The Kendo Equipment from Our Sensei’s Awesome Friends in Korea Have Arrived!

Apparently, our sensei has been quietly finding ways to get some equipment (i.e. bogu) for the club’s use. The club’s officers have been working for a few months already to do the same thing to help those who do not have their own bogu yet. But all of us had no inkling about sensei’s own arrangements up until the time he told us that he was already arranging the shipment for the bogu sets that his friends in Korea gave him.

And just a few days ago, Lim sensei sent us these photos to inform us that the shipment has arrived:

(photo credit: Phillip Lim, DKC head instructor)
(photo credit: Phillip Lim, DKC Head Instructor)
(photo credit: Phillip Lim, DKC Head Instructor)
(photo credit: Phillip Lim, DKC Head Instructor)

Yesterday, Lim sensei sent another message to ask us to help him bring the equipment to the dojo. Our club manager along with other members immediately went to where the bogu sets were temporarily stored and brought them to the dojo to be sorted out.

(photo credit: Johnny Lardera, club manager)
(photo credit: Johnny Lardera, club manager)

We received a total of 33 bogu (men, do, tare, kote) and 3 extra men.

To Lim sensei’s friends in Korea, 감사합니다 Kamsahamnida!

The Kendo Journey – The First Steps Might Just Be the Hardest

“People think I’m crazy to put myself through such torture, though I would argue otherwise. Somewhere along the line we seem to have confused comfort with happiness. Dostoyevsky had it right: ‘Suffering is the sole origin of consciousness.’ Never are my senses more engaged than when the pain sets in. There is a magic in misery. Just ask any runner.” ~ Dean Karnazes

Yesterday’s visit by Ono Masahiro sensei was the best keiko I have had since I started my Kendo journey. It was the first time I met someone at his level. I learned many things despite the short time he had to practice with us. I tried to soak up everything I can by listening and observing him in that brief period of time. It became even more glaringly obvious to me that I have barely skimmed the surface of what I needed to learn to be a passably good beginner.

I have been struggling with Kendo for quite some time now. I feel like I am floundering. There are times when I think I am not getting the basics