kodansha so everyone got from practice what they needed. We practiced the following techniques, some of which were new for many of us. Each technique was practiced 2x2 times, after which shugou was called in order to learn the next one. 

 

I got a chance to have jigeiko with three of the leading sensei

  1. I didn't receive any specific feedback from Barbier-sensei. I tried to use a few of the techniques we learned, combined with some of the stuff Heeren-sensei taught us. After a few minutes, Barbier-sensei asked me to do a round of kirikaeshi.
  2. I very much enjoyed my round with Castelli-sensei, who has a very enthousiastic and energizing personality. She let me try a few techniques, then took me aside to tell me (paraphrased): "You need to want your target. I see you hitting air, making a lot of movement, but never getting to where you want to go. I see you go for men, but you don't get to my men. I see you go for kote, then don't hit kote. You need to WANT to hit. You need to WANT to put your shinai on my head! Be hungry! You need to be like an animal of prey". And yeah, that was a very interesting realization for me! I hadn't thought of it like that, but she's right! The next few attacks I was a lot more focused, after which she took me aside again. "The Japanese say: ichi gan, the eyes are first. I see you very often not looking at your target. You strike my kote, but look somewhere completely else! Don't! Eyes on the target!".
  3. Right before the closing kirikaeshi, I had a very short round with Vitalis-sensei. At first I had offered to cede my position to mrs De Jong who outranks me, but Vitalis-sensei said I shouldn't do that. "I don't care if they're 10th dan! In kendo you need to be hungry and egotistical to get the training you want. You need to be fast in dressing, first in line and scramble for practice with the teachers you want!" Based on the few strikes I made for him, he also warned me that right now I shouldn't yet be trying "patient"/"waiting" kendo. "Make attacks! Make plenty of attacks! Right now you still have plenty of time to make plenty of mistakes. If two out of ten strikes land relatively close, that's great!" Which certainly sounds a lot like what Kris-fukushou keeps telling me: I wait too much.

During closing, Vitalis-sensei shared the following remarks.

After the training we quickly visited Kaijuu and Natalie and then headed home. Nienke and Jeroen were dropped off at the station again, after which the three of us went for dinner at Tang Dynastie. Great food, as always. All of us exhausted, Dana quickly fell asleep at 1900 and now it's off to bed for us as well :)


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Well, that wasn't good

2013-01-05 15:02:00

Wow, I can tell that I haven't done any kendo the past three weeks :(

Today's practice went pretty badly for me, because I'm -already- out of shape! Three weeks of no sports is killer, after a few months of only two kendo practices each week. I really need that third session at home to keep up. I'm sad to say I had to bow out from the bogu-group twenty minutes before the end of class.

I got some very important feedback from Ton-sensei: my hayai-men is still almost as bad as a year ago. I still make the same damn mistakes as before, where I pull back large and only stretch forward when striking instead of stretching forward and then striking with a tiny movement. 1.5 years later I am still making the wrong movements. 

Also, whatever progress I had made with my breathing is now gone again. It was crap today and was the biggest cause of my early drop-out.

The second pointer I got from Ton-sensei is that I'm cueing my attacks. We already knew that, but I didn't know -this- particular cue! The Miyaharas and Zicarlo-sempai all told me about my footwork issues, right before launching an attack. But Ton-sensei also pointed out that I dip my shinai before swinging upwards. 

So, my training goals for this year: get a decent hayai-men, control my breathing, and less cueing before a strike.


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A class out of the ordinary

2012-12-19 15:33:00

 

Pfff... You would think that after nearly a year of training with my sempai in Amstelveen, I wouldn't be anxious anymore. But I am. :)

They're great people, but I always dread acting like a complete newbie around them. That and I fear that I'm not pulling my weight. Well, nothing to do but push on! Maybe this will be a nice subject for my next coaching session

Last night was a training out of the ordinary. Seeing how it was the last tuesday-night session for 2012, the turnup was smaller with only one sensei appearing and the group totaling out at roughly fifteen people (nine in bogu). While Roelof-sensei kept an eye on everyone for details, Kiwa-sempai led the advanced group in what I found to be a tremendously educational class. 

The first half hour of class was spent on practicing kendo kata. I finally got a chance to practice with Nienke, a classmate whom I appreciate and with whom I'm on-par. We went through kata #1 through #3 and focused greatly on practicing #3. A lot of things that I thought I was doing right, I turned out to be doing slightly wrong or I just learned them a bit differently. Under the watchful eye of Onno-sempai, Roelof-sensei and Kiwa-sempai I got a lot of pointers.

The next half hour was spent on learning the bokuto ni yoru kendo kihon waza keikoho, also known as the kihon bokuto waza. This set of exercises is relatively new and targeted mostly at beginning students and lower-ranked kendo. Here, one practices the various techniques in kendo in a more realistic as well as entry-level setting: unarmoured and with a bokuto, which is shorter than a shinai. Much more information can be read in this excelent PDF. In class we practiced kata #1 through #3, which are:

  1. The four basic targets: men, kote, dou and tsuki.
  2. A successive kote-men.
  3. The harai-men technique.

Despite seemingly being a lot easier than normal kata, I had a surprising amount of trouble getting the motodachi role right. And, as I have with the normal kata, at first I held back when striking at Nienke for fear of actually hitting her. In this regard, I overheard a very important comment from Kiwa-sempai who said to strike without power, but in a relaxed fashion. 

The last half hour was dedicated to jigeiko. The beginners' group joined Roelof-sensei for kihon practice, while the advanced group went through their desired routines. While most duos did actual sparring, I was very grateful for Zicarlo-sempai's help in practicing kirikaeshi. As expected I soon got winded, because I'm still messing up my breathing :) It was great practice though and I need a lot more of it, if I want to test for ikkyu this summer. 

The biggest failings I showed today were my over-use of my right hand which thus lead to hitting way too hard. Also, I was cueing, as Zicarlo said, because I kept fiddling with my footing. Every single time, before pushing off on the left foot, I would re-set my left foot one last time. This is in part due to my under-estimating the reach of my shinai: I keep fearing that I cannot reach my target.


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Muscle ache? Check!

2012-12-16 08:57:00

kendo notes

Between my sterilization, the Dinosaurs show, standby duties and Alegria I've been absent from kendo class for two full weeks. And because I've been so busy with work I haven't practiced at home either. I feel guilty about it, but as they say: "god's punishment is swift" because boy do my muscles hurt! (;^_^)

It's great to see how our group keeps growing with newbies, who also show great attendance. Sadly, we don't seem to have much luck with the guys in bogu though. Sander is very busy with work, Hugo has a lot of schoolwork as do Jeroen, Martijn and Houdaifa and I myself have family and work stuff. So that's six guys who should be senior in the group, but who have problems making attendance. On the one hand it's beneficial to the friendly atmosphere in our dojo that Ton-sensei is so lenient about attendance, but on the other hand our attendance issues do keep both ourselves and our juniors from learning as quickly as we could. 

When it comes to our members, it's also interesting to see how many young kids we attract. We don't yet rival our mother-dojo in Amstelveen (who have flocks of Japanese children attending training on saturday), but I'm willing to bet that we're in the top four with the amount of kids. Bobby doesn't count anymore as she started high school this year, but between Aaron, Ainar, Nathan, Lukas and the Korean-boy-whose-name-I-havent-learned-yet we have five students of ten or younger.

Now, on to class. After warming-up we started with lunges in order to improve footwork and balance. I don't keel over anymore, but that's because I'm over-compensating. There are two commonly made mistakes: either you keep a too-narrow stance and can't keep your balance, or you over-compensate for that and take a too-wide stance (as per graphic A above). Kris-fukushou reminds us that we really should keep our feet at the proper width during the whole practice. 

We practiced kihon in the motodachi system, with the eight guys in bogu acting as partner for the dozen or so people without bogu. After that the group was split up as usual and my group moved on to waza practice. The two most important lessons for myself were about debana kote and suriage men

With debana kote I was always confused: do I need to move my shinai over or under my opponent's blade? Turns out that it's neither, because both are too slow :) As per graphic B, Kris explained that your shinai stays almost level, while the opponent moves in for a men-strike. That way you automatically duck under his shinai and you also stay close enough for a quick kote strike. 

Now, suriage men is apparently a very difficult technique for kyu-grade students, but it doesn't hurt to get introduced. Kris-fukushou suggested the D/C-shaped movement that is also mentioned by Salmon-sensei in the linked article. And as Salmon-sensei points out, most of us were having lots of issues with both the movements and the timing. In my case I feel way too slow and I have it in my mind suriage men is a two-stage movement, while it should be more of a single arc where you deflect and strike from the deflect position. 

Aside from these things, Kris-fukushou warned me about my kiai and kamae. I think it may tie in with a warning Onno-sempai gave me a few weeks ago. If I do my kiai incorrectly, I hunch and lock my arms. There's a big difference between a relexed posture and an "open" "YIAAAAAA!" yell and a tight/locked posture with a "closed" "RRUAAAGH!" yell. Once I'm locked up, I can't strike quickly nor properly. 

Class was closed with all student in bogu acting as motodachi in uchikomi geiko, which the other students had to run twice. That meant a total of fourteen rounds of five strikes for everyone. A great way to close this last class of the year!


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Slowly moving into a more senior role

2012-11-25 08:55:00

Yesterday was an interesting experience! As I remarked to Nick-sempai: "Whoa, I've never sat this far right in shoukai (詳解)!. What a different view!". Because Renshinjuku Almere is still a relatively new dojo, with a slow growth and retention rate, I'm already moving further towards the right of the shimoza (student seating). This is only in part due to my personal progress, but mostly due to the skewed balance between beginners and kendoka in bogu. While I am aware that I'm making good progress towards my first real grading I won't delude myself into thinking I'm getting good at kendo ;)

So what was so interesting about yesterday? That skewed balance and its results! For example, yesterday we had six guys in bogu (incl Ton-sensei) and twelve beginners in uniform or normal sports gear. That's why we ran class using the motodachi system, where groups of beginners line up to train with more advanced students. Yesterday's class forced myself and the others (none of whom have a dan grade) to think and act like proper seniors to the beginners. Instead of spending class training our own kendo, we paid proper attention to theirs while providing encouragement and corrections when needed. I enjoyed it a lot and it was a great learning experience!

After kihon practice in the motodachi rotation, the beginners went with Bob-sempai to train kirikaeshi and other basic techniques. The four of us spent another half hour doing jigeiko under the watchful eye of Ton-sensei. Because Nick-sempai was preparing for today's shinsa (exams), Ton wanted us all to focus on clean and basic kendo. Dou-strikes won't be needed and cleanly break from taiatari instead of trying hiki waza

Some pointers that I got:

Now, with regards to my own first grading I've heard a lot of different things. Originally my goal was to test in the winter of 2013, but I'm thinking of moving it forward to the summer of 2013. Some of my sempai will also be testing in the summer, so I'd love to join them.

In order to prep for the exams, I've made this shortlist of things that I must improve before the test.

  1. Kirikaeshi, coordination of hands and feet.
  2. Footwork, so no flat feet and no stepping through. 

All other things will slowly and gradually keep improving. But these two really require my attention. 


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Studying kata under a different teacher

2012-11-20 18:36:00

Last tuesday was an interesting class in Amstelveen: in preparation for the shinsa (kendo exams) next sunday our students were studying kata. While we study kata on a weekly basis in Almere, in Amstelveen it's a much rarer occasion. 

I was asked by Bert Niezen-sempai to join him in practicing kata. While he's more experienced in kendo than I am, he indicated that he'd like my help in kata. We learned a lot, under the watchful eye of Ran-sempai who spent the better part of 45 minutes coaching us personally. During the practice I was always uchidachi ("attacking sword"), while Bert was shidachi ("receiving sword"). He had a lot of points for improvement, the following for me.

After kata practice we immediately went into 20 minutes of jigeiko (only preceeded by three rounds of kirikaeshi). I did three rounds where, sadly, I got progressively worse. My round against Zicarlo-sempai was pretty good and he helped me a lot! Against Onno-sempai I got worse insofar that I started shutting down. Finally, against Bertolino-sempai I excused myself because I noticed that I really wasn't acting properly. My head was mostly hazy and I was slow to react, or not even reacting at all. 

Learning points:


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Wow, a great night of kendo

2012-11-07 07:44:00

Last night turned out to be excellent!

What with the bad weather I'd left home a bit early so I'd be in time to pick up Charl from the P+R at Diemen. I arrived in time, but his bus didn't. Running almost half an hour late we stumbled into the dojo while almost everyone was already dressed. I was affraid we wouldn't be able to join in, but luckily we were simply welcomed in. It certainly was one of my fastest attempts at getting dressed ;)

Having missed the running, we joined in with the stretches and suburi. In the middle of stretching I was approached by Bert-sensei, to quickly talk about getting some replacement take for my shinai (which broke recently) and the ones I'm repairing for the dojo. He indicated that I could grab a shinai of my liking from the spares box, to take apart. Awesome! He also gave me a koban shinai (a practice sword with an oval handle) as a present. Double awesome! ( ^_^)/

During seiretsu, Heeren-sensei indicated that we will be using the next few weeks to prepare for the NKR shinsa (25th of november). This means that we will not be focusing on shiai kendo, but on clean and proper kendo. Focal points for the next few weeks are seme, ki-ken-tai ichi, and zanshin. Pay close attention to your posture, to your footwork, to your strikes, so you can demonstrate your ability at its best.

In accordance with our study goals, today's class focused on kihon practice just like last week. Using the motodachi system we practiced kirikaeshi, oki men, chisai men, oki kote-men, chisai kote-men, oki dou and repetitions of men, kote-men, dou, kote-men-dou. Students were encouraged to display proper kiai and to the timing of their footwork, which should match their strikes.

Funny thing: class started out in mawari geiko style (rotating the whole group), but was switched to motodachi style right before I was switched to the shidachi side. In a later chat with Heeren-sensei he told me he was very curious how I would deal with that situation, knowing about  my problems with breathing and panic. Whenever I'm on the shidachi side I'm bowing out pretty early, but now that I was on the motodachi side he knew I was stuck: I have a responsibility to the people on the shidachi side, because without me in my spot those people cannot practice. As Marli said when I explained this: "Booooy, he's got you pegged! He knows exactly how to get to you!" and she's right :)

Well, it worked: the added responsibility meant that I finished class just about completely and I didn't bow out from kihon practice. I am very happy that I pushed through for the shidachi I practiced with and I learned a thing or two. Sure I got tired quickly, but that was solved by foregoing my own practice two or three times: let shidachi practice, then skip my own drill to catch my breath.

Heeren-sensei took a little time to demonstrate that oki dou starts out looking like a normal men strike. You start going for men and when your opponent raises his shinai to parry, you bring your shinai to your shoulder (or sometimes higher) and strike dou. As always it is important to:

Heeren-sensei indicated that, to practice this dou strike, it is best that motodachi does not open up dou beforehand but that motodachi should only start opening when shidachi moves to strike men. He also suggested that, when paired against someone considerably shorter than yourself, you can slightly lower your posture by sinking down on your legs a bit.

Kihon practice was followed by fifteen minutes of jigeiko and of course kirikaeshi. After two rounds of geiko (thank you Charl, thank you mr Goto) my breathing got the better of me and I had to bow out. After a short recuperation I joined the bogu-less group to practice some oki kote-men and chisai kote-men with Raoul-sempai. I'm very happy that Raoul saw improvement in my kendo since the last time I'd practiced with him. He indicated that my right hand was still a bit too tense and thus too slow, but in general he saw improvements!

After class, Heeren-sensei reiterated that we need to practice proper and good kendo for the examinations. He also informed us that, starting next Saturday, class will include kata geiko which is also needed to prepare for the exams. He advised everybody to prepare by researching the kata they need to know and to watch a few videos. He also asked the kendoka with kata experience to provide guidance to their classmates.


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Kendo class and 'career' planning

2012-10-28 08:45:00

Lately the teachers at Renshinjuku kendo dojo have been pushing the students to challenge themselves. They're getting as many students as possible to enroll in the dutch national champioships and they also want students to prepare for their exams. Sadly I can't join the NK (due to planning) and I don't feel I'm ready to take the exams either. Kris-fukushou confirmed this to marli, when they were having a chat while I was dressing: if I were to go for ikkyu now I'd definitely not make the grade, but if I work hard I can definitely give it a good shot next winter. And I will!

I'll discuss the matter with Heeren-sensei, Loyer-sensei and both Hillen and Kris, to see what they think I need to work on the most.

