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.
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.
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, and sports masseurs among others. 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.
I was about to step outside briefly from the dojo more than 30 minutes before keiko started yesterday when I noticed a man who just came in seemingly looking for someone. I approached him and bowed as a greeting, which has sort of become a habit for me since I started doing kendo. I thought he was one of those people who come from time to time to watch or inquire about kendo. He told me that he was looking for our Japanese 3rd Dan senpai. I told him that he hasn’t arrived yet and that he’d probably be coming in a few minutes.
Our guest told me that he was from Japan and that he played kendo there. I asked if he’d be joining us that day and he was sort of noncommittal about it. We talked a bit after that. I apologized that I couldn’t speak Japanese and he laughed and told me that it was okay since he also couldn’t speak English well either. It was around this time that I saw our sensei so I introduced our guest and left them to talk.
Our Japanese senpai arrived a few minutes after. I didn’t notice our sensei leave. I later learned that he had a meeting so he couldn’t join us for keiko. But I saw him approached one of the new members and heard him telling him and the others to do the footwork exercises. It’s been one of his long-standing instructions to everyone since about two months after I started kendo. We’re supposed to practice our footwork thirty minutes before keiko starts. And he’s been reminding us of that over and over again since a lot of us seem to have this unshakeable habit of ignoring it.
I noticed that like what happens most of the time, only a handful of us did what sensei told us to do. Most of everyone who were already there were either standing around or taking a lot of time setting up their bogu. Some were just sitting there. This has been a norm for a long time.
I noticed the newest batch member that Lim sensei talked to earlier. He was just standing there doing nothing. I asked him if Lim sensei told them to do the footwork exercises and he just nodded to me and slowly left without saying anything. I remembered again how bad it feels to be ignored when you’re trying to tell junior members to do something. And then I thought about how this same person ignored our sensei. If he can do that to our sensei, I figured he’d do it to everyone else if he chooses to. So I really shouldn’t feel bad about it.
It turned out that our Japanese guest was a 7th Dan sensei from Japan. He joined our practice and ended up teaching us a lot of things. It was a great experience to review the basics again and receive a lot of feedback on how to improve our kendo.
One thing stood out for me yesterday apart from having a surprise visitor who turned out to be a high-ranking sensei. It was how undisciplined and unteachable we’ve become as a group. This time, and initially unbeknownst to us, there was a visiting sensei who saw us act like we normally do in the dojo. It revealed once again the kind of kendo mindset we have as a group.
At the end of keiko, our Japanese senpai told us that our guest sensei will be leaving for Japan but will be back after two weeks. And that he’ll be staying in Davao for a while and will help teach us. We’re all happy to hear this. I personally hope that things will get a little bit better soon when it comes to etiquette in the dojo.
Sensei. Amazing how one word holds so much meaning. I came across this article from one of the kendo blogs I follow. It made me reflect on how my sensei and all the others senseis I have met played a crucial role in my kendo journey. As a student who is still starting out in my path, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for all those who have come a long way before me. Now if only I can be more mindful of my thoughts and actions to reflect the gratitude I feel. It is something I have to work on.
I have taught myself to be silent about the many things I observed in our behaviors in the dojo. It is not an easy feat given my outspokenness. But it was a choice I made after noticing that many of us are quite selective in choosing who we listen to.
I think that as we progress in kendo, we are faced with the responsibility of being role models to our kouhais. Sometimes I reflect on what my kendo conveys to those who come after me. What value does my personal journey add to the culture we are cultivating in the club? I may be walking my own path. But how I walk it could influence and shape the kendo of the people who follow me whether I like it or not.
I have made many mistakes in this journey. And I expect to do more as I continue down the path. For this reason, I try (read: try really really really hard) to ask myself these questions:
:: Am I setting a good example first before I start “correcting” or “teaching” others?
:: Am I doing what I am telling others to do?
:: Am I showing respect to sensei by listening and doing what he says regardless of how I feel about it? Or am I using my “seniority” to influence others regardless of what sensei says?
