Monday, January 31, 2005

Sayonara Keiko [2]

(As carry on after Jan 22's Iaido class...)

The 2-meter long naginata I brought in is still in Wakaba's store room. I left it to Hahn-morris who is trying to set up a club in London. After Iaido class I pick it up one last time and had a few farewell swings... It had accompanied me through the summer before I was in Brighton and also when I was in Brighton. A couple hundreds of suburi variations... Now, I really miss it :(

When I pack my stuff and move over to the kendo court - guess who I first saw - SOTARO HONDA SENSEI ---!!!

Apparently, that Sunday was one of the monthly squad training that I happened to miss as predicted last month. So it was very surprising to see the squad coach being here. He was there to join today's Wakaba practice.

Other special guests include Steve Bishop from Edinburgh and his wife Lyndsey (who is my long-term rival by now :D) . Paul Budden showed up for a couple of time, so let's say he is visiting regularly, and happened to be there too.

Back to the dojo again, as usual Wakaba's practice kicks off at 2pm with everyone holding a bokuto. For some reason Masagaki picked on ME to teach 3 beginners, who happened to be all girls (must be intentional). We sticked with the bokuto kihon keiko first. Honda Sensei was observing right next to me, in which I jokingly responded with, "Nothing special to watch over here... Can you look elsewhere?!?!"

... A few minutes later Honda-sensei joined into my little study group and took over the teaching (thank god!! I can't stand the embrassment!!) In the end it evolved into a mass education, i.e. Honda-sensei telling everyone in the dojo about points to be aware of. And then we all did kihon #1-3 again and again.

I donated my crappy bokuto to Wakaba dojo, simply because I got some in Hong Kong and that would spare me some luggage weigth limit...
The usual 1-hour juniors + beginners session before the adult mawari-keiko was merged into one. Honda-sensei as a visiting teacher spent some time showing the correct way of footwork, distance and how to effectively do suburi. His "This is fishing.. This is baseball.. The swinging action is the same in kendo suburi..." shinai whooshing is still quite refreshing to me, as he has previously displayed the same thing in last year's Ladies Seminar.

Sometimes it's good to attend seminars, where you get the opportunity to calm down and listen, and then practice repeatedly on the same thing, while everyone else is also doing it. This is away from the normal jikeiko where you have to set certain goals to what you want to do there, or else you ended up just fighting whoever that comes in front of you. Well, nothing wrong with that, but I won't say that is education. You learn by doing to club practices, visiting other clubs, doing to taikai, seminars, etc. But the focus or goal of learning varies from one another, and therefore to maximize what you want to learn, it is important to get to different places and events.

The session with bogu on in which I joined in, emphasized on how to perform a valid cut. The concept of "Kime" was introduced... Basically, "Hit + Kime = Cut" ...or how to transform the hit of a bamboo stick into a sword cut, by using the kendo elements, such as te-no-uchi, kiai, zanshin, etc. etc.

[It has been a long time since that happened... I regret I have forgotten so much because I didn't have the time to write everything down...]

Then the class progressed into us queuing up for motodachi - doing kirikaeshi and some uchikomi keiko [sequence forgot...urgh].

I happened NOT facing Gibson for quite a while (just a matter of luck - I also haven't practiced with Miyamura and Masagaki for months). But this last "practice" I had with him, just me doing kirikaeshi, I was completely surprised that on the first straight Men-cut, I was able to "pop" his men loud..!! My wrists are probably much stronger now, and that my reach and sense of distance has improved since last time I faced him. So I was very pleased.

Due to Honda's special lesson, the jikeiko time was shorten to 40 mins or so. As this was *really* the last time I would fight anyone I face, everyone had my maximum level of concentration. So I did try extremely hard to kill anyone in sight.

Practiced with (and additional notes):-

Younger one of the Fujisawa Brothers - I won a lot of kote and twice kote-men...

Matsuoka - Really intense fight.. Almost like kakari-keiko. I found out that if I keep attacking, he can't pick on my openings, and that if I keep attacking, I can see more of his openings..!! Lost a few men but my kote works quite well.