Saturday's class got off to a slow start. People came in a bit too late, so we only got things on the road by 0925. In the end, turnup was not bad with eight guys in bogu and about a dozen beginners without armor. We started with the usual warming-up, after which we quickly went into seiretsu. While Loyer-sensei took the utmost beginners aside, the novices joined the more advanced group for kihon practice. The guys in bogu acted as motodachi, while the novices practiced oki-men and oki-kote-men

Then, waza practice! We started with basic kirikaeshimen and kote-men drills, then quickly moving onto more advanced materials: double hiki-men, hiki-kote-men and hiki-men-kote-do. As Kris and Hillen explained, the object is to push the envelope on our grasp of distance and footwork. In these drills it's no use to over-think your actions as a lot of it comes down to feeling what you're doing. You do an exercise, then you very quickly analyse your actions and then go on with another drill. The basics come down to:

  1. Start in taiatari.
  2. Your left foot moves backwards while your shinai moves back just enough to get a clear shot.
  3. You fumikomi when striking and land about a foot behind where you started.
  4. The second strike is made with fumikomi in the exact same spot.
  5. The third strike is made in the same spot, with the fumikomi launching you backwards.

As was said, if you overthink this then you'll just get stuck as I did. I tried to do the exercises in slow motion, but then everything fell apart. Instead, try it at 0.8 or really just 1.0 of the desired speed. 

The latter part of practice was spent on reacting to motodachi's men and kote attacks. We were free to try any techniques we like, so I focused on debana-kote, ai-kote-men and kaeshi-men. For those people joining the NK next week, we did short practice shiai. I fought Tiamat-sempai

Individual pointers I received from my teachers:

Class was closed with some reminders from the teachers.


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That didn't go too well (some good stuff as well)

2012-10-17 07:44:00

All of yesterday I'd been feeling crappy, so I wasn't altogether too confident going to kendo. It was nice going together with Herman and Charl though :)

As I'd feared I had to bow out during kihon practice, because I was soo tense and out of breath that I'd keel over if I didn't. I don't know what was up yesterday, but all my muscles are/were tight as heck and my breathing patterns were a complete mess. Meh. So I quickly joined Roelof-sensei and Herman at the beginners' side. There I practiced oki-men, sayu-men and the semete-men movements we've been working on for the past weeks.

Pointers that I was given during class:

During class I noticed that I'd cracked one of the take on my newer shinai. ( ;_;) I guess Roelof-sensei sure had a point when he said I was hitting too hard. I'll see if I can fix that tonight, otherwise I'll find another solution.

EDIT:
When it comes to good stuff (it's not all bad), I've been writing a lot for the new Renshinjuku kendo dojo website. Aside from summaries of the classes I attend and some news posts about kendo events, I have also started a series of lexicographical articles. I know from experience that all the Japanese terms and phrases can be confusing for beginners, which is why I want to take the time to explain them. Of course there's the dictionary list compiled by our teachers, but that only provides translations and little explanation.

First up in the series is an explanation of the various types of geiko ("training"). Next up, to be published on sunday, is an explanation of all the commands used during warming-up and the various types of suburi. In the near future I'll also write about the commands in seiretsu (plus some background on dojo layout) and about our equipment.


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Hillen is back!

2012-10-13 12:51:00

Today started with a pleasant surprise: Hillen has returned to join Loyer-sensei and Kris-fukushou in teaching us. We also had a lovely, large group of 21 today with two fresh faces and four guys still working their way to wearing a uniform. With eight or nine guys in bogu it might not be much, but for Almere that's a decent show :)

After kata practice and warming up we quickly proceeded with kihon practice. Loyer-sensei took the newbies aside for the basics, while the beginners practiced men, kote-men and kote-men-do on motodachi in bogu. It gives me great pleasure to see that, in mawari geiko, the fundamentals of reiho are now falling into place. Beginners and advanced folks alike take the apropriate approach: bow (onegai shimasu), step into kamae, do your exercise, back into kamae, sheathe your shinai and step back, bow, then bow again when everybody's done (arigatou gozaimashita) and kotai towards the next partner.

The beginners then joined Ton-sensei with the newbies for further kihon training, while those in bogu proceeded with waza. Chiisai kote-men, kote kote-men, men debana-kote, men hiki-men ai-men and men kaeshi-do. Each of these exercises was performed two or three times and in between were one-minute rounds of jigeiko to further practice.

In all these exercises, Kris-fukushou reminded us of the importance of building tension, of proper footwork and of feeling the proper distance and chance to make your strike. Try to use different approaches in stepping in: sometimes edge your way in sneakily, sometimes boldly step and strike. In debana-kote don't simply step aside, but first step in when striking; then move aside. In both debana-kote and hiki-men keep your movements tiny, else you are simply too slow. With all these exercises it is imperative that motodachi give his best attack! Without a proper chiisai-men, you cannot practice a proper kaeshi-do! So don't just try and whack something, make it your best strike!

Class was closed with three rounds of uchikomi geiko (third round was kakari geiko for those in bogu). Everyone was pitted against Kris-fukushou, Hillen-sensei, Raoul-sempai and Charl-sempai

At the end of class all three teachers had some closing remarks.

Pointers that I received individually:


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Back to training

2012-10-10 08:24:00

In the absence of Heeren-sensei, class was led by Tsuyuguchi-sensei with Ran-sempai handling the translations. And with Kiwa-sempai gone for the day, Loek-sempai took care of the warming-up. After some initial confusion about the day's structure (no motodachi system, yes motodachi system, semi-motodachi system, beginners along with the bogu group) we got settled into some hard work! Who'd have thought? Even classes in Amstelveen can get a little disorganized :)

Emphasis was placed on basics: kirikaeshi, oki-men, hayai-men, hayai kote-men, men-hiki-men men-hiki-kote men-hiki-do. Tsuyuguchi-sensei impressed upon us the need for:

After a further twenty minutes of jigeiko, class was closed with parting remarks by Roelof-sensei.

During practice I also received some personal advice.

Class was hard work and I enjoyed it a lot. I brought along Herman and Charl from the Almere dojo, which was a nice change :)


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Fumetsu Cup 2012

2012-10-01 20:46:00

Thomas standing in line

Looking at the picture Peter-sempai shot of me, waiting in line for the shinai check, game me a sudden glimpse into my future. Will I look like Roelof-sensei in thirty years?

Yesterday I attended the 2012 Fumetsu Cup kendo tournament in Vlaardingen. A few weeks back I'd indicated that I would really like to compete and Marli was sweet enough to accomodate me. While I galivanted off to the Rotterdam area, she spent her sunday with Dana. She's awesome <3

The Fumetsu Cup, as described by the NKR in the invitation: "The Fumetsu Cup is the yearly held surprise tournament in which all participants are randomly divided into teams of three persons. With their team they will compete for the cup. Teams will be captained by an experienced kendoka."

It's great fun because you get to meet people you normally might not and you're driven way out of your comfort zone. Instead of fighting with kendoka from Renshinjuku, my team was pitted against one of them. Unfortunately the last sentence of the description wasn't true for my team as all three of us were mudansha: combined we had about five to six years of experience and none of us even had our ikkyu. Hence why we were outed from the tournament after our three fights in the first round. Oh well :) I enjoyed teaming up with Kerstin (from Museido in Amsterdam) and Erik (from Shinbukan in Groningen); they were great people to meet and I learned from them in the short time we spent together.

In my three fights I matched up against Laurens from Suirankan, Ms Cha who at one point used to be with the UK Hizen dojo and Wim from Shinbukan. I really should have done a short practice round before the actual matches because I had the same problem that Kerstin had described: in the first fight I'm still "asleep", not properly alert. 

Afterwards I asked some of my sempai for their opinion on how I'd performed.

As I'd told Nick last saturday, my goal for the day was to at least show some proper kendo. I didn't want to make the same stupid mistakes like last time and I wanted to last at least a full, real match. Aside from the fight against Laurens I'm satisfied in that regard. Plenty to learn though! :) My thoughts were all over the place, I was focusing on too many things and yes I kept on dancing. Always dancing :(

EDIT:

I've had a chat with Wim and he remarked that I showed good kiai and that I was plenty greedy. I'll view the prior as a good thing, but the latter could swing either way. I could have been too greedy, like last time, or I could have shown proper assteriveness.

While walking to the office this morning I did have a realization: one of the worst things I was doing, was not stonewalling my opponents' attacks. Either I sidestepped and counter attacked, or I kept moving backwards to evade. Instead, I should receive their attacks in place and counter immediately.


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Tournament prep in Almere

2012-09-29 13:32:00

I don't know why, but our group was a bit smaller today. Six in bogu, five or six without. I guess a lot of folks are off sick. After kata and warming up we proceeded with footwork practice. 

As part of balance exercises we did lunges. 

In all of these exercises, if you feel imbalanced and tend to wobble or keel over, then your footwork is too narrow. When lunging, keep your feet at kamae-width and sink deep. Hold a straight back.

After this followed laps of suriashi around the hall.

Loyer-sensei and Kris-fukushou inform us that the problems are twofold. For one, most of us aren't properly launching themselves with the left foot. Either we're not kicking hard enough, or we're kicking backwards after launching. Many of us also lift the right foot way too high when lunging forward. Not only does this clearly signal your intentions to your opponent, but it also slows you down. As Kris pointed out, many of us don't stomp their right foot for forward speed but we come to a full stop because we kick downward or even forward. 

While the beginners renewed their focus on kirikaeshi and kihon, we practiced a few waza.

When attacking, imagine your goal to be two meters behind your opponent! Don't strike and immediately dash aside. Worse yet, don't immediately turn towards him! Rush through them and if they get in the way, go into taiatari. Don't hold your hands too high, as they'll simply topple you. "Tsuba into the mouth", as they say.

Finally, because tomorrow is a tournament day: the practice shiai! I joined Nick and Hudaifa, against Charel, Jeroen and Sander. After each round, both kenshi quickly received some pointers on their own kendo from Kris and Loyer-sensei. In my case:

Because we don't have much experience with tourneys we also went over the basic etiquette. Both teams decide the order of kenshi, one through five (or three as is the case tomorrow). Only the first kenshi will be wearing his men from the start. The teams greet each other, then retreat to their side of the court. Everyone except the first sits down and pays attention to the fights. Numbers two and three will start putting on their men. Four and five will follow later. Then, each participant will continue as follows.

  1. Step into the shiaijo. Step to a position from which you can reach your starting line with three paces. 
  2. Bow to your opponent.
  3. Three steps to your line, right foot on the line. Not over, not in front, on the line. In your steps, draw your shinai and go into sonkyo
  4. Do not rise until the shinpan provide the command to "Hajime!".
  5. Return to your line when a point has been made.
  6. If something is wrong, raise your hand. Both kenshi return to their line, while the shinpan find out what is up. If you need to disrobe, both kenshi step back and the other waits in sonkyo while you fix whatever is wrong. 
  7. When the match has been won return to your line. Sonkyo and put your shinai away.
  8. Five steps back. Bow. Step out of the shiaijo backwards and take your seat. 

The Nanseikan kendo dojo has a more complete article on the subject of shiai etiquette.


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On the importance of upkeep

2012-09-27 20:23:00

After last week's lecture on the importance of shinai maintenance you would think that people would actually take note. But no, sadly they don't. Last saturday I spent a good ten minutes inspecting and fixing one of our youngest members' shinai, despite having shown him how to do it and providing him with a printed booklet with instructions. He has two shinai at his disposal, the first one was in shreds and the latter was only a little bit splintered. So I took that one outside with my toolkit, also forbidding him to use the other one until it was fixed.

Sadly, many of the other members show only little more interest in maintenance. I have tried a number of ways to get them more involved, but without wanting to overstep my station I haven't had much success. The biggest "win" so far was when four of us had a great evening, doing maintenance on all of our equipment :) I'd love to repeat that sometime soon. 

For now I'll do upkeep tonight, because I've got a tournament coming up! ( ^_^)

Sunday I'll be joining five other guys from Renshinjuku at the Fumetsu Cup tournament. I won't be in a team with them, as the Fumetsu Cup pits randomly selected teams against eachother. Who knows who'll be your teammate?! :D Of course, if I want to compete my shinai need to be in tiptop condition. 

Last tuesday we had mandatory inspection at Renshinjuku Amstelveen and one of my shinai was sent back because of a tiny, beginning splinter. A quick repair later it was accepted, but I'll definitely go over both shinai with a fine toothed comb :) Ironically the shinai I loaned to Jeroen-sempai had no issues in QA. 


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A session dedicated to seme-to-men

2012-09-26 20:43:00

Seme to men

Last night's class was envigorating and I went home feeling energized and ready for two more rounds of keiko! ( ^_^) Jeroen-sempai, who joined me for the first time, came away with similar feelings.

Class was started in the usual fashion, with stretching, running and suburi. In hayasuburi, Heeren-sensei admonished some of the kenshi (definitely me!) for not bringing the shinai back against the buttocks in every single suburi round, as it is a helping hand in figuring if your swings are going down the center line. So thirty more hayasuburi it was! :D

The first ten to fifteen minutes of the day's lesson were fully spent on explanation. The crowd gathered around Heeren-sensei and Kiwa-sempai who demonstrated a number of things.

They also took a lot of time explaining the physical aspects of seme to men ("pressure and men"). An excellent read on seme would be Stephen Quinlan's "The fundamental theorem of kendo?". Funny how mr Quinlan's writings keep popping up in my studies!

In this particular exercise we would be stepping in deep, so deep as to almost pierce our opponents navel. While stepping in, our shinai would go through the center (do not push your opponent's shinai aside), thus sliding on top or over the opponent's shinai. Our kensen will be held low, as to disappear from our op's view. From this position, we would proceed to strike oki-men. The rough sketches above show this: step in deep, not just a little bit and keep the kensen low, not high. 

After the theoretical part of class we proceeded with practice. We did nothing but kirikaeshioki-men and seme to men. Oh yes, a few rounds of uchikomi geiko as well. A very interesting class indeed! And because we were using the system where 2-3 students match up against one motodachi I was able to regulate my breathing well enough to make it 100% through class, including three rounds of keiko. In jigeiko I was matched up against mr. Mast (visiting), Kiwa-sempai and Lennart-sempai. In none of these fights did I have the feeling I was doing particularly well, but I did my best to keep in mind the day's lessons as well as Kris' recent lecture about my standard keiko mistakes. 

It was pointed out that the seme movements we had been practicing do not only serve a big role in shiai and jigeiko, but that they are also very useful in uchikomi keiko. This was demonstrated by Kiwa-sempai who repeatedly got very close to Heeren-sensei before striking the designated targets. 

My seniors also pointed out flaws in my kendo.

I'm sure there was more, but it's hard to recall everthing :)


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Kendo in Almere: also adjusting our regimen

2012-09-22 21:37:00

Starting this season, Loyer-sensei and Kris-fukushou have indicated that they would like to start using a regimen similar to that used at Museido kendo dojo (which is where Kris originally hails from). Among others, this means that:

One of the advanced waza that we practiced was maki-tsuki-men, using the spinning shinai from maki waza to open the road for a tsuki. The stab at the throat is not the goal for ippon, but used to push into a strike on men. While we went through our practice, the beginners were led by Bob-sempai in learning kirikaeshi, which we then later practiced with them. I was very impressed by Herman-kouhai's performance, whose kirikaeshi was better than mine! His strikes were very precise!

Loyer-sensei took me aside for two pointers:


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Upping the game at training

2012-09-15 16:38:00

So far, I'm loving this season!

This morning both Ton-sensei and Kris-fukushou returned to teach class. Kris joined the in-bogu group, while Ton-sensei trained the beginners. Kris, knowing that two or three of us want to actively participate in more tournaments this year, decided to start pushing us more. And what a great class it was!

We started on a bit of an embarassing down-note though. A show of hands by Kris proved that roughly five out of the nineteen kendoka present have actually performed shinai maintenance over the summer holiday. We were all warned to do our upkeep as it's for everybody's safety!

First up, our usual warming-up routine was followed by more men suburi. Every single kendoka was told to sound off ten strikes, meaning that we were to do 190 men strikes in a row! Wow! Sadly, I was the only one who couldn't keep up. I had to stop for a very short breather after 60, 100 and 150 strikes. It's awesome that the rest of the group managed to finish the exercise!

After that, footwork! Suriashi, variable suriashi, suriashi with hiki-fumikomi and finally "snaking" along the lines on the floor, practicing forward and sideways suriashi. It's during the snaking that I slightly twisted my ankle :)

Then, onwards to the rest of practice! Kirikaeshi, oki-men, oki-kote-men, hayai-kote-men, ai-men, maki-waza, maki-tsuki, hayai-kote with sidestep, debana-kote, all interspersed with five bouts of jigeiko. Afterwards, three rounds of uchikomi-geiko. So while last class in Amstelveen allowed for some breathers, today's class in Almere was killer. 

