One of the most interesting aspects of kendo is that you can continue to improve and grow throughout your career. Even though I have been training for over forty years and I enjoy coaching others, my own continuous improvement is what gets me to the dojo on time.
It does however become more difficult to improve as you progress up the grading ladder, particularly if you are one of the most senior people in your own area. As one of less than a handful of seventh dans in the UK and having little access to the one eigth dan in Europe, advice is hard to come by.
During the few years when I was trying to make seventh dan, I was extremely fortunate in that I had the benefit of regular keiko with Yanai Norimitsu sensei, who had both the intuition and the knowledge to help me to shape my kendo to what was required. Unfortunately for me, his job then took him to New York, so I expect that he is currently helping some lucky New Yorkers to improve their game. Now I manage the occasional practice with our National Coach, Matsumoto Jumpei sensei, but because of our respective schedules, this happens less than once a month.
I normally make an annual pilgrimage to Japan, to take part in the Kyoto Taikai. The embu only lasts 2 minutes, but their are also numerous keiko opportunities with Japan‘s strongest kendoka, so I draw enough inspiration from one week to last me for the next six months. This year, prudence in light of the credit crunch, suggested that it might be better to stay at home, so I did not get my annual Kyoto fix.
The good news is that Chiba sensei is here for a seminar at the beginning of July and regular readers of my blog will have gathered that I am very enthusiastic about his teaching, so hopefully I will get some more diamonds of information to build on.
However when things are back to normal and I revert to being a medium sized fish in a small pond, I need to think of a way forward. Fortunately I was taught some time ago, how to use keiko with partners of any level to develop my own technique and timing. It is possible when acting as motodachi for relatively inexperience kendoka, to build up pressure and seme to make clear opportunities for them to attack whilst at the same time thinking as if you were the attacker.
Of course there are always kihon drills which will serve you well whatever your level, but I hope that the economy fixes itself in time for my next trip to Kyoto.