It was a great practice, actually more like three practices. First session was from ten to noon, then lunch, then sessions from 1:30-3:30 and then 3:40 til about 4:45. It was hot as hell but with the talk, drill, pointers from sensei, drill, pointers format there was a lot of room to catch your breath. We were all dying at the end of the day's jigeiko, though!
I took notes but am not sure how useful they would be since I mostly wrote down what stuck out in my mind. We'll have to discuss them in person. We'll also have a couple new drills to show at the next EMU practice. Basically, what was covered was:
Rei, footwork and suburi. Tagawa-sensei stressed that you should take a good attitude into practice, "don't just drag in, practice and drag out." Say hello to all the sensei, talk to them, prepare yourself for a good, safe practice. Lots of points about footwork and suburi, including the "prayer hand" drill that sensei has used recently, kamae up, kamae down. Sensei also pointed out the mistakes people commonly make in suburi, such as pulling the sword too far back, opening the elbows, or letting the hands come apart. One new drill: do the haya-suburi bounce forward and keep going forward, all the way across the floor. Not a race, just do it correctly. He also had some special words for the sandan and yondan that are frequently doing the instructing, including: "Teach it correctly. It takes 50,000 good repetitions to really know something, and if you teach them wrong, they will do it wrong 50,000 times and have to fix it. What a waste of time!"
He also spoke at length on shu ha ri. If you're not familiar with this concept, you should be and the link mentioned here is a great place to start (we have trained iai with its author from time to time). Shu ha ri means "follow, break/deviate, freedom" and describes the stages in your kendo development. In shu you are just trying to get fundamentals. Ha describes a break with textbook versions of things in which you get creative and put your own stamp on it. I'm not sure anyone attains ri, freedom. But Tagawa-sensei, if I understood him correctly, stressed this process as a way of learning. He said that it always comes back to shu - if you are in the ha stage and you police yourself (and you must always police yourself) and notice you're not doing something right, you must return to the fundamentals of shu. He said even very advanced people do this.
Tagawa-sensei first walked us through kiri-kaeshi and pointed out all the things we worked on during the suburi portion could be worked on in kiri-kaeshi; don't rush. Then he used the kihon bokuto kata to demonstrate techniques. Remember these? These are the techniques of kendo using bokuto - but the way we did them on Sunday was with shinai and bogu. Not full speed going through, but full speed and stopping. Tagawa-sensei used these exercises to comment on every one of the techniques seen at that link. An emphasis on countering techniques developed out of them.
Rest of the Afternoon
We continued to work on these countering drills, full speed, sashi-attacks. So for example, motodachi would cut men as fast as he could, and you would have to counter, either with ai-men, debana-kote, nuki-doh, suriage-waza, the like. We did this in pairs, and then we did this as a drill in which we lined up in groups of six. The person that was in the In spot was attacked by each of the other five in this way; motodachi cuts men, you counter. Then, when that In spot had gone through the whole row, he moved out and the next person did the same. Sensei told us not to rush through this, "not like kakarigeiko." To do it like shiai, but take your time fighting each person; get set up, counter each attack.
Then we did jigeiko in mawari (rotate) format, which was very hot and had us all dripping and breathing heavily! Afterwards some headed off to a Japanese restaurant in East Lansing that had just gotten its booze license (!!!) but I had to head back to regroup with my family.
Folks, getting out to MSU is always worth it. Fox-sensei of MSU suggested a killer practice about a month or so before the next tournament to get everybody psyched and focused on shiai. Actually, there were a few beginners here, too, on Sunday. Let's try to remember that even though a lot of information is thrown around at these big practices, it is also very beginner-friendly. One guy that showed up, it was his first practice ever and he learned in detail kamae, footwork and suburi all in the same day.
See you at practice!