Seminars, Injuries, and Downtime

August 11, 2011

In the last two months I’ve attended the 2011 AUSKF Iaido Seminar, developed a possibly serious knee injury leaving me unable to practice for nearly a month, and am sitting at the airport waiting to board my plane for the 2011 AUSKF Championships. As my plane doesn’t depart for more than an hour I decided now would be a good time to finally post an update.

This was my first time attending the AUSKF Iaido Seminar and, while initially somewhat reluctant, I am very glad I did. I was able t spend a good amount of time with a couple of Sensei that I highly respect and got a very good behind the scenes look at what goes into preparing an iaido shinsa at the national level (and by extension, I’d imagine it’d be quite similar to regional shinsa as well). I learned a great deal over the course of two days and now have a great deal to practice for next year. It was also my very first iaido taikai and I am very pleased with how I did. My only downfall was the sticky floor that caused me to loose my balance during two kata (uke-nagashi and morote-tsuki). One of the judges immediately after the days events said to me, “if you didn’t trip I would’ve voted for you.” This sentiment was echoed by another judge and it gives me even more motivation to do better next year. My training however soon became sidelined by something rather unexpected.

What originally started as some minor aches and pains in my left knee suddenly, overnight, became sharp and somewhat intense pain each time it was bent with weight on it. This made sonkyo quite difficult and seiza nearly impossible. Wearing a knee brace helped some but each practice left me limping the next day. After speaking with my Sensei, he recommended I take some time off to let it heal and to see a doctor ASAP, especially since he himself suffered a bad ACL injury some years ago. With this downtime, I have started to reflect on everything budo related that I’ve done of the last year started to realize that I have been approaching keiko in a way that was somewhat counter productive. I haven’t been aggressive enough for my level and have been spending too much time being passive, meaning I wait too long while attempting to bait my opponent so I can use kaeshi or suriage waza. While I know I need to be able to execute those waza, I need to make sure I balance it with taking the initiative and initiating more debana waza as well as being more assertive in trying to force my opponent’s kamae to weaken. As my knee get’s stronger during this rest and recovery period, I can start to do some “image” training. By holding kamae and imagining an opponent in front of me, I can try working on these goals as well as slowly reconditioning my body. Better to take the time to rest and recuperate, especially if I want to make sure I can continue kendo for a very long time.

With the US national taikai tomorrow, I am looking forward to watching some top-notch kendo as well as take some great photos, many of which I’ll add to my photobucket account. I’m also looking forward to meeting the Miyako Kendogu staff who have helped me with a few purchases in the last few months. I’ll write a follow-up entry when I return.

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Shinsa

December 16, 2010

Every year countless kendoka have to prepare for their shinsa and everyone begins their preparations at different times. Some start only a few months ahead while others start an entire year or more before. Beginning kendoka can afford to start this process a few months ahead but the higher up you go, the more time is needed, and this is reinforced by the waiting period required for each rank.

While preparations for each shinsa are arguably the primary focus of each kendoka when they become eligible for the next rank, there’s always that one persistent question: am I truly ready? Some say if their Sensei says they’re ready, then there’s nothing left to do but prepare and most are satisfied with that. Others have lingering doubts and/or questions all the way up to the day of the shinsa. This could be attributed to people being their own worst critic and for the most part, it is. As much as you may feel you aren’t ready, if your Sensei is willing to stake their reputation on you testing, then there’s no doubt in their mind that you are ready. After all, he/she has enough experience to see that in you. That being said, we are only human and it is only natural to have a little bit of concern whether or not you will pass. What separates those who pass and those who fail is, in my opinion, depends one’s ability to silence these doubts and enter the shinsa with a clear and calm mind.

Another aspect of shinsa that seems to not be discussed as much is the outcome. If you fail, most have one of two general reactions: they may become discouraged and feel they wasted their time or they look at it as a sign there was something they overlooked and will attack that area harder in preparing for the next shinsa. If you pass, some will say, “that’s great, ok, back to training,” whereas others may think, “wait, I passed? Am I really at that level?” Hopefully no one who passes will allow it to get to their heads and allow their ego to get huge but if it does, we can only hope they have a good Sensei and sempai to help shrink it down to size. For now, I will focus on the latter of the if-you-pass trains of thought.

