I just got back from a weekend kendo seminar and grading examination. As well as kihon and kata practice we had two keiko sessions where I was impressed by the fighting spirit of most of the people who trained with me.
At the conclusion of the seminar I advised the candidates for the subsequent exam to just relax and display their best kendo; which many managed to do, but in some cases minus the element of fighting spirit. What we saw instead were what appeared to be nicely choreographed displays of technique with clear opportunities being taken in turn with little or no resistance.
Grading panellists are looking for positive evidence of candidates’ ability to demonstrate all the key elements of kendo: correct cutting, good posture, hand and foot coordination, timing, the ability to make and react to opportunities and of course fighting spirit. These elements are required in varied quantities in line with the grade being taken, but at any level, you need to show that you are there to fight.
By fighting spirit I do not mean raw aggression, the feeling I am trying to describe is more like ability to keep a reservoir of energy centred in your abdomen so that you are constantly ready to step in and take the initiative and when you see the target to explode into action. At its best it is a combination mental attitude and correct breathing technique that allows you to commit 100 percent to an attack; win or lose.
At the early stages of our kendo careers it is difficult to rationalise applying pressure to our opponent whilst at the same time relaxing, but it gets easier to achieve the more kihon training we do. We can accelerate progress by actively developing the right attitude. By this I mean that even in the most basic drills you should try to make “mind contact” with your opponent and to always think about how you set up each technique by making your opponent move. This leads us into the concept of sen, sen sen no sen and go no sen, but whilst this is not difficult to understand on an intellectual level, the physical ability to make and take opportunity is one of the most difficult ongoing parts of our kendo training and can only be achieved through constant correct training.
So if you failed on this or a recent occasion don’t be discouraged, get back to the dojo, relax your shoulders, take a big breath, centre your energy and get back to kihon training with lots of confidence and controlled aggression.