One important thing that Kris pointed out to both Martijn and myself: in keiko, we tend to "dance" around each other after strikes, instead of striking and rushing through the opponent. That's really bad and shows zero zanshin.

Unfortunately I had to bow out from one jigeiko and halfway through another one, but still I'm pretty happy with how things turned out. Onwards to the Fumetsu Cup in two weeks' time!


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Back in bogu, a great class!

2012-09-12 08:16:00

Last night was my return to the Amstelveen dojo, after missing this season's first class due to standby duties. It really was an awesome class!

After putting myself back into the beginners' group in June, I'd been putting off getting back into bogu. Kendo class in Amstelveen is hard work and after my experiences from last season I was fearing another collapse. So instead I just dawdled in the beginners' section. I actually DID want to get back to real fighting though! So I weaseled around my anxieties!! Knowing beforehand that he would approve, I asked Roelof-sensei if he'd allow me back into bogu. It was also a great help that Mischa-sempai indicated that he thought I was being scared of bogu and that I should get back in :) So I did.

At the beginning of the season, Heeren-sensei informed all Renshinjuku kendoka that he would be demanding a higher level of performance from everyone. This would include an emphasis on proper etiquette, on perseverance and on attendance. It would also involve a more traditional training method which, let me tell you, was very helpful to me last night!

In the previous season, we would line up all kendoka against eachother, making a big line of duos. After each practice we'd all move up one slot, thus facing another partner. What this does is ensure diversity, but it's also pretty harsh: there are zero breathers and you also often pit beginner-against-beginner. The more traditional approach that we used yesterday is the motodachi system: seven of our higher dan-graded members and teachers line up and everyone is divided into small groups being pitted against them. This ensures that everyone only fights high level teachers, that people get the chance for a short breather and that you get plenty of mitori geiko (learning by watching). Without this system I would've dropped 'dead' halfway through class, instead of nearly making it to the end :) Hence I made sure to let Heeren-sensei know that I really enjoyed this schedule.

Practice, and some of the pointers I received, were:

Ten minutes before the end of class, after my last round of kihon with Bert-sempai, I caved. I wasn't breathing properly anymore and knew that if I pushed on I'd collapse. I asked permission from Heeren-sensei to bow out, which he gave. While the rest of class finished their kirikaeshi, I did breathing exercises to both regain my breath and to prevent a panic attack. Everything turned out well and I was feeling good again after dressing.

What a great class! I'm looking forward to Saturday and next Tuesday!


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First class of the season, no sensei

2012-09-08 14:03:00

Last tuesday the new kendo season started and today was the first scheduled class in Almere. We got off to an odd start, what with all three of our sensei being absent: holiday, holiday and holiday(?). So instead, Charel-sempai and Mischa-sempai (who is 2nd dan) took charge of our group. All in all they fared pretty well! Our group usually is (too) low on discipline and so a lot of people are chatty, but they managed to reel them in (with a little occasional support from Nick-sempai and myself).

In the absence of our usual teachers, we focused on basics. Charel and Mischa had both attended the recent summer seminar and were eager to transfer a few of the things they learned. 

An interesting class indeed and I'm very grateful for the help of Charel and Mischa.


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Kendo season 2012/13

2012-09-04 22:00:00

Ten scratches on the wall

Tonight marks the start of the 2012/13 kendo season. Unfortunately I'm on standby shift for $CLIENT, so I couldn't make it to the first class in Amstelveen. 

Instead I did my detention work, given to me a few weeks ago by Heeren-sensei for posting a Japanese balad to Facebook :) I can't help it, I just love "Kogarashi ni dakarete". In turn, he told me to do thirty minutes of kirikaeshi (video). It's a bit late, but it was a good start for the season. I did ten repetitions of three minutes, which is ten times four kirikaeshi. The last two repeats were hard, but it was worth it. 

Onward into the new season! /o/

I'm considering enroling for the Fumetsu Cup, which is on the 30th of september.


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Getting back in the game

2012-08-22 11:14:00

As I wrote last week I've been lazy. So to get back into the game I'm teaming up with my sempai Jeroen and Martijn.

Last night, Jeroen visited for an hour of kendo and muscle training (followed by some geekery). Aside from the basic stretching and suburi, he taught me some things about pushups, in order to improve the muscles in my shoulders and arms. The basic regimen to start me off is X reps of 5x normal, 5x wide, 5x narrow, which ought to get me started. Many thanks for that! Now all I need to do is follow through and actually DO this stuff.

My form and breathing in kendo are improving again, back towards their old state, but it requires constant reminding. I need to actively think of every step, to ensure I'm doing it right. After going for 100 hayasuburi (which Martijn achieved last week) my blistered left hand blistered some more and drew blood. Jeroen sempai made it to 130/140, while I caved around 70 :| That was down to my technique, because I started really shoving and yanking my shinai after 50, when my arms got tired. Form, form, form!

Three more weeks until class starts again in Almere (or two until Amstelveen). Need to get cracking!


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My laziness messed up my sport

2012-08-18 20:08:00

Last thursday, I picked up my shinai for the first time since our last class in early July. I suck. A month and a half without sports has messed up my form, my condition and my perseverence. It was weird feeling a hurdle to start again and I didn't like it because kendo is something I want to do!

Practicing suburi with Martijn, I noticed that I've lost everything I've learned in the past few months: I was holding my breath, I was blocking my neck and shoulders and I was pulling/pushing with my right hand. 

I felt so frustrated and disappointed with myself. Because they only reason this happened is because I let it. So the only thing to do is to pick everything up again and get back to training! And instead of training with anger in my mind, I will use mokuso and relaxation practices (from my anxiety training) to get rid of it first.

I will pick up the Couch to 5k program again. Last tuesday my sempai Jeroen (middle in the picture above) went for a run with me, which I really appreciated! At seventeen he's über-sporty and I enjoy training with him as he's gently supportive :) This morning I went for another run, using week 3 from Easy into 5k (instead of week 2 which I did on tuesday). Tuesday I was knackered, but this morning went fine.

Time to get going!!! /o/


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Basics, basics, basics

2012-07-10 22:18:00

First up: Marli kicks ass! Today she did her fifth repeat of the W1Dx of Ease into 5k. Today was the first time that she officially, completely, without any workarounds ran the plan 100% /o/ Impressive, for someone who has always hated running and who's been so-so about sports. I'm really proud. 

She's indicated that she would really like to finish the whole program, to get to running 5k. And after that? Would you believe that she dreams of working towards a marathon? Wow! In her words, "If the forty-something out-of-shape guy who started this whole 5k program thing can do it, so can my twenty-something out-of-shape self!"

So, while she's working on the basics, so am I... Tonight I again joined the beginners' group in Amstelveen to work on basic kendo. We did nothing but oki-men for the first forty minutes. Followed by oki-kote. I'm sad to say that the three of us were a bit brutish on Onno-sempai :| After that we practice hayai-men, hayai-kote and kote-men with Kortewijn-sempai. From all of that the take-aways for me were:

Roelof-sensei made a funny analogy: kendo is like learning the piano. Your first year is learning the scales, your second year is chopsticks, your fifth year you're banging out Liszt. :D


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Learning about dojo layout

2012-06-24 13:56:00

Renshinjuku kendo dojo layout

I've been working on a new project for the Renshinjuku kendo dojo: a few months ago Heeren-sensei asked me to come up with some ideas for renewing the dojo's website. The past week I spent a few evenings putting together a new website, based on Wordpress. Part of this concept is a page providing details about the training locations: basic info, a Google Map and drawings of the dojo layout.

Making sketches of building layouts isn't a very hard job. Half an hour doodling with OmniGraffle gave me the basic drawings. But it's thanks to the great website of mr. Dillon Lin that I could fill in all the proper names! Mr. Lin's dillonlin.net site does in-depth articles of kendo dojo, both famous and local. It's a joy to read about kendo dojo from an architect's point of view, going into building design, flooring structure and history. 

His article "Basic Dojo Layout" provided me with most of the terminology I needed for my own sketches.

In the image above, the building on the left is our Amstelveen dojo, while the building on the right is the one in Almere. The prior is situated in a local sports facility from the 70s/80s, while the latter is in a brand-new high school building. While the facilities in Almere are much more modern compared to Amstelveen, the concrete+rubber floor in Almere is sub-optimal compared to the suspended wooden floor of A'veen. 


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Awesome session at Renshinjuku Almere

2012-06-23 18:52:00

Holy wow, today's class was awesome! After being absent from the Almere dojo for five weeks, this was a great day to return!

  1. We had twentyfive people in attendance! So many!
  2. We have so many newcomers and rookies! Kendo in Almere is growing :)
  3. We had two visiting nidansha, from the Amstelveen dojo.
  4. We fought, fought and fought some more.
  5. I was worn out! :D

Entering the dojo around 09:10 I was amazed! Already the room was packed and not everyone was there yet. We had barely enough room to practice kata while the newbies were doing kihon practice. Warming up was even tighter packed, with everyone in a circle. The group was pressed up against all the walls and not half an hour into class we threw open the fire doors for some fresh air. ( ^_^)

As Jeroen had already pointed out to me, class changed a little bit. After warming up we immediately put our gear on (skipping the footwork practice we usually do) and went into kihon and waza practice. Oki-men, hayai-men, oki-kote, kote-men, oji-kote and oji-men. After that: jigeiko! While Kris spent some time with the nidansha, we were told to hold two-minute fights amongst ourselves. 

I fought Sander and Jeroen: those fights were awkward insofar that both fighters kept on pushing and ramming against eachother instead of "talking". I also let Ramon practice oki-men on me some more :) Then, as I took a short breather by the fire exit, Kris was ready with his coaching and he was itching for a fight! So he grabbed me and we went at it for five minutes!

I was spoilt! To get five private minutes with Kris! If anything, what that time taught me about my keiko is that I am now stuck waiting and not paying attention, instead of my original flaw: simply rushing in. Kris would be wide open and I'd just be starting him in the eyes. Or his shinai would be this -><- close to me, deep within my ma'ai and I wouldn't even notice that he'd krept so close!

Class went into overtime (we finished twenty minutes) late, because the whole group was run through no less than five rounds of uchikomi geiko! Followed by all kendoka in bogu doing a round of kakari geiko against Kris. Afterwards I was spent, but I haven't felt this good in a long while! :D

A great class! :)


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Practicing the basics: footwork, oki-men and breathing

2012-06-20 12:23:00

As I wrote recently: it's highly important that I strongly focus on the basics for the next few weeks. Last night and hopefully one or two more nights this week, I'm focusing on:

So. Nothing special during home training this week (or next), just grinding the millstone on essential basics.


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Sure, let's give it a try

2012-06-16 20:01:00

HG Sportkleding luchtjes

It's not often that Marli gets excited about cleaning commercials. While I was making tea in the kitchen, she excitedly "Ooh! Ooh! Ooh!"s me back into the living room and rewinds the PVR. It was an ad for HG's detergent for sports clothing

As we all know kendo stinks. Kendo armour gets a bit smelly, kendo gloves can get pretty bad and my keikogi (the jacket) is godawful every single week. Hence Marli's enthusiasm. Let's give it a shot then :)


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Back to basics in kendo

2012-06-12 22:21:00

It is my intention to train without bogu at Amstelveen, for the next few weeks: back to basics!

After last week's class eye-openers I've asked Roelof-sensei to take Miyahara-sensei's remarks into account, so we can ensure that the two basic flaws in my kendo can be remedied:

  1. My breathing
  2. My footwork, esp the stepping through after fumikomi

I am glad that he agreed and I had a great class tonight. After going over all of the basic stances, I practiced suriashi with the other bogu-less kendoka. In between, we watched the advanced techniques being explained by Makoto-sempai and the others. This included the differences between de-gote, nuki-waza and kaeshi-waza (some of which is still vague to me, so I need to do some reading!).

During our practice of oki-men, Roelof-sensei also grabbed my shoulder. He saw a big flaw in my timing and he would only let me move forward or backward at the exact right, time. This timing is way different from what I've been using on large men-strikes so far! In this case, the right way to do it, is to only start moving once you're already halfway through your downswing. Because only then is the distance that the shinai needs to travel, equal to the required instep and fumikomi! This is was Kris-fukushou has been trying to get me to understand! He always told me to "step in later!", but it never clicked -when- this "later" was :)

Other people who helped a lot:

Saturday I can finally join class in Almere again. After oodles of family and work events, I'm back to training in my home town. I'm ready to kick some ass! And to get my ass kicked! ( ^_^)


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Two big eye openers during kendo class

2012-06-05 22:48:00

Wow! Tonight was bad. Bad, insofar that I made a lot of mistakes and was "crap" in general. On the other hand it was awesome because I had an epiphany tonight. Two even! I'm very grateful for the sharp eyes of Roelof-sensei and Miyahara-sensei.

The eye openers are:

  1. A huge flaw in my fumikomi.
  2. I finally understand breathing.

First up, during kihon practice (we were doing oki men) Miyahara-san saw something about my footwork. She tried to explain it, but at the time I failed to grasp what she was saying. So after class I went up to her to ask what it was that she saw. 

In my striking of oki men, Miyahara-sensei saw me cross my legs. I do fumikomi on my right, then step past it with left. That's just awful, especially because I do not even feel it happening! I honestly thought I was sticking to suri-ashi! It is such a basic flaw that she told me that she thinks I need to get out of bogu again and keep on practicing the basics. She was taken aback that I do not feel it happening and was sure that this must have shown up before. 

She was right of course! Back in March, Kris-fukushou pointed it out to me during footwork training. And when Marli came to observe our class in January she actually noticed that many of our students have the same problem: fumikomi on right, then cross with the left, then go back to suri-ashi

Second up: it has finally clicked! What Roelof-sensei has been trying to tell me in different words for the past three months has finally clicked! I finally get what he was trying to tell me about my breathing! Regardez, the graph below might be crappy, but it explains what I'm describing below. The blue line is breathing, the red line is striking. It's a rough sketch, so on the second graph the blue line doesn't dip deep enough. Sorry! ( ^_^)

kendo breathing rhythm

It all clicked when Roelof-sensei changed his wording to include one new term: "make sure you have a fluidly rolling breath".

What I've been doing so far was timing my breathing based on my striking: inhale sharply on the upswing and exhale sharply on the strike. This leaves me winded very quickly (as witnessed today where I was worn out after three kirikaeshi and five rounds of kihon). What I instead be doing is breathing naturally in a nice sinoid: in-out-in-out, a nice wave pattern. I should then time my striking based on that: upswing when I near the peak of my inhalation, strike when the exhale starts.

Like the footwork problem described earlier, this is a complete return to the basics. I need to practice A LOT on the very, very basics to get this stuff right! And I need to remember all these things at the same time, to improve them at the same time. It sucks that my memory's so awful and I even forget things within a day. 

I am very grateful that Marli agreed to letting me train twice a week! The extra practice is of course very helpful, but it's also very important that the crowd in Amstelveen is so different: many higher ranking kendoka, who quickly zero in on problems I'm having.


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A tale of two dou

2012-05-12 12:14:00

I felt a bit guilty about going to practice today (having cost us the chance of a nice party last night), so I hesitate to say this: what a great session! /o/

Aside from the fact that my messed up breathing left me winded for 2x2 minutes it went great! We started practice together with the bogu-less kouhai: warmup and kirikaeshi. We then quickly split up to practice basic drills: oki-men, hayai-men, kote-men, ai-men and then the lovely kote-men-taiatari-hikimen-aimen! The biggest reason why my ai-men is failing, is because I pull the shinai waaay too much backwards. I often make the same mistake with a vanilla hayai-men.

And that was that! The rest of class was shiai!

Tomorrow, three teams from Renshinjuku will participate in the annual Edo Cup in Amsterdam. Nick, Bob and Charel sempai will represent the Almere dojo, while Amstelveen will send two other teams. Because of this tournament, Ton-sensei and Kris-fukushou wanted to run through competition preparation again. After the basic etiquette, we got things on the road. For every team member there were two opponents, or three in Bob's case and I went up against him.

They weren't the cleanest hits and I believe that Kris was reluctant to count one of them, but at least I'm happy to be showing some progress. ( ^_^) My fight against Kris went pretty well and I lost because of a stupid mistake: I thought he had landed a valid blow, so I dropped my whole guard, so he hit me again perfectly. Apparently the first blow was in fact not good enough, so that was a valuable lesson I learned: do NOT stop fighting until you are told to do so. 

