A regularly asked question is “how often should I train to gain maximum improvement in my kendo?” My honest answer would be “at least three times a week.” Once a week and you are not going to make any real progress, twice and you may improve slightly if you already have a strong grounding, but train three times a week and you are able to reinforce your good habits and learn new skills.
This is however an unrealistic goal for many people. Busy working lives, family commitments and the lack of local dojo often make the ideal training schedule untenable.
The other part of the equation is how you use your time in the dojo. If you turn up, shoot the breeze for half an hour then enjoy one or two leisurely jigeiko before retiring to the pub, you are not going to improve much, even if you train on a daily basis. To my mind, an intense hour’s practice with at least half of it dedicated to rigorous kihon including drills, kirikaeshi and kakarigeiko, with the remaining time dedicated to jigeiko is the ideal session. Most Japanese instruction manuals constantly refer to “correct technique” and “in full spirit”, which reading between the lines, suggests that you should do it to the best of your ability and with your utmost energy. Of course the other element that significantly adds to the value of your training is to do it under the watchful eye of a good instructor, one who can help you correct mistakes and praise you when you get it right.
Elite kendoka in Japan often train twice a day with a break at midday for a meal and a nap. This normally happens 5 days a week with the weekends reserved for competition. There are also a number of happily retired kendoka who attend morning and evening practice five or six days a week, but for working amateurs with a mortgage to pay and kids to feed, this remains the stuff of dreams.
There has been some recent debate on a number of kendo groups about the value of cross training and I honestly believe that anything that increases stamina, speed and flexibility has got to be worth doing. On the other hand no amount of running, cycling or swimming is going to improve your kendo technique.
You can of course train at home. Suburi and footwork exercises can be practiced in most places. However looking at my own history of smashed light fittings, annoyed neighbours and a dispute with my former Japanese landlords over floor damage, I would counsel caution.