Yesterday was my first keiko of 2009. We held a kangeiko practice as a preliminary to the year’s first taikai, so it was an opportunity to practice with quite a few new people as well as some old friends.
In the spirit of “start as you intend to go on”, I tried throughout the practice to incorporate the kamae and posture changes suggested by Chiba sensei before the holiday and became immediately aware of how difficult it is to change your established technique. In my experience, the longer I have been doing something, the harder it is to change.
Of course this is not the first time I have made radical changes to my kendo practice. Kendo is all about continual improvement and development. Very often you realise that the only way to improve is to break down your whole approach including posture, balance and timing and to build again from zero. Sometimes I have been glad to do this, particularly when my practice has “hit the wall” and I have spent frustrating months, even years realising that what I was doing was not working. Between the last time I failed 7th dan and passing two years ago, I spent a year practicing kihon men and re-learning ki ken tai timing. This time though, I was feeling slightly smug because everything was working, so to go into major change mode, on the suggestion that things can work even better is quite daunting.
Kendo requires an holistic approach. As soon as you change your posture, you alter your balance. When you change your cutting action, your footwork needs to adjust to keep pace, so usually, when you embark on change, you are committed to at least a few months of work. Most importantly, you need to put your ego on hold, because typically you become weaker whilst you are making adjustments.
Through teaching, I am aware that many people are conceptually able to differentiate between what they are doing and what they should be doing, but they are unable to take the necessary steps to bring the two together. In most cases, they are not prepared to sacrifice the advantages that their current level of technique gives them, for future improvement.
We all know that part of the objective of kendo is to lose our ego and to attack with the feeling of no-mind. In reality however, it is not easy to give away the advantage that we have worked hard for and to allow ourselves to be beaten by lower ranking players. Nevertheless, this is what we have to do whilst we experiment with different elements of our kendo.
I believe that the answer is not to worry about timing and opportunity in gikeiko, but to get back to basics through kihon geiko. We build our best kendo through constant repetition of basic waza and we need to make adjustments and changes in the same way.
So two New Year resolutions for me. 1, More kihon geiko. 2, More patience with students who do not change their kendo instantly just because I ask them too.