The biggest problem that Ton-sensei and Kris pointed out is that nobody was 'talking' or building tension with their opponent. Just about everybody just leapt in there, trying to hit stuff. I had very conciously been trying to avoid doing that, but I need more! "Take your time and explore your oponent! Get to know him!" was the big take-away.


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Exchanging blows with colleagues

2012-05-11 08:00:00

Misleading title FTW. /o/ For once I'm not writing about another colleague I pissed off :p

Yesterday was the annual field trip of my department at $CLIENT. After a last-minute change of plans due to the weather we all gathered at a far-away gymnasium to partake in an introductory class in fencing. Sabre fencing to be specific.

I enjoyed it, fencing's cool! :) If I weren't into kendo already, I would've probably picked up fencing especially because Almere has a rather large club. Reminds me of another company outing, which led to me trying a new sport.

Here's some observations based on my kendo experience:


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Mitori geiko, round two

2012-05-09 05:59:00

Last night was a valuable class in Amstelveen. From the side lines I might not have been able to hear every single line from the senseis' explanation, but I did get a good hard look and I got the chance to ask questions later. Here's a bunch of things I wrote down.

I also got a chance to talk to Heeren-sensei about some of the stuff I've been working on. Apparently the badges are on their way to the Netherlands now (200x Amstelveen, 100x Almere) and they will be sold at 1 euro a piece!

He also asked me to work with one of our dojo's sempai to improve the kanji writing on the back of the grey shirt. Supposedly my attempt at the kanji looks too Chinese and sensei was asked by a few Japanese whether he was advertising for a new restaurant :P


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Mitori geiko at Renshinjuku Almere

2012-05-05 16:48:00

Today Marli and I decided against me joining kendo practice: I'm still aching from my wisdom tooth extraction and the medicine they prescribed me is doing me in (diziness, messed up stomach). So today was an ideal moment for mitori geiko: "learning by watching". I've got to admit that, from the sidelines, it's a whole different view! Now that I'm not actively fighting, I have all the time in the world to drink in all manner of small details. 

For starters, because I was the third one to enter the dojo, I got to watch Ton-sensei take Ramon through some of the precise details of kata #2 and kata #3. I have to say that I've always been mightily impressed with Ramon's control of the bokken: he strikes precisely and very fast and of course he stops on target :)

After that I invited kouhai Sven to learn the first kata, after Ton-sensei suggested he ask someone to show him. He learned the shidachi-side of the kata pretty quickly and I hope to take him through #1 and #2 next week. Very impressive: Sven got the eye contact thing down from the get-go! Many starters focus on feet, hands or bokken, but he kept looking me in the eye! Very good!

Once class started I relegated myself to the sidelines. It's funny, the things you notice from there.

There's just so much :)

Tuesday I'll do mitori geiko once more in Amstelveen and by next Saturday I hope to be back in armor again. I'm also planning a social night for some of the guys from Almere, to talk but mostly to do maintenance to our equipment. I'm sad to say that many people never take their shinai apart and only do rough checks along the edges once every while. It's for our friends' safety that we have to check our swords very regularly. 


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Lots of newbies, few experienced players

2012-04-22 21:07:00

Saturday's kendo class was a great one, though it was pretty out of the ordinary. 

For starters, aside from Ton-sensei there were only four of us in bogu. Martijn, Jeroen, Felix and Aaron were all out of armor due to minor injuries, so that left us with a rather small group of folks actively fighting. While my small group was doing more advanced practice, Martijn and Jeroen took charge of the large group of newbies. There were three folks who'd never been with us before, to check it out. And there's one or two guys who've been tagging along for a few weeks. 

So, what did we do? No footwork practice! After warmup we went straight into kirikaeshi, followed by kihon and waza practice. Most notably: men uchi, fast men uchi, fast kote, fast kote-menharai men, harai kote, harai kote-men and maki waza. Each of these we did for 4x3 repetitions. The last fifteen to twenty minutes of class were spent on jigeiko, where I definitely felt that I was too tense in my arms. How? Because I couldn't stand through more than two geiko and had to be dragged through the third. 

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'm very grateful for guys as Nick, Charel and Hudaifa who egg me on in a fight. When I pussy out, they tell me to keep going. "Attack just once more! Keep going! I'll let you go once you've scored a point!" Things like that ( ^_^)

The most important thing I'm taking away from this class is something I also realized after taking part in the NK: kendo is a dialogue. I should not just rush in and try to whack at targets. Wait it out. "Talk" to my opponent, so we can decide who gets to score which point. Ton-sensei specifically berated me for rushing in. And Charel-sempai suggested that I simply work towards the ikkyu grading: "It doesn't matter who attacks more, or even who wins! As long as you make good strikes and show good technique, then you'll make progress.".


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Kicking my own ass and then getting it kicked as well

2012-04-18 10:34:00

Over the past few days my mood had been getting increasingly bad. I was on edge, tired and just not relaxing. I think that a lot of that can be attributed to my recent interest in CC:TA. In my earlier blog post I wrote the game was addictive and it is: it'd become too easy to just waste a whole evening staring at that screen. "Let's raid a camp or two. Okay, I'm through my CP, so let's do base maintenance. Okay, now what? 45 minutes before I can anything else. Okay, let's read the forum and do some diplomacy!" And so on. All the reasons why I never got into WoW.

Then, last night I was this -> <- close to skipping kendo practice again, because of my foul mood. And as I sat there, watching the CC:TA screen, already five minutes late for leaving, I decided to quit the game. I'll set up my base so my alliance mates can raid it and then I'm out. Fsck that, I've got plenty of better things to do.It's a fun game, but nothing more than that.

Marli helped me greatly! "Do I need to push you to go?" And so she did. She quickly helped me pack all my gear and sent me on my way to Amstelveen. Gotta love that girl! ( ^_^)

Luckily I was only a few minutes late and I was just in time to join in with the warming up. After that followed kihon, followed by geiko and more geiko. The group was smaller than usual, but there were many high-level kendoka, including three from the dutch national team! I bowed out from the second round of geiko (the last twenty minutes of class) as I was feeling exhausted and was afraid I wouldn't make it back home.

Pointers I received from several of my sempai:

Thanks to Chung-sempai I now also know what a mouse feels like, when toyed with by a cat. During geiko, with every strike of mine, she darted aside and retaliated with two quick strikes and a giggle. I couldn't help but smile, while getting my ass handed to me.

Also, I don't think we've ever introduced ourselves so I don't know his name. One of the young guys who started in bogu only three weeks ago. He clocked me on my elbow with his tsuba. Twice. Hard. Man that hurt! ( ^_^) Arm's fine today, no worries.


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Yech! I can tell I've been slacking

2012-04-16 09:10:00

My performance in Saturday's class was a disgrace. I can tell that I've been slacking off the past two weeks. I haven't run on a daily basis and I've skipped kendo for a week as well. All of that showed: not half an hour in class did I bow out and join the beginners' group. I couldn't push myself onward. Or is it "didn't" instead of "couldn't"? It could very well be ( =_=)

Right. Aside from my shitty performance, the biggest thing to note is that my timing on ki-ken-tai-ichi is off. Waaay off. My foot work is way ahead of my cutting. Ton-sensei specifically told me to practice this at home very frequently. 

On the good side of things: Bob and Nick were so damn happy with their Renshinjuku clothes! You may recall that I started designing some clothes in January. Those garments have gone through a number of itterations and now they look great! A few people have ordered sets of shirts and sweaters from the Spreadshirt store and so far everyone's happy :)


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Anxiety and discouragement

2012-04-03 17:19:00

Last time I went to the Amstelveen dojo, I had an anxiety attack (only a slight one) after being thoroughly exhausted by the training. At the time it wasn't safe for me to drive myself home, so I was lucky to have Martijn with me. That one event has thrown up a barrier for me to go to Amstelveen alone.

Last week I had an excuse not to attend training in the form of my Standby Duty for $CLIENT. This week I was happy to have Peter-sempai come along, so he could be my proverbial savior if things went wrong again. But unfortunately Peter had to call off because of work, so now I am left to face my anxieties.

I do not want my anxieties to stop me from practicing kendo in Amstelveen. But I would lie if I said I wasn't a bit nervous about going tonight. I'm alone, with no alternative driver to take me home.

as I said: I don't want my anxiety to interfere with my training! I'm going tonight, come what may! I'll just have to be smart about it! If I feel that I've overexerted myself, I will stop for the night. And as always I am prepared for problems! I have enou fluids with me, I have dextrose and a snack with me, I always carry a bag for hyperventilation. I'm just as prepared as I could ever be! Nothing to stop me!

Thus ends the pep talk. :)

EDIT:

I went. It went fine. I was a bit tired at the end, but some dextrose helped out. I trained with the beginners' group and served as motodachi for harai-kote practice. Gave me a good chance to practice my posture and kamae. Roelof-sensei remarked that I was way too tense. He also showed me the proper technique for receiving blows in kirikaeshi.


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My first kendo demonstration

2012-03-31 12:25:00

Today's kendo class was cancelled, because the school hosting our dojo would be open for prospective students. The Nautilus College in Almere is a school specialized in educating children with a background in autism and thus their "open days" are a special thing. Instead of our usual practice, our dojo was asked to provide a small demonstration for parents and students. 

Packing my things in the car, Marli warned me to "don't meet anyone cute, you hear? Last time you gave a demo you came home with a wife!" ( ^_^) Of course, that -is- how Marli and I met almost twelve years ago: an archery demo in Wijk Bij Duurstede. Wow! Twelve years!

Our demo was well received and I quite enjoyed doing it. I actually didn't pay any mind to the audience, focusing on our kendo like I should. It wasn't any surprise that Ton-sensei partnered me with Martijn. After our demo I gifted one of the Renshinjuku shirts I'd designed to Ton-sensei, as a small thank you for all of his lessons. 


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An epiphany during home training

2012-03-27 21:35:00

This week Martijn and I will be training at home a few times, 'cause we'll be missing the Amstelveen and Almere training. Tonight I grasped two important things, thanks to him.


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"Survival of the fittest", he said...

2012-03-21 20:27:00

The day before yesterday, Heeren-sensei taunted me on Facebook warning that class was going to be "survival of the fittest". I had no idea what that meant, but was sure it was going to be hard work. Well, he didn't lie! Because last night's class was really something else!

After warming up we were told to form pairs with someone of comparable height and fitness. Naturally, Martijn and I teamed up: we're just as tall and out-of-shape and we're bonded through our Almere dojo. What followed was 45 minutes of "interval training", as Jouke called it. We would be taking turns in various exercises meant to completely exhaust our arms and shoulders.

I'm really quite hazy about last night's details, so I might've missed a step here or there. I went to bed immediately when coming home, so I didn't even make notes!

As I mentioned, the whole point of this gruelling exercise was to exhaust us up to a point that we couldn't do anything but efficient kendo. With our arms so tired we just have to be relaxed and we have to do proper striking. Jouke repeatedly asked us to memorize the feeling of all of this, so we could try and emulate it later. 

For the last half hour of class we did jigeiko. I faced three people, including mr vd Velde and Raoul-sempai. I'm very sorry to say that I've probably forgotten some of the important points.

Raoul-sempai took his time with me. Instead of full-on geiko, he told me to strike and that he'd let me through if it looked like a good strike. He primarily coached me on my small strikes and fumikomi

By the end of class and in the shower I was feeling completely drained. In the dressing room I sat there, slunk a bit. While I was having a chat with Heeren-sensei I got faint and got a panic attack. Luckily I manage to nip that in the bud, by using breathing exercises. Thank $DEITY Martijn was with me, so he could drive us both home. 


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What a great class today!

2012-03-17 16:55:00

Kendo was awesome today :) There was a turnup of roughly eighteen people. 

As usual we started off with kata practice. Today I had the pleasure of training with Bobby. I say pleasure, because in kata we make a good connection. What we lack in form, we make up in the mental aspect. We lock eyes and properly go through the "dialogue" that kata are. 

Footwork training got expanded again and I'm glad we did this! Four laps of suri-ashi, two laps of double men-uchi, one lap of suri-ashi with the shinai stuck through our legs to keep proper distance. Then two laps of repeated men-uchi and one lap of continous men-uchi. In the final three rounds, my suri-ashi went out the window again. :(

Kris tells me that I swith to ayumi-ashi (e.g. "walking"), which messes up my rhythm completely. The stupid thing: I don't even notice the switch! In my head I'm still doing the sliding footwork, and I don't even notice that I'm not sliding anymore. So weird! The fact that I'm putting my left foot in front confuses the rest of my body and messes up the timing of my strikes. I'm glad that Kris pointed this out, so now I can pay more attention to it. 

Like last time we then switched to kihon practice, with all beginners on one side and the kendoka in bogu on the other. As motodachi we kept receiving the strikes that the bogu-less folks threw at us. Big men strikes, small men strikes, big kote-men and small kote-men. Twelve rounds in total I believe. We then split the group up, where the beginners went with Ton and we went with Kris for waza practice. 

Small men strikes, then men-hiki-men, then men-hiki-men-hiki-kote, then men-hiki-kote-hiki-do. With the last one I really started getting confused on the timing and the steps; for every do strike my distance was too large to even hit. I think I realized why: when going back from tai-atari I kept doing step-back, fumikomi-hiki-kote, fumikomi-hiki-do. I shouldn't do the step-back! Even worse: the step-back was a weird bounce :(

Finally we did oji-waza, where motodachi strikes a small men and kakarite can do anything he want. In my practice rounds, in most cases I failed to land a retaliating strike; I only deflected or evaded :(

To close our private practice we did jigeiko, where I went up against Martijn. That's been a while! :) The others remarked that we completely lacked any tension and conviction. In most cases we struck and immediately sunk into tai-atari, instead of doing zanshin (like Kris remarked last week!). Then we slunk backwards and tried weak slaps. All in all we were messy and we've got a long way to go. I don't mind, I'm looking forward to learning over the next few years! :)

Class ended with with uchikomi geiko, where Kris demanded that everyone do their kiai continuously. No stops, no short kiai, just continuous. After my first round he made me go back, because I kept stopping to breathe after each hit. So I got to do three rounds! /o/

Great stuff! I was hyped after class! I even think I'm improving in my stance a little bit, because I don't have those killer muscle aches in my neck and arms anymore ^_^


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The long road ahead: ken-tai-ichi

2012-03-14 21:38:00

One thing I forgot to mention in my last kendo post, was something Kris mentioned during debriefing: he sees many of us blocking all the time, without going on the offense. To paraphrase: "Sure, blocking blows is fine and it's easier than you'd think... but it sure makes for damn boring kendo!"

Today I was reading through Kendo World 5.2 (hooray for Kindle on iOS!) and ran into an article which went into what Kris described a bit deeper. Quoting from 'The greater meaning of kendo' (part 12), by prof. Oya Minoru as translated by Alex Bennett:

"'Ken-tai-itchi' refers to the inseparable combination of attack and defense. Ken refers to offense and tai to defense. The concept is also called 'ken-chu-tai' (offense exists within defense) and 'tai-chu-ken' (defense exists within offense). […] Whether blocking, deflecting, parrying, or striking down, you must also follow with a cut or thrust. The attacking sword is simultaneously one that protects. Defense is for the purpose of attack, and attack also forms defense."

Right now I know I should be doing it this way, but at this moment simple defense is ingrained in my instincts. But with a lot of training I sincerely hope to reach a point where ken-tai-ichi becomes natural.


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Learning points from yesterday's class

2012-03-11 19:29:00

Yesterday's class was as usual: kata, warmup, ashi-sabaki, kihon, waza, geiko. Two things were out of the ordinary: the footwork training included 2x2 lengths of continuous men-uchi and the kihon practice pitted bogu-less kendoka against those in bogu who were constantly serving as motodachi

Serving as motodachi I was happy to see that I've built enough experience to at least notice basic problems in my opponents. So those were aspects that I tried to really help them out with: point it out and encourage them to work on it. So, that's them. How about me? Plenty of stuff!

In the debriefing Kris also forwarded a message from the jurors at the NK kyu/teams. It echoed a lot of the things that I've written about before: our grasp of etiquette and procedure sucks and our kendo really isn't up to snuff. Kris and Hillen indicated that they could be stricter with us as a group, but that won't cut it; it needs to go both ways! We all need to be involved and have a stake in our team.

So, after all of that Sander and I made a pact. From here on we'll be the stern voice in our ranks, despite the fact that we're only ranked in the middle of our group. Whenever people are chatting or slacking, we'll remind them to stay attentive.

