Posts Tagged ‘Lifetime kendo’

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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My daughter on the golf course

Whereas I was drawn instantly and obsessively to kendo from the first time I saw it, none of my family feel the same. That’s not because they are not sporty. My wife spends as much time in fitness and dance classes as I spend in the dojo. My daughter works for a well known golf club and my grandson fits school work in between football, golf, tennis and swimming, but none of them show the slightest interest towards kendo. Fortunately they all treat my addiction to kendo with a level of good natured tolerance.

I have always been intrigued by the motivation of my fellow kendoka, particularly by those like me, who chose kendo when it is obviously not part of our own cultural heritage. Over time I have run a number of polls from this blog site, including a survey on “Why did you start to learn kendo?”  To be honest, the answers were not particularly illuminating, but this may be more a function of my lack of skill as a pollster. The three most common answers were:

  1. An interest in Japanese culture
  2. A good way to keep fit
  3. As an addition to other budo study.

Numbers 1 and 3 make sense to me, but the second answer could apply to any other form of exercise. It interests me more to understand what keeps people coming back to kendo week after week for many years; in some cases for a lifetime. Of course there are some elements that would be common to other sports or pastimes such as the support and friendship of a social group, but I believe that the long-term motivation to continue kendo is often based on a desire for personal growth that is to my mind, unique to kendo.

Kendo is “shugyo” – a long path that leads to self improvement and self fulfilment.  Now after 40 or so years of keiko, I feel that I am starting to get some of the basics established, but the current challenge is in adapting my own technique to an ageing body. At the same time I want to be the best motodachi I can be, whilst continuing to stretch myself.  So inspired by the advice of Mochida sensei, I am trying to strengthen my “ki” to make up for physical decline.

Kendo’s other attraction for me is that it requires us to suspend conscious thought and commit ourselves on a purely physical level.

Whilst it is interesting to analyse how and why we do things, reflecting on kendo, reading and comparing ideas with others needs to be done outside the dojo. The formula making the most of our keiko time is simple – turn up, listen to sempai and sensei, do your best to practice energetically and correctly and try to encourage others.

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