Steve Bishop - There was this kote-men that I really scored with a smile from both sides. And right after that, Bishop got a clean kote, but immediately he stopped and said, "there was no Kime on this one"... I can't stop laughing at that!!

Matsuda - This was probably the first time I feel I am doing something right, about showing my best kendo in order not to let anyone down. Matsuda-san is a well-respected female sempai for everyone and especially for me, so this is one of the more serious yet enjoyable fights of the entire month ..Now I see why I lose my ai-men because my right hand punches too much on the downward swing, and also that I am not using enough left hand. When going for ai-men against a senior, I tried mirroring what my sempai does, which shows my mistakes without them telling me what not to do. Yet, I won a kote and a hiki-men which is quite cool.

Some beginners... - I only cut men, but well-timed clean ippon only. Because it is proper..!

There must be a few more before I got to the last person, but I can't really remember clearly what happened... too long time ago...grr

But it's also because the last fight was just too long that I can only remember this one: Alex Sahla..!

Sahla, as a sensei, intentionally queued for me...

At the beginning 30 sec of the fight right after sonkyo, it was quite normal. But then whenever I want to move (and cut), he saw me coming and just block all of it. Sahla has the most annoying type of blockings for beginners - his te-no-uchi is so strong that when he hits on my shinai, I could feel my waist turning...

"TAME" - no good, he said. I should use more of my "hara" and use my whole body. Once he even screamed "NO" before I nudged forward. Yikes..

That was when everyone else changed their partner when Sahla and I went for what he described as "Shinken shobu" - cut anywhere.

It happens to me before... Like, the first ever time I fight him in Wakaba or something. That was when my killer kote uchi was really good. That was he just stand there opening his mouth when I finished my cut and go for zanshin. That was last summer.

Obviously, being so frustrated doing just ONE cut in the previous 4 mins or so, my killer kote wasn't there.

And then Sahla pulled out some of his weird kamae - jodan, gedan, hasso, migi-hasso, wakigamae.... This is the once and only keiko that he is using that on me. I wonder if it is because I am leaving, or because I am improving to a level where he thinks is situable for me to fight in "his way".

I really tried to do Tsuki-men. I guess twice I managed to touch his mune, and ended up being pushed around at tsuba-zeriai.

We ignored the rotation signal and continued with where we were, which is at the back + side of the dojo. I purposely kiai before everyone changed to their correct partners, just to show Sahla I was still alive.

And once, just that ONCE, when he tried to throw me off balance by pushing my hands to my men, I made a sudden move and cut a clean HIKI-GYAKU-DO...!!

That was sooooo brillant. Sahla even dramatically sank to the ground!! :D

The first time he said "Ippon?" to me (after me smashing his kote that that first practice) - I also won that Ippon by Gyaku-do. In emergency, this is my favourite waza.

The others went for another rotation when Sahla was satisfied with that Ippon. Then he said, "now, kakari-keiko"... Aaawww..! I guess I tensed up too much in the last 10mins+. After a few cuts I pulled my left calf muscles... And have to rest at the side. (don't know why it has created another dramatic scene at the bench...) Also I think somehow it was because of the Iaido practice with too much sitting in Tatehiza.

Therefore I have to sit on the bench when they finished with mokuso. Honda-sensei was thanked by the club for the teaching today.

Sahla had his second embarrasing farewell speech for me. Saying something like "... have a strong spirit to fight against guys twice her size..." uhmm I appreciated that!!


I limped through the changing room and get to the pub on someone else's car. The alcohol intake had the pain under much control... In the pub I returned that log of wood.. I mean that National Iaido Taikai (mudan) trophy to Helena Khan at Iaido. I have to thank her for organizing the farewell dinner tonight.

Actually I brought LOADS of cash to buy everyone a drink. But Sahla came over and paid for that..!! Argh, last thankyou plan ruined.

Then there was another long farewell speech by Sahla again. He presented me with a signed (with everyone's note) card and a wakaba tenugui. Also, the best kendo gift I had ever had - a kendo keikogi with "Musokan Jenny" sewed on it. Size 1. Musokan is the name of Sahla's Iaidojo.

