Archive for the ‘Kendo Lifetime’ Category

the-hare-and-the-tortoiseDifferent people learn at different speeds. This is particularly obvious in kendo where we can continue our development from youth to old age.

There are of course many naturally talented and driven kenshi who start strong and continue to improve at the optimum speed throughout their kendo careers, taking seventh dan in their late 30s, hachidan in their late 40s and continuing on to become the grand old men of our kendo community.

In the west, where many of us start as adults, there are those who appear to be naturally talented. Despite the odd nature of kendo movement, they race up the ladder to 2nd or 3rd dan, leaving many of their peers to struggle and make far slower progress. It is often these quicker learners who give up when improvement starts to become more difficult later in their kendo career. This can happen at many levels and I have seen people drop out after achieving fourth and fifth dan, in several cases 6th dan, where the pressure of making the next step seemed too difficult.

A number of kenshi will cheerfully admit to enjoying the fighting aspects of kendo and not being particularly worried about improving technique. They like the idea of putting on armour and clashing shinai for a few hours a week. Most dojo have members like this who keep the club funds topped up and play an important part of the life of the club, but do not see kendo as a sugyo.

I have watched others who are dedicated to learning correct kendo, who find every aspect a challenge. They return to the dojo week after week, struggle with the intricacies of footwork, breathing, cutting action and with uniting them all in ki-ken-tai-itchi . They cheerfully continue their training over a period of many years. Often these individuals spend many years slogging up the grading system, taking repeated attempts to pass each level.

Many of these slower starters do reach a stage where everything falls into place and their pace of progress changes completely. It might be that they reach an understanding of a single element of kendo such as correct breathing and everything else becomes clear. It may not be in the form of a dramatic epiphany, but one day a bad habit disappears and one correct action leads to another and 6th and 7th dan no longer seem unattainable.

Whatever our learning speed, kendo thankfully gives us plenty of time to correct our faults.

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Mochida SenseiThank you all for the many well thought-out comments on last week’s post. In spite of me breaking the first law of blogging, (never post anything ironic without including a smiley face or lol), you gave me some deep personal insights into what we really gain from our kendo practice.

The qualities you mentioned or described included, courage, perseverance, perception, the ability to stay calm under pressure and perhaps the most interesting from my perspective, durability and stamina; keeping our kendo practice moving forward into our old age.

In comparison to my teachers and seniors I am a mere child at the age of 64 and yet I look forward to each keiko session as much as I did when I started aged 17. I can’t remember what it is like not to do kendo but I am fairly certain that I feel better than many of my peers who lead more sedentary lives.  OK, so the knees do ache a bit the morning after practice, but apart from that, fingers crossed, my capacity to enjoy kendo and life in general is undiminished.

Kendo has a way of making allowances for the changes brought about by aging that many other sports and pastimes do not. I have heard stories about heart-attacks in the squash courts, whereas in kendo if you learn to breathe correctly and keep going, kizeme takes over from physical power and you can continue to train with younger, fitter partners.

What was also obvious is that most people embraced the fact the kendo really is a lifelong route to self-improvement and not just a competitive sport. You also gave me some great examples of how you put the benefits of your keiko into action. Eric’s coolness in avoiding being hit with a 300kg piece of metal and Steven’s resilience in the face of life threatening cancer and its painful treatment are 2 very different, but equally valid examples.

I am writing this in advance of its Monday morning post, as I am spending the weekend at the European Referees’ Seminar in Brussels. As well as brushing up refereeing skills it is a great opportunity to catch-up with old kendo friends. Getting together with other kendoka, be it in person or through this blog, reminds me of my other reason for continuing kendo. It’s great to be part of an international community of like-minded people.

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TimeoutLast week I received a Facebook message from a kenshi in Tokyo, who commented about this blog and mentioned that he had practised kendo from the age of 6 to the age of 21 and started again 25 years later. He also mentioned what fun he was having after being back in the dojo for 9 months.

