Less than a week to go!

I fly out to Italy on Tuesday next week, a mere three and a half days ago now. Am I ready? To be honest, yes and no.

I’ve practised my nuts off for this. In that sense, physically, and technically, I am ready. I’m in pretty decent shape, I’m very happy with the general level of my kihingeiko, all positive.

Mentally, I think I’m ready. Not quite so confident there due to a massive attack of the nerves at the last taikai I went to, but on the plus side I learned a phenomenal amount about my approach as a result, which I think is probably going to be vital for me in performing well. I’m not going to go into details (because it’s lunch time now, and I don’t have masses of time!) but the upshot is that I put too much pressure on myself before I had even swung a shinai. I had a lot of good advice on the day, and it had immediate effects, but still, I did not get the results I wanted. The plus side is the advice that I got, and the immediate results from changing a couple of minor things have put that episode firmly to bed. So, I *think* I’m ready….. shall we see?

All that is left now is one more light practise in Saturday, plenty of rest apart from that, and packing stuff up and getting ready to roll out. I am really looking forward to this one….

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Ahoy

It’s been a while since I’ve put aught here, and for good reason. Not that I don’t have anything to say (I can always think of something to say!) but I’ve simply been just too dam busy. Really.

Obviously, I have continued the practise, and at good pace too. I’m getting 3 a week with the security company, and then another one somewhere, usually either the ‘kan or at Shinjuku. In the run up to the WKC I am really starting to see the benefits in this ramp up. I feel good: fast, light and dynamic. And some of my old techniques are returning from the grave to back me up too, which is a sure sign that things are on the up and up.

So, that’s fairly normal, right? Well, in addition to that……I’ve been studying hard for the worst timed exams in the history of academia. The WKC is at the end of this month, right? Well my first (of three this year) exam was yesterday (confident that I did enough to pass….) and I have another 2 at the end of next week. 2 weeks after that is Italy.

Between kendo and study, I have had literally no free time for the past 6 weeks. I only even remembered that I wrote a blog a few days ago!

At least I’m generally happy with both though. That’s something!

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Logs

Recently on Facebook I posted about buying my WKC shinai, and a couple of tweaks I had done. I had a brief conversation with someone about, and thought I would write a little about my individual shinai here too.

So, as my regular reader will know, I like fat shinai. Impossible fat. Jabba the Shinai. But with a couple of minor modifications.

The balance is important (obviously) but for me it’s right in my hands. Any feeling of weight in the tip is bad, as far as I am concerned. I like a fast, whippy, kote uchi, and I can’t do that with a heavy kensaki. I’m so concerned about this that I will use the more expensive doubled up leather tsukagawa to add an extra few grammes towards the hands. Every little helps!

The other thing I am actually quite fussy about is shaving down parts of the tsukagawa.

I use shinai with a 30mm diameter at the end. That is big (next time you are in your local bogu shop, or talking to a supplier, ask them. If they even stock them, I would put money on them being special order only….) This in itself is not totally normal, but in addition to that, I also have 2mm taken of the base of the shinai, down to 28mm, for my left little finger only. Very wierd, but I was first put onto this by Sumi Masatake sensei. He doesn’t do it to the same magnitude, but he also sands down the side of the bottom of his shinai.

For me, it really cements the shinai to my hand to have this extra couple of mm of grip, and really does make a difference to the last few cm of control, when I attack.

As a result of this, I’m also toying with the idea of doing something similar for my right forefinger and thumb, because after figuring out that this helped, it suddenly felt like I was holding a wine bottle in my thumb and fore finger on the right too.

Apparently, I’m not even close to being the only one to do this. The mighty Miyazaki Masahiro sensei apparently has his whole right hand grip koban-gata, while the left remains a normal circular grip. Apparently a few other members of the Kanagawa police do the same….

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Generally pleased?

Went to a competition at the weekend, the Tokyo-to Kendo (obviously) Taikai, as the taisho of the Shinjuku team.

We went out in the first round…..again. But, and like any character in a Martin Lawrence film, it’s a big but, I was pleased with my own performance. Obviously that means I won my match….but why so pleased?

Weeeeeeeell, this shiai marked a small turning point in the way I do kendo in shiai. Up to now I had kind of been the balls out, overwhelm them with my big white kiai type. This had met with moderate success, and with the old adage, it wasn’t necessarily broken, so I wasn’t fixing it. Until now. This time round, I just kind of settled down and settled in, concentrated on my focus points (I mentioned that in the last entry) and went ahead with the plan that I had. And bingo! Ippon-gachi. Not too shabby.

There are a couple of other reasons why I was happy:

  • I knew my opponent. Some people like this, but I have always suffered from it, as I have (stupidly) concentrated on fretting about what they can do. This time, I got over it quickly, remembered a couple of pointers (not telling you!) that calmed me down, and got on with doing my kendo.
  • Everything was nice and calm. I didn’t actually feel the need to unleash the beast, and as a result was a lot calmer and calculated, which also lead to the ippon (men-uchi, after bodily turning his men-uchi away, and being in kamae long before he was).
  • He was doing jodan. I have a mixed opinion of my skills against jodan, so getting this was good for me.
  • I never lost control of the match. This also meant that as the time progressed, I felt more and more confident. Also good. Even so, I was still happy that if the tide had turned I had more up my sleeve to bring it back.
  • My concentration and foot work were both especially good. The concentration meant no silly attacks (wasting an opportunity, or worse, losing ippon) and the foot work meant I was able to keep constant pressure on him, and not allow him in to the match.

