Last week I received a Facebook message from a kenshi in Tokyo, who commented about this blog and mentioned that he had practised kendo from the age of 6 to the age of 21 and started again 25 years later. He also mentioned what fun he was having after being back in the dojo for 9 months.
His story is not that unusual, particularly amongst company employee kendoka in Japan, particularly of my generation, the people who drove Japan’s economic boom in the 1970s and 80s. Many of them started kendo in junior school, trained flat-out in junior high and high school and crowned their career with membership of their university kendo club, sometimes training 5 times a week.
Then along came a career in industry, with long working hours, frequent business trips, long commutes and the obligation to spend much of their little remaining free-time on in- company socialising. For employees in their 20’s and 30’s who are at the peak of their working lives and who more often than not have young families, kendo sometimes has to be put on ice.
Many of Japan’s leading companies have their own kendo clubs but the challenge is finding sufficient time for keiko. There are some exceptions, I used to occasionally attend keiko at the Hankyu dojo in Osaka and there was always a strong attendance from employees. Putting things into context, the company President at the time was a kendo 9th dan who obviously had an interest in promoting kendo.
Very often though, interest in kendo does not fade, even though it is physically impossible to get to the dojo. When the time is right, these individuals get their hakama and keikogi out of mothballs and re-start their kendo training. The opportunities to do so vary. For some it is a matter of waiting for retirement, for others it happens when they move closer to a window seat and work pressures are not as great as they were. Children taking up kendo can also a motivate parents to join them in the dojo.
Overseas postings often give an incentive to restart kendo. Working hours in many countries are not as long as in Japan and in some cases there is almost a moral obligation to share kendo knowledge with local kenshi who are keen to learn from them. I have many Japanese kendo friends who restarted in this way, re-entering the dojo as 3rd or 4th dan after a 20 plus year layoff. Most I am glad to say, kept going when they got back to Japan and several of them have now caught up with their kyoshi 7th dan university contemporaries in the grading stakes. “Kendo is” as they say “a marathon, not a sprint.”