Last night is the sort of night I started this journal for. Some big concepts we went through, so we'll have a long post today.
We started the evening with words from the sensei regarding the dojo's performance at a tournament over the weekend. The jist of it was that he was seeing a lot of people losing control, both of themselves and their matches. People lose control of themselves in matches primarily because of adrenaline. This is something to be trained out of ones self over time. When this happens to one or both people the fight becomes very chaotic, and ones ability to score becomes largely a matter of luck. Do not want this. In addition to this when the adrenaline takes over the tendency is to get pulled into moment to moment reaction (not in the good way), and this more often than not leads to you playing the other swordsman's game, as you're not producing much of anything your own. The sensei went on to say that the best remedy for this is to be the hunter, actively searching for opportunities, and playing with your opponent to produce them.
So the first exercise we did was without kote/men, practicing simple parrying. There was a lot of emphasis on keeping the tip of the sword within the sillhouette of the opponent, and very very minimal movement. We paired off and practiced this in our own time. After a bit of that, we put on the rest of our armour and did the same, but with realtime hitting after a few rounds of kirikaeshi. Foot felt fine and these were the first fullspeed kirikaeshi (hizen style) that I've felt were even approaching decent. Woo! Still need much more practice though. Once this was done we started working on men harai men. Sort of. He described it as a sort of harai-kaeshi hybrid, with minimal footwork. We also did simple harai men cuts. Now while we were doing all of this the sensei was talking to us about building pressure and tension between yourself and your opponent. When you're fighting with someone theres a rising and falling level of energy, and gauging this is key to the exercises above. We were all told especially to have a bit of a play in one-step-one-cut distance before doing these exercises and mess about with pressure, tension and energy where our shinai crossed. The focus of all this comes back to what he was saying about hunting. These are almost all "reactive" techniques. The quotes are because while you're doing them off of your opponent's technique, the technique begins with drawing out their cut in the first place. You can really see the difference between a case of "Whoa my instinctive parry stopped their cut (mostly) I better swing at them" and a fluid natural parry-cut where all the thinking was done long before you've even raised your arm for the parry. The point is that you're not even really reacting at all, but instead you've made an opening that just happens to be your opponent's cut. We also practiced a sort of 'full body suriage' that starts lowering the shinai using your whole arms. From here you've got predictable options:
your opponent cuts -> you finish suriage and cut.
your opponent doesnt cut -> you finish suriage and cut kote.
These seem the same thing but thats just I'm a lazy typist and havent covered the permutations of cuts your opponent can do in reaction to your lowered shinai. Suffice it to say you're very very close to a solid chudan already, and suriage is already loaded in your mind so you'll deal with whatever comes.
We did quite a few of these exercises with the sensei stopping us and explaining about making the cuts with our bodies and not the arms, and essentially how all of these 'reactive attacks' should be done in a completely proactive way, from initial seme, to the proper kime of the cuts etc. Very nice. This has really given me a whole different framework to look at my own kendo from. In previous lessons and fights I've had trouble with my ability to mentally handle a strong chudan in front of me. Now i've a set of things I should be doing: drawing out cuts, picking the safest ways of breaking the symmetry, messing with energy levels. None of this without any actual thought of what the possibilities are after doing these things, and now there's lots of work to be done in sort of mapping these little games in chudan. Wohooo I have stuff to actually think about in jigeiko that will last me years!
Mechanically the night went well. Foot was fine, even did some hiki waza and survived. Kirikaeshi felt very fluid, though I was focusing so much on fluidity and ki-ken-tai that I've little idea of how correct any of the the geometry was. Still a little right sided but not too much, and left heel touched the ground very few times, which im happy about. Going through after oji waza still needs a LOT of work. I'm actually following through on the majority of cuts now, which is good, but every time it's because I consciously remember to, and occuring at the sloooooooow speed of conscious thought. Time will sort this providing I keep remembering to go through. I still worry a little bit though if that will be enough to join the cut and the follow through into one action. If not I'll need to give it a LOT of attention during kihon when there's time for thoughts outside the immediacy of the fight.