Honda-sensei incidentally joined in my farewell dinner too. When he left I told him, just as I told a lot of the national team members, "See you in Taiwan. Even if I am not fighting, I'll still go and watch."

Ciao, London.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Sayonara Keiko

The week before I left, I arranged some overseas shipping company to ship a few boxes of my belongings home. My plan was to ship my bogu by sea - because it is too heavy to be carried onto the plane. However, the first email I got after coming back from Ireland was:-

"Jenny, I know you said you don't want to have a farewell party. But last weekend we've got 20 people interested in having a dinner with you after practice..."

So my initial plan was ruined, and I spent the entire day before I left the UK in the dojo, instead of picking and cleaning up. (Oh well, those things are better to be left until the last minute anyway!!)

(hmm its already Feb and still haven't finished writing this entry??!!)

The night before was my final practice at my home dojo Nenriki. The day was spent doing various suburi as warm-up and then all are spilt into groups of 4-5 for simple uchikomi keiko. Everybody takes turn to be the motodachi. There were still a number of "beginners group leftovers" from last year, surprisingly, so in order to accomodate all levels, the sequence was:-

Men, kote, dou, kote-men, kote-dou, men

My entire time there was just to focus on actually taking cuts from kakari-te properly, making sure that they know what they are going to cut, engaging them into the next cut, etc.

Then there was about 3-4 rounds for "seniors" - i.e. shodan+ to do kakari keiko against one another. Beginners have taken up more then 1/2 of the population of the dojo. When I started 3.5 years ago it was only me and 1-5 others. No more than that. Now - everyone is in bogu...

After that came rounds of mawari-keiko. I was made to stand right to the end and not rotate - so that everyone had a chance to practice with me for a few minutes. Keeping the fact that next time when I come back I need to make them say, "hey Jenny you've improved," I skipped the usual sneak-out-breather and focus every fight of mine at 150%. I must give them my best.

Hit rate of killer-kote waza was lower comparing to lsat week at Ireland, but at least my posture was better.

The final few minutes were devoted to what is known as "Nenriki Kiss" - rows of full kirikaeshi against everyone... Oh this time only against "seniors", so it was about 10 people? Oliver, Dan, David, Neil, Adrian, Tristan, Will, Charles, Mike, Hiro, Vic. The last 3 reeeeeally kills, and I significantly slowed down after the 4th (suddenly thought of that "50% speed, 50% posture" phrase from Honda-sensei). Whoo-ha. Such feeling of success!!

At the usual thankyou time, I remember telling Charles, who was a veteran of the club and taught me a lot when I was a beginner..:-

"When you receive my kirikaeshi but cutting back, it reminds me the first time I did kirikaeshi. Thank you."

(Off work on Sat - continue to that Sat Jan 22)

This day my bogu bag has been the heaviest for the last 3.5 years of kendo. Apart from the regular bogu +iaito for practice, I also brought in my naginata to leave it to Hahn-Morris who is trying to set up a club in London for that, finally. Also for Iaido I returned my Nationals trophy to Helena Khan. I kept wondering if I can still manage ANY iaido in Hong Kong - because I haven't heard of it when I practice there.

With that heavy luggage, I was obviously 5 mins late for iaido at 1pm....argh..

It was a normal session for free practice of Seitei BUT Sahla grabbed me at the corner and started a *special* 30mins 1-on-1 class (!!). Mainly he was flooding me with koryu... Uhmm I mean Muso Shinden Ryu's first 4 Chuden in Tatehiza. Ukigumo was his favourite out of all the koryu, Sahla said. It was 2 weeks ago and I still remember (I have to - sensei will be disappointed if I wasted his time!!), if not the exact detail, at least the steps.

Hardest challenge is the Zanshin at the end of the kata.. Slowly squatting down into a semi-sonkyo / tatehiza position, and HOLDING there. It really hurts my thighs.. Awww.

