Kendo Musings: A Personal Lesson on Fortitude

I finally came back to Kendo training after a month-long hiatus. While the absence served as a setback in my progress since I started, it gave me the clarity I needed to push on.

I am even more convinced now that Kendo is a highly-individualized journey. I have done individual sports in the past, but this is the first time that I often find myself floundering. But despite this seemingly inherent nature of the sport/martial art, I still believe that there are certain things that should be embraced as a team or group. Because at the end of the day, no one progresses in Kendo alone. Everyone has to train with different partners at some point, even during the beginners’ stage.

I consider this phase in my training as a test of fortitude while swimming against a strong current of ambiguity. One of the challenges of the club is that there are only three people, excluding our sensei, who have visited a  more established dojo to train. The rest of the group do not have much exposure on the dynamics of clubs with several higher-ranked kendoka. While watching online videos to learn more between practices helps, actual interaction with experienced practitioners is vastly different.

Part of the reasons I distanced myself from training for a while is to broaden my perspective. I can be unabashedly intense, especially in doing things I am passionate about. And I have often been misunderstood because of that. I felt like I have to scale down (if that is even possible) or at least be more subtle about it.

The time away from training helped me recalibrate my expectations. I decided to let go of the things I cannot control and focus on my own progress. I feel more refreshed coming back to training last Saturday. Most of my concerns are still there. But I managed to stay in what I usually imagine as a force field — where nothing penetrates unless I allow it.

Kendo has been teaching me a lot including the tenacity to face the odds. Because as things stand, there are still issues I have to deal with to carry on:

Latecomers

“It is not polite to be late for practice” and other variations of it is really just a reminder on the importance of punctuality in Kendo. It is one of the pillars of etiquette taught early on. I always find it sad that after all these months of training, there are still many who cannot seem to abide by it. But I also know that there are times when it may be beyond their control. I do not know where the club stands on this as it does not seem to be much of an issue.

My take now::: Putting this on my “things I can’t control so live with it bucket”.

Cleaning the dojo floors with rags before practice

This is a policy that has not been implemented after a few tries. I am ambivalent about this given my lack of experience of how it is done in other dojos. But from a safety perspective, I think it makes a lot of sense to clean the floors first to remove anything that might injure our feet during training.

My take now::: Putting this on my “things I can’t control so live with it bucket”.

Checking of shinai before training

This has become a new issue for me because of what I have observed during last training. I noticed at least three kendoka wielding shinais showing some signs of problems. And it seemed to me like none of them were even aware of it. I may be able to let go of a lot of things, but I always draw a line when it comes to safety. I am trying to be careful to avoid accidents and injuring myself and others in training. I would like to think that I am training with people who are considerate of others’ safety.

My take now::: Putting this on my “please share a friendly reminder bucket”.

Not using shibori thus delivering or receiving painful head strikes

Imagine receiving painful blows at least a hundred times during training which leaves your head feeling bruised each time. You would probably wonder what the head gear is for. That was how it went for me during training. I was the first one in our club to raise this issue months ago. I am not claiming to be good at shibori at any point. Since we are all beginners, I am guessing I am also guilty of delivering poorly controlled strikes. The only difference is that no one gave me any feedback to help me correct my mistake.

It was a safety issue so I could not just keep quiet about it, especially after I noticed how different our instructor’s strikes were. I have also personally experienced being repeatedly struck by a visiting 6th Dan sensei. His strikes were nothing like the heavy blows I get during regular practices. It was then that I realized that a strike to the head (men) should not be painful if done properly. I was finally able to muster the courage to ask our club manager about it. Some efforts have been made to correct it. But they have not been sustained so the problem mostly persists.

My take now::: Putting this on my “I’ve done what I could and there is not much I can do but be cautiously optimistic about it bucket”

Folding of kendo-gi and hakama after practice

This is one of those things we were told to do but only a few actually follow. I was not initially happy about it since it meant I could not leave immediately after training which often ends late. But I think of it as part of training that I need to do. Sadly, it is a view that not everyone seems to share. And it is a bit hard for me to understand why those who have time to stay longer and chat could not seem to find the time to do this. Still, I would rather focus on those who are actually doing it. Those are the people I might learn something from.

My take now::: Putting this on my “things I can’t control so live with it bucket”.

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