Keeping Safety in Mind when Practicing Kendo

(Disclaimer: I’m not an expert on Kendo. As I’ve always emphasized in some of my other Kendo-related posts, I’m just a beginner who’s mostly clueless about the tons of things I still need to learn.)

The other night’s keiko was another one of those days when I repeatedly received quite painful blows to the head.  This was when three of us in the bogu (armor) class were assigned as motodachis (receivers). Each of us had to receive men strikes from around five to six of the “attackers” who were part of the 2nd batch of beginners. While I still strongly believe that Kendo is “one of the safest martial arts around” given how well-protected we are by the bogu  and the use of shinai (bamboo sword), safety should still be a critical component of practicing it. Even if the men (headgear) provides protection, it can still be painful when the strike is not executed properly.

Pain, of course, is part of practicing a sport or martial art. But an athlete’s ability to gauge the differences in the kinds of pain he or she experiences is crucial in keeping the practice of the sport/martial art safe. One of the dangerous things an athlete can do is to ignore pain that could potentially lead to injuries just because it might be misunderstood as weakness.

Lack of feedback (not getting or giving any) is easily one of the pitfalls sports practitioners can fall into. From what I understand, men strikes (strikes to the head) should not be painful such that you can actually feel like your head is bruised in some places after you remove the bogu. The bogu should provide ample protection. If done properly, a good men strike should be powerful but not painful as what I’ve experienced when I get hit by our teacher and by Ono-sensei, the visiting 6th dan kendoka who practiced with us in the bogu class when he was here briefly in November last year.

The type of pain I’ve been getting on my head from some of my other fellow beginners is increasingly becoming a cause of concern for me. And since I’m not receiving any feedback, I have no way of knowing if and when I need to correct myself as well. Because I’m guessing I’m equally guilty of not doing it properly.

Regardless of what I know about the safety of this martial art, a part of me wonders if I really should not be worried about the repeated blows and their cumulative impact every training. Some might say that I should just endure it quietly. And to that I would answer, I’ve been doing that since I started acting as a motodachi (receiver). I really am not happy voicing out my concern because I seem to be the only one doing so. I feel like I’m complaining about something that others in the bogu class has mostly been silent with. It’s not a pleasant feeling raising this issue, but it concerns my head so it’s not something I’d probably let go easily unless someone can assure me that it’s completely safe to feel those jarring blows and suffer the pain even after the training. I’m just curious if we shouldn’t be focusing instead on how to fix the problem that leads to an obviously poor execution of technique?

So if I’m asked why we should pay attention to shibori and practice hitting powerfully without causing undue amount of pain to the motodachi, I’d say:

1)Because it’s the proper thing to do.
2)And maybe we can connect it to respect as well. Because if we truly respect each other, we will try our best to learn how to execute strikes properly instead of putting motodachis at risk every time we thoughtlessly strike with no regard to their safety.

At the end of the day, it’s not about hesitating or lessening the power of the strikes. It’s about learning how to do it as how our teacher teaches us to do it so we can deliver powerful but not painful strikes to the head (men).

But of course, I’m just a newbie. So I may be wrong. I’m just thinking that there’s something off if we just do things without reflecting or analyzing how we do them.

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