EDIT:

With regards to pointing out perceived issues in other people's kendo: as Marli has warned me, I probably shouldn't. I'm nowhere near the position to do so and thus it falls under the same category as before: just shut up. Sensei and fukushou will undoubtedly mention the same things, so I should just butt out. As the Madison Kendo etiquette guide says: "Never instruct others unless you have been told to do so by the lead instructor. It is important to let less experienced participants learn by observation and improve their reaction speed. They will learn faster by doing it than by having someone tell them how to do it."

I just realized that my "helping" others in this case was becoming a matter of pride. That -really- has no place in kendo. "Shut up" is the motto from now on.


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A humbling experience in Amstelveen

2012-03-06 22:31:00

As awesome as last week's training went, so humbling was today's experience. Not even into the fifth round of kihon practice I had to bow out. I simply couldn't lift my shinai anymore and was out of breath. I tried to push myself during the fourth round, which is why I made it through the fifth one, but after that I was gone :(

The first two rounds were kirikaeshi, which went alright. In the first one my partner unexpectedly had strikes like a mallet, so my men took some rocking and shaking! Rounds three through five were men-strikes, without end: A does three, B does three, lather-rince-repeat. That's when I bowed out. After gathering my gear and commiting my first faux pas of the evening (sitting down while others practice), Roelof-sensei quickly pulled me into the beginners' group. 

With the beginners' group we practiced men-strikes and dou-strikes. First starting with the left foot and passing left. Then starting in normal kamae, but still passing left. And finally the dou strike as we're used to. 

There were plenty of things that were just plain wrong.

I am -very- glad that I joined the Amstelveen group for the tuesday night! Not only is it highly educational, but it helps me find more and more flaws in my kendo. And of course it's just great exercise. With regards to my stamine, Marli rightly points out that "well, maybe you should just start lifting those damn weights and run more!". When she's right, she's right ^_^


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More analysis of my kendo technique

2012-03-01 23:00:00

KendoFeb2012.m4v

Last year I saw the benefit of filming my kendo practice, so find weak points in my technique. I learned a lot from that. Tuesday, my first lesson in Amstelveen, Peter-sempai came along and filmed a little of my warming-up. I'm very grateful that he did this, because the clip above serves as a reminder of things I've been doing wrong for quite some time. 

In the second part of the clip (kirikaeshi) I'm the middle one, with his back to the camera.

The clips show plenty of stuff I like as well. The movement of my left fist isn't bad and I do believe my fumikomi is improving a little :)


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A change to my training schedule

2012-02-28 22:36:00

From this week onward I will be training kendo twice a week: saturday morning at Renshinjuku Almere and tuesday evening at Renshinjuku Amstelveen. Tonight was my first class in Amstelveen and I'm very grateful to a bunch of people. I'm thankful to Peter-sempai for coming along as moral support. I'll readily admit that I was a bit nervous about going to a completely new group, so it helped to have a friendly face in the first hour. And of course I'm grateful towards Heeren-sensei and everyone in the group for the warm welcome. It felt like I'd been training with them for a while already :)

Most notably, I'm thankful to Marli! She's the one who pulled the trigger on this decission!

After witnessing us at the NK Teams and after hearing some of my thoughts, she basically said that "if you really want to become serious about both kendo and the discipline that comes with it, then you're going to have to train with another group". Me being a stupid-head I originally understood that to mean "leave Almere and go elsewhere", but that's not what she meant. She meant: train more and with other groups. Wow! I'm so lucky that she's actually the one pushing me to go do kendo twice a week :)

Now... Class schedule at Amstelveen is a bit different. Almere usually does kata, warming up, footwork, kihon+waza and geiko. Tonight's schedule was warm up, then an hour of kihon+waza and half an hour of geiko. Heeren-sensei indicated that this does shift around a bit, depending on the crowd that comes in. One particular aspect that I enjoyed was the personal involvement ('hoofdelijke aansprakelijkheid') during the debriefing. Heeren-sensei asked a few of the kendoka how they have been using the waza that we practiced in their geiko and if they succeeded (and if not, why not). "How often did you do harai waza? Did it work? Why not? When would you best use harai waza?" (the answer turned out to be "when your opponent has become weak in his arms")

Things that were pointed out for improvement:

I'm very happy about the fact that I did pay more attention to my fumikomi! I was conciously trying to make improvements in that! Also, I used my bogu for the first time this evening and I'm very, very happy with it! I still need to break in the kote, but every piece of the kit feels comfortable and suits me perfectly.

A great night! And now I'm off to bed!


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NK kyu grades: dutch national championship for kyu graded individuals

2012-02-20 16:37:00

The day at the dutch national kendo championships started with the NK for kyu graded kendoka: those "beginning" players who have not yet graded for the first dan (anyone below black belt, would be the karate parallel). Realistically this means pitting folks against each other with 0-4 years of kendo experience. Five players from Renshinjuku Almere had registered and each was placed in a different poule.

Nick and I were on field A, in poules 4 and 5, while Houdaifa, Tiamat and Martijn were in poules 1, 2 and 3. I recall that Houdaifa made it through to the second round, but got bumped out after that. Tiamat, Martijn and I didn't make it through the first round. Nick managed to place third in the whole championship. Good going Nick! /o/

I'll come out and say it right now: my performance was awful, mostly due to my mental state. I went into this completely wrong, forgetting everything I've learned about kendo over the past year. 

It is often said that a kendo is a dialogue between two warriors. They speak through their shinai and bodies, thus determining who will strike when the time is right. Simply trying to overpower your opponent will almost never give proper results. And yet, that was exactly what I was trying to do: I was trying to assert my own will over my opponents. In my mind, I had a point to make: "I may be a rookie, but I won't be overpowered by you! Here! Have at you!" And thus I would immediately launch into an ill-advised attack. 

Within fifteen seconds from the starting command I would force myself forward, predictably aiming for kote. Whether there was an actual opening, whether my kamae or maai were right, whether I even had a chance? I didn't take any of that in and I simply attacked. So very, very wrong. 

In both cases I was out within fifteen to twenty seconds, with four nicely places men-strikes against. In both cases I thanked my opponents for an educational experience, whose lesson I would only figure out later that evening. 


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NK Teams: dutch national championships for kendo teams

2012-02-19 22:06:00

First off, I'd like to give special thanks to Kris-fukushou for his guidance during our day at the NK kendo! It was a huge support for us newbies, to have him take some time away from Museido Dojo and to coach us. Thank you Kris! Also a hearty congratulation to Museido for winning third place and to our mother-dojo Renshinjuku Amstelveen for winning first place!

Originally I was going to take part in the NK Teams as part of the Renshinjuku Almere team, but that took a turn. There were six of us and because Jeroen hadn't fought today, I offered him my spot on our team, putting myself in the reserve seat. It's good that I stuck around, because Kris was approached by a member of the jury, asking about Houdaifa's age. Turns out that the age limit for the NK Teams isn't 16, but 18! Which meant that I got switched in for our second competition in our poule. 

I went up against mr Weber or Arnhem's Kendo Kai Higashi. Luckily I lasted longer than my two fights in the NK Kyu. I went down with two men-strikes against me, plus one loss of my shinai which was flicked away when defending against a very strong men-strike. Learning points:

Then, as for our team? I'm sad to say that, honestly, we were not a team. We were six kendoka who train together and who spent the day together. We were the least experienced team and it showed. 

Nothing but good about the fighting prowess of my sempai! I'm greatly impressed with how they all did and I will have plenty to learn from them in the years to come! And our attitude amongst eachother is great! We're a positive and friendly group! However, outside of the fighting we weren't very good. We have a lot to learn about order and displine. 

During the day I was too overwhelmed by the spectacle of it all, but afterwards I'm honestly a bit ashamed. 

Ton-sensei, Hillen-fukushou and Kris-fukushou say it often: training once a week is not enough. By only spending two hours a week together we barely have enough time for basic training and some geiko. Let alone time to learn etiquette and equipment maintenance! If there was a chance to train twice a week with our dojo, I'd jump at the chance! And I'd love to help in any way needed to set it up! Heck, I'm already training several sempai in the maintenance of their gear!

Tomorrow I'll take some time to write about the rest of the day and my participation in the individual NK for kyu-graded kendoka.


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A rather unimpressive performance

2012-02-18 15:23:00

some sketches for kata 3 and 4

First off, I'm rather disappointed with my own performance in class today. After only a few rounds of kihon practice my head was spinning and I lost all sense of power in my arms. Like I was completely empty. Fifteen minutes later I was mostly fine again, which to me suggests that I need to do two things: properly dose my power output and build more and more endurance. 

Today's class revolved around shiai practice, that is to say: preparing for tournaments. Tomorrow a team from Renshinjuku Almere will be attending the dutch national championships. Nick, Jeroen, Houdaifa, Tiamat, Martijn and myself will travel to Zwolle to compete in two competitions. Each of us will participate in the individual competition for kyu-grade kendoka and the six of us will also form a team for the NK teams competition. The latter will be quite a challenge as we'll be going up against both kyu and dan-graded kendoka!

As usual, class was started with kata training, which I did with Nick. A great experience, as both Nick and Ton-sensei showed me a few eye openers. Two of these are sketched above; left is correct, right is wrong.

  1. In kata #3, after the opening thrust by uchidachi, shidachi thrusts back. When doing so I used to move my arms in such a way that the bokken would become level, to stab the torso of uchidachi. I was now taught that the bokken should actually remain diagonal in a straight forward movement. The theory behind it being that it would not stab, but cut the torso.
  2. In kata #4, after stepping forward both kendoka strike men, to cross bokken at eye level. Uchidachi move in hasso-kamae, while shidachi moves in waki-gamae. When making the strike from waki-gamae I used to make a circular arc, while the bokken should actually be lifted straight upwards, after which an arc is made.

When it comes to footwork I stuck to my training goal for 2012 and focused on fumikomi. Part of this was achieved by also focusing on my pelvis. My natural stance (which really is bad posture) gives me a hollowed back and my tush tilts backwards. Today I really focused on keeping my pelvis tilted forwards, which worked miracles for my stance.

I'm really curious about tomorrow! It'll be a long, long day... I'll be away from home from 0830 until 1830. Ouchie.


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Kendo kyu exams at Renshinjuku Almere

2012-02-04 14:48:00

Ten months after our dojo's previous exams we held kyu-grade exams today. This time around the group of people was a lot smaller, but things were still just as chaotic as last year. First off I started putting on my bogu, while we were not supposed to wear it during the exam. Then I had my zekken on, which was supposed to be off. Then I'd forgotten to switch to my kendo glasses. And finally, minutes before my test, I discovered that I was still wearing my wedding ring! Messy =_=

Today we had one person testing for fifth kyu, three for fourth (including myself) and three for third. The exams were as follows:

In general I thought my test didn't go badly and I was feeling more confident than during my first exam. However, there was plenty of stuff that wasn't great. Sensei tells me that I graded for fourth kyu, but that third kyu would require a lot of hard work.

The biggest problems seen in my kendo today were:

Martijn also remarked that, while my kiai sounds good, it's not supported by focus or strong body language.


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Unseen inspiration: tenugui

2012-02-03 19:50:00

tenugui with skeleton

In kendo practitioners generally all look the same. With some exceptions, everyone wears a dark blue uniform and a mostly black bogu. Some people have a differently coloured do-dai, like red or blue or hot pink :p But overall one can say there's little to no space for personalization. 

The only part of the whole uniform that expresses the individual is the tenugui: a cotton towel, wrapped around the head. In Japan, tenugui have dozens of uses, from dish rag to headband, to table cloth, to decoration. And us kendoka use it to catch sweat and to keep our helmets clean(er). ^_^

Tenugui come in greatly varying designs. From very simple and plain, to colourful and intricately designed. Many tenugui are 100% meant for decoration and are sold at rather steep prices. There are shops specializing in the sale of these design concious towels.

And it's through their tenugui that kendoka get the chance to express a little individualism, character if you will. Many wear cloth with inspiring words or phrases. Others have cloth with their dojo's logo, or tenugui that were gifted at special occasions. Personally I already have quite a few to choose from and there are more on their way.

Each of these has some special meaning to me, serving as inspiration for me. The ones from Niels and Kaijuu are reminders of friendship. The Tigers one is also for fighting spirit. The Sakurajima volcano ones are for slumbering violence. The white rabbit one is because of this :D 

And of course the skeleton ones are as reminders of my loving wife and her never ending support in my kendo! They are named as follows:

With many thanks to JEDict for the help in translating ^_^


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Miyako Kendogu: Yoroi-gata 'Tsubasa' (ORDERED!)

2012-01-29 12:21:00

Miyako Kendogu Yoroi-gata Tsubasa set

A few days ago Miyako Kendogu (an international colab between Andy Fisher and Tozando Co.) announced their newly introduced "Tsubasa" bogu set. I've never heard anything but good reviews of Miyako supplies and have been considering buying a bogu from them. The only thing that's kept me back is their rather high price point. Where a starter bogu from Kendo24 would set me back roughly 350 euros (or one form Nine Circles is roughly 300), the stuff from Miyako usually starts at 500 euros and easily goes above 800. 

The introduction offer for the Tsubasa set is awesome though: 50% off! Meaning that the set would set you back 419 euros, instead of 840. Holy crap! And because international shipping is free, it's a steal! What's even better is that Andy assures me that Miyako adjusts men for kendoka who wear glasses for free. Wow.

That's a good enough offer to make me seriously consider it!

EDIT:

Holy shit! Holy crap! OMG!... Marli just OKed and ordered the set to my measurements!!!! I'm still doubting between panic and sheer overjoyment! *panic* *joy* 


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A stern lecture: we need to up our game!

2012-01-29 10:51:00

Yesterday's kendo practice was both great and a letdown at the same time. 

It was absolutely awesome to have so many kendoka turn up! No less than twenty people were present, divided 10:10 between people with and without bogu. And the practice that we did was wonderful, with many techniques I'd never done before! But I was also confronted heavily with a lacking in my stamina. 

During class I gave up no less than three times ( =_=;)

With the first, my arms just couldn't keep up with the pace. During the second I felt exhausted. During the third I felt like a tube of toothpaste, squeezed completely empty. It's no excuse and it's not a consolation either, but I wasn't the only one. Which led to a rather stern (and deservedly so!) lecture at the end of class. Sensei and fukushou were rather displeased with the lack of endurance shown during class. Especially during something as early and basic as warmup!

It's rather shameful that so many of us have these issues. Would you imagine how awful it'd make the Renshinjuku Almere dojo look during seminars or national events, if our students show fatigue so quickly?! It's come to the point that we're going to use bootcamp style warming up: if anyone drops out during an exercise, the whole group will need to redo the whole exercise. Kris-fukushou repeatedly refered to his speech from last week: our whole team needs to work towards a higher level! We shouldn't be happy puttering about at our current entry-level kendo!

Now. i'm not going to let this put a damper on my mood or my perseverance. On the contrary! Martijn and I started running practice and Sander and I have decided that we need to push eachother. We need to friggin' keep going! FIGHT! For such a philosophical martial art, kendo really is damn demanding on your physique.

With that aside... Waza practice had us doing all manner of stuff that's new and advanced to me! Hiki-men, hiki-men-kote, hiki-men-kote-do, all of which taught me that my initial steps/stomps backwards are too large. After my first strike I'm already out of range, so I can't make any follow-ups. The followed strings of kote, kote-men, kote-men-do and hiki-men back and forth across the gym. Jigeiko was a big letdown for me. I took on Nick, followed by Martijn and that was that. I couldn't go on anymore.

At the end of class there was one small extra that made me feel better though! Ton-sensei asked me how I thought I was doing, to which I replied that I'm not going to be proud of myself as my stamina is horrible and because I'm still making the same mistakes I was in my first month of kendo a year ago. Sensei indicated that he was actually quite pleased with my progress in bogu. For someone on his third week in armor I was apparently adjusting quite well. Nice to hear :)

Speaking of working towards a new level: I've volunteered to teach Aaron-sempai how to do shinai maintenance. At roughly eleven years he may be my junior by a factor two, but at kendo he is my senior. He's been doing it longer than I have and I can honestly say that I admire him for the potential he shows! He's got good fighting spirit, right now it's just his age that gets in his way. By teaching him the basics of maintenance I hope to help him along just a little bit. 


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Second day of getting hit: still liking it!

2012-01-21 22:04:00

I don't know why, but today's class was a rather small group! Ton-sensei and Kris-fukushou led the training. Hugo and two newbies were doing basics and there were six of us in full armor: Tiamat, Aaron, Sander, Houdaifa, Charl and me. I guess we owe it to the smaller group that our rhythm.

