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:
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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