I have been struggling with my training in the club for a long time now given its culture. It is something that I have not been able to fully understand. There have been several instances of blatant disregard for basic rules. I find it superficial how we approach learning the teachings of kendo. But I am trying my best (and hardest!) to continue training even if I have to drag myself to the dojo to do it. I just wish we can be more mindful of our ways, especially when it comes to dojo etiquette and how we treat sensei.
I realized that it is important for every student to know their teachers more. Only then can we truly appreciate our time with them as we take on our individual kendo journey. I guess only a few of us know what our sensei has done at the get-go. Looking back, I am grateful for the things he did for us like:
He hit the ground running. He just relocated in Davao at that time when he started meeting with our club manager to form Davao Kendo Club (DKC). Shipment of his stuff has not even arrived yet when he started training students already.
He unfailingly attends practices. He did this from the beginning when he was busy setting up his business. He made time for practice even if he had to travel all the way from Mati or from his other out of town business trips. He was, and still is, always there unless there is really an important reason for him to miss training.
He quietly procured over 30 sets of donated bogu by his friends. He paid for the shipment himself. Those were the bogu sets many of the club members are using now.
He is not paid to do it. We do not even pay for gas money. When only three of us (Jasper, Pinky, and I) were training for at least 2 months before our club manager came back from Singapore — we each had to pay Php300-500 per session to cover for the venue rental fees. Sensei paid his share as well. That was how dedicated he was to teach us.
Most of the younger batches in the club may not be aware of this. But I hope we can think of the things he did the next time we see him. To feel gratitude and to express it in our actions, that is a part of the kendo I want to learn.
Davao Kendo Club turns two today. What started out as a fledgling group of six pioneer members has now over thirty kendokas in its ranks. Led by our founders Phillip Lim sensei and Mr. Johnny Teofilo Lardera Jr, DKC spent a fun weekend celebrating its second year.
Gracing the club’s two-day celebration were Cebu Kendo Club members together with 4th Dan Masato Kosuge sensei. Hong Kong-based 6th Dan Ono Masahiro sensei likewise made a suprise visit with his son Kotetsu-kun. It was Ono-sensei’s fifth visit to the club and a second for his son who joined us this time as a kendoka. At six years old, little Kotetsu-kun impressed many of his much older senpais. He carried himself in his kendo-gi and hakama well. And he looked especially adorable when he folded them all by himself after practice.
It was a fun and fruitful event of people who share the same passion and dedication for kendo. Some of the highlights include:
May 28, Saturday
3rd Dan Philip Lim sensei
3rd Dan Matsuda Kazuya senpai
1st Dan Johnny Teofilo Lardera
1st Dan Paul Minoza
Ikkyu Jasper Lardera
Kihon and Jigeiko with Ono sensei sharing tips and insights to the bogu class and visiting kendokas.
Dinner and party at Ponce Suites
May 29, Sunday
Team and Individual Shiais with Ono sensei, Masato sensei, and Kazu senpai serving as shinpans
Robert Carabuena’s team won the group shiai. He also snagged the top spot for the individual event after besting second-placer Jasper Lardera in an intense final match.
Jigeiko with the senseis and DKC’s two shodans who will be seeing action in the upcoming ASEAN Kendo Tournament in Bangkok this July.
As I look back to the two years, here’s a shout out to everyone who has been part of the club:
Domo arigatou gozaimasu!
I have developed a deep fascination for tenugui ever since I started my kendo journey. I now regret the times that I did not take a closer look at all those tenuguis I have seen in various stores and at the airport souvenir shops in previous trips to Japan. The few ones I own were either gifted to me or given as freebies for some kendo gears I bought. So it is really a happy day for me when a good friend who is in Kyushu sent me a message earlier followed by photos of tenuguis for me to choose from.
I took the “safe” route and picked the black tenugui. Next time, I will definitely go for anime-themed designs. I would love to have a Naruto and Totoro tenugui — among many others. For now, I am excited to have another one to add to my small collection. I am happy to say that each piece comes with a tale that brings back good memories.
An Unexpected Gift During the Asian Championships in Aioi
My first tenugui. I did not even know what it was for when I got it. I cannot recall who gave it to me. But it has to be one of the athletes, organizers, or volunteers I met during the Asian Championships in Aioi in 2002. I received it on the day of the Opening Ceremony. It never fails to bring back great memories that include a marching band that ended their repertoire with the Doraemon song.