0900-0930 was filled with kata as usual. Warming up included the stretching and the usual suburi, but then we switched to pairs to do contact haya-suburi. No running or footwork this time, we immediately got into armor. We practice kirikaeshi, men-uchi and kote-men as a group and then split up. Don't know what the armor-less folks were doing, but Kris took us through many interesting techniques, including suriage waza (parry on kote, then hit men) and maki waza (spiral the opponent's shinai to open a strike).

For fun and learning, the kendoka in bogu then all lined up for shiai with Charl (our only 1-dan student) who beat every single one of them. Class was then closed with uchikomi geiko, where all students had passes at Ton-sensei, Kris and Charl. During our debriefing Kris did impress upon us that he wasn't very pleased with the progress we're making... or actually, the lack thereof. All of us really need to step up to the challenge and push ourselves harder if we want to reach the next level as a group!

Notable flaws in my work today:

In closing, let me just say that I enjoy the hell out of participating in full! I'm so glad that I finally get to do real fights! I'm so grateful to Martijn, for lending me his helmet! _/-o_


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First time training in full bogu. What a great day!

2012-01-14 14:06:00

The day got off to a slow start. I was achy and dull and slow and had trouble waking up. First thing I did was to take my shaving gear downstairs to make myself look presentable for kendo practice. That's one of the many things I've learned about kendo: make sure that you are clean, look neat and that you have your stuff together. It's one of the many psychological aspects of the sport. It's a reassurance to yourself and it also signals to your classmates and opponents that you are ready and that you take things seriously. 

A trim and a shave later I double checked my bags and got Dana downstairs for breakfast. As expected, Martijn showed up at 0830 after which we piled into my Honda and drove to the dojo. We were running a little bit late. Class started as usual: get dressed, get your gear setup in the dojo and then warm up and practice kata. Martijn and I went through kata 1 through 4 twice and I got a rather important pointer from Raoul-sempai: my judgement of the maai is completely off! Martijn doesn't even have to step back in kata 1 in order to avoid my strike. I need to be more confident and closer. 

Warming up was the usual: stretching, suburi and footwork training. Extra attention was paid to the fumikomi aspect, which is my goal for 2012. With regards to fumikomi I'm doing plenty of things wrong!

The last point was also noticed during jigeiko, where Ton-sensei kept shoving me in my back after I struck him. Basically: "why the heck are you slowing down, while you should be speeding up?!" He's right of course ^_^

After warming up we all got geared up. I wasn't the slowest (huzzah!) but I did need to redo my men at least once afterwards. The chin pad I was wearing kept the men from sitting right, so I'll replace that with the pillow I made. The better part of the hour was spent on waza practice: debana-men, men/suriage-men, men/suriage-kote, kote/do, men/hiki-men. I might've forgotten some, or gotten names wrong though :D Maybe Hillen or Kris can name them all again. 

And the jigeiko! Because I was redoing my men I came late to the party and four pairs had already formed. So when Martijn bowed out I quickly grabbed the chance to 'dance' with Yann. Yann then was asked to sparr by Ton-sensei, but I followed quickly thereafter. And then class was already over! We officially closed the session in our traditional sense, after which Kris, Martijn, Charel and I quickly donned our men again! In preparation of the february 19th kyu tournament, Kris quickly walked me through the basics and etiquette of shiai. And finally ten minutes of jigeiko, which were interspersed with helpful comments and analysis. He was going easy on me ;)

Because I was late in going home I got dressed as quickly as I could. Mercifully my hakama cooperated perfectly when I folded it! :D Back home all my sweat drenched gear (it's never been this wet before!) was dispatched to the laundry and my bogu was set out to airdry. Speaking of "back home": Marli and Dana had gone out to Bij Honing for sandwhiches! Fillet Americain and salmon salad make a great lunch! :9

To finish it all off, simply because we could, all three of us took a bath together. So now we're all relaxed, comfortable and squaky clean! I'll probably do a little bit of cleaning around the house this afternoon, take a short nap and fiddle around with Shadow Era.

What a great day!

EDIT:
Something else important that Kris taught me during our private jigeiko: "Don't let them see that you're tired". Sure, you're tired! But instead mask it by changing your pace. I'm not eightteen anymore and I can't go head to head using my younger opponents' styles. I can only keep up a flurry of blows for so long, so I'll need to be smart about it. When do I unleash a torrent of strikes? And when do I bide my time, using other techniques?

EDIT 2:
The Sankei kendo glasses worked a treat by the way! They steamed up a little bit later on during class, but once I got moving again that was quickly resolved. At the start of class they were uncomfortably tight, but after getting really into the swing of things I didn't even notice anymore. The pressure of the men himo on my temples was worse, as was the sting of the strikes to my head ^_^


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I'm competing! Borrowed a men!

2012-01-09 21:31:00

Me wearing a borrowed men

o WOOHOO! /o/

Last saturday we discovered that the uchiwa in my borrowed men from Ton-sensei wasn't wearable with my glasses. Despiriting and all. But then Martijn gave me an awesome offer! He's willing to lend me -his- brand new men, so I can practice in the dojo and even take part in the dutch kyu tournaments in february!

FSCK YEAH! 

Domo arigatou Martijn!


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Kendo: new year's goals

2012-01-07 14:25:00

Learning kata 4

Today was the first class of 2012. It wasn't very busy, but it was a nice class nonetheless! We even had two newbies. Martijn also taught me the basics of kata number 4 (picture above), which really is a pretty cool one!

Sensei and fukushou asked us to pick one or two goals for this new year, which we were to attain by the end of the year. I picked fumikomi: by the end of 2012 I want to be able to pull of decent and consistent fumikomi.

Learning points from today's class:

Marli came to class to take photographs; that was great :) She was originally invited to make our 2012 groupshot, but then also stayed to shoot during the rest of class.


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Feeling extremely frustrated

2012-01-06 21:10:00

*sigh* I'm feeling very, very awkward. I'm conflicted, I'm annoyed, I'm pissed off and I just don't know what to do. 

My eyesight is awful, that's no secret. I am also a complete pansy, that's no secret either. I cannot force myself to wear contacts, so it's just glasses for me. Sadly, the kendo glasses I ordered recently just don't seem to be working with the standard helmets I've encoutered so far. Meaning that for the first time in my life my eyesight is going to prevent me from doing something I love: without good eyesight and without proper protection I'll never be able to take part in kendo

This has made me rethink churgery. (EDIT: "churgery"?! Really! I must've been out of it yesterday!)

Laser correction however is not performed under general anasthesia meaning that it's not going to happen. If I can't put contacts in or even touch my own eyeball, then no way in hell is anybody going to put clamps on my eyeball and prod my eyes. No. I need to be out cold. Which leaves us with lens implants. Sounds good to me.

Only, it'll cost roughly 2000 euros per eyeball. And it requires that my eyes are stable, which they aren't. So I'm probably not a viable patient and it'll cost us quite some money out of our own pockets. 

So many unanswered questions. So few options. But I do know this: I really, really want better eyes. And I really, really want to do kendo. I'll need to have a chat with my GP so she can refer me to an optometrist or eye doctor for a good talk. 

Honestly. If there ever was anything I could magically change about my body, it'd be my eyesight. Muscles I can take care of myself and I don't care about the stereotypical male "Oooh, I wish I could change that!". My eyes. Come on, magic genie! Come on, Celestia!

In the mean time I'll just keep on looking for a way to fit glasses inside my kendo helmet. That's gonna cost a penny too :|

EDIT:

It might be "wrong" thinking, a broken thought process perhaps, but I feel it's ironic, despiriting and humbling that I'm letting me stop myself from practicing a martial art that is as much about spirit and mental force as it's about physical strength simply because "I can't do something". To the point that I feel unworthy even trying to be part of it. If I can't overcome my own fears and reflexes over touching my eyeballs, how the heck am I going to overcome my adversaries?! 

Plenty of people have assured me that "it's easy to learn" and "you'll definitely get used to it". But then the frustrated voice in me yells, "Really?! Really? How are you going to teach an adult to overcome a reflex that's been burned into his mind twenty years ago? The same adult who gets violent to anybody going near his eyes?". It's not about getting me to physically touch my eye, it's about overcoming childhood traumas that have become deeply ingrained. 

Maybe I have it the wrong way around. Maybe years of kendo will help me overcome this crap. Maybe I'll be able to try contacts in a few years -because- of kendo. And to think that I was this --> <-- close to saying "I'm not worthy of studying kendo".


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Preparing for the next step in kendo

2011-12-29 19:36:00

The design for my zekken

In the new year things will get serious!

My kendo glasses are being made, so I can start wearing my men. That completes my bogu, as I've already been wearing the do, kote and tare. Which means that yes, I'm going to get into real geiko and I can compete in shiai! And as I have mentioned before I'll jump into the deep end in 2012! January will see our next kyu examinations and in February I'll join the kyu-grade tournament.

This will require a few last preparations:

The design for my zekken is shown on the left. Along the top is the name of our dojo, Renshinjuku (錬心塾) and along the bottom is my surname. The middle is a repeat of my surname, but in katakana, which reads SURATA. The fine folk at kendo24 are on holiday this week and my favored shinai (the "kenshi" model) is sold out, so I hope my order will reach Almere in time. 


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Closing 2011 at Renshinjuku Kendo Almere

2011-12-17 19:09:00

Today was the closing of 2011 at Renshinjuku Kendo in Almere (錬心塾剣道 アルメレ). And for this occasion our trainers had set up an interesting day :)

The suburi for warming up were changed dramatically. After the usual jogeburi, we were explained a new "game". Every member of the school would sound off ten strikes in turn and everybody would chime in with a shout of "men!". Since there were fifteen people, that makes for a hundred and fifty strikes. Did I mention it was haya suburi?! (short video of haya suburi) I failed right after my turn, which was after fifty I believe ;_;

I did my best to have great kiai and was one of the few whose counting resounded loudly through the hall ^_^

After that was another fun little game: everybody would take turns hitting fast kote on motodachi for ten seconds straight. The challenge was to do as many good strikes, combining fumikomi, kiai and strike. I managed to get up to 32 although that could've been more had I paid more attention to footwork and relaxation. 

After that: kiri kaeshi (another short video), which didn't go too well at all. The kendoka without full bogu were taken apart by Kris to focus on the basics: footwork and strikes. We were all quite sloppy :( Then, more and more basics, including stuff to focus on reaction times and snappiness. It was a great last class for the year and I felt awesome in the end. 

Today's big learning points!

I'm very much looking forward to 2012. In january we will have our next exams and in february I plan on taking part in the kyu-grade tournament with Martijn. That means I'd better get a move on with my kendo glasses as I'll need to be in full bogu for the tourney!


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Sports, kendo, perseverance and such

2011-12-03 20:52:00

The past few weeks I have been a bit frustrated with myself. Since coming home from Japan I haven't properly gotten back to my sports regime. Only last week have I tried to get back to running on a daily basis, which aggravates me because I walk the same piece of road on a daily basis. So why not run instead of walking?! Well, at least I'm not taking the buss to the office.

Same for kendo. Before the holiday I used to train at home at least once a week, together with Martijn. Of course, these days the weather outside is awful, but I can still train by myself in the attic like I did when I just got started. But I haven't...

But! I'm not quitting kendo! I enjoy this way too much and it's very educational, both physically and mentally. The social aspect of it is also very pleasant, as my classmates are cool guys.

Points to take away from today's lesson:

 


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Head cold? Screw it and let's fight!

2011-11-12 15:22:00

Thomas in his helmet

I've had a headcold all week, but decided to go to kendo practice anyway. I've been missing waaaaay too many classes, between our holiday and last week's absence (Dana and Marli were ill). Aside from my kiai lacking severely (slimy vocal chords) it was a very educational class. 

Warmup was different, with a few less stretches than normal and no footwork or running at all. On the other hand, before that the group did longer kata practice than usual. We immediately went into kihon, doing kirikaeshi, various men strikes and kote-men sequences. After that the groups were split between bogu wearing folks and those without armor. My smaller group practiced maki waza (where you gain center by spinning your opponent's shinai in a loop) and hiki-men (where one strikes men on a backwards lunge).

Lessons to take away from today's class:

Class was finished with kakari geiko and uchikomi geiko: basically, each of us gets to attach the teacher as often and as fast as possible for X amount of time. 

Sadly I can't partake in tomorrow's "central training" where a few dozen kendoka from all over the Netherlands gather. Full armour is a requirement, so that's it for me. I hope to have my kendo glasses completed by january, so I can attend the next practice. Speaking of, you can see the glasses in the photograph.


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Back to kendo, finally!

2011-10-30 21:11:00

kendo glasses

Finally! After missing five weeks of kendo practice, or any other sport, I'm back! 

I really need to start running again, but putting that aside: yesterday was kendo class! And I was glad to be back! ^_^ As can be expected after more than a month without exercise it was tough going. My endurance was down, as is my muscle power and lung capacity. And as always my timing is off and I still suck at making the small strikes. 

My absence however has allowed me to become aware of something new, a flaw I hadn't noticed before. When moving forwards to make a strike I do not keep my upper body straight. I correctly move forward by pushing from my hips, but instead of keeping my shoulders above my point of gravity, I actually hollow my back. This messes up my form, my strike and my timing. I've always wondered why I suck so much at making good fumikomi: now I know. 

Having recently returned from Japan I presented two of our trainers with the omiyage I bought them. On day 6 of our trip we'd visited the Hakozaki shrine to the kami Hachiman, protector of warriors and farmers. Hachiman is one of Shinto's most popular deities, covering both war and harvest. At the shrine I bought omamori (charms) for victory in sports and būdo, which is what I gave to my teachers as a token of gratitude.

I've also ordered a frame for kendo glasses. These, from e-Bogu.com. As I've mentioned before I cannot wear my own glasses inside my men and it's a pipedream to think that I will ever be able to wear contacts. I recently spent 45 minutes failing to even touch my eyeball, so putting a contact on there is completely out the window. Anyway. The frame needs to come in from the US, so it'll take a while to get here. Then I still need to get my prescription lenses made for them, which is going to cost a pretty penny. Then, after that I can -finally- put on a helmet and get hit in the head :D


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Summer's over and kendo practice resumes

2011-09-15 05:53:00

Last Saturday we finally got the new kendo season in Almere off to a start! A week late, but we enjoyed it nonetheless. Turn-up was good, with roughly fifteen students and two teachers present.

Because the training hall is completely new to us it took us a while to get started. New dressing rooms, a different floor, dust and crap left-over from construction that we needed to clear from the floor, etc. All in all we got started half an hour late, after most students had busied themselves with cleaning, kata or warming up. I chose to do stretches and footwork practice and around 0930 felt like I was pushing myself. Already! Even half an hour in I was hot and tired, how odd! I'm glad that Martijn and I continued practice over summer, because I don't know what state I'd've been in otherwise. I guess it might've been the heat in the training hall, because after said half hour I felt great. Even the extended footwork practice during warm-up didn't phase me, while it usually wears me out. I even had breath enough for good kiai

Did the summer practice with Martijn pay off? Yes. Probably not in technique, but it sure made me more comfortable actually hitting other people. When doing waza practice I used to take a while to work up into hitting someome; much less so now. ^_^

In the end sensei indicated that he wasn't very happy with the state of everybody's kendo. It showed that we'd had a holiday and many people were being sloppy and rushed. One specific thing that Hillen pointed out to me is that my fumikomi is off: my shinai is always trailing behind my footwork. That's something I need to work on!

Last night I also had another practice with Martijn. It really shows that summer is over, because even right from the bat at 2015 we were already working in the dark. I need to get a better lamp for the yard :(

Because of the dark and because I can't wear my glasses inside the men we didn't get to do too much practice. Martijn did show me an excellent exercise: while motodachi repeatedly strikes men, shidachi will parry each blow and immediately make a do strike. So basically the student practices kaeshi do. It's a fun and useful exercise.


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Beginning of a new kendo season: false start

2011-09-04 10:13:00

My loaner bogu

Yesterday marked the beginning of the 2011-12 kendo season at Renshinjuku Almere (錬心塾剣道 アルメレ). Everybody was rearing to go, excited to try out our new training room at the new Nautilus College building. But sadly it wasn't to be. Sensei had all the keys and everything had been arranged, but sadly he had been given the wrong PIN for the alarm system. So we had to cancel our first day of the new season. 

On a nice note: from now on I am allowed to train in bogu! I recently had an email discussion with sensei Ton, about the fact that Martijn and I had been doing some jigeiko, but that we would put it off for now at the fear of bodily harm. Sensei then replied that I could borrow one of the dojo's loaner bogu to get me started, before ordering my own set. So yesterday, in the parking lot, we picked out a set of armor, which I then tried on at home. 

