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.