kendo journal

Kendo Journal; Ippon!

I hope this blog doesn’t seem like it’s only going to be a kendo one, but so far it’s the most recent thing on my mind because guuueess who’s leaving for a tournament this weekend?
Cornell is staring us in the face (unlike my friends, who are frantically preparing for Comic Con haha), so this Wednesday was our last practice beforehand!

Monday and Wednesday were our ~shiai practice~ days! Since we decided our team orders, we pit them against each other on our duck taped mock court. Well, we actually only have so much time, and only so many people could show up thanks to midterm season…but not to say we didn’t still have pretty good practices.

For myself, due to our NYU Club bringing exactly enough for 3x 5 person teams, I have to play on C Team! At first I was rather opposed to the idea, as I would be a poor representation of our club, but I’m more excited now for the experience! It’s really sad that this will be the third tournament I’m participating in, but ah…I might never be at a level capable of basic competent shiai before I graduate (lol). Those first few matches ever, I was defeated lightning fast and was virtually defenseless. Even practicing up till now, I am not that much further along. Our new sensei has a lot of advice for us, with a large focus on techniques for shorter players such as myself. A single practice hasn’t passed where he doesn’t have a lot to say to me. However, the amount of input and minimal time spent trying them out right before the tournament is just too much to absorb. For now, when I am still weak in the basics, I can only focus on correcting a few problems at a time before attempting shiai-based tricks that are still above my ability. If I don’t get center and learn to seme for opportunities, what hope is there for combos?

Being on C team, we virtually do not have pressure to do well at all. As my position on the team is Jiho (second), that is where the weakest player tends to be placed. Luckily, I might actually face a person closer to my level, or at least my loss won’t be too big an impact. It’s certainly not unexpected.

On Monday, I happened to tie when my turn came. The teammate I faced was not high-ranked either, and as she plays defensively, neither of us could land a clean hit. It’s also when my habits take over, and I forget most of what I have been working on except the largest refrains, Focus on the center. Kiai and Zanshin. Watch distance! Apparently I forgot to add Don’t back up!, because I ended up retreating a lot, which was a huge NO in pretty much all the teachings of beginner kendo. Still, I tried to keep up my fighting spirit and attacked, despite wildly.

Wednesday, on the other hand, started rather horribly. Right off the bat, I was completely dispirited. Going against one of our resident nidans in keiko, I never get a slim window of a chance to attack him at all, so I simply submitted to letting him hit me over and over again. The “School of Hard Knocks” is probably the worst method of teaching me, because I will stand there struck dumb and allow it to happen. Fighting a person that doesn’t even pause to show me, or else offer openings is the worst. Halfway, he noticed this and asked me why I wasn’t even trying to fight back. Feeling grumpy and disagreeable as I have of late, I answered there was no point. I’d never get a hit.

That was wrong, that was my fault. I could have easily asked him to teach me, but as I am not especially close with him, and this being one of many times that I was subject to that kind of treatment, I let my temper get ahead of me.

What he said next though, “Then what’s the point? Why even do kendo then? You should just quit.

Ouch. Crushing. Exactly what I was most afraid of hearing, what the awful voice in the back of my head keeps saying in sing-song. Just give up if you’re not going to put 100% in, if you see yourself getting nowhere. And to top that off, the next person I fought was also someone I could land nothing on, despite at least trying. He wasn’t mean about it either. If I wasn’t tearing up then, I was at least closer.

Demoralized to my ankles peeking despairingly (and incorrectly) from underneath my hakama, I was rather dismayed to find we were splitting into teams of four and they were being picked dodge-ball-style.
Wow. Great. As If I needed more ways to prove I was the worst member in the club already. I hid unsuccessfully and my luckless teammates that got stuck with me (people I was the least closest to in the club, possibly) jokingly threatened me about the need to win. And then my match pair up was one of members that started after me, but has already surpassed me in terms of skill. There was no one with my red-zone level self-esteem to relate to.

You can imagine I was more than a little quaky about fighting a match in front of everyone, something I wasn’t at all the Monday before.

I am honestly not too sure what happened during the majority of it – that is to say, not much happened at all. I did go into it with a rousing kiai, emptying my chest at least temporarily of the weight of those words and reaffirming some last vestiges of purpose. My grip on the shinai was obsessively tensing and nosing my way against what most assuredly was not center. I did try to test his position. One, two taps, then an impossibly obvious dive forward. Not many repeats later, a men I poorly blocked instead of repelling with a counterattack fell through. My opponent always landed straight hits, something I would have kept in mind on a better day. I did nothing to throw his hit off.

Shaken from being down the first hit already, I mentally kicked myself into recalling some advice given earlier that day. What should I do again? Move around more for one, and never back down. My feet still shifted with the gait of a baby animal. I went back to testing the waters, feeling with a rather stunned realization that his shinai was not giving resistance. There was no way I would go down without a fight, so I went all in for my favorite technique.

Amazingly, that was how I landed my first true ippon, a kote that snapped at the nonreactive target. Even as I felt the impact of his men as he finally responded when I rushed through, I instinctively knew I, the instigator, had landed it. Everything had fallen into place for one surprising moment, just as if in practice all those drills before.

Three flags are a sweet confidence boost.

It’s more of a breakthrough story, as I have nothing to brag about. My nerves were still there, and another men swiftly ended me. He was still someone technically my level, that while he did train over the summer, wasn’t much taller or more knowledgeable than me. He is just very grounded in the fundamentals, with the right amount of strength and self-assurance in his actions to improve at a steady pace. A place I need to be at.

But this was my first point. To me, it’s an irreplaceable instance in the face of the fear that all I have done and all I will do is pointless.
It’s my A-ha! The feeling in my hands that muscle memory and practice can pull together under pressure, the proof that it is possible.

No, I won’t quit kendo, and I won’t ever be such a…baby about it again.
That’s my first ippon recorded in a practice, judged sanbon shobu.

It might not happen again as early as this Cornell.
But now I need to work to ensure it is not my last.

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