The only thing that I really need to take as an improvement point is stretching to the target. This is a general theme for me in shiai (and one of the focus points for practise from now and until Italy), where a lack of confidence to attack a particular target, or in a particular technique, meant that I wouldn’t stretch to it, in some notion of thinking that it might keep me safe (which is so bloody stupid it defies belief, if you think about it. Being safe by not hitting the target……huuh?!). But like any good problem, the first point to fixing it is acknowledging it. I had been kind of, partly, sub-consciously aware of this, but was never able to put my finger on it. This taikai helped me not only put my finger on it, but grab it and yank it too (fnar – i was only cleaning it, and it went off!). Also, while ironing my shirts yesterday (look at me, all domesticated. I even poop in the toilet!) I was watching last year’s All Japan Taikai, and saw a lot of good examples with which to work from, and mentally slap myself for being so silly.

So, all together, even though it was only 1 match, it was actually a vitally important one for me, because of what I got out of it.

Things just keep getting better and better!

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Italy, 3 months and counting….

So, a month-ish ago, I was confirmed as going to Italy for the World Championships in May! Snoogins! Very very happy with that. Really happy. People who know me know that this is something very valuable to me, and how much I still want it.

The quest for the WKC did, of course, start ages ago, in the second half of last year. With only three months to go though, practise, of course, is very different. I’ve limited right down my range of practised techniques, I’m beginning to ramp up the intensity, and generally, trying to live as much kendo as possible, be that watching kendo DVD’s while ironing (I’m dead domesticated, me! I even poop in the toilet!) to doing suburi outside in the freezing cold on days when I can’t go to keiko. I’m also continuing on the head-in-right-place plan given to me by the man with the arrows too. All good.

I’ve also drilled my focus points down to 6 points that I am now going to keep on in my keiko from now until May. They are not anything super secret or special, but actually the result of keeping an analytical keiko diary of most of my regular practises, picking the key and consistent parts, and working that into my practise regime. Get me, actually thinking about my keiko! A far cry away from the days of meat poo and doing kakarigeiko with tree trunks.

Down side? Money and time, as always! I’ve got loads to buy still (shinai, small bits and bobs, some speakers for my iPhone, a plane ticket to Italy….!) and time is killing me too. I’ve got close to bugger all days off left at work too…..ack!

But good news is…..I am totally loving kendo right now. I’m definitely on the up and up in keiko, everything is working very well, and I have some extremely supportive sensei around me at the moment too.

Things is looking mighty rosey. Just got to make sure that the focus points bear fruit in 3 months….

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Dream Job?

You know when you find that one in a million job, that one that you actually WANT to do, for a company that you WANT to work for, that you see something special in…….well….I just applied for it (I hope my boss isn’t reading this!!!) Not only that, but they contacted me first! Score one for me! :)

How much do I really want this job at this company? I was fantasizing about it for most of Saturday and Sunday…. I’m STILL thinking about it…
I went to an introductory seminar on Friday after my current job finished, and sat through an hour of the best intro I think I’ve ever had the pleasure to, and left thinking two things:

“Dear god, I really want to work there.”

and

“I’ve got to re-write my Japanese resume, and I haven’t done that in over 4 years…”

So, any how, I’ve applied (and noticed a spelling mistake in my cover letter about 4 seconds after sending it……dam you assuming-that-it’s-underlining-an-American-spelling-when-it’s-actually-just-me! I guess we just sit and wait. Even just the fact that they contacted me, and then the act of applying for the job has me grinning like a little boy, though. After the intro seminar I went home and jabbered to my wife about it for 30 minutes as well, just so that she knew too.

(I can’t believe how much I actually want this. I haven’t wanted a job this much since I was 17…… and I could sleep on Saturday night after I sent my resume off…..I’m so childish!)

I feel young again!

And, as a result of this (because I was still in a flying mood yesterday afternoon) practise at the ‘kan on Sunday afternoon was just awesome! I got an awesome tsuki on a guy who was DUCKING to get out of the way. Figure that one out, it’s as weird as it sounds.

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Here we go again!

Another day, another new year! And another tired Gibbo.

A little radio silence, for the best part of a month, but that’s mostly because work has been a total bugger recently. Not fixed, but sod it, it’ll be sorted soon. I hope….

Anyway, kendo wise, things have been good for the last month. Following on from the last post about grip, I’ve also confirmed to myself that I’m a chubby chaser. That doesn’t mean pulling fat chicks at your local discotheque (unless that’s your sort of thing….) but the size of shinai. I’d been fooling around with a couple of 28mm handles, which ended up just throwing me off. I changed back to full fat, and the gold flowed freely! I’m never going to make that mistake again. Broom handles for the win!

