Having spent a fairly relaxed summer, work has gotten hectic again as we enter September. Unfortunately, this allowed me just two brief visits to Sumi sensei’s current seminar in the UK. On the first, my participation was limited to acting as motodachi. However on the second, I managed to move over to shimoza, after the initial shidogeiko, to wait in line for Sumi sensei, Tashiro sensei and Kumamoto sensei.
Whilst I experience the same challenge as many non-Japanese senior kendoka , of being a “big fish in a small pool”, I try to do as much peer and senior keiko as I can, to the extent of visiting Japan regularly, to compete in the Kyoto Taikai and train with as many hachidan sensei as possible.
7th dan embraces a broad range of skill levels from young All-Japan level professionals, to ex-champions who have been at the same grade for 30 years; to middle aged rookie nanadan. All of us have passed the test to the same stringent criteria and although I am at the higher end of the 7th dan age spectrum, I am fairly confident of my ability to practice competently with most of my peers.
7th dan against 8th dan is another matter. In my keiko with Sumi sensei and Tashiro sensei yesterday, I immediately felt the need to “move up a gear”.
If you are a reasonably seasoned kendoka, you are spared the pain of collapsing into instant kakarigeiko against such senior opponents, but instead, you should show strong seme and make committed attacks against real opportunities. The difficulty, is that kendo players of this class, do not often show weaknesses. After repeatedly trying to break immovable kamai, you are forced to make attacks that you know are doomed to fail. Nevertheless once committed, there is no alternative other than to complete the technique with your best posture and zanshin.
Even though you are attacking at a lower work rate than you might with easier opponents, the effort required to break sensei’s kamai and attack correctly is enormous. After 5 minutes with Sumi sensei, I felt exhausted.
Several people commented that my keiko with Sumi sensei looked impressive, but frankly, that was more the result of his charity than of my ability. The famed difficulty of passing 8th dan is not exaggerated, and results in a breed of super-sensei that are head and shoulders above the rest of us mere mortals.