Every time I come back from Japan, the intensity level of my keiko increases. Most strong sensei teach that the best way to improve your kendo is to train giving it 100 percent for limited periods and I buy into this concept completely.
Friends who run other dojo in the UK, and in some other European countries take a different view. They tell me that training should be pleasurable and that by deing too demanding they are likely to lose students, particularly those just starting their kendo career. They also quote the old chestnut “westerners are different” and we should do things our own way.
Traditionally there have been differences. Someone who started Kendo at age 7 and kept going through the school system to university can have 13/14 years experience and the heart and lungs of a twenty year old. He or she should constantly want to push harder to achieve kendo goals, but with the demise of kendo as a compulsory school sport in Japan and with more children’s clubs being started in other countries, it might be that the 14 year experienced 20 year old is a European and a Japanese or Korean beginner is a 40 year old lady. Yet age for age I believe they train harder than we do.
Gigeiko is fun! Kirikaeshi, uchikomigeiko and kakarigeiko are not. Done correctly with strong kiai and correct breathing these exercises constantly take you out of your comfort factor, but they certainly improve your kendo. The challenge for dojo leaders is to persuade students that a one hour keiko session should be broken down into 45 minutes of kihon drills and 15 minutes of gigeiko.
This applies to practice amongst kendoka of a similar level, if you are practising with senior sensei then don’t worry. Just wait for your turn and they will normally step up the practice to match and stretch your capabilities.