Feeling Like a Misfit in Kendo

I have not been writing about kendo in the past months. I guess that was a reflection of how I felt about my kendo journey — confused, demotivated, lost, and generally uninspired. I wish I could go back in the beginning and grasp at that feeling of excitement and joy in learning despite the hardships. Lately, it just felt like all suffering without the fun. Another reason I have not been writing about practice was because I went on a hiatus again. This time the self-imposed break lasted for three months. The longest number of consecutive weeks I stopped training. It is not something I am proud of. But it felt like the thing I needed most at that time.

1st Day Back

Getting back on track is tough. I knew that when I came back three weeks ago. And I realized once again that there is no easing your way in. There is no process or program that those coming back from a long break can get into to relearn the basics and build the stamina for the grueling bogu class. It felt weird training on my own with largely no supervision as everyone was in bogu and training intensely. It felt uncomfortable and made me think that I should have brought my bogu so I can join the regular training despite knowing that it is ill-advised to jump right into an intense training after months of inactivity.

2nd Day

I still was not ready to join the bogu class, but I did anyway. I guess I was lucky because there was a scheduled kyu exam that day so keiko was shortened by almost an hour. I was in the zone. I may not be back to my old form, but it was not as bad as I expected. And I did not stop to rest so that was one of the things I was thankful for, especially since there was no water break.

3rd Day

Two hours of non-stop keiko with no hydration breaks in a training venue with poor ventilation. I honestly do not know how I survived that. I promised myself to just follow everyone’s lead in keiko (read: do not be that nail that sticks out). This means enduring like the rest is doing regardless of how the former competitive athlete in me thinks that there is something seriously wrong with what I was doing to myself.

To put my (constant) dilemma in context, some advices, information, and instructions we receive can be confusing or ambiguous at best. We are not supposed to stop to rest during keiko unless the sensei or dojo leader calls for a break. But our club’s dojo leaders say that it is okay to ask permission from sensei for a quick water break. So it is left to members’ discretion if they want to do it or not. And yet there is this thing about kendo that makes you hesitate to do something unless those who outrank you take the lead. So the message can get a bit murky sometimes.

Our club manager said something in the past about kendo being a traditional martial art and it is common for practitioners to practice for hours without drinking water. I noticed that there seems to be an impression that traditional martial arts do things differently. This is something that I find hard to understand, especially since a lot of things I do now seem to depart from what I learned from the best coaches of my other sport and from some of the country’s top experts in sports nutrition, sports psychology, strength and conditioning, sport doctors, physical therapists, masseurs, and more during the years I was with the national team. I am stumped by how club-based martial art practitioners whose level of fitness is not at par with national athletes train so recklessly and seemingly without much care for how our kind of training impacts our body. But all these thoughts I keep to myself. I have repeatedly raised my concern about proper hydration in training given the duration, intensity, and poorly ventilated venue not to mention the constricting equipment that we wear that make us sweat profusely even without the merciless heat.

Apart from training for two hours without drinking any drop of water and sweating buckets, I also received jarring blows to my head from sensei. Not just once but at least five times when he was using me as “dummy” to explain to everyone what we were doing wrong. The pain was excruciating but I had to stand there as if it did not bother me. I put it behind me until the next day when I noticed losing trains of thoughts several times. I was even close to making an embarrassing mistake at the grocery when I almost put the cat food I picked up from the shelf inside my bag. It was the first time that it happened to me. And there were those moments I forgot what I was thinking about and I had trouble concentrating at work. It may or may not be related to the blow. But it was scary just the same since it all happened the day after I received the blows.

My kendo journey at the moment confuses me and leaves me feeling helpless. I believe in the concept of emptying the cup or losing preconceived notions. I have been trying to do that from the beginning. But a part of me is unsure if it would be wise to unlearn what various experts in the field of sports and sport sciences have taught me over the years.

For now, I just tell myself to endure. Because I love kendo and I truly want to keep following the path to wherever it leads me.

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