Many kenshi go through events in their lives when kendo takes a back seat. Moving to a distant university where there is no kendo club, getting to examination time when studies have to come first, taking on a high pressure job or one that requires constant international travel are common reasons why people give up kendo.
The late thirties and early forties are particularly difficult ages to sustain kendo practice as many people face a combination of busy job, young families who need your time and in some cases elderly parents who may also need help. As a result kendoka who have reached third or fourth dan become lost to us and their dojo become poorer places for their disappearance.
I never had to give up kendo at this stage, but went through a long period where my five keiko sessions a week turned to one every 2 months if I was lucky. This was perhaps even more challenging than a clean-break, as I almost felt as if I was re-starting every time.
The silver lining in the cloud is the addictive nature of kendo. Many leavers think regularly about kendo even when they are no longer able to train and because of this quite a few come back when their personal circumstances allow them to.
If you are a returnee, please don’t make the mistake of thinking that on day one back in the dojo you are going to be able to do everything you were able to on your last practice 10 years ago. I have seen highly successful Japanese ex- university team members develop Achilles tendon injuries on their first time back. This really is when you should build up slowly. It might be humiliating if you have to start again in the kid’s class, but it is better than being overstretched. If your dojo provides a mix of kihon and free practice make sure that you stop after kihon geiko and don’t get drawn into jigeiko until your technique and stamina catch-up with your fighting spirit.
Above all make sure that you stretch adequately before each session and build up slowly, concentrating on correct suburi and footwork. Listen to your body and experiment. There are things you used to be able to do that you will never do again and at the same time you will be capable of techniques that were out of your range as a youngster. With luck you should have another twenty or thirty years in which to improve your keiko.
Above all enjoy it. You came back because you missed it, so make the most of it. Welcome back!