There was an interesting comment on last week’s post from Kami who suggested that fighting spirit grows as you develop confidence from keiko and that a good instructor can foster fighting spirit in his students. I agree completely. I also believe that anyone who continues to follow kendo’s difficult path demonstrates fighting spirit through their determination to keep going.
The fact that kendo is a “marathon not a sprint” allows people to grow their technical ability and develop their mental attitude over a period of time that is much longer than that available to practitioners of most other sports. Thinking about this sent me on a slight diversion to reflect on the nature versus nurture debate and how it impacts kendo.
In many professional sports athletes are chosen for their physical characteristics. Many coaches will choose rookies with the right height, lung capacity, even the ability to metabolise energy, over experienced players with average physical attributes. In kendo we welcome all comers and the cream tends to rise to the surface over time. Two eighth dans who I have spoken to about their route into kendo told me that their parents made them start kendo because they were not particularly robust as children.
In Japan top shiai players mostly come from the ranks of police and education kendo and have progressively moved up from schools and universities with enviable kendo reputations before reaching professional or semi-professional status. It is largely from this select group that the World Championship squad is chosen, based on performance in national competitions.
I believe that Japan’s biggest rival for the Wold Championships, Korea has a different approach. Athletes are selected on physical characteristics and put through intensive training leading up to WKC competition. I may be completely wrong as this is based only on hearsay, so I would welcome input from any Korean kumdo devotees who can either confirm this or set me straight.
For us amateurs in the west it is even more difficult to judge. Many people who do not enjoy conventional sports take up martial arts. Some are obviously more athletically gifted than others and make much faster initial progress than their fellow newbies. I have seen a number of people who found the early stages of kendo extremely challenging go on and overtake their more gifted dojo mates. By and large this is based on perseverance and what the self-help gurus often refer to as Positive Mental Attitude.
From what I have seen of the students that I have been lucky enough to have taught, I believe that physical characteristics are important, but more important is the determination to succeed.