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Last nights practise was really gratifying. In the midst of being very disappointed with myself about how I've handled two different situations (one work related, one personal) I taught one of the best classes I've ever had. Ohama Sensei has been out this last week due to a friend (someone we used to train with) being back in town for a few days. So I asked if I could take thursdays class.
I had spent a fair amount of time preparing to teach two hours of basics for the new students we've been getting. One of my worries is that we have not prepared them in the way we were prepared. The classes are often more oriented at this point to the seniors because we've had very few new people joining. Now that they are, it will give all of us a good opportunity to review the basics more. That said, none of the new people showed up last night, so I scrapped the entire class (it was going to be sankajo), and flew by the seat of my pants.
After warmups, breakfalls and basic movements with partner, I taught Utada Sensei's jo kumi kata from tsune no kamae. Its a short kata, but with some nice powerfull direct attacks and uke's part is pretty aggressive. Star number one: nobody got smacked by accident. Joe and I performed the kata, then I taught uke to everyone in a line, then shite. Then we paired up and walked through the kata together, then I let one side be shite for a while. Once they were comfortable with their roles, shite and uke switched. Once both were comfortable with both roles, we went to switching each time. I had some problems conveying some points about the kata:
The blocks here are close to the body. The strikes target mostly the ribs, and the jo is held alongside the body so the arms and wrists aren't getting jarred absorbing the power of the blows. A lot of people want to hold the jo out away from themselves, which changes the ma-ai, and inteferes with performing the next movement. When you hold the jo next to your body to block the side strikes, the kata "cleans right up", and its no problem aborbing the energy of a powerfull strike.
The opening sequence is where uke grasps the end of the jo with the left hand, and steps in striking vertically up under the jaw, then thrusts straight in to the face. Shite's first movement is a simple evasion by xsteping back and turning the stance hand palm up, which brings the back end of the jo to the non-stance hand. A lot of people had trouble getting the evasion down, or tried to block the first strike under the chin, rather than just evading it. Shite actually only blocks the thrust **after** evading the strike under the chin.
shite's last xstep back to avoid the shuffle side strike of uke often had people turning the jo (held across the body) end over end. For some reason, when people step back they just naturally seem to switch the position of the jo. When I first learned the kata, I did exactly the same thing. The actual movement is to step back and block in one movement, without moving the jo. This sets up the honte strike to uke's face that ends the kata. If you reverse the jo there is an opening for uke's strike, and shite has to lift the back hand before striking, which gives uke time to block. With the hand already up, the strike is way too fast to for uke to block. The look in uke's eyes when they hear the whistle of the jo is priceless! Not to mention focusing on that peice of wood about an inch from your face...
Uke is very aggressive in this kata, actually pushing shite back. With the initial movement of hips, hands and knees moving first on the xstep and shuffle strikes, uke can generate a lot of power...shite needs to do very clean, simple movement to evade and block, which sets uke up for the powerfull honte strike at the end.
While we were practising the kata, Ohama Sensei came in with our friend and they watched the practise. He gave me some really great suggestions on how to address the problems above, and low and behold, everyone seemed to really improve. Then he asked if we could do some freestyle for our friend, who hasn't seen us train for a long time.
What we did was to form a line, senior person in front, and then they handle attacks from each person in the line, one after the other, both sides. Sometimes we have uke use any attack, but this time I limited it to one type of attack, all the way through the line, both sides. We did shomen, yokomen, tsuki, ryote mochi, ushiro off of front strike, and gamen tsuki. When I saw people start to do the same technique over and over, I stepped in and took a turn as shite, stressing that from each of the attacks, all of the basic techniques (ikkajo, nikajo, sankajo, shiho, irimi, etc.) are available, plus the usual host of aiki-nage and kokyu-nage. It was a really good workout! We ended the class with about 10 minutes of kokyu-ho dosa, a really nice way to settle down after a lot of freestyle. Our friend said she was really impressed by the improvement since she'd left us.
Ohama Sensei seems to be able to walk in, toss out his lesson plan, and teach fantastic classes right off the cuff. I never thought I'd be able to do this, but paying attention is slowly paying off. I also thought that my disappointment in myself would ruin the class and my technique. But for some reason, all thoughts about the conflicts disappeared during warmups, and I did some of the best technique I've ever done. Go figure. Now if I can just get a handle on the rest of my life...