Kendo for me is like an unfinished business that I could not turn my back on. There is still something about it that I cannot let go. Perhaps this explains why I am torn right now between coming back or leaving for good.
I knew when I stopped that it would not be the end of the journey. But I also accepted the fact that I was not committed enough to be sure if I would be back in training. I even had this idea of selling my bogu at some point.
For now, I am leaning towards giving it another try. I just have to dig deeper than before to find reasons to do it. I still have some concerns, but this time I have learned enough to keep them to myself. One of the things I hate most is being labeled and misinterpreted. If being curious, observant, and quick to ask questions is being critical, then I better keep my thoughts to myself.
I just do not know how to address some of my lingering concerns like:
This is where experience can be a curse. It seems that twenty years (and counting) of being part of a national sport association has its downsides. I thought it would be easy since I started from grassroots sports club. I understand the difference between playing a sport at those two levels. I do not have misplaced expectations in any sport club despite what some may mistakenly believe. But I do expect to see a basic understanding and commitment to safety regardless of the nature of the sport.
It is specially harder for me to compromise on safety. Safety, along with fairness, is one of the top things my colleagues and I are constantly reminded about when doing our duties as international umpires (or what other sports call referees/judges). So I tend to observe and assess situations with safety and fair play in mind.
One of the things sports leaders should keep in mind is how to protect their members. If a member gets injured, treatment and rehabilitation will be at the athlete’s personal expense. But beyond the potential costs, I think it would be tragic to have someone’s potential cut short because of an injury that could ruin his or her chances of practicing the sport for as long as possible.
I recently read an article about how 96% Of NFL Players In BU Study Tested Positive For Brain Disease. I could not help but think about my concerns about receiving painful blows to the head repeatedly. This used to happen to me a lot over the usual 2-hour practice session. Sometimes we even train longer than that.
Ideally, there should not even be a comparison. American football is different and concussions seem to be common there. Technically, kendo is one of the safest martial art. Much has been done to come up with gears to keep practitioners safe. But I soon realized after I started practicing kendo that there are safety issues involved. Because not all practitioners get to practice with experienced kendoka who can execute strikes correctly. So what happens to the rest of us who do not know enough yet to do it right? Without proper supervision and adequate safety awareness, I think we are at risk of harming others and ourselves.
On a last note, here is just one of the many things that stumped me about some of the safety issues I tried to raise:
On the importance of proper hydration (because we used to practice for over an hour without water break) – One of the things I heard was along the lines of “traditional martial arts are like that” and “some even go without water for more than two hours”. I figured these explanations were meant to enlighten me about the lack of water breaks. Kendo is not my first foray into traditional martial arts. So I had a hard time grasping what those statements meant. Because from my experience, we had sufficient water breaks in the other “traditional sports/martial arts” I have tried. I think that there seems to be a misconception somewhere in that remark. I do not believe that an athlete is not being true to the “traditional martial art” for taking breaks to drink water. Apart from the health and safety aspects involved, hydration can promote better performance. Besides, practicing a traditional sport does not mean we have to do it exactly as the ancient practitioners do. It is not like I am practicing this sport/martial art to prepare myself for battle like the samurais of old.
Playing any sport or martial art has its risks. But the great thing about following a scientific or a proper approach is that it could help mitigate those risks.
I still do not know or understand Kendo even after more than a year of practicing it. I trust the senseis to teach me what I need to learn. But I believe that the fundamentals of health and safety in all sports and martial arts are the same. I am into lifelong sport or martial art for health and self-growth reasons. I would probably have trouble doing things that I believe would put my safety at risk.