This is not a concept that I have developed, but it has been drummed into me by my teachers throughout my lengthy kendo career. Obviously many others have had the same instruction over the years, particularly those who started kendo in elementary school and middle school. I am not sure what happens in today’s more enlightened school system, but my kendo contemporaries in Japan were always urged to attack flat out from the day they first wore a hakama and keikogi.
Obviously those that continued their kendo career through the evolution of high school, university and adult kendo have had the chance to build on this initial strength by adding the understanding of seme, tame and kikai, as well as developing a range of basic and advanced technique. Not every kenshi however has the chance to follow this path and sometimes circumstances mean that they are unable to continue to practice past school age. Study schedules often get in the way of continued practice and even for those lucky enough to continue training through university, life as a “salaryman” can leave little time for kendo.
For a number of Japanese kenshi their first opportunity to get back into kendo is when they are posted abroad to countries where people spend less time in the office than they would in Japan. Many expats see this as a chance to spend more time on the golf course and driving range, but for that special few who have been awaiting the opportunity to restart kendo, this is it.
Walking into a kendojo in another country is an incredibly brave act. There are no guarantees that the kendo practised by foreign kenshi bears any resemblance to the home grown kind and you have to trust your instincts and any introductions that you were able to gather from friends in Japan.
The more cautious often start by joining the beginners’ class for a while before they throw themselves into keiko, but when they do, they tend to bring their old school values with them. For kenshi in their teens and twenties treating each jigeiko as a kakarigeiko is tiring but possible. For those in their late 30s and 40s it is more difficult. I personally enjoy the challenge of helping returners make up for lost time. You can always add to your knowledge of distance and timing, but fighting spirit is something you either have or you don’t.