One of the longest running debates on the Linkedin kendo forum is on the question of cross training for kendo. This has created a polarisation of opinion almost as meaningless yet as keenly contested as Jonathan Swift’s conflict between the “Big Endians” and “Little Endians” who fought bitterly over which end of a boiled egg to open.
In this case the big endians feel that gym activity is essential to kendo progress whereas the little endians will make the sign of the cross or recite the lotus sutra at the very mention of treadmills or weights. I personally am somewhere between the two camps. I would far rather practice kendo than pump iron, but if I have limited access to kendo practice I will happily use the gym for cardio vascular exercise and do low weight, high rep exercise on resistance machines to keep essential muscles working. Having said that I have absolutely no scientific knowledge of which stamina or resistance exercises best supplement kendo training. It’s more a matter of guesswork. It seems logical that if you can run for an hour, then you should be able to practice kendo for the same length of time. Where I am far less enthusiastic about gym work, is where it replaces time in the dojo as it has in many cases with Judo.
After the victory of the 120kg Dutch man Anton Geesink in the Judo open class at Judo’s Olympic debut in 1964, Judo training for many athletes became increasingly focused on strength exercises. Whether this change was caused by the loss of Japanese monopoly, or by Judo’s emergence as an Olympic sport, or the subsequent introduction of the lower value yuko and koka to the scoring system, Judo changed irrevocably.
Traditionally martial art training was based on repetition. In kendo this was exemplified by Yamaoka Tesshu‘s approach where a succession of opponents was faced in a concentrated period. By and large, this is still the way we train in kendo, with the constant repetition of suburi, kirikaeshi and waza geiko; aiming for that moment of no-mind or clarity where the technique emerges without conscious effort to meet the target. I am sure that sports-scientists have biomechanical models that can make kendo actions better and easier to achieve, but I wonder whether a more scientific approach will dilute the spirit of kendo.
Everything is subject to change, and kendo will of course continue to change and develop as it becomes more popular and more international. The way we train is still a subject of discussion between the Big and Little Endians, but for me, now that the latest gym membership has lapsed, my only other form of exercise is carrying my bogu from the car park to the dojo.