The tare (waist armor) and do (belly and chest) are fine, though the himo (ties) of the tare are -very- worn out. The kote look quite akin to boxing gloves, but are comfortable. Sadly, the men (helmet) is not a perfect match: it's too tall (which can be fixed with padding) and also so narrow that I cannot fit my glasses at all. Martijn's men allowed me to keep my glasses on, so I guess it's a matter of finding the right helmet. 

Having a short go at jigeiko again I now fully understand what people mean when they say that one would need to relearn all the basics once you start wearing bogu. Your posture needs to change completely and I found the experience of wearing armor so disorienting that I even forgot all basic footwork and strikes. Viewing through the mengane without my glasses is also very confusing: I keep using one eye only for focusing :(

I will put on the armor a few times this week, to grow more accustomed to it all. 


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Photography as a study-aid

2011-08-04 05:44:00

Thomas and Martijn in tai atari

Since getting her new EOS 1100D Marli's been trying out various things to learn how to properly use a DSLR camera. The kendo practice that Martijn and I do on a weekly basis is one of her favoured test subjects since it involves fast moving subjects. The added bonus is that many of her photographs can be used as a study-aid by myself!

Case in point... Aside from the fact that:

  1. I like this photograph.
  2. The photograph shows how fscking grey my hair is getting.

The photo also shows me something crucial about how badly I perform tai atari: look at my wrists! They're completely wrong! No way in heck am I going to provide proper defense, nor a push back, to Martijn. Similarly, Marli's photography also shows that my do strike is much worse than i thought it was ;_;


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Understanding more about kendo

2011-08-03 08:36:00

Recently George McCall posted a translation of a 1978 article on the teaching of tsuki, the kendo thrust to the throat. The article is very educational in regards to the pre- and post-war history of kendo and on how the sport has developed. It has also enticed a "Aha Erlebniss" in me with regards to the kendo term datotsu: a scored point. The article includes the following passage:

"In this way, even though we note the success of modern kendo, we must deeply consider and reflect on what its become. One example is the case where we have banned tsuki for use in children of junior high school age and below; to look at it a different way, if you consider the very basis of kendo – hitting a clear DATOTSU (打突) i.e. cutting (打) and thrusting (突) – we have removed the thrusting part (突) and as such its not an exaggeration to say what we are left with is a kendo that incomplete (deformed)."

It had never occured to me that the is litterally "da to tsu"! Hence the "Aha Erlebnis", because the kanji for the word are indeed "da" and "tsu" the "to" being implied".

Anyway... a good article, in spite of its age! I wonder how much has changed in the past 20+ years, with regards to the teaching of tsuki. Currently I'm under the impression that it's been mystified, almost to the level of the jodan no kamae. People think it's scary, it's difficult and it's dangerous. And thus it's still not taught. On the other hand, the article has made me feel better about attempting the occasional tsuki on Martijn. -Especially- when he's in jodan :p

Also, something else from the article just "clicked" with what Loyer-sensei has been trying to teach me regarding small men (bold and underline for emphasis):

"The purpose to have [young students] study tsuki is that the children should be forced to understand the following points about the importance of kihon:

  1. Strike men as if aiming to tsuki, don’t let your kensen go outside your opponents center (correct chudan no kamae);
  2. It helps fix unnatural tenouchi (correct grip);
  3. Tsuki not with your hands, but with your hips (correct body movement);"

*click*


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Quick, new insights from tonight's kendo

2011-07-30 23:37:00

Practiced again with Martijn tonight and I learned two things. Or actually, I knew them as a matter-of-course, but their importance was impressed upon me once more.

  1. The center line is what it's all about, both defensively and offensively. Having the line opens up many modes of attack which require much less effort to break open. Losing the line opens you up to plenty of attacks in a heartbeat.
  2. Speed. I need to develop it. Not only do I need to stop waiting things out and spend X amount of seconds thinking and looking, but I also need to make my movements much faster. Halfway through our practice I decided to up the ante a little bit, to get more pushy and to get faster. BAM! Martijn pours on the speed as well and I'm lost. It showed so very, very clear how much he's been holding back so far. 

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Lessons from last night's kendo

2011-07-20 05:33:00

As I said before: I'm becoming lazy. Instead of chomping at the bit for more kendo practice I was actually trying to find excuses to cancel last night's practice. I'm glad that Marli didn't let me and that Martijn was showing such enthusiasm :) If anything, last night's exhaustion tells me that I still love kendo and that I really do need to keep up my practice (both in running and in kendo). 

So that's one lesson learned, but what else was there?

  1. When my shinai is pushed out of the center line, I push back. When this is done repeatedly, all the opponent has to do is release tension on his shinai and bingo! My sword swerves waaay to the other end and there's an open kote target. 
  2. When opponent goes for my men, I raise my shinai to deflect. However, I raise it too high and too far to the right, so again that's an open kote.
  3. With many attacks, instead of parrying and countering, I simply brace for impact. 

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Kendo practice, shifting my focus

2011-07-05 07:28:00

An arctic hare

Last night, despite muscle aches* and tiredness, Martijn and I got together for another training session. After stretching and a little suburi I followed Menno's advice and decided to forego any real focus on the small/fast men strike.

First off, Martijn was interesting in practicing jodan no kamae, which is a completely different stance than is normally used and taught. Whereas chudan no kamae is both safe and stable, jodan has both drawbacks and positive sides. For example, while extending the kendoka's reach considerably (at least half a pace), the raised shinai leaves both the do and the left kote open for attack.

With Martijn having practiced some men strikes from jodan we then proceeded with something that I could use more of: jigeiko. With Martijn wearing his bogu it was up to me to practice seme and to create an opening for myself. As I already know (and as Martijn remarked yesterday) I'm about as threatening as an arctic rabbit, so this is good practice for me!

Stuff we practiced:

*: I helped lay laminate flooring at Kaijuu's new house last weekend. I love doing that as it's part puzzle, part physical and all manual labour ^_^


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I don't practice enough

2011-07-01 17:10:00

Kendo practice in the yard

I really should make myself do more kendo practice at home. I don't know why I started slacking, but it's dumb. ಠ_ಠ

So thank $DEITY that Martijn SMSed me, asking if I was up for practice! No excuse to slack off anymore! We took a lot of time trying to get me to understand the movements for fast men, but I still don't get the right movements. I can do the thrust just fine, but for now I cannot manage to work in the required smack! to make a hit. We did manage to make a few nice potholes in the lawn, practicing fumikomi and hayasuburi ^_^;

Martijn also let me try on his bogu. The tare, kote and do are just fine and wearing them was actually quite comfortable. Putting on the men it was soon clear that, while my glasses do fit under there, the helmet really doesn't fit well doing so. This means that I need sports glasses, contacts or laser surgery, just like I was foretold. Meh... :/

Getting struck on the do doesn't hurt at all, unless it misses :p The kote strikes were a bit sharp and the men hits were pretty... interesting, that's the word.


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Things to take away from today's kendo class

2011-06-25 13:46:00

It's starting to become a theme, but:

Today's class felt GREAT! After our usual warming up (though again without running laps) we did at least an hour of waza keiko, practicing all of our basic techniques. The more advances students finished off learning different counter attacks to deal with a fast men strike. In the mean time, Hugo and I kept on repeating the basic drills: big men, fast men, kote-men, big men. To end it all of, the students in bogu then did a rotating sogo renshu, where each student was in turn attacked by the eight others to practice their new counter attacks. 

The final twenty minutes of class were spent on jigeiko, where all students were free to practice with one another and with the teachers. During the waza keiko and during the jigeiko I spent about ten minutes with sensei Ton practicing the fast men strike, something that I struggle horribly with. The proper form is to:

  1. Step in.
  2. Step in and thrust straight for the face.
  3. Sweep up the kensen and strike. 

The problem being that I fail to do a straight thrust for the face. I kept on "shoveling", meaning that I lower my left hand (tipping the shinai upwards) followed by moving my arms upwards, to slap the shinai down again. To get rid of this annoyance Ton had me do something unusual: practice tsuki thrusting (short video) on him.

That got the message across, though Ton then pointed out a new flaw in my form: when doing a thrust I habitually do a very small pull backwards on my sword, which is a total and dead giveaway of what I'm going to do. The suggested training method Ton gave me: stand in front of a mirror, hold your hands at normal kamae height, then thrust at the throat of your mirror image. Man! I'd really love to have that training dummy by now :D

During the jigeiko part of class mr. Waarheid (another visiting student) suggested that we do some uchikomi geiko, where he'd make openings for me to strike. When practicing fast kote-men-do he pointed out that I was screwing up maai, by stepping in waaaay too much for each consecutive strike. 

What a great class! I feel awesome and I've learned so much today :)

EDIT:

Ah yes! More things... During jigeiko I had to bow out for a few minutes to get my heart rate to drop. Five rounds of kirikaeshi, followed by five double rounds of men, men, kote-men, men got my heart pounding and sadly I couldn't bring myself to push through. So I sat out one round of bouts and then jumped in again. And again, Ton reminded me that my kamae is too tense. I also twist my wrists to the inside a little too much, which limits my maneuverability. 


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Kendo class? More like kendo clinic!

2011-06-18 13:04:00

Like last week, today's class was tiny! Aside from Ton and Kris, there were four of us out of bogu, two young kids in bogu and maybe two other adults in armor. So that made for a very skewed class with three 2nd dan teachers (actually, I don't really know Raoul's grade, he could very well be higher!), one 1st dan student and the rest of us just lowly mu-dansha. Basically there was one teacher per two students. That doesn't make for class anymore, it's a friggin' clinic! Seriously, had this been golf we'd have paid through the nose for a class like this! In all I had at least fifteen minutes of personal attention from Kris! 

Anyway. Just like last week:

It's nice to see some improvements though! After my very first lesson in January I wrote: "I can only dream of ever becoming as fast as some of these folks! One fellow I practiced with would be able to get in five to seven blows for every one of mine. The light footedness! Amazing!". What I wrote then was after learning haya suburi (go watch the linked video!). While I'm nowhere near the speed and souplesse of our teachers yet, I am very happy that I can keep up with my fellow students. ^_^


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Analyzing my men strike

2011-06-14 22:44:00

As I wrote earlier, last weekend I learned that many aspects of my kendo suck. As my teachers suggested I set up a camera to record about fifteen minutes worth of shomen strikes, both with and without fumikomi

With my layman's eyes I notice the following:

There's plenty more to learn, so I'll be rewatching that clip a few times more. Below is just a small excerpt, so folks can make fun of me :P

Shomen2011.mov


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Well, that was hard work!

2011-06-11 12:54:00

Again, like a few weeks ago, we had a rather small group at Renshinjuku in Almere. While a low attendance does affect the atmosphere negatively (nobody's on edge) it also has an upside: everyone can get the undivided attention of sensei and the sempai. And today I learnt that many of the things I've been doing really aren't that good, but so far they've gone unaddressed.

Hillen noticed two things, one of which I've stupidly forgotten :( 

Kris really was very dedicated and noticed a boatload of things:

I didn't work with Ton very much today, but during uchi-geiko it was obvious that:

There was more, but sadly it doesn't come to mind just yet. I'll try to remember later...

Both Kris and Ton suggested getting a third-person's view of my suburi. Either by using a mirror or a camera. Marli had also suggested the same a few weeks ago. I'd better set up the mini tripod I have, so I can film myself. Worked when I was learning golf swings, so it'll work here as well. 

EDIT:
I spoke with Martijn, my study-buddy you might say, on the way home and I've decided that I need to up my running schedule to build more endurance. I don't know if it's the heat in the dojo today, if I'm just in a rut or whether I just suck, but today's class wore me out. I haven't sweat as much as this before! My keiko-gi and undershirt were drenched! I was already panting quite heavily after the laps of warming up footwork and I couldn't hold my post-striking position that long either (while the teachers were evaluating us). 

So. Not necessarily more, but longer running! And I really need to stick to my at-home suburi schedule!


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A few lessons from private kendo practice

2011-06-02 21:47:00

Tonight's practice with Martijn wasn't as serious as it could've been. We were a slight bit hurried, I'm nursing a cold, he'd sprained his back and we were giggly. Oh well, as long as we keep that out of the dojo it's fine ~_^

A few things I'm taking away from tonight:

Speaking of my personal training schedule, right now I try to do the following once or twice a week (aside from my sessions with Martijn and the Saturday morning in the dojo). This list actually matches the warming up suburi we do at the dojo, but ups the amounts quite a lot. 


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Understanding the meaning of kendo kata

2011-06-01 07:05:00

A few weeks ago I'd found a few interesting articles about the meaning of kendo kata, mostly focusing on kata #1 through #3. The other day I was practicing kata with a visiting kendoka Raoul, from Amstelveen, and he was teaching me kata #3. While going through the motions I failed to grasp the riai (theory or reason) behind a certain movement and the both of us couldn't figure it out on the spot.

The question I had was: "What is it that motivates uchidachi (teacher/attacker) to drop his sword after already successfully parrying two of shidachi's (student/defender) thrusts?"

Now, thanks to the earlier reading I already knew that in kata 3, shidachi has no intention whatsoever of killing or hurting uchidachi, meaning that the two thrusts (or actually one thrust and one push) weren't parried to begin with. But again, why would uchidachi give up and simply lower his sword?

Sometime this week I realized what could be the answer: the seme (willpower) of shidachi completely supresses uchidachi's will to attack and uchidachi has realized that he's lost. Uchidachi is being backed against the wall, so to speak. After some more reading I've found materials that seem to support my theory, so I wasn't too far off :)

This is one of the aspects why I love kendo: figuring out puzzles is part of the kenshi's learning process.


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Equipment maintenance, for safety and enjoyment

2011-05-26 07:07:00

A shinai in pieces

When it comes to my kendo equipment t I quickly learnt how to properly care for my uniform, how to fold both the hakama and the gi to retain the pleats and shape. So far though, I've been avoiding one crucial part of equipment maintenance: taking apart and inspecting my shinai. But I finally did it last night ^_^

Menno, as vetted sports climber, will confirm the necessity of regularly inspecting your equipment for defects. If his materials are broken it might cost him his life, by plumetting to the ground. Similarly, if my shinai is messed up, it might take out someone's eye. I mean, it -is- a stick I beat other people around the head with :/

Armed with an excellent free kendo equipment manual (courtesy of the Fukuda Budogu company) I dismantled the shinai into it's components and found everything in order. No splits, no splinters and defects in the tsuru (the yellow string) and the leather parts. Putting it back together I rotated the bamboo slats' order, making the original bottom slat now the left one. The reasoning behind this being that this will ensure even wear an tear on the whole shinai. Getting the tsukagawa (the leather grip) off the handle proved a challenge since it's so tight. However, as suggested by the guidebook, latex gloves quickly solved that problem!

The whole process took me little over an hour. Lessons learnt? That I'll need some practice in retying the tsuru because right now it's not as tight as it could be.

I recently saw a great documentary on the production of shinai (part 1 and part 2 on YouTube). I don't know if it applies to my model, but in general the creation of one is quite a few hours of manual labor. It was great seeing the artisan go through the steps of making a sword, starting with newly dried bamboo branches.



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Small group today at Renshinjuku

2011-05-21 17:55:00

Like a few weeks ago, today was a small class in the dojo. Only eight guys in bogu and three newbies in keikogi

Before warming up with suburi and stretching (no running at all this week, that felt odd!) the whole group focused on studying kata. I'm very grateful for the help of Raoul, a visiting member of our Amstelveen dojo, who provided me with some good insights on kata 1 through 3. After that sensei Ton took us rookies apart for some practice and uchi geiko, while the rest of the group spent the remaining hour sparring. 

My fast men and kote are still crappy, like I learnt last week. I did finally understand the mechanics behind the fast men, after seeing a few confusing explanations in class. The idea behind the fast men strike is that the shinai moves in a straight line towards the opponents face, only to jump up for a strike at the last instant. I kept on thinking that this movement was achieved through the wrists, but instead it happens almost automatically by thrusting forward, combined with raising and straightening the right arm. And -then- the wrists come in :)

EDIT:

Now the only thing I need to figure out is why the heck I keep getting these splitting head aches after training. I get back home around 1200 and you can bet dollars to donuts that by 1300 I'll have a head ache that lasts until I go to sleep at night. Menno suggested that it might be a hydration problem, but it even occurs now that I'm downing 1.5 to 2 liters of water in the morning. Personally I'm thinking it might have something to do with the muscles in my neck and how I use them during kendo.


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Finally, kendo again!

2011-05-14 17:39:00

After missing four weeks of training in a row (family stuff, spring cleaning, Queen's Day and Anime 2011) I finally got back to the dojo today! Training with Martijn in our yard has been very helpful, but of course there's no substitute for the watchful eye of sensei and training with the other 15 folks in our class. 