A Surprise Freebie When I Bought My First Kendo-gi and Hakama
There was no mention of any freebie when I ordered my kendo-gi and hakama. So I was surprised to see this when I opened the box. I have used it since I started wearing bogu so it has faded quite a bit.
The Free Tenugui That Came with My Bogu
I got this free tenugui when I bought my bogu. I do not usually go for red. But it was the only available color for the freebie they were giving away at that time.
A Gift from the Japanese Umpire at the 2015 World Rowing Masters Regatta
There were only three of us jury members from Asia during the World Rowing Masters Regatta. It was great to see that the Japanese was a familiar face. I have previously worked with him during the 2008 Asian Olympic Qualification Regatta in Shanghai. On the last day of the master’s regatta, he gave all of us umpires a tenugui each. It was an unexpected and pleasant surprise. It seemed like a fitting parting gift for a memorable event.
I may not have many tenuguis right now. But every piece I own is precious to me. I cannot wait to collect more. And hopefully, each one will come with its own story.
I think one of the saddest ways to live is to act against your true nature (except if you’re inherently evil then it might be for the best). For several months now, I’ve been trying to restrain myself from speaking up to avoid annoying or offending people who don’t see things from my perspective. And it’s been making me unhappy. It continues to diminish the joy I find in learning kendo.
As a learner type, I’m naturally curious. I tend to ask a lot of questions. I need information and details to better grasp whatever it is I’m trying to do. But I realized that it’s a trait that sometimes gives me a lot of grief. Fortunately, I’ve been around people in sports, work, and organizations who share a similar mindset. Lately, I try to keep that in mind when my questions are met with responses that leave me demotivated. It’s uplifting to think that somewhere out there are people who take time to see where I’m coming from.
Just recently, I asked one of the officers regarding the kyu evaluation scheduled during the weekend of the club’s 2nd anniversary. I learned that the Manila-based senseis and senpais who previously visited us won’t be able to join us this time.
This got me thinking who’d be the third 3dan instructor who will serve as panelist for the kyu evaluation. From what I understood from some of the articles I’ve read about kendo grading, at least three 3dan senseis/senpais typically conduct kyu evaluations. I thought this was the standard.
I immediately regretted asking when I read the response of one of our senpais. He summed it up to “reality vs. standard” to support what the other 1dan senpai said. The kyu grading panelists will be composed of the two 3dan instructors and one 1dan senpai. He said that the reality is that there are only four of them in Yudansha (two 3dan and two 1dan). It’s not realistic to stick to the “standard”, which I take refers to my perceived lack of flexibility on the issue. He also added that it’s the club sensei’s discretion who to promote. On this I couldn’t agree more.
Given our circumstances though, I think we don’t exactly have to follow the formal kyu evaluation process if we’re lacking one 3dan kendoka. It’s up to our two instructors who they want to recommend for promotion. I just don’t understand why we have to rush through the kyu grading process. As the MKC senseis said and did during their last visit, club instructors can recommend a kendoka for shodan grading regardless of their kyu rank. Still, I see the value of doing kyu assessments since it gives us an idea of our progress. It can also help us identify the things we need to improve on.
I felt mortified when I read their exchanges which were shared to me by the officer I asked the question to. It made me think that I shouldn’t have asked. The question was not meant to be critical. I only sought to understand why we’re not doing it like other clubs do.
I don’t know how to interpret the answer I got. Because the message I’m getting is that it’s okay to tweak “standards” to fit the reality. But aren’t standards set based on principles that serve as the foundation of whatever it is that a sport or martial art seeks to promote?
I initially had no plans of taking the upcoming kyu grading. But I decided to consider it and take the pre-kyu evaluation the officers arranged as a show of support. Because I share the same belief that Anthony Bourdain succinctly expressed. “I don’t have to agree with you to like you or respect you.” And people don’t have to give me the same courtesy for me to do it.
