Posts Tagged ‘University kendo’

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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Last week when I was in Tokyo, I was lucky enough to be invited to practice with the kendo club of Hitotsubashi University. Whilst I have practiced at a number of Japanese university clubs over the years, I tend to forget just how hard kendoka work at this stage of their careers to ensure that the fundamentals are in place to develop shiai and jigeiko skills.

Two thirds of the allotted keiko time was devoted to kirikaeshi, uchikomi geiko and yakusoku geiko. I was impressed by the fact that everyone from first year students on up knew all the drills and their sequence inside out. Of course the club captain provided the appropriate words of command, but everyone went through the whole session on autopilot, concentrating only on doing each technique faster and better. Chiba sensei who is Hitotsubashi Dai’s Shihan, was able to stay aloof from the process of running the session and only intervened to make corrections or suggestions to individual members.

Only after this kihon was completed were visitors brought into the final thirty minute jigeiko session. With twelve or so of these young kendo machines lined up for keiko with me, half an hour of flat-out practice was all I needed.  However after I left for a beer with Chiba sensei, the students continued their practice to concentrate on preparation for that weekend’s shiai with universities from Osaka and Kobe.

What I find particularly interesting is that Hitotsubashi University does not have a particular kendo or physical education focus. Its reputation in Japan is primarily that of an elite academic institution, so of course the students all have to spend a great deal of time focussing on their studies. Nevertheless it was obvious that kendo plays a major part of their lives, both in and out of the dojo. It was also clear from Chiba sensei’s opening and closing remarks that the objective of the university kendo club was not just to develop effective tactical kendo but to promote the holistic values of kendo and its impact on everyday life.

Certainly, judging by the way visitors are treated by these students, sensei has done a great job in reinforcing the true spirit of reigi. I understand that next year the Kendo Club of Hitotsubashi Daigaku is going to make a visit to Imperial College in London with the aim of establishing an official twinning relationship. Imperial also has the reputation for attracting some very bright students, so next year should see a meeting of minds as well as kendo spirit.

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