We all know what is required to pass for a certain level but can we really perform at that level each and every day after passing? Is each rank a set bar that we must perform at and/or above each and every day thereafter? Some see passing each rank as a level that, though you may not be at that level everyday, the pressure of passing helps push you to that level and beyond. Still others see it as more of a cloud that shows a general approximation of where your skill level is at that moment; you will drift up and down from time to time but for the most part, that’s where you are.

No matter how you look at shinsa and passing/failing, what happens after tends to fall into one of two camps: if you pass, you will most definitely be performing at that level very soon (if not immediately) and if you fail, you will work harder to pass the next time around. Speaking from my own experience, there’s something about shinsa that brings out the best in a kendoka and they either feel that push and perform at their expected level or miss it entirely.


Kendoka Knee – Follow Up

October 20, 2010

In my previous post I mentioned I was looking into getting a knee brace similar to this and I actually ended up purchasing that exact one. I chose to wear it for an entire day leading up to practice and in some ways, this will be a review of the brace as well as any preliminary changes to my knee.

First off, it was quite snug and felt very secure around my knee. The fabric is quite soft and comfortable, although the bottom of one of the springs kept digging into part of my leg if it slipped to a certain point (more on the slippage later). My knee felt very stable and free of pain the entire day. Bending my knee also produced no additional pain whatsoever. On top of that, it is light as a feather and didn’t hinder my movements at all. The material did not bunch up or pinch in certain areas and breathed quite well.

Once at practice however, I started to notice a few shortcomings here and there. During kata, no problems at all. The brace stayed put and no issues with pain. During keiko however, the inner grip slips did absolutely nothing. The image on the website is misleading as they hint that the grips are applied all around the inner lining, which is definitely not the case. The grips are only placed across a small portion of the front and back of both the top and bottom cuffs, not nearly enough to be effective against fumikomi. Towards the end of practice, the brace would completely slip down to my ankle after three or four fumikomi, forcing me to stop for a moment to pull it back up after rotating to the next partner.

After practice, I felt no aching whatsoever and the next day, not one trace of pain at all. To be on the safe side, I chose to wear a brace during the day (a different one but more substantial) but we’ll have to see how well this trend holds up. The last thing I want is a knee joint replacement by the time I’m in my 30’s.

At the end of the day, this is a fantastic brace to use but when your leg gets rather slick with sweat, be prepared for constant slippage during practice. It feels great and secure when properly in place around your knee but the anti-slip grips need to be much more substantial to be effective. I’ll also look into wrapping part of my knee in pre-tape wrap to give the grips something more to hang onto.

After going through all this, I’m starting to wonder how many other kendoka experience something similar or have had other joint problems stemming from fumikomi. Assuming these issues are not the result of forcing super hard, stomping fumikomi or heel-first fumikomi, I’m curious as to what the long-term outlook is for a kendoka’s knees and what adaptations they use as they get older. Something to think about for the future.


Kendoka Knee

October 13, 2010

Over the last two to three months or so I’ve been dealing with intermittent pain in my right knee that I’ve felt before but not for this long of a time. Initially I chalked it up to a doing fumikomi on a dead spot on the dojo floor one too many times or an errant knee to knee collision with one of my dojo-mates and I could walk it off. Then I started to feel an aching pain deep within the joint and behind the kneecap even while sitting, especially in the morning and evening and driving for extended periods of time resulted in periodic sharp pain that would temporarily be eased after flexing the joint repeatedly.

After being a somewhat stubborn kendoka (and grimacing in pain while making a 3 hour drive), I finally started looking into what it could be and the closest I could come up with is runner’s knee, which according to webmd.com is characterized by the following:

* Pain behind or around the kneecap, especially where the thighbone and the kneecap meet.
* Pain when you bend the knee — when walking, squatting, kneeling, running, or even sitting.
* Pain that’s worse when walking downstairs or downhill.
* Swelling.
* Popping or grinding sensations in the knee.

