Anyone who makes significant progress in a sport or art, has to be to a greater or lesser degree, self-centred; putting in extensive time for training and reflection. Kendo is by nature an introspective pursuit. The character, do or michi, tells us that it is not just a pastime but a way, a path or roadmap for our lives. If we travel even a moderate distance down this path, we tend to invest an enormous amount of time and mental space in the pursuit of our kendo goals. If we do advance, then the call on our time becomes even greater with teaching, refereeing and grading panels etc.
Samurai in feudal Japan were wholly engaged in following the way of the sword, but modern day kendoka typically have to find space for it amongst the need to earn a living and sustain family and social relationships.
Other kendoka are of course allies, but in my view, even in a closely knit club or dojo, we are intrinsically working towards our individual development, collectively. The sempai, kohai system in kendo ensures that we always have someone to mentor us and because we have common interests and goals we can relate as a group. Justifying our investment in kendo to family members is not nearly as simple.
As a naïve young foreigner in Japan, I was convinced that the families of kendo players were all totally supportive. This, I am sure, is true of professional kendoka whose skill and dedication pay the rent. I am less sure that this is, or was, true of shakaijin kendoka; even though Japanese good manners nearly always resulted in positive comments from wives and children about ottosan’s kendo career.
I was surprised on just one occasion to hear the wife of a much respected older kendo sempai, go into detail about a long history of selfishness and neglect. Admittedly, she was in very poor health and perhaps felt that the time for tatemae was passed. A number of kendo friends of my own age or younger, both in Japan and the west, have had the plug pulled on their marriages or traded in their partner for a more kendo friendly version.
Living with a kendoka must be similar to living with a religious fundamentalist without sharing the beliefs. The good news is that they we not around for much of the time as we are too busy with kendo.