Wow. Long time no blog. I guess that’s what happens when you’re busy as all hell.
I’ll be splitting this over two posts – each taking place about 2 months apart. The first will be about the CWRU Case Student Cup. The second will be about the Johnson Cup and the HMK Kumdo night.
Earlier in October, Case Western Reserve University hosted the Case Student Cup, where several college-aged and younger kendoists came over to Cleveland and participated in a tournament. Unfortunately, due to a myriad of other important obligations, I had to skip the tournament. However, I did manage to get some practice in with several of the senseis that came over on Friday night (the tournament was on Sunday). That day, after some basics, I had the opportunity to practice with senseis I don’t usually get to, such as Inoshita sensei, Kato sensei, and Tanaka sensei, as well as the “homeground” senseis. I took up jodan-sae with all of them.
In addition to the notes I kept from the practice with the visiting senseis, I’ll be including notes from practices against Niedziela sensei who visited Cleveland Kendo.
Inoshita sensei. I should have done chudan with him. I think I would have learned so much more if I had done that. As it stands, I didn’t get to learn as much from him as he wasn’t going to really geiko with any real intent (not that I blame him. It was, as I stated, my fault that I did not take chudan).
Kato sensei. This was the first time I had faced Kiri-otoshi waza. And. It. Was. Dev-a-sta-ting. It’s funny how small things can make you feel as if you’re completely vulnerable. While I had experienced kiriotoshi waza from the two sabumnims back home, it was only when I was doing chudan. I never took jodan with Lee sabumnim and Jo sabumnim would usually take the initiative away from me by closing the distance and doing continuous attacks or, his personal favorite against me, morote tsuki followed by katate tsuki followed by a tap to my armpit if I hadn’t reacted (seriously, I needed a scarf while teaching classes during summer because of the burn marks. -_-;;;…. Kendo people show love in the strangest of ways…). But with Kato sensei… it was against my katate men.
Here’s a video of men-kiriotoshi-men:
What you’ll see is that it’s not quite as large as a big men-uchi, but not a small men-uchi. With Kato sensei, it was actually even larger, but incredibly fluid and sharp. The only way to describe it was like a cobra, rising up and sharply striking down. And the successive cracks of his shinai hitting mine and then my men were clearly audible, though only milliseconds apart.
Another interesting thing is that when my katate-men is knocked away, it is almost always knocked away to my right. Because of the natural angle of the strike, it is much easier to knock the shinai and the left arm towards my center and to the right, rather than get within the body and knock it to the left.
As you can see from these pictures, the way that you hold the shinai and the way that the men-uchi comes in from jodan almost guarantees that the shinai, if knocked away, will go the jodan-senshu’s right side and to the opponent’s left (think of a kaeshi-do motion – you knock it to the left – opponent’s right – because we raise the shinai almost straight up, right?). Because we hold the shinai with right hand above the left, blocking the other way with the shinai tip pointing to your left forces you to cross your arms, a much less natural motion than simply raising both arms straight up, which points the shinai tip to the right.
So it caught me by utter surprise when my shinai was actually knocked away to the left when he did kiriotoshi men, almost making me lose my grip in the process (because the wrist can only rotate so much, at some point, your fingers will naturally open up). I didn’t catch his footwork, but perhaps he stepped in a half-step to his left/my right to give him that angle. Regardless, it was absolutely beautiful to be hit by (utterly confusing at first though. You can almost imagine this kid just going like “what the bloody fuck just happened?” and then hearing Kato sensei’s kiai telling you to ready the fuck up).
Anyways, I mixed in some morote strikes until he took up jodan as well. It was one of those really old, kata-esque straight up jodans. But man, it was impossible to land that katate-kote to his left kote, even though that’s one of my better strikes.
Overall, I came away feeling pretty overwhelmed. I don’t really approach geiko with very high ranking senseis with any desire to win per-say, but with Kato-sensei, I started getting a bit of that overwhelming my desire to show good kendo. I think he kinda enjoyed that though.
Tanaka sensei. This was the second and last practice I got to have with him, since he left Cleveland. Anyways, one of the fastest kendoists I have ever practiced with.
XYZ sensei. I feel really bad, but I don’t remember his name. This sensei took up this SUPER straight chudan against me. Nothing close to the usual seigan-no-kamae, where the shinai points against the jodan’s left elbow/arm (something I noticed recently is how drastic seigan has gotten, with the shinai almost completely to the right, and the left hand out of the center. Super easy to hit katate men and then set up a seme-men-morote kote or seme men-gyaku doh on. I still haven’t had a person hit me from that position, and I honestly don’t see any jodans getting ganked with that stance). Nope. He was super straight chudan, not even raising the tip of the shinai a bit higher. This was… interesting. Contrary to popular belief, I LOVE it when people take a mild or regular seigan. It really lets me push off hard on my right foot and get a sharp looping katate kote, which is actually quicker than my katate-men and much more natural for me to pull off. But when it’s super straight like in chudan… there’s no shinai to loop my shinai around to. Not only is the angle not open for me, but when I go for a regular kote and the shinai tip isn’t raised up like in seigan, I just did a suicide mission – as in, I just buried my fucking neck into his shinai (as I found out… not the best feeling in the world, I can tell you that). In addition, his response time to katate men was superb, thanks to the shorter distance and ability to simply push forward and tsuki me to the chest (which means, no ippon). I was able to break it a bit towards the end (or perhaps he broke it down for me, methinks this latter is more likely, but who knows, I just might have a large enough ego to believe the former) and get some good morote kote and morote men strikes, but MAN these were ugly. Thankfully though, the sensei went for my men more than my kote. I would’ve been beat the fuck up if he had gone for a crapton of kote.
Niedziela sensei. He’s from University of Buffalo I think, and does sei-nito, where the longer shinai is held on the right hand. He was very cool to geiko with. He had an absolutely unique style of nito, with a dynamic kamae, changing the height and distance of both shinais quite often. I got to practice with him on two consecutive days. I took some pointers from this video where “Menma guy” faces a jodan:
This video proved to be a crucial experience. Especially at 1:23, where the jodan goes for the quick tuski-morote-men combo. This has become a go to technique against nito for me, to decent effect.
Anyways, this is it for part I. I plan on writing a much longer piece for part II, mainly because those events are fresher in my mind and also because the past few weeks have seen a huge change in my jodan.