The same officer I usually address whatever questions I have was kind enough to send me a private message on Facebook at 12:19PM yesterday. She told me that pre-kyu evaluation is scheduled at 5:00PM. I was grateful for the information because I probably would have missed it if she didn’t tell me. I thought that the pre-kyu was during our regular training time.
I almost backed out of the pre-kyu evaluation though. I suddenly felt unprepared because of the following:
Thankfully, the senpai in charge of the assessment told me to just do what I’ve been doing since it’s only a pre-kyu assessment. Somehow, I finished everything without feeling bad about the results. I know I gave my best given the circumstances. I still need to improve on a lot of things. But that’s the whole point of doing kendo. There’s no dearth of things to improve on.
It has been twenty-two months since I took up Kendo. In that time, I have been on a total of about 4 months of hiatus. Considering that our club’s regular training is only once a week, I would say that I have not journeyed far enough from my path as a beginner.
Yesterday after keiko, our sensei had some words to say to us. It is rare for our sensei to indulge in long talks like that. Apart from the language barrier that makes it hard for him sometimes to articulate what he wants to say, he is really a man of few words. In the almost two years of training with him, I observed that he is one of those martial arts teachers (and sport coaches) who can teach a lot of invaluable lessons for those who persevere enough to dig deep beneath the surface. Most times, it is not about what they say but what they do.
I first met sensei during the second day of the newly-formed club’s practice. I was with the two other students who were there the first day. One thing I learned then was he likes pushing students past their limits. And it has never changed. Last night, it seemed like he felt the need to remind us of that once again — in words. He reminded us that Kendo is more than a sport. He said that it requires a lot of self-discipline and always giving our best regardless of how tired we feel.
It has been said that the simplest things are the hardest to learn. I could not agree more. In Kendo’s context, there are things beginners are taught early on. Some of them seem simple enough, but they could be quite a challenge to sustain.
I have been feeling demotivated in kendo for months now. But I held on because I love it and I really want to learn it. A few weeks back, I decided to review the things expected of me as a kendoka. I challenged myself to keep doing them regardless of circumstances outside my control. It may not be easy most of the time. But I find it fulfilling to do these things, especially on days when I do not feel like doing them:
I would like to share some excerpts from an article written by one of the celebrities I admire. His writings are among the reasons why I’m a fan. I enjoy reading about his thoughts on travel, food, and Brazilian jiu jitsu. Here are some of the things he shared in a blog post that resonate with me:
As I say at the top of this episode, as I tape my fingers (in the forlorn hope that it might mitigate the osteoarthritis and Heberden’s nodes associated with grip fighting), I will never be a black belt. I will never successfully compete against similarly ranked opponents half my age, I will never be great at Brazilian jiu jitsu. There is an urgency to my training because I’m sure as shit not getting any younger, or more flexible. I’m certainly not getting any faster. And as I head down the highway on my jiu jitsu journey, the likelihood of the wheels coming off the car grows stronger every day.
But I am determined to suck less at this jiu jitsu thing every day if I can.
…I do it because it’s hard. Because it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And because it never ends. Every day presents me with a series of problems that I spend the rest of the day thinking about how I might solve — or at least chip away at. Next day same. And the day after that. ~ SWEEP THE LEG, JOHNNY! by Anthony Bourdain
I am still in the earliest stages of my kendo journey. I am still far from being good at my level. I do not know what my future in this martial art will be. But to borrow Anthony Bourdain’s words: I am determined to suck less at this kendo thing every day if I can.
Competence and likeability are hallmarks of great leaders. I have no illusions of being a great leader. I do not even want to lead. Only someone who does not know or understand me would assume that I would want to take on a leadership role. If I found myself in that position in the past, it was often because of necessity. I stepped up when I had to, but I did not seek to be in that role. I may be confident about my competence. But I know myself enough to realize that I am not easy to like. I come on too strong for some people who do not know me. I speak my mind and tell it like it is which not many appreciate, especially from a woman. Men displaying similar traits are often perceived as assertive or commanding while women are labeled as bitches or bossy.
I have no trouble accepting whatever people throw my way. But I cannot lower the bar just to be likeable. This is a real challenge in groups where the measure of being a good member seems to be a person’s capacity to be like everyone else. I see the value of getting along with everyone. But not at the expense of putting indirect or unspoken pressure on others who may live by their own standards.
