Just a quick note here to remind me of the awesome that happened earlier.
During the weekend, a contingent of kendokas from the Hong Kong Kendo Association, accompanied by 8th dan Inoue sensei, came to visit for some joint keiko and friendly shiai. It was held in the Japanese School of Kuala Lumpur in Subang.
I managed to turn up for the Saturday session, from 10am to 4pm. Keiko was not as harsh as I'd expected. I remember the 1st ASEAN championship training* practically had me crawling, but this time round, the greater part of the morning was spent on bare bones basics, in the form of doing the bokuto kihon waza with shinais out and bogus on. This was a welcome relief, given that:
a) The Japanese School's halls are not air-conditioned, leaving us to the tender mercies of Malaysia's climate.
b) I'd been involved in a teacher training course for about a month, and had been slacking in my training. What precious little stamina I had was somewhat diminished.
c) Seriously, it was just too damn early on a Saturday morning... Bleargh.
But it was good stuff. It was nice to see the basic movements dissected in that fashion, then being able to cut loose, strike and be able to feel whether we were executing the techniques right. I for one relish any oppurtunity to practice tsuki attacks, seeing as how rarely we do it in our regular training.
Lunch came along quickly enough, with absurdly large bento filling most of us to bursting. As such, lunchtime was appropriately long (1.5 hours) because, believe me, you don't want to fight on an overly full stomach.
After lunch, shiai! Seeing as the Malaysians in attendance outnumbered the Hong Kong contingent by about 2 to 1, most of the Hong Kong kendokas had to fight twice. Didn't seem to be a problem for them, though, seeing as every one was at least a shodan. Long story short, Malaysia mostly got squished.
I got paired up to fight a 3rd dan myself, though I only found out after I got trounced by him. To my credit, I wasn't blatted in 15 seconds like at the HK Open. I had the chance to watch him fight earlier and thought out my opening moves. I'd anticipated he'd probe by first snapping out at my kote as fast as he could, so I was ready to cancel his point by catching his kote at the same time. I knew one of my weaknesses in shiai had always been a lack of aggression, so I did try to compensate for that, also trying out a very particular feint that I'd been working on, but to no avail. Over the course of the next 2 minutes or so, he caught my men (I was SO sure I cancelled it with aiuchi!), then my kote (ok, he totally deserved this point).
Frankly, my opponent was too fast for me. None of the cheeky tricks and feints that work so well for me in keiko had any effect here. So what grand lesson will I take with me from this shiai? Hehe... Nothing spectacular or profound, just this: Straight kendo. I need to work more on my straight kendo. Raw speed, getting from kamae to strike. I've decided this is what I'll be concentrating on in the time between now and my shodan grading in January.
After shiai, there was a little time for jikeiko, and I must confess, I was quite flattered to find myself invited to keiko with another of the HK members before I'd even got my helmet back on. However, what really sticks in my mind from the keiko after was a brief moment when I went for jigeiko against Inoue sensei.
Inoue sensei is in his 70s, but let me tell you, he has arms like tree trunks and if he so wished, I would be unable to touch him. I was quite knackered from the day's exertions, but since this was possibly the very last chance I'd get to jigeiko with him, I threw everything into it, paying attention to form and making sure I showed no signs of weakness. If there's anything I'd learnt about encounters with unfamiliar Japanese senseis it is this: Show any weakness in spirit, like an unsteady kamae, flinching, backing down or an overly rigid grip, and the sensei will show you no mercy. Before long, it was 4:05pm, time to go, and he lowered his sword, looking right at me. Every kendoka knows this gesture. It's the invitation to one final men cut. An unspoken command from sensei to student: Last cut. Give it everything. So I did. And it was perfect.
I'm not looking to blow my own trumpet or whatever, it's just that, for that split second, I forgot myself and my body lashed out, faster, smoother and sharper than I ever thought I was capable of. I couldn't see my own blade, but felt it whip out and bounce off the sensei's helmet, resounding with that very distinctive popping sound of a perfect cut. The sensei nodded his approval, and then the day caught up with me. Man, was I knackered...
And that's it really. A (tiring!) weekend of great fun and good fights and me coming out of it with something to think about as I make my way to shodan and, maybe one day... two swords...
*Note: I didn't actually participate in said championship, just the training.