I recently saw a trailer for a post on Linkedin titled “what would you do differently if you knew at age 22 what you know now?” As usual I did not have time to read the article, but the heading made me think about how a similar question would work in a kendo context.
At 22 I was a first dan, three years into my kendo career, training regularly and energetically. My foot movement usually followed that of my arms and shoulders and when I hit men it was if I was trying to drive in a fence post or win a coconut at the fairground. When I later moved to Japan my friends and teachers suggested that my keiko was “gotsui” which in Kansai Japanese means “very”, but the inference is ”more than needed” or “over the top”.
Had the present day me been able to advise the 22 year old me, I would have suggested that I “lighten up”. I would have recommended that I relax, and instead of making my attacks hard and heavy, I should make them sharp and light, using forward motion and tenouchi. Even then, I probably would have ignored my own advice as I had that of various illustrious sensei, that is until my body was no longer able to waste energy.
Thanks to the teaching of Chiba sensei and the refusal of my elderly body to waste the effort that it dissipated in younger days, I now try to concentrate the little vitality that I have left on making correct approaches and sharp attacks. Of course I am still a long way from my ideal vision of the kendo, but I am still able to enjoy keiko, and without false modesty, I am sure that my kendo is now more effective than it was when I was in my 20s. My big question is “could I have made this change when I was younger”, and if I had,”how much more progress could I have made in my kendo career?”
I see many younger friends make the same mistakes and even though they agree with the advice I give them, they seem unable to change. When you watch the All Japan Championships, you often see kenshi in their 20s and early 30s who are able to use kendo energy effectively. They may have started younger, practice harder and be more naturally talented than the average club kendoka, but I am sure that if we follow their example, there is a way to get our kendo looking like theirs before reaching old age.
So for me it’s not so much a case of “I wish I knew then what I know now”, more a case of “I wish I could do then what I know I should be doing now”.