The past weekend I had a very enjoyable two and a half days in Dublin. Together with Terry Holt of London’s Mumeishi dojo, Yoshi Inoue from Kenyu in Paris and Steve Bishop of Edinburgh University, I went to help the Irish Association run a kendo seminar and grading. The weekend format should be familiar to most kendoka – keiko on Friday night, seminar on Saturday and grading examination on Sunday. Activities were of course separated by evenings of Guinness and craic to give the event a truly Irish flavour.
Unusually, the weekend attracted people with a wide range of experience levels from beginner to fifth dan, so we separated the seminar into groups, reinforcing the basics for the junior members and working on more technical elements with the seniors.
The grading examination included an “open kyu” session to give the less experienced attendees the opportunity to be assessed by instructors from outside their usual dojo group. For the newest members, this meant taking a test without wearing bogu where the objective was to demonstrate a number of kihon waza and kirikaeshi against armoured motodachi.
It has been a while since I was involved in a grading of this type and I found it interesting to see how much more relaxed and uninhibited candidates were when they did not have to worry about what their opponents were doing. People with only weeks or months of experience were able to deliver waza to a level that a dan grade would be proud of. As the examination moved to the next group it was obvious that it becomes much more difficult to execute techniques in keiko when you have the complexities of distance and timing of an opponent.
This made me think about the optimum period for beginners to train before they put on armour. If it is too short, they start to develop bad habits by becoming competitive before they build good kihon foundations. Do it for too long and they become bored and quit. I have heard stories of beginners left to do suburi on their own for a year before being brought into the group. I also know of clubs where newbies are allowed to wear bogu after 2 weeks. Typically the induction period varies from 6 to 12 weeks in UK clubs.
An added complexity is that many newbies who seem to enjoy learning the basic techniques lose their enthusiasm when they join the main class. This may be because the reality of training in uncomfortable, heavy bogu and being hit instead of just hitting makes them realise that the kendo path becomes increasing steep and difficult.
I would be interested to know how you structure beginner’s courses. What do you think is the ideal period before introducing them to bogu and how do you structure the transition from one stage to another.