“…it’s your happiness and your torture at the same time. It’s something you live to do. It’s the kind of dedication and passion for something that I don’t know if everyone gets to experience. And when it’s over, and you feel like you’ve failed? To bounce back from that, it takes so many different things. It takes time. It takes an acceptance that you have to move on. And it takes being open to new experiences.” ~ Vera Wang Says: Know When to Walk Away … and Start Something New
It’s been eight months since I started seriously entertaining the idea of leaving Kendo. I was even on a hiatus for a month early this year. Now I’m back to being inactive. For how long, I’m really not sure. I like to think that I can do it for good. But I wouldn’t be honest with myself if I don’t acknowledge how heartbreaking it would be. Because I’m feeling it since yesterday when I made the decision.
I felt relieved though. It looked almost too easy to let go that anyone who doesn’t know the history behind it would never understand. But I’ve been hanging by a thinnest piece of thread for some time now. I’ve long felt that this isn’t for me. That I don’t understand Kendo at all. And that I’m being pulled in several different directions with all the information, advices, and expectations thrown my way.
It’s quite depressing. Because here is a martial art that I truly love. But I feel like I’m not fit to practice it right now. After 14 months, all I can say is I suck at it and I seem to have failed in understanding and living up to its principles. And here are just some of the reasons why:
That huge divide between expectation and reality
礼に始まり礼に終わる (Rei ni hajimari, rei ni owari) ~ keiko begins and ends with rei
This seems to be so simple and self-explanatory. But I now believe that like most of the simplest things in life, it’s actually much harder to do. I’ve seen how everything seems to become lip service in the dojo. Perfunctory bows and displays of respect are empty if they lack sincerity. I was expecting more from myself. But my mistake was I started expecting that same sincerity from everyone else.
Confusion about my role as senpai — Damned if I do, damned if I don’t
I used to mind my own business. Because I’m intense and focused like that. And then I started hearing feedback about not reaching out, not being “friendly” to newbies, not being involved (read: not joining chitchats and after-practice dinners), etc.
The trouble is that I tend to come out too strong for some people even if I don’t mean to. It also doesn’t seem to help that I don’t easily open up outside my closest circle of friends. And I suck at small talks. I’ve never been good at faking it.
The only thing that drives me to go to the dojo is the prospect of learning and improving no matter how little at a time. So the conflicting expectations has increasingly become burdensome. I’m damned if I’m quiet and “uninvolved”. And I’m damned if I reveal how passionate and engaged I’ve always been.
Because I hate it that we seem to be rushing at everything
I was rushed by our club manager into buying my bogu. He and his two siblings were already bringing their bogu in class even before our sensei told us that we have been promoted. This was 2-3 months after we started. It wasn’t how I imagined it to be. I thought that getting promoted to bogu class would be one of my first major milestones. But I didn’t get to experience that feeling like I earned the right to wear mine. And sadly, it appears to have become the norm. We have newbies already buying bogu a month or two after they started. And like before, it’s done even before sensei has announced any promotion to bogu class. While I accept the reason of taking advantage of discounted prices, I just think it’s too soon to think about bogu when we all couldn’t even progress much with our kihon. And the bogu is just one of the many things that we are taking a lot of shortcuts with lately.
And then there’s this thing that my brod who is a 10th level master in another martial art said to me:
“A warrior culture dictates skill as a prerequisite to lead. The only way you will gain fighting skill is to imbibe the system and make it a lifestyle. It’s about personal management. Club is about politics. Fuck everything else. In a martial art you are an island.
He’s been telling me all along that I should ignore everything else and just focus on improving my skills. Because as he bluntly puts it, I’m nowhere near the door that would get me into the real Kendo world. He said that as a beginner, I just need to focus on training and on what I need to do to advance when the time comes.
I guess getting involved in the club’s dynamics was another mistake. In my heart, I just wanted what’s best for the club. But I now think that not all good intentions need to be acted upon. I wonder if I didn’t burn out like this if I distanced myself from the very start. My intensity and passion may have come across as a desire to usurp someone’s authority. Clearly, I suck at making my intentions clear.
Because I want to learn and grow in Kendo.
Everything just feels so messed up right now that it took away the pure joy of practicing. I want to go back to that time when all I need to do is focus on my journey and make every practice count.
I feel hollow and heartbroken right now.
But there’s nothing like having good advice from a dear brod to put things quickly in perspective:
“Your _______ is irrelevant. Enough said. Focus on what is important. Your mastery of your blade. Wake up with the sword and sleep with it. That’s all I will say about this. And that is based on my 26 years of experience with the sword.“