Despite the fact that the past two weeks I've held back on training, the warmup routines came pretty easily! The usual stretching and suburi, two laps of suri-ashi and three laps of fumikomi-ashi. Usually I'm pooped after the laps of suri-ashi, but not this time. Nice. Either way, starting from next week I'll run to/from the office again on a daily basis and I'll also train at home at least once a week. Back to my old schedule!

Lessons from today:


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TIL: soft wood is not a valid target

2011-04-19 21:14:00

Oops! Sorry honey! I kind of... broke part of our fence. ^_^;

Tonight I was practicing men strikes. First as suburi, then using the top plank of our garden fence as a target. I'd done this before with little trouble. But I guess the men strikes were too much for the soft wood, because the plank gave way after a few hits. Oops... I'd better break out the hammer and nails tomorrow. =_=

On the upside of things: my raising motion with the shinai is definitely speeding up! And it seems I've got one half of kata #1 down :)

EDIT:

While I'm working on learning the physical movements of the kata I am also trying to come to grasp with the meaning behind it all. I mean, there's supposed to be a good reason for kendoka to have to learn all the kata, so I'd better find out what it is! On the one hand there's understanding the physical aspect of kendo, but on the other there's also the psychological and mental aspects. Researching the "riai" (theory / reason for movements) provides a whole new level of learning, for which one usually doesn't have time in the dojo. 

To quote Geoff Salmon, who is paraphrasing a research paper on kendo:

"In [kata 1], both the teacher and the student attack each other from the 'overhead' posture implying a clash of justice against justice. The first kata is meant to teach that one defeats the other with the difference of relative skill cultivation that corresponds to the laws of nature”. [...] The first lesson in kendo means training for the self acquirement of the physical movement and mental attitude, as well as the cultivation for the self-manifestation of justice. In addition to the self-manifestation, the first kata teaches the importance of repentance for the killing. In real combat, the loser dies and the winner who survives must have repentance. This mental attitude in part represents the assertion of zanshin.

The paper in question, "A breakthrough in the dilemma of war or peace – The teachings of kendo" by Kensei Hiwaki, can be found as part of this British Kendo Assoc. newsletter from 2000. It's not a very long read. Speaking of Geoff's blog, I'm digging a lot of his articles! I doubt there are many 7th dan kendoka keeping an active weblog in english. Another great read was his modernized translation of "The aim of kendo", by Matsumoto Toshio and Hanshi Kyudan.


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One-on-one training: learning points

2011-04-13 22:20:00

I usually practice kendo at home once or twice a week, by myself, just stretching and doing suburi. Tonight made a nice difference with one of my sempai visiting for one-on-one training. We did suburi, went over kata #1 and the he let me practice some kihon on him wearing his bogu. Now, I need to remember the learning points we discovered today, because there were quite a few eye openers for me.

Thanks Martijn! I really appreciate your help and I enjoy our training tremendously.  m(__)m


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Kendo kyu exams at Renshinjuku

2011-04-09 21:46:00

Today was an odd day at our dojo in Almere, not because of the examinations, but because of the atmosphere surrounding them. Usually we have a very strict schedule and everyone's pretty serious, but not today. Before the ceremony began there was lots of talking and joking inside the dojo, which by itself is pretty rare. But after the ceremonies were completed and the trainers were deliberating there was a lot of horseplay as well. Very weird, if like me you're used to a stern ambience. 

Anyway, the exam proceedings were cool! The students were lined up in groups, based on which grade they were testing for. First up were the mukyu, those without rank who were going for gokyu, which's a group of eight (myself included). We had to display men uchi, the basic strike for the head, in both the "large" and the "swift" versions. Of course we needed to show proper posture and form, as well as good kiai and fumikomi. The other groups were going for...

The groups for gokyu and yonkyu were also given a short written test, to verify our knowledge of basic kendo terminology and concepts.

In the end we were all allowed to pass our grades, to everybody's pleasure. Our most experienced student Charel also received his official ikkyu ranking, which he was tested for nationally earlier this year.

Personal feedback I received today was:

  1. I am showing clear progress.
  2. My posture in kamae is not nearly threatening enough.
  3. My upswing is cut short when I feel I am in a hurry.

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A tough workout today

2011-04-02 21:59:00

Today was a good class. A very good class. 

Let's see... What were the pointers that I need to remember? *ponders* 

I'll also start bringing some sturdy bandaids to class to quickly coverup peeling blisters. This morning I got a big one in a rather annoying spot, which I allowed to distract myself too much. A speedy patchjob would've helped me mentally. 

Uchikomi geiko was fun though :)


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Upcoming kendo exam

2011-03-29 07:53:00

All kendoka from our dojo recently received an email from our instructors to partake in the upcoming exam rounds. Seeing how I only started kendo two months ago I asked our sensei about his expectations for us newbies. His reply: "Just take the exam. Like everything in life all beginnings are easy." So there we go :)

Now, seeing how I'm still a mukyu ("no rank") the test will simply be to see if I've been learning properly for the past few months and with any luck I'll be getting closer and closer to the lowest rank there is, rokkyu (sixth rank). The funny thing about the ranking below ikkyu (first rank) is that there are no standardized requirements for them. Starting from ikkyu and proceeding to shodan, nidan and so forth everything has been standardized by the IKF, but below those everyone's free to decide on their own requirements. Thus sometimes you'll have national federations deciding on the conditions (like Germany, South Africa and Australia), often it's a regional thing (like US states) and sometimes even at the dojo level (like this one from Belgium). Apparently in Japan the kyu grades below ikkyu are even only given out to children, with adults not getting anything until they are deemed worthy of ikkyu. As you can see, there are many different approaches to the kyu grades.

Reading through all those descriptions there's a thread that runs through all of them:

We'll see :) I'm looking forward to the ninth of April, simply because it'll be a special day at the dojo. I don't particularly care about the outcome of the exam since I'm not there for achievements/ranking, but to learn kendo.


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A smaller kendo class

2011-03-28 07:45:00

This weekend's kendo class was a bit... weird, I guess. The group was very small, with only five people in bogu, with us four newbies in dogi or sweats and without our usual sensei. It was a productive and tiring class, but it seemed to lack coherence and rigour. We'll do better next time! ^_^

One big thing I took away from this lesson: posture.

Posture, posture, posture. Fukushou Hillen en Chris kept reminding me that I keep ducking, or bending backwards. Later on sempai Jeroen also noticed that I don't fully raise my shinai when striking, meaning that my left fist doesn't pass my face completely. Jeroen also immediately noticed something I'd been slightly aware of: when doing fumikomi I tend to keep my right foot very close to myself instead of really lunging forward. On the one hand this severly limits my range, on the other it ruins my fumikomi and my follow-through because I'm stomping my heel, instead of slapping my foot.

We were also informed that the 9th of april will be the next round of exams. I don't really know what sensei expects of us newbs who haven't even attained rokkyu yet, so I've fired off an email to him :)

Aside from the usual practice in the dojo I also try to get practice in at home. I run 2km twice or three times a week, train my lower arms with a Powerball I got years ago and I do suburi once of twice a week as well. Fun times! One very odd thing though: while I can run 1km without much trouble, the okuri-ashi warmups in the dojo really wear me out. Roughly 100m of sliding footwork at a rapid pace affects me more than 1km of jogging with intervals of running. Interesting ^_^;


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Spirit and endurance: two things I need

2011-03-20 07:46:00

Yesterday's kendo class was great! In sensei Ton's absence fukushou Kris and Hillen took the lead with many basic exercises for everyone, followed by half an hour of serious sparring. 

The biggest things that stood out for me were not about technique, but all mental:

The first point is obvious: after the first 1.5 hours of training I was already quite tired. Going up against my seniors many of them managed to fire me up with comments and kiai, forcing me to show spirit again. Obviously I'll need to be able to do that without their aid.

The second point was driven home when Hille gave me the lead of a group exercise, where i was to sound off stepping directions. From my mannerisms he could read what my command was going to be before I called it out. Doh! That's called over-thinking on my side :)

After the training I felt absolutely great, which lasted for a few hours more. But when I'd taken a short nap in the afternoon I woke up with a headache that was something fierce! =_= Skipped dinner and went to bed at 1930


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Fifth kendo training

2011-03-12 15:20:00

Whew! Today's kendo training was heavy!

While the whole two hours were spent on suburi ("empty strikes", that is individual practice as opposed to one-on-one training) it was very tiring for me. It was the first time for me to wear my hakama and gi in the dojo, which was interesting to say the least. The hakama was very comfortable, but I wasn't fully prepared for how warm the thick, cotton gi would get. Until now I've been wearing sweatpants and a longsleeve, which is a lot cooler. But now I was pooped within the first half hour :)

Aside from that, lessons learnt:

What a great class today. I was about ready to give up for a five minute break a few times, but I kept on going. Get a quick drink and catch my breath, then carry on immediately! 


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Finally, more kendo training

2011-02-27 11:24:00

After two missed trainings (illness and our Copenhagen trip) I finally went back to class yesterday. The effects of three weeks without proper training were very clear, because I was quite lost in my timing. I had to relearn all manner of things.

On the positive side of things, my striking motion has in fact improved since last time. About two weeks ago it finally "clicked" in my head. The reason why my strike was moving in an arc instead of a straighter line was because I was flicking my left wrist right from the start. Instead, what I have to do is first pull my left hand in a straight line, with the flick and the swing coming in much later. 

So... Stuff to focus on:

The stupid thing is that I keep getting the various suburi mixed up in regards on when to raise and when to strike, in relation to my footwork. Of course it's simply a matter of repetition to ensure that I memorize it. I think I'd better clean up the back yard a bit to provide the required space for my practice. There's only so much I can do in my study. 


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Oww, pulled muscle's cramping my style

2011-02-05 20:13:00

Last week's training at was great and I enjoyed it a lot. The day after I realized that I might have enjoyed it just a little bit too much, because apparently I'd pulled a muscle in my left leg. Something running from my loin down the inside of my thigh. Either way, dumb me disregarded the problems and proceeded to attempt jogging to and from the office every day. Dumb :) Today it was still bothering me, to the point that I had to bow out twice, after sharp pains during practice. So, mental note to self: take it easy next week!

Both sensei Loyer and sempai Chris pointed out a few structural flaws in my technique, which I really need to work on. One has been obvious from the start, one was noticed only now. 

Another important point is that, when landing a point, I should properly stamp my right foot. However, today I avoided doing that because of my pulled muscle.

So! Practice, practice! Renshuu, renshuu!

Today I also asked the teacher if I could enroll as a student. I was originally told that everyone could have five free introductory weeks, after which one'd join the dojo. Instead I was told that he would, for now, not accept my enrollment and that I should simply proceed as we are right now. Sensei wanted to impress upon me that "kendo is not something you do for a year", so first he'd like to see me get through the first few months. Based on our short discussion I assume this is to our mutual benefit: for me so I am not forced to make social and monetary commitments and for the dojo so they first get to know me better before truly accepting me. It's certainly not what I expected, but I can agree with all the benefits involved with this approach. 

Finally, as I remarked last week: I really like the people in the group. At least one of them lives very close to me, so I gave him and his friend a ride back to Almere Buiten station. Given our proximity I see some definite opportunities for backyard training in spring and summer :)


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My basic kendo gear has been ordered

2011-01-30 19:48:00

The graphic to the left is used on the Kendo24 website, to advertise their equipment sets for beginners. I can't help but giggle ^_^

Anyway... A hundred euros (or 114 including shipping) gets me everything I'll need for my first few months of kendo training. A hakama (special pants), a gi (jacket), a shinai (bamboo dueling sword) and a bokken (wooden sword for kata). Oh, and a baggie to put the swords in. That's a pretty good deal, though obviously none of it will be of stellar quality. Still, a hundred bob is certainly manageable as a starting point! 

Next up, I know it's not required and might be a bit weird, I'll write a short letter requesting our sensei to accept me as a student.


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Second day of kendo at Renshinjuku

2011-01-29 18:58:00

All the running I've been doing the past year sure came in handy today! Aside from the usual stretching and jumping, today's warming-up also consisted of multiple laps around the gymnasium. Roughly 700m of running, sprinting, strafing and of course the kendo shuffles (forwards, reverse and sideways) would've certainly done me in two years ago but not now! :D

Speaking of the warming-up: aside from the fact that it's very useful, there is also something very cool about it. The last part consists of various jumps, jumping jacks and stomped landings, combined with counting. It really builds my fighting spirit (if you will) to have a gym filled with the roars of ichi-ni-SAN!, timed to jump-jump-THUMP! of twenty people. Like there's a giant bass drum in the room... ^_^

Anyway. I learnt a lot today. I still have the same problem as last week, where I strike with my whole arm instead of whipping the shinai with my left wrist. Aside from that I also tend to stoop a little, holding the shinai too low (below navel level). And there's one problem that's obvious for someone completely new to martial arts: I am hesitant to actually strike someone. Today we practiced the basic men strike and the kote-men strikes and only near the end of class would I actually start HITTING people, instead of tapping, glancing or tapping. 

All my sempai were very helpful and patient, with most everyone having a pointer or two. I enjoy training with this group a lot!

EDIT:

At least there's nothing wrong with my kiai. Finally my big lung capacity pays off and I can use my Voice Of Authority(tm) for something else, besides addressing crowds at the 'Anime 200x' festivals. 


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Every journey starts with a single step

2011-01-23 09:25:00

I have to say that starting something completely new is very thrilling. Though I have to admit that sometimes it's exciting to the point of panic.

Case in point: we will be soon taking Dana on her first airplane ride ever. In preparation for our long vacation in Japan we wanted to make sure that Dana doesn't go nuts on a plane, so we thought we'd try a day in Copenhagen which is only a one-hour flight instead of twelve. For some reason the idea of taking Dana on a plane fills me with dread, even going so far to giving me a real panic attack. I have absolutely no clue why, because it's all very safe and sound. I need to go over my own thoughts to try and find out what the heck is up.

Putting that particular case aside, I really do love starting new things from scratch. It's quite refreshing to be a blank slate, being forced to learn something from the utter and complete basics. This is why I loved going back to college, why I loved learning golf and now it's why I greatly enjoy kendo.

It's interesting to see that in kendo I tend to make the same mistakes I did in golf: I cramp my arms and I still try to put force on both of my arms instead of only on my left arm. As is explained on this terrific website:

"Perhaps the most common mistake of beginners is to use the muscles of the right arm to swing. Ask any golfer what happens if you try and use the muscles of your right hand in a golf swing. The swing will go wild, you won't hit your target, and you'll hit very hard with no self control. This not only looks terrible, but will piss off your opponent as well."

I do admit that for the first time in learning something new I am actually daunted by the task at hand! The journey to learn kendo leads up a huge mountain and right now I can see the whole trip I'm supposed to take. I should really only focus on the first few steps though, because the enormity of the task may lead me to two of the four shikai: doubt and confusion.


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Tried a new sport today: kendo

2011-01-22 14:35:00

(C) H. Hofer, 2005

Today I did something new: I partook in kendo training. 

Recently I've been getting the "itch" to pick up sports again. i've been running between the office and the railway station every day, trying to build up some stamina again. This is going slowly, but it's working. But as I learnt last summer, I doubt that I'd want to go back to long endurance running again. Well, as Menno so succinctly pointed out: "there's never a dull moment in kendo!"

The way I see it, kendo will be beneficial to me in a number of areas. Obviously it's good exercise, there's no doubt about that. It will hopefully also teach me some mental endurance and some much-needed humility. Personally I love the rigor, the tradition and the ceremony, so that's a plus. And physically? I can only dream of ever becoming as fast as some of these folks! One fellow I practiced with would be able to get in five to seven blows for every one of mine. The light footedness! Amazing!

There is one snag though. If I ever want to progress beyond the mere basics, wear a bogu and actually start fighting, then I will need to get over myself and start wearing contact lenses. There is no way that my normal glasses will stand up to the blows. So either I purchase expensive, custom sports glasses, or I get my eyes lasered, or I get contacts. Seeing how contacts are the cheapest and least permanent option it's safest to go with that for now. 

The dojo in Almere, Renshinjuku, is an offshoot of a larger dojo in Amstelveen. There aren't that many kendo dojo in the Netherlands, but I appear to have lucked out with this one! For my taste the dojo has the right level of formality. I was dreading a group similar to my original archery group in Zutphen: no discipline, no rigor, just teenagers running wild. Luckily that is not the case at all! In the dressing room the atmosphere is jovial and informal, but once you go out to the training floor everybody gets serious.

I am really looking forward to next week's class.


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