Last Sunday we had a special keiko to commemorate Holt sensei’s first birthday since he passed away. We did not publicise the event as we were unable to book a bigger hall. Everyone had to fit into our usual Mumeishi dojo.
Despite limitations on numbers, we hosted a number of friends from other UK dojos and a group from Belgium. The result was a really good, if somewhat crowded keiko session that reminded me of the value of practising with different people as often as possible. No matter how much we benefit from training with our usual dojo mates, it is always enjoyable to train with someone new.
Going back into kenjutsu’s history there has been a tradition of musha-shugyo, resembling the European chivalric culture of knight errantry. Representatives from different kendo schools would travel the country, taking on all challengers to demonstrate the superiority of their ryu-ha. This tradition has continued in modern kendo. Not necessarily with the intent of beating all comers, but with the aim of learning from others.
I have always enjoyed travelling for kendo. As well as travelling for seminars and competitions and using every opportunity I can find to visit Japan, I have tried to take my bogu, or at least part of it, on business trips which I used to make quite frequently. I have had the pleasure of training in many European countries as well as Hong Kong, Singapore, South Africa and the USA. As I mentioned in my last post I am looking forward to lots of keiko opportunities in Japan with new and old friends when I visit in May.
Students often ask me at what stage in their kendo career should they start to visit other dojo. My view is that as long as they have correct basics and are able to join in with keiko wearing bogu, they should be ready. Most teachers would be able to immediately size up a student’s level of experience and ability and to make sure he or she only gets involved in activity that they can cope with.
Not all dojo will welcome you however and that is as much for your good as for theirs. There is no way that someone fresh from a beginner’s course would be able to cope with the rigours of a keiko session in Kokushikan or Keisucho. The general rule is to ask before you visit. This is generally quite easy with most dojo in the west where an email before visiting will be enough. With Japanese dojo, the general rule is to seek an introduction to a specific sensei. Some dojo have many teachers, so just contacting the office is not enough. The good news is that in these days of social media it is easier to connect with people than it used to be.
For those of you going to Japan or anywhere else for kendo this spring happy travels and good luck with your own musha-shugyo.