His story is not that unusual, particularly amongst company employee kendoka in Japan, particularly of my generation, the people who drove Japan’s economic boom in the 1970s and 80s. Many of them started kendo in junior school, trained flat-out in junior high and high school and crowned their career with membership of their university kendo club, sometimes training 5 times a week.

Then along came a career in industry, with long working hours, frequent business trips, long commutes and the obligation to spend much of their little remaining free-time on in- company socialising. For employees in their 20’s and 30’s who are at the peak of their working lives and who more often than not have young families, kendo sometimes has to be put on ice.

Many of Japan’s leading companies have their own kendo clubs but the challenge is finding sufficient time for keiko. There are some exceptions, I used to occasionally attend keiko at the Hankyu dojo in Osaka and there was always a strong attendance from employees. Putting things into context, the company President at the time was a kendo 9th dan who obviously had an interest in promoting kendo.

Very often though, interest in kendo does not fade, even though it is physically impossible to get to the dojo. When the time is right, these individuals get their hakama and keikogi out of mothballs and re-start their kendo training. The opportunities to do so vary. For some it is a matter of waiting for retirement, for others it happens when they move closer to a window seat and work pressures are not as great as they were. Children taking up kendo can also a motivate parents to join them in the dojo.

Overseas postings often give an incentive to restart kendo. Working hours in many countries are not as long as in Japan and in some cases there is almost a moral obligation to share kendo knowledge with local kenshi who are keen to learn from them. I have many Japanese kendo friends who restarted in this way, re-entering the dojo as 3rd or 4th dan after a 20 plus year layoff. Most I am glad to say, kept going when they got back to Japan and several of them have now caught up with their kyoshi  7th dan university contemporaries in the grading stakes. “Kendo is” as they say “a marathon, not a sprint.”

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The problem with kendo is it takes a long time to become competent enough to enjoy it, on the other hand you can continue to enjoy keiko at an age when most other sports people have hung up their boots or donated their dogi to the charity shop. Numerous sensei continue not only to be great teachers, but also remain formidable opponents into their 70s and 80s.
To quote Mochida sensei:
“ Until you are 50 years old, you must endeavor to practice the fundamentals of kendo and make it a part of you.  It has taken me 50 years to learn the fundamentals of kendo by body.  It was not until I became 50 years old that I started my true kendo training.  This is because I practiced kendo with all my heart and spirit.
When one becomes 60 years old, the legs are not as strong as they once were.  It is the spirit that overcomes this weakness.  It is through a strong spirit that one can overcome the inevitability of the body becoming physically weaker.
When I became 70 years old, the entire body became weaker.  I found that the next step is to practice the concept of not moving ones spirit when practicing kendo.  When one is able to achieve the state of an immovable spirit, your opponent’s spirit will manifest itself to you.  I tried to achieve a calm and immovable spirit at this stage in my life.
When I became 80 years old, I achieved the state of the immovable spirit.  However, there are times when a random thought will enter my mind.  I am striving to eliminate these random thoughts at this state in my life. ”
Very few of us reach the elevated level of kendo development achieved by Mochida sensei, but nevertheless, it is possible to continue to grow as a kendoka into old age. In Japan, kendo professionals from the police or education sector are able to progress steadily throughout their adult lives whereas people working in other occupations are often unable to devote time to practice when in their 20s, 30s and 40s when the pressure of work and family are at their greatest.
I have many Japanese friends who devoted a significant amount of time to training through school and university to stop on graduation and then started again after retirement. This is particularly true of individuals who went to work for the major Japanese corporations. Those whose careers included overseas postings were often the exception, as working in Europe or the U.S meant that they were not required to work the demanding hours of their Tokyo counterparts. It is surprising how many Japanese kendoka re-start abroad after a five or ten year break.

One very close friend graduated from university with 4th dan, restarted in the UK at age 40, passed 5th and 6th dan in Europe then took 7th dan post retirement aged 60 on his return to Japan. I do not know of anyone who has reached 8th dan on this type of stop, start basis, but I am sure that there are many who will give it a very hard try.

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