I arrived in Hradec Kralove without delay, fortunately, as this was by no means the easiest town to get to. A few minutes after I arrived the sports hall where the seminar was held, the Japanese delegation arrived, including Yamanaka Sensei (8th Dan Kyoshi), Ozawa Sensei (7th Dan Kyoshi), Ninomiya Sensei (7th Dan Kyoshi), Hara Sensei (7th Dan Kyoshi) and Fujida Sensei (5th Dan). I then immediately went up to greet Ozawa Sensei and Ninomiya Sensei. It was wonderful to see them again in Europe.
The seminar started at about 6pm with a shiai between the male Czech national team and a team with mixed nationality, and the female Czech national team and polish girls (with a couple of national team members). Somehow I was in the team fighting with the Czech. I fought as the Jiho and drew. My opponent scored a men first, and after I tried a few unsuccessful men- and kote- strikes, I scored with a nuki-do. I couldn't keep my fighting spirit high because of my foot injury, and the traveling. But I gradually picked it back up in the following days.
We then started the first day of seminar with kihon and then mawari-geiko. During Kihon-geiko Yamanaka Sensei emphasised that the left foot should not move when doing a men strike, otherwise the opponent can score debana-men or kote. This is exactly the same as what Kuroda-san told me in Tokyo. Ozawa Sensei pointed out that I should seme with the hip not just my upper body. I had the chance to do mawari-geiko with Ozawa Sensei. It frustrated me a little when he let an opening for men, but when I struck he could always do either suriage-men or keishi-dou.
In the morning we divided into three groups: yudansha, kyusha and beginners and children. With the permission of Ozawa Sensei, I joined the yudansha group, which was instructed by Hara-Sensei.
We started with a few rounds of kirikeishi, and men-uchi. Hara Sensei then told us to put seme into our strikes, and take care of the distance. It is sometimes necessary to dynamically adjust the distance until one is ready to strike. The correct distance also depends on other factors, such as the height of the opponent. He mentioned that it's ok if it takes a little more time. Be patient.
We practised oji-waza against men, including debana-kote and men, nuki- and kaeshi-dou, followed by oji-waza against kote, such as nuki-men and suriage-men. Here are some fine points:
- Nuki-dou: use diagonal footwork, namely the right foot goes the the front right while making the strike. First seme, and when the opponent just raise his shinai to strike men, this is the moment to strike dou. Otherwise it would be too late. The diagonal footwork in important to avoid the men-strike. The body or the hip need not twist sideways, in contrary to some other people say, however, Ozawa Sensei also says so, so I will try it this way.
- Kaeshidou: basically the same as nuki-dou, just add the blocking. The blocking motion is the same as suriage.
- Kote-nuki-men: the arms should raise quickly up and strike down without any hesitation.
In the jigeiko, I fought with Yamanaka Sensei, Hara Sensei and Ninomiya Sensei. I didn't do too badly with Yamanaka Sensei, so I was relieved. The practice with Ninomiya Sensei was perhaps the highlight as I felt could control my body to have a good posture, so I could put pressure. But I still lost the ippon shyobu by inches. We were locked in chikma (close distance) where one of us had to strike. I was putting even more pressure by tapping quickly his shinai with a very small motion. As expecting he launched men-strike and I went for kote. My shinai arrived first but only touches the edge of his kote which slipped off. And it was over. I wasn't fast and accurate enough. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the tension at the last moment. I had a short jigeiko just moments before the end of the session. It was hard, but I tried my best. Then I did uchigomi-geiko with him. I don't know where I had the energy from, but I just wanted to keep going and going, every strike with loud kiai and big swing. A couple of time he pushed me from the back that made me crash into the waiting queue, I just bounced myself back and continued. It was exhausting but fulfilling.
In the party in the evening I sat opposite to Fujieda-Sensei, Ninomiya-Sensei and Hara-Sensei, and had a lot of fun conversations with them. Ninomiya Sensei said I had great improvements since last time he saw me in Kobukan in October. He was surprised that I could apply pressure to my opponent. Hara-Sensei said to me, "Liu-san, genki na~~", commenting on my uchigomi-geiko with him earlier.
The evening was fun with beer, bowling, and dancing. It was fun to see the Senseis having a go at the bowling lane, well, without too much success, might I say?
The morning was the Czech national championship. It was a very short one as not many people attended. The female winner was Veronika, who won with a beautiful kaeshi-dou. The male winner was Jan Cliek, and the runner-up Martin Fritz. Martin plays impressive kendo despite being only 20 years old.
After the championship was the good-will keiko and kata. In the good-will keiko I practised with Fujieda Sensei. He uses a lot of oji-waza, and is more dynamical than the other Senseis. Something one might indeed expect from a 5th Dan kendoka. I managed to hit a clear men-nuki-kote.
In the Kata practice, again I joined the advanced group. I learned the 8th-10th form with kodachi from Czech Senpais. Yamanaka Sensei demonstrated many fine points. Especially he stressed that the blocking with kodachi in the 8th and 9th form requires much strength from the elbow instead of using the wrist alone. He further showed the different sounds from the two techniques despite their same appearance. The one with sharper elbow movement results in a more energetic and sharper sound than the one with just wrist and not enough elbow.
At the end Yamanaka Sensei said:
"Kendo is like communication. Every time when you practise, you have to train it in a way that the other person wants to do it again with you."
This, I feel, is the principle behind the keiko.
Things I learned from this seminar: seme, waza, and kata. The equally precious gifts I took away from this event were the new friendships with the participants.