As someone who loves doing kendo, watching kendo and writing and talking about kendo, I very seldom talk about this passion to people whose lives touch mine in other areas. Rightly or wrongly I feel that you either “get” kendo or you don’t and those of us that do form a very small minority.
Don’t get me wrong! I do not hide the fact that I practice kendo from my friends and colleagues, but I am quite happy not to spend time changing the perception of people who think it’s stick-fighting or samurai re-enactment. Before I left the office this weekend, I was asked if I was off to train another generation of Jedi Knights and the easiest answer to give was “Yeah! Something like that”.
Many years ago I would have been far more evangelistic and would have spent thirty minutes bending his ear about the moral and physical disciplines of kendo and explained that the purpose of kendo is self-improvement through hard and correct training. I would have gone into detail about the shinai not being a stick but a representation of the Japanese sword which allows us to indulge in full contact combat.
I would have also explained that we were limited to only four targets which must be struck with the correct part of the shinai on the correct part of the bogu and that this should be done in full spirit and good posture and co-ordinated sword, body and mind focus and that all this should be followed by something called “zanshin”. My enthusiasm would have kept me going until I was satisfied that he could understand why I did kendo and I would not have noticed his eyes glazing over 20 minutes before I finished.
Even with followers of other martial arts, I am happy to talk about the things we share and the ideas that are common to their art and ours, but I do not go into detail about concepts or experiences that are unique to kendo.
Now just to make it clear, I am not protecting the secrets of kendo from the uninitiated as one would with ninjutsu or masonic ritual, I am merely exercising my right not to bore people about a subject in which they have no interest.
On the other hand, kendo friends will be aware that within our own circle I can happily spend hours talking about kendo, or listening to others talk about kendo. It seems much easier to share information based on common experience and ambitions.
For non-kendoka colleagues and friends, if you think what I do is the stuff they did in Kill Bill, The Last Samurai, or Star Wars that’s also OK.