I was catching up on George McCall’s excellent Kenshi.247 blog and saw his post about his 2010 kendo slump (see sidebar link). I wanted to comment with some encouraging words, but had forgotten my log-in to his blog. Knowing that George occasionally sees mine, I thought I would explore this topic here.
None of us, unless we are very new to kendo or very easily pleased, escape the occasional feeling of “going nowhere”. Most kendoka have a mental image of the kendo that they would like to produce and an awareness of their current level of ability. The more organised also have a training plan for getting from the current reality to the goal. If progress matches your expectation, you are happy, if not, you are not.
The challenge with kendo, is that the path is never ending and you continue to learn until the end of your kendo career. This means that as you age and go through physical changes, you need to adapt your kendo style accordingly. The Zen aspect of kendo suggests that it is sufficient to turn up, give it your best and go home without reflecting too deeply on progress, but as humans with more ego than we care to admit, we suffer frustration if we are not performing to the level that we aspire to. This results in the feeling of having “hit the wall” or even going backwards.
Having been in this situation on numerous occasions, I believe that these slumps are necessary precursors to making major improvements. If you are happy with your performance, then there is no incentive to change. It is only when you are dissatisfied that you can be bothered to make the effort to do so.
The longer you have been practising and the higher your kendo grade, the more difficult it is to turn things around. Habits become ingrained and difficult to break. If you alter one aspect of your kendo, it affects everything else, so a slight alteration to your grip may necessitate a change to your kamae, calling for the rearrangement of your footwork and balance. Unfortunately it seldom works to make minor adjustments, so we need to go back to basics and break down what we do, before we can reinvent our kendo. After a number of unsuccessful attempts to take 7th dan, I realised that I had to restart from scratch and spent a year incorporating kihon drills for seme men and debana men into every keiko session.
So George, if you are reading this- cheer up! Even if you are having a tough time, I am sure that you will emerge from the chrysalis in 2011 as a better stronger kendo butterfly. In the meantime, happy New Year to you, and to everyone who reads this blog. Rainen mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu.