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<< 2 / 2012 4 / 2012 >>

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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Learning from my mistakes

2012-03-30 11:13:00

The past month I've been paying more attention to my methods of communicating and of working, all under the motto of enryo: "restraint". Overall I see improvement, but with the help of colleagues I've also recognized a number of slipups. 

A while back I stated a number of targets for myself, after a big kerfuffle at the office. Here's how things have gone so far.

This is by far the easiest target. I've simply refrained from contacting R or any of his colleagues in any way or form. Any work that needs to be done together with them was defered to my colleagues. However, there was also a bit of misunderstanding on my part: this target was not only targeted at R and his team, but also at the other team. So, no less than two weeks after the troubles I made the mistake of contacting E from the other team, which blew up in my face. So, the target's been extended to: "I will refrain from contacting R, E and their teams in any way".

I almost stuck my foot in a hornets' nest yesterday! 

Almost a year ago I helped out one of the big projects going down at $CLIENT to achieve their über-important deadline. It involved some changes to one of our BoKS environments and also involved some programming to change the infrastructure. At the time I was in the lead, but I frequently discussed the matter with R to make sure things would work properly. The project met its deadline "and there was much rejoicing".

Now, there's a follow-up to the project which requires more programming to change the infrastructure. The project team defaulted to contacting me about it, as I'd been in the lead last time. Falling back into my old project-mode I quickly joined up and started discussing the matter. It was only when one of my colleagues remarked that R was also working on the programming that I remembered that this programming officially falls under R's team's responsibilities. And thus I came this -><- close to breaking this target! So many thanks to my colleague Rishi for jogging my memory! ( ^_^)

This has gone well! We've had a few problems and incidents that require cross-department cooperation in order to troubleshoot and solve the issue. In each of these cases I've drawn up complete reports of my findings and methods, which I then transfered to one of my team members. I urged them to go over my work, to make sure I didn't make any mistakes and to add to it, so they could then continue working on the project with R's and E's teams. 

One of the biggest things I did to achieve this goal was to build a filter into my Outlook mailbox: all of my email will be delayed by an hour, for re-reading and adjustment, to prevent foot-in-mouth situations. That is, unless I go out of my way to tick a certain box that says "send this email right now" (which is, in three minutes).

This has gone reasonably well, although I find that it's too easy to make the six clicks required for the "send immediately" option. I need to use this frequently when I'm on a specific shift, but I've also found myself using it with normal emails. That's not good and in one case it led to an illworded email making it to a customer. I discussed the matter with my colleague Tommy, who pointed out a few things to remind me of my own goals: it's better to phone than to email and never send emails when you're agitated

And that's the key in this case: it happened when a customer had crossed a number of security guidelines in a rather blatant manner, which I felt needed to be dealt with quickly. My bad: I should've sat on my email a bit, reread it and then phoned the customer to call a meeting. Live and learn.

I've not confered with my colleagues often enough in this regard. Sure I've asked them a few times, when I was in doubt... but I'm not in doubt often enough! (;^_^)


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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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Forcing restraint in email: message delays and reminders

2012-03-01 18:11:00

A warning message in your email template: be careful what you write

Last week I made a few resolutions for myself regarding communicating at work. These resolutions were reaffirmed today, in a meeting with my manager and are now stated thusly:

In order to help myself stick to these resolutions I've made a few configuration changes to my Outlook email client. These are by no means guarantees that I will improve, but they serve as stern reminders that my mindset needs changing. 

Every email I start writing, whether it's a reply or a new message, is filled with a big warning template asking me "Are you really using email? Wouldn't it be better to phone?". It also reminds me to "Watch your phrasing! Are you CCing people?". I couldn't find a way in Outlook to set up a template or standard email to do this, so I've adjusted my email signature to serve the purpose. 

I have also set up two filtering rules to delay my outgoing messages. With many things to How-to Geek's 'Preventing OhNo! after sending emails'.

  1. Apply rule to mail I send: assigned to category "CHECKED", delay delivery for 2 minutes and stop processing rules.
  2. Apply rule to mail I send: assign mail to category "NEED TO CHECK" and delay delivery for 60 minutes, except if mail is assigned to category "CHECKED", or if message is invitation or update.

 

The second rule determines that every single email i send will be delayed for an hour. This will prevent many foot-in-mouth situations and will also force me to review my message. Each of these messages gets classified as "NEED TO CHECK", unless I specifically go out of my way to set the message to "CHECKED". All messages marked as "CHECKED" will be delayed for only two minutes, after which they'll go on their way to the addressee.

I will also add an hourly reminder to my agenda to prompt myself to review all pending emails.

My manager indicated upfront that these changes will drastically lower my throughput at the office. Part of the reason why I'm so damn fast with our ticket queue is because my over-reliance on email: fix an issue, inform client through email, BOOM! next ticket! I have to admit that I felt a few pangs of OCD at this realization, because I always worry about our ticket queue. We're already behind on our work, so if I'm going to get slower we'll only get behind further. Luckily my manager takes this for granted, as she feels that fixing my communications issues is more important than our current workload. Wow!

I'm quite hopeful that these measures will aid me in improving my communications at work. Right now I still need external stimuli to practice enryo

EDIT:

Sadly there is no way of implementing the second set of precautions in Apple's Mail.app. The software does not support rules on outgoing email without the support of Mail ActOn and even then it only allows such things as filing the sent message. It will not allow delays or forcing messages to be saved as drafts. 

Because of this I tried to give Thunderbird a shot, but I still hate that piece of software. I can't help it. Alternatively I think Sparrow looks great, but I don't think it has the options I'm looking for. Even Entourage 2008 doesn't appear to support the kind of rules I'm using in Outlook 2003 at the office ;_; 

In the end I implemented my 'helpers' in Mail.app by:

  1. Adding a default signature, just like the one described above. 
  2. Remapping shift-command-d (Send message) to save the message as a draft.

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