I am now back from Kyoto, and as expected, it was another great kendo experience. I chose to attend the 2nd day of the Hachidan shinsa, so missed seeing Ozawa-sensei and Kato-sensei pass on May 1. However, there were also some great performances on May 2.
The Takai itself was excellent. The final day especially so, with some awe inspiring hanshi tachiai from Chiba sensei, Arima sensei and Osaka’s Ohta sensei. I also lost count of the number of old friends from Japan and around the world that I met at the Butokuden.
My own fortunes were mixed, losing my tachiai to degote and injuring my foot on the 3rd day of training. Nevertheless, I had some good keiko opportunities in Osaka, Himeji and Kyoto, including training with Mori sensei at Sonezaki Police Station and attending the Kyoto University Keiko kai where I had the chance to compare my progress with that of Kyodai O.B friends. I also got to finally meet Takeshi Takamori whom I guided around Europe by email.
The party opportunities were also prominent. I especially enjoyed my visits to a very unusual okonomiyaki restaurant with Chiba sensei and Uegaki sensei and to a beer hall in Umeda with Mori sensei and his group.
The Butokuden itself is a wonderful old building, but it gets very crowded, particularly on the final day. Most people prefer to select the tachiai that they want to watch, and to come and go. This means that a lot of people mill around outside or visit the tea stall. I was lucky enough to have a standing invitation from Nara’s Hokuto Budoguten to sit in their shady tent and drink their coffee. As ever, I felt that I was punching above my weight, taking up a seat that is normally reserved for senior sensei.
One of the most telling remarks I heard in Kyoto was from Hokuto’s lady of the house, who without seeing any of the matches, mentioned that the final day was very different from the preceding two. When I asked why, she mentioned that the sound was “tan tan” rather than the previous day’s “don tan”, which to my mind is a pretty good summary of 8th dan ki-ken-tai-ichi. This is something that I intend to explore in more detail in future posts, as my overall impression this year; is that sharpness is what sets high level kendo apart from that of the masses.
My final impression was that training in Japan is probably the only way to learn reigi and I was delighted that the UK squad members now training in Japan made a point of coming to watch my tachiai and to act as bogu-mochi.