I have been trying to reign in my outspokenness given my current environment. I have made major adjustments and swallowed my pride in several occasions – far too many for me to count. All these so I could continue practicing Kendo. There are times though that I come to the brink of giving up. Because I find it hard to be myself without being misunderstood.
People have different reasons for practicing a sport or martial art. I have trained in different sports and martial arts over the years with the following motivation:
It is a continuous process for me regardless of whatever field of sport or martial arts I choose to practice. Training for me is a sacred time. I do not want to lose focus by talking unnecessarily. Unfortunately, some people seem to take it as arrogance. Superficial perceptions get tiring sometimes, especially when I opt not to defend myself anymore.
Kendo is all about respect. I have to admit though that it is not easy for me feel genuine respect for people who do not even show respect. I am still trying to understand it in kendo’s context. I think it is easy to give it to anyone including those who disrespect us. But the ones who inspire deep respect in me are those whose words and actions are aligned.
I learned that some members in our club misconstrued some of my behaviors during training as disinterest. They think I do not care about junior members’ welfare and progress because of my hesitation to correct or give feedback. But nothing could be farther from the truth. I care too much.
The reasons I choose to stay quiet and refrain from correcting anyone could be all or any of these:
It is not easy to train when expectations put a lot of pressure for me to lower the bar. It is like being inadvertently forced into making a choice to let go of my personal standards just to be more likeable. I can make compromises, but not at the expense of the things I uphold. So in a time when I feel demotivated yet again in kendo, I remind myself to remember this: Keep the bar raised.
I have shared in previous posts how I was perplexed by some people’s interpretation of traditional martial arts. Some invoked those three words as a sort “simple explanation” to address my questions on health and safety related issues during training. This only fueled my curiosity more. I wanted to look for answers that could help me wrap my head around the responses I got.
I recently stumbled upon an article that made me understand what one of my long-time Filipino martial art practitioner friend has been telling me. It echoed what he said and more.
Reading the article made me think beyond martial arts that evolved into more of a competitive sport. There were several things mentioned that struck a nerve. To quote one of them: “Sport and budo (budo is the term I use to differentiate a martial art from a martial sport) have a few things in common, but not much; although enough, it would seem, to cause confusion. The pursuit of sport karate requires that you win over others. In fact, your success in sport karate, or any sport for that matter, is a direct result of your ability to defeat other people. This mindset runs completely contrary to budo thinking. In sport karate there are winners and losers, but in budo karate there are only doers. Without sounding too esoteric here, the aim of sport karate is to win, while the aim of budo karate is to not lose. As hard as this idea may be to grasp for a ‘newbie’, budo training, pursued with sincerity, leads to the avoidance of conflict; if you don’t fight, you never lose, right? Sport karate does not hinder traditional karate training, it’s a completely different activity altogether.” ~ Budo or Bust by Mike Clarke
I think I understand a little of what he was trying to say here. But I would like to believe that there are many sport practitioners out there across different disciplines who live by the same beliefs and rules that traditional martial arts uphold. Olympism is at the heart of the Olympic Movement. And it shares similar ideals.
Sadly, competitive sport has evolved in such a way that seems more focused on winning. There are often many factors at play that could explain this. Winning sometimes dictate the level of support like government funding, sponsorships, and more that athletes and their support system can get. That often puts a lot of pressure on athletes to win. But I also know many elite athletes from different sport disciplines who exemplify the values that Olympism promotes.
I believe that this is where the quality of instruction comes in. Finding the right mentors and ensuring that the values are ingrained during training could develop more athletes and martial arts practitioners who embrace the ideals that the two sides of the spectrum represent.
It is always inspiring for me to find people who have journeyed enough in their respective martial arts to gain a better understanding of what it is about. I want to be around people like them. I think our sensei, in his own ways, is on the same path. I am also fortunate to have met many visiting senseis whose actions imparted invaluable lessons on budo. Now, more than ever, I need to pay attention to the ones who get it and try to learn the unspoken lessons from them.