One of the few times I witnessed a Japanese kendo teacher lose his temper was when he was told by a local kendo instructor that “I do kendo for other people”. The general thrust of his response was that kendo is a shugyo, a way to hone your own mind and body through hard keiko, so regardless of whether you are involved in teaching, refereeing or running a dojo or federation, you should first and foremost focus on your own kendo journey.
This may sound like a very self-centred approach, but essentially kendo is all about the self, or if you want to be specific, supressing it. Kendo is introspective. We train to develop to a level where action becomes instinctive, but to get there you have to think about it. The only person who can change you is you. At the same time we need others as training partners and opponents. The sheer unpredictability of other human beings makes kendo both interesting and challenging.
The chance to test ourselves in keiko is not all we expect from our dojo mates. We offer each other support and encouragement. More experienced kenshi pass on their knowledge to junior members and we work together to improve our technique. Even for the most senior practitioners teaching and learning should be a two way street.
As an example, when receiving kakarigeiko, if you put the same amount of focus into creating the attacking opportunities as your partner needs to respond to them, you both gain the same level of benefit from the process. In hikitate-geiko we should strive to take the first point or shodachi whatever the grade difference. Only after establishing control should we offer points to the student and even when doing so we should work on our own seme.
Unlike many sports that have an “if you can you play, if you can’t you coach” ethos, we expect people to continue to be involved in every aspect throughout their active lives. As a result some of the great competitors have gone on to be amongst the best teachers and continue to prove themselves in the All Japan 8th dan Championships and the Kyoto Taikai.
Whilst we focus on our own kendo, we do it together and friends made through hard training continue to be friends for life. So although we each follow our own path, we need those paths to regularly cross with the paths of others.
Best wishes to you all for 2016.