After going through the four new kata, Sahla and I did all four in one go together.. He is as always, just too confident, fast and smooth. Whenever there is mass do-it-together opportunity, I always ended up thinking, boy, I wish I was half as good as my sensei.

At the final line-up Sahla particularly mentioned about my leave. I really wanted to forget the embarassing speech but it was along the lines of "role model" and "everyone should learn from her dedication", etc. I just kept bowing and smiling...

The day continues onto Kendo - see next entry :)

Monday, January 17, 2005

Hello Ireland (and bye everyone)

No! I haven't given up this diary... yet!

This has been a busy month for me as I had to prepare moving back to Hong Kong. Therefore everything secondary to life has been abondoned for a while...

Well, by that I don't mean kendo!

The Irish Goodwill Taikai at the 14-16 Jan weekend is the first and last kendo event in 2005 when I am still away from home. I already "planned" to get there in Dec as soon as I had decided to go home. Opportunity arrives - and so - there I was, the last time, with most people I know from the rest of those who like kendo competitions from the UK, along with the Irish kendo people there.

This is also one of the very first time I didn't attend a Taikai with the mind of winning or scoring. I didn't even go with a team!! My job there was to uhmm take photos (I bought 4 rolls of film AND my digital)... Usually the day before a Taikai I would train really hard and focus on building up some "killer-waza", aka the waza I am best at and most comfortable with, say, with 90% hit rate, etc. A lot of times I will wake up extra early and allow times for hangover recovery, traffic delays, etc. This time, I was more at mitori-keiko mode. To watch and support those who needed.

The night before there was goodwill keiko. Fought 2 locals with ease. I only spot another local women out of the 40+ people in the small gym... In total there were only 5 girls fighting in the Taikai. A bit disappointing but you don't got to choose girls to be with you. 5 is better than none. If I am after girls I would have picked up ballet instead.. anyway...

As in any other situation, just when you give up there is a light ray shining down right in front of you. Daa-daa--!! I was recruited by Oxford team B on the spot! Thank god I had bought along my lucky nasu shiai tenugui with me!

First fight was with Dublin Club. It's good to fight with people I didn't know. But I feel I had under performed. It was a draw.

Second fight in the team pools was with Kodokan B. I fought the same lady, Molloy, whom I did demonstration at the IKET at Edinburgh about 1/2 year ago. Sometimes at the side of the shiaijo, the urge of winning is soooo strong that you can just feel you are going to score. This is one of the moment -- I haven't been in a formal taikai since Sep 04. But this is the last chance.

1:0 me scored Debana kote!!

My team probably came second out of 4 teams in the same pool, and therefore for the rest of the day I was mainly taking photos and videos of other people. This is actually more enjoyable comparing to the boring jobs of scoreboarding or ribbon-tying (d'oh! that reminds me of the 12th WKC... Tying ribbons for 3 days straight...zzzzz). Carrying a camera walking around the shiaijo gave me the opportunity to find the best view too!!

I can't really comment on the rest of the fights of the day. That'll be my last memory of what everyone's kendo is like before I left. Next time we meet again, I wish I can tell everyone, and everyone can tell me, "whoa, you are much stronger now!!"

Taikai was short and very fortunately we have 45 mins of jikeiko time. It was in a 5 mins rotation format (so no sensei/senpai will be occupied with the same person for too long). I found it particularly helpful for those who can't manage to stop!!

I fought a lot of people. Locals, senpai, kohai, old friends who I haven't practiced with for a long time, etc. BUT THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS: I reeeeeally pop-ed everyone's de-kote at sho-dachi (first cut after sonkyo). YEEEESS!! So happy... Oh hold on.. except for the last practice with Hayes who just ran into me. Damn I was very bother not to kept some record-breaking memory...

On Sunday there was goodwill keiko BUT I changed my mind last minute. That Sunday my boyfriend and I spent the day touring around Cork the city. There is never enough travelling and dating - life is too short for regular activities like kendo.

(okay.. the rest of the month is slowing coming.. stay tuned.)