So onward to the new year. First, I’m taking a much needed family week, which just means not doing kendo until saturday. I can live with that.

Forward from that, although the team is still to be announced, I need to get my regime started in the hope that I get picked for the GB team for the World Championships this year in Italy. Thanks to the help from Alistair that I had last year sorting out a number of things about my mental approach, I’ve gone as far as to write up a check list of things to do, and also a time line for my general practise. We start of January consolidating my waza, so purely practising the techniques I want to take to Italy, and nothing else. We also develop my game plans. These are basically set, and revolve around the techniques I’m taking (but I’ve given myself a range of techniques to go for so that I have options that are roughly similar at each stage of my shiai plan).
After this, I begin ramping up the intensity in February, and pushing myself towards generally harder practise, and a focus on controlling the guy in front and taking points.
By April, this will have been going great guns for 2 months, so we keep it going focussing on sharpening up the techniques that are most likely to get points. And of course, keep on getting those points!

May, is a bit of polish, a little bit of an attempt to relax before the big event, and then off we go!

Nice and easy. Well, not easy, and likely not nice, but you know what I mean!

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By the power of Grayskull!

So, yesterday, I had an awesome keiko at the ‘kan. And it all centred around my grip. Weird that, as I thought I had it down.

Last year, I went through a lot of suburi to relax my cutting, to great results. It enabled me to stand up straighter, have a light relaxed kamae, and improve the shape of my cuts. Now, what may sound weird, is that I actually went too far in this. I became to relaxed, to the point that it trickled through into my “spirit” and I lost an amount of punch, which I hadn’t really realized.

Yesterday, I was using a slightly thinner shinai than I normally do, a 28mm tsuka width instead of 30mm. It’s funny how the smallest of changes can help. In this case, today I just didn’t feel in control of the shinai, so I made a conscious decision to grip a little stronger. I immediately felt the shinai in a more tactile way in the inner palm of my hands, and BLAM (to use an excellent Batman word!) my men uchi sharpened up considerably…

Hmmm……me thinks, that’s weird. A little extra strength in kamae resulted in a sharper, nicer feeling cut…….ok…..let’s try some stuff out……….

So I switched back to the fatty, and watched my keiko just ramp straight up to awesome, with only the amount of grip I apply to the tsuka as what I have changed (through the last year I’ve managed to learn to relax myself a lot easier, so gripping harder didn’t mean stiffening up completely).

I’m going to experiment a little with this. I’m normally not entirely happy about making changes to things like this when we’re getting close to a big taikai (got the World Championships in May. The team hasn’t been picked yet, but I’m training with it in mind already, and have been for more than a month now. Focus, focus, focus!) but this really struck me as a massive difference, so something that I want to check out.

What also struck me as interesting is how these tiny details (2mm on the tsuka, and, essentially, strength in my FINGERS!) made a big difference to my keiko.

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Just as I was thinking it’s all good

I go and have a bomb of a practise….. it was bloody terrible. My movement felt sticky and sideways, I felt out of sorts, and wierdly tired half way through as well.

It wasn’t a total disaster. I mean, a tsuki is a tsuki, right? Am I right? You know I’m right. And very strangely, I hit tonnes of degote, a technique which I don’t have any love for. And a couple of gorgeous kaeshi dou, a technique I have endless love for.

But nothing felt right. And at the end of the day, that matters. It might just be the combination of new kote and new shinai that needed a little getting used to, something that hadn’t worked by the end of practised, but it all just felt awkward.

It’s been a while, but I think it might be time to resurrect my evening suburi sessions again….

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Actually enjoying myself

Sometimes, you realise that you haven’t been enjoying what you’re doing. I realised that, but only because I had started to enjoy kendo again, and I mean really enjoy it.

Regular readers will know that at times I am in the habit of being very hard on myself at times, and I hadn’t figured out that this pressure was killing my enjoyment. A couple of months ago, this began to change. I’m talking with a genius of sorts at the moment, and excellent guy called Alistair, who is opening my head up, helping me pull the shite out, and leaving the sensible stuff in there. I’m not going to go into details, but the net result is that by changing the way I think about kendo on a daily basis, he has helped me find kendo all over again. And I’ll have his baby for it.

This came home to me a couple of weeks ago in a fairly big Tokyo taikai, the Tokyo City Dojo Taikai. Using what he gave me, I managed to keep my head in a nice, calm situation for the whole day, enjoy the taikai, enjoy doing my kendo in the taikai (lord knows that has been a long time coming….) and enjoyed supporting and competing with my mates. I don’t even remember the last time I had that much fun in a competition, it was really a breath of fresh air.

As a result, I feel born again! I can’t wait to get in to the dojo, I’m constantly thinking about my practise, I’m trying to analyse and think of ways to improve it, and I’m actually, finally, at peace with kendo again!

This year has been a tough one for me and the art that I love, but with Alistair’s help and sagely words, I really feel like I have turned a corner with it.

In short, I feel awesome again!

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