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Posts Tagged ‘Mochida sensei’

Brussels GradingReflecting on the Brussels grading, I am reminded that the higher your age, the more difficult it becomes to pass. In my experience, this is not just true for Europe, but applies everywhere including the kodansha grading examinations in Japan.
Now I don’t for a moment think that kendo is ageist. We are privileged to be able to participate at ages that would have exceeded the retirement points in many other sports. Nor when looking at the array of venerable sensei on some grading panels do I think there is any bias against senior candidates. It is however an irrefutable truth that it becomes more difficult to force your body to do good kendo as you reach your 50s and 60s.
Knees and ankles wear out, particularly after years of training on hard floors. Forward motion becomes more difficult and some older kenshi start to rely more on upper-body strength to hit the target. Unfortunately this is not the way forward.
I was fortunate to receive some concerted coaching from Chiba sensei when in my mid 50s that made me realise that I had to adapt my kendo to my age. The key points were that you needed to find your own distance, keep your footwork light, but still forward, and use your opponents’ movement to your advantage. Rather than making your attacks bigger and harder, they should be smaller and lighter.
The more you advance in grade the more important seme becomes. This does not mean that you should constantly push in to take shikake waza, but you should also use hiki-dasu to make your opponent move towards you so that you can execute debana and oji-waza. The logic is that when your opponent steps towards you, you need only take half a step to reach the target. And it’s not always necessary to make fumikomi. A sliding step forward can be sufficient if you have good ki-ken-tai-itchi. Zanshin is of course important, but you do not need to gallop across the dojo to make your point. Two or three steps through with good posture and kamae, before turning to re-engage should be enough.
Kizeme is a necessity. Mochida sensei’s often quoted truth that when your body becomes frail you have to rely on “indomitable spirit” to subdue your opponent is key. You should use your mental strength to make the opponent move in a direction and timing where you can hit him. One of my other favourite quotes on this subject is from Kikuchi Koichi sensei who said “as I become older I move more slowly, but I also see my opponent’s movement more slowly”.

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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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