On Sunday, March 8, I participated in the 16 Annual Shidogakuin Tournament held at Rutgers University. The morning primarily consisted of kyu through nidan shinsa so I spent most of it trying to relax and loosen up a little bit before the floor opened up for larger warm-ups. Just as other tournaments I’ve been in, kids, mudansha, and women’s divisions went first, resulting in everybody from shodan and up waiting until early afternoon. By then my legs felt like lead weights and my knees felt very stiff. Leading up to my bracket, I tried to limber up again as best I could and when my match came up, I stepped in, and wasn’t prepared for what i was about to face.
The first thing I noticed about my aite was how he gave absolutely nothing away. There was nothing I could pick up on at all. His eyes were unwavering, his posture and shoulders barely changed when he moved, his shinai held chushin extremely well, and something else that I couldn’t identify. Needless to say, the match was over in less than a minute (I checked) from two solid men uchi. I could do nothing.
I spoke with my sensei afterwords and we both watched his succeeding matches and we both saw why he beat me so easily: he was completely relaxed. No tension whatsoever in his shoulders, arms, or hands. His face betrayed nothing and his entire kamae looked so effortless and allowed him to just flow seamlessly from standing in chudan to landing a solid strike. Watching him, my sensei said that my speed probably is on par with him but his ability to relax is what beat me. The rest of the day I replayed that match in my head and I tried to figure out where all my tension was coming from. What was keeping me wound up and holding me back?
My first practice after the tournament I focused primarily on addressing this problem. My first step was loosening my grip on my shinai which resulted in a significant reduction in tension in my arms and shoulders. This combined with pushing forward with a stronger seme as I moved in to strike allowed me to land more successful strikes. On top of that, I started to receive fewer wayward strikes on my arms and knuckles. I continued this through all of this last week and when I visited Kyu Do Kan in Scarsdale, New York, I got much of that same feeling. All of my keiko that day was with 7th dan, 6th dan, and 5th dan sensei’s and I definitely felt much better about my keiko than I have in a long time. My seme, ashi sabaki, zanshin, and timing all seemed much sharper. I also felt more patient and was able to gauge my opponent more acurately.
I think I’ve just found the tip of the iceberg here and now I can’t wait for the next practice so I can further experiment with my newfound relaxed state.