Check, check, check, maybe check, and check. Wearing a knee brace that offers support for my kneecap seems to help considerably but the trouble is finding one that won’t slide off during keiko is an entirely different matter. Short of applying an antiperspirant all around my knee, using glue, or taping it to my skin, I decided to try wearing a heel pad to absorb some of the shock going into my knee. So far, the intensity of the pain has subsided considerably yet periodic aching persists typically the day after keiko. During keiko, I tend to not feel much pain save for the errant armpit-uchi or a tsuba smashing my finger joints during aiuchi-men but it’s possible the adrenaline rush masks any pain coming from my knee.

For now, I’m going to continue to stick with using a heel pad but if it starts to get worse, I’ll invest in a decent knee brace/support similar to this. The great thing about this particular brace is that it offers a non-slip coating on the top section so that should help with the slippage issue. If I decide to purchase this brace, I’ll follow up this post with a review.


Kakarigeiko

August 20, 2010

Anyone who has practiced kendo for at least a few years has, hopefully, done a few rounds of kakarigeiko. I for one feel I haven’t done nearly enough of it recently and last night’s practice reminded me why we have kakarigeiko and its importance in regular practice.

Last night we were fortunate enough to have a visit from Shozo Kato Sensei, who recently passed the hachidan shinsa this year. This was the second time he visited our dojo and I was eager to have jigeiko with him again.

Naturally, we had quite a few visitors from other dojos which made for a tight squeeze but everyone managed. Following warm-ups we went right back to basics: men sankyodo. After several rounds we moved on to a brief introduction to the bokuto ni yoru kendo kihon waza keiko ho. A brief article on this can be found on Kenshi247.net. Due to our limited amount of time, we only practiced the first form but it was quite an eye opener, at least for me, to see how many details get glossed over when practicing kata.

After taking a brief water break, Kato Sensei called for men-tsuke and we all quickly lined up for jigeiko. I was 5th in line so I had the great fortune of having some great mitorigeiko. One of the visiting yondan, after about a minute of regular jigeiko, was pushed to do kakarigeiko for what seemed like an additional full minute, marked by 10+ men-hikimen and kirikaeshi. This made me think of two things: first, I wanted to do kakarigeiko and second, I knew if I did I would probably run out of steam quickly. When my turn finally came, to the best that I can remember, jigeiko lasted no more than 15 seconds and immediately became kakarigeiko. Not only did Kato Sensei have me do successive men-hikimen, he kept pushing me closer and closer to the edge of the floor by closing the distance to the point where I couldn’t hit anything and had to muster up all remaining energy just to taiatari him back enough to hit men. When I thought I didn’t have anything left, Kato Sensei stepped quite a distance away saying, “Suriashi! Suriashi!” With no choice, I dredged up everything I had left and shuffled my way closer to him, nearly crossing the whole width of the dojo floor before he stopped and allowed me to hit men. Twice more and Kato Sensei was satisfied and ended our session.

After we bowed out, I went to thank Kato Sensei for practice and I was half expecting him to say something along the lines of, “you need to push yourself harder,” but all he did was nod, gave a Japanese “nn” in approval, and bowed. It took me a moment to realize that, in his own way, Kato Sensei, may have just given me his seal of approval on that night’s practice, but there’s no way I’ll be able to figure that out.

With last night’s practice in mind, I’ll now be putting more efforts into asking my sensei for kakarigeiko in future practices. One of my dojo-mates commented that my greatest weakness is my endurance and she’s completely right. I’ve never had great endurance and relegated myself to sprints and other short-burst type sports to compensate. The times I have tried to participate in endurance sports, such as basketball, I would always run out of energy before the game ended. If I’m going to last during longer and harder practices, which I definitely want and need, then it’s time to buckle down and build my endurance with more kakarigeiko and supplement that with other cardio workouts.


9 Months in Review

May 12, 2010

Having never been good at maintaining regular entries into a blog of any type, it comes as no surprise to me that it’s been about 9 months since I last posted anything. Needless to say my long promised summary of what I learned at the SDK 2009 seminar is long overdue but sadly, will not be posted at this time. If you’re really curious then feel free to ask and I’ll do my best to scrounge up my brief notes.

