Anyone who lives in the UK is subjected to regular Monday morning conversations about football (or soccer to my North American friends). My own knowledge of “the beautiful game” is somewhat sketchy, having avoided playing throughout my school career; I do however accept that many people are passionate about the sport. Wherever possible, I resist the temptation when told that “WE” won three nil, to ask that “apart from eating pies at the ground, or watching with a cold pint on the big screen at the pub, what was your contribution to the result?”
I am however becoming more exposed to football, although in a less than obvious way. There is a sports field complex at the bottom of my garden; so recently whilst digging out the vegetable beds, I have been witness to a number of junior games. The conifers screen out a lot of the vision, but I certainly get the full audio experience. I have the (perhaps misguided) impression that for every player on the field there are two people needed to shout conflicting instructions. On Saturday a young man called Curly seemed to be the centre of attention, with people simultaneous shouting “go forward Curly”, go back Curly”, “get the ball Curly” and “get rid of it Curly”. All of these commands may have been relevant, but they resulted in poor Curly, who could not have been much older than seven, running on the spot and crying.
I of course, made my normal comparison to kendo and realised that no matter how hard we coached Curly before the event, once in the shiai jo he would be master of his own destiny. The other obvious difference is that although he might be representing the honour of his dojo or his school, he would do so as an individual.
We do of course have team competitions in kendo and it is important to understand your role as a member of a five person team. Your coach or sensei has placed you as chuken because you can be relied on to “hold the bridge”, or you are there as taisho because you have “nerves of steel” and can deliver a victory under pressure. The one fact you face however, is that after bowing to your opponent, it is between the two of you. There is no-one to pass to; win, lose or draw, it is up to you and you alone.
The difference between team and one-on-one sports, is of course not limited to kendo; boxers, tennis players, judoka and athletes from many other disciplines are required to go out alone against an opponent and reach a result based on who has the best technique and often more importantly, fighting spirit.
The etiquette required of coaches, supporters and fellow team members however makes kendo special. Once the player rises from sonkyo, he or she is on their own. I enjoy being part of a likeminded group. I enjoy coaching and mentoring, but the one thing guaranteed to make the hairs stand up on the back of my neck is to hear “aka Salmon” as I step into the shiai jo.