Monday, January 03, 2005

Hatsukeiko (Iaido)

This was done 12-4pm at a purpose-built aikido dojo in Stoke Newington, London. Heading the class is Sahla-sensei. We all thought he is not going to make it due to work location, but then whoops, he appeared. Assisting was Al from Paris, old student of Sahla, a 4th Dan senpai.

The place is so darn far and I was lost + late for 20 mins. What a bright start.

When I got changed and came out to the practice area - the 6 others were still doing Mokuso in Seiza. Apparently, they have been doing it for 20 mins straight.

Ok, then they stopped. Sahla said to me, "... because you are late, Jenny, you have to do it on your own. Now, go sit at that corner, facing the wall so that you are not checking the clock!!"

D'oh! I tried not to think of anything. But it is hard when the other 6 people are "warming up" with their Jodo. Xxxx-no-kamae, EEh, Yeeeh, Whoosh, Wheep, etc. etc. I have no idea what they are doing with my back turned against them.

"Yame." Then I rubbed my calves as much as I can before getting into any other crazy stuff.

Yes, and I thought I was coming into an Iaido class?!!???

"Today's training is to find out what your Shugyo is about..."

In no particular other, here are the things we did with a bokuto for the next 2 hours, non-stop. At some point I was thinking of stopping, stepping out of the dojo for a breath, and even stepping out of the building and go home. When it was cold I lost focus, get frustrated when I under-performed, and get angry with everyone in sight. All was done with freezing fingers and toes, as indoor heating was turned off!!:-

* Sonkyo, Hidari Jodan, Migi Jodan, Migi Hasso, Hidari Hasso, waki gamae - Holding on the spot for 5 mins each. The sonkyo bit was repeated.
* Haya-suburi (swap legs version) 20 shout-counting x7 people = 140 times
* Facing and cut to the right then 180-degree to the back, right then 180-degree, etc. etc. Super spinning suburi. Increase speed as you go for more.
* Facing forward and using right-hand only, cut to the right all the way to the back, swing back above head, swap to left-hand only, then cut to the left all the wat to the back, etc. etc. Increase speed as you go for more.
* Squat-jump suburi across the dojo x 10 times
* Spreading legs, furikaburi, lower the hips and cut all the way down to the floor x100
* kote-men-do-tsuki sequence ^N
* Big front foot step for kote, and quickly followed by men pushing the back leg to normal stance. ^N
* Haya-suburi (again!!!) 40 shout-counting x 7 people = 280 times
* Haya-suburi facing each other, one goes up when the other one goes up ^N
* Facing each other one standing, one squatting. Standing person do haya-suburi (still swapping legs). Squatting side performs block with bokuto and cut kaeshi-do. x30
* Standing and facing each other. One side cut 20-degree down to waist level, the other side using upward swing (like kasumi-kamae), block and cut back. The opposite side do the same... ^N

And then we had 15 mins of break...

Things get slightly better for the next 1.5 hours. At least there is something we are "Learning" and not suffering. Sahla went through the 12 Shoden set of Muso Shinden Ryu Iai. Last time I went through all 12 was when I still practice in Brighton under Vic Cook Sensei (Spring 2004 ). So I forgot quite a lot already. This session was great because it reminds me of the Shoden set before I head back to Hong Kong in 3 weeks time...

After the 12 forms, we all did solo-demonstration (errrhh Embu style) Any 3 forms. I did Shoden's Shohatto, Inyo Shotai, then Seitei #7. Obviously my Shoden is still pretty crap. I also shaked A LOT because of frozen fingers. Also the floor was plastic-covered so I can't slide that smooth...

It was nuts. We must be nuts to do this sort of thing for 4 hours to celebrate New Year. But I am very thankful for that, especially I don't have much quality Iaido training left in London.

Sunday, January 02, 2005


To celebrate the first day of the year 2005, I happened to pick up a bokuto and did 500 suburi. I won't say it is a bad start, as I still got 4 hours of Iaido Hatsukeiko tomorrow.

... Either that or I am being lazy and been eating too much since Xmas.