Overall in this last year I’ve noticed some areas where I’ve improved, others where I’ve actually regressed, and others where I’ve remained the same. I’ve experienced some slight improvement in my taikai performance and no longer get nervous just before a match. This might be because I’m now approaching it thinking, “alright, just do my best and I’ll see how far I go.” Unfortunately this has also reinforced a bad habit of mine: hesitating too much. More often than not, I end up waiting just a little too long trying to find an opening and end up missing it entirely. This usually results in either a point scored on me or my Sensei telling me I hesitate too much and that I could do better. Back in the dojo, my kamae has gotten somewhat better although I still need to improve my tenouchi and leg power. The latter however has not been given as much attention as I would like due to some odd inflammation just under the ball of my left big toe. The one area where I wish I could have made some progress but in fact have done the opposite is iaido. I haven’t nearly been able to practice as often as I need and/or would like and as video from a recent demo for my dojo’s tournament shows (one that I was asked the night before to participate in), there’s far too much that needs correcting to go into here.

With the possibility of testing for sandan this November, I definitely need to practice harder and focus on key areas. Certain key points I need to definitely focus on are my timing, kamae, and seme. I plan on speaking with my Sensei in more detail about how to prepare for the shinsa and any advice my Sempai can give but in the mean time, more suburi and more keiko.


Sen No Sen

April 30, 2009

During the last month or so,  I’ve been going to practice without my contact lenses for two reasons.  First, my eyes were starting to get bothered by them and second, I ran out of fresh ones.  When I made the decision to stop wearing them for a while, I remembered something my sensei said during one of our practices some time ago.  When he was younger and competing in college with the kendo club, he didn’t have the option of contact lenses or glasses inside his men so he practiced much harder to compensate for his lack of sight.  He found he was able to not rely on visual cues from his aite but more from the feeling he got instead.  I believe this falls into the realm of 先, 先の先, and 先々の先 (sen, sen no sen, sen zen no sen), anticipation, knowing what your opponent will do an act first, and sensing what your opponent will do.

I started to think about this and tried to figure out which of the three terms my sensei’s case would fall under.  Since was not able to see his opponents, then it must be 先々の先 since he was able to react purely on something he felt from his opponent.  The more I thought about it however, the more I started to think that it might be closer to 先の先 because that would have been too early in his kendo career and he would still have been able to see the general shape of his opponent and general body movements.  This becomes all to clear whenever I have keiko with him as he is able to just pick up on every single little movement I make and strike me down every single time.  With this in mind, I decided to try to push myself (at the expense of my vision health probably), to try to better develop my 先の先.

The first night I went without my contacts was an odd feeling.  I had always thought that sweat in the eyes was no big deal but that was because my contacts had always protected my eyes.  Stinging eyes, check.  Lining up for uchikomi geiko was interesting because my astigmatism made it harder to approximate the exact location of my partner from across the floor.  Blurry blue blobs, check.  The rest of practice went without incident but then sensei decided it was time for us to have some kakarigeiko.  Incidentally this was also when his wife was at the dojo armed with a video camera.  Long story short, I was surprised I didn’t miss more often and that my only major screw up was a botched final strike due to exhaustion and crappy fumikomi.  If you’re interested in seeing the results of this, send me an email and I’ll provide a link.

As the weeks went by I got more and more used to not being able to see as clearly and it has made me realize a few things.  First, I don’t need to see my aite clearly in order to read their body language and anticipate what they are going to do.  I had become so fixated on trying to maintain proper enzan no metsuke that I had not been paying nearly as much attention to my aite’s body language. Second, I can land a strike with yukodatotsu from father away than I thought I could.  Third, my eyes wander far too much and it’s no wonder that in every single taikai I’ve been to I’ve been knocked out in either the first or second round.  Despite my efforts to focus on my aite’s eyes, I still fall into that old beginners habit of looking everywhere else. Was I able to improve in terms of 先の先?  Maybe but it’s hard to say for sure since I’ve only been able to see the results with my dojo-mates, I haven’t had the chance to test these results on someone new from a different dojo, and I haven’t been able to have jigeiko with a few of my sempai in recent weeks.

Up till now I haven’t really given this concept much thought even though I was practicing it ever since I earned shodan.  I get the feeling I’m just on the tip of the iceberg and that if I want to be ready to attempt sandan next year I need to get cracking.  There’s still so much I have yet to even realize about this and I’m certain that I’ll be working on this for as long as I practice kendo.