I’ve not updated my blog for a while because I've been away for nearly three weeks on a belated honeymoon.
We visited various cities on in the north east area including New York City and Chicago. Luckily my missus was happy for me to take my gear and arrange a few practices with US dojos! I contacted Ken Zen in NYC and Chicago Kendo Club who were very welcoming and lent a Do and Shinai to use.
KEN ZEN DOJO
First up was Ken Zen two days after landing in the US. I was a bit nervous visiting a foreign dojo for the first time and was still feeling the effects of jet lag (Practice was like stating at 1am in the UK). However, I introduced myself to Ebihara sensei (7DK) and other members of the club and my nerves started to settle a little.
I also managed a look around their dojo. They own the building so have managed to create a permanent shrine area with taiko drum etc and installed a bespoke spung floor. I’d love to see something similar in London.
The lesson itself was mainly concerned with Kendo kata. Ebihara sensei emphasised that all shinai kendo originates from the techniques developed in kata, this was demonstrated by two seniors who displayed 1-7 forms at a very high standard. Ebihara sensei explained the shinai can be used in the same way as a bokuto to ride an opponents attack and return it, the same as the tsuki-counter tsuki in sanbonme, he used the phrase ‘Sen no Sen’. We practiced this in full armour.
The final 20 minutes of the session was jigeiko. I fought a number of their seniors who pretty much wiped the floor with me, they were so quick. My practice with Ebihara sensei went the way as most of my fights with high grades, I tried various things but pretty much hit a brick wall haha.
I found the general standard very high at the club. They were very straight and fast, they did not sacrifice their attractive form/posture to achieve speed. I’d love to be able to do the same.
Main points and advice Ebihara sensei gave to me:
- When moving from the hips, imagine someone is pushing you from the small of your back. - Keep elbows in during chudan. - My hands are finishing to high when cutting men (too horizontal), meaning I’m not cutting the target area above the forehead correctly. I need finish with my hands lower – nearer my chest.
The overall felling I took from the evening was I need to improve my kata (I felt a bit embarrassed of my standard on the night) and integrate it into my shinai kendo.
CHICAGO KENDO CLUB
I felt a bit more relaxed about my second practice as I’d broken my duck in NYC and I wasn’t jet lagged.
CKC is based in a church so wasn’t as salubrious as Ken Zen. However, the floor was sprung and the hall spacious.
To my understanding the club doesn’t have a traditional club ‘sensei’ as such, at 90 years old their founding member Matsumoto sensei moved to Detroit last year. So the reigns have been taken up by his students who are a mixture of 4 th and 5 th dan sensei, Miyamoto sensei ran the class on the night (I can’t remember if she is 4 th or 5 th dan).
Practice started with kata and progressed to kihon (men, kote, do… you know the drill).
We had a bit longer for jigeiko here and firstly practiced against a few of their ‘junior’ members… I fought against one young lad who kicked my arse. He was so fast and positive that I couldn’t deal with him!
I queued up for Miyamoto sensei and tried my best against her. Again, her timing and speed was excellent and took degote on a number of occasions leaving me cutting fresh air. I think I gave her a fight but the difference in class was obvious.
After practice Miyamoto sensei gave me a few pointers:
- Not utilising my distance (yup.. heard that before!) - Not powering though after a cut. She said I’d caught her with a kote-men but messed it up by not running though with zanshin.
A number of things impressed me about CKC. Their level of spirit an kiai was great and the quality of beginners was noticeable.
Beginners are not allowed into full bogu until deemed ready, a few of the guys there had practiced for a year and still not worn men (they were wearing kote and do). I noticed the effectiveness of this style of training during kihon, the quality of beginners cuts were very good for their level of experience comparable to the UK. It still begs the question that wearing full armour isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, finding this out after 12+ months of training can be a waste of everyone’s time. I suppose there’s pros and cons with all methods of training.
After practice I joined them for a few beers at a local bar and had a good chinwag. They are a great bunch. They kindly gave me a club tenagui as a present.
My aim now is to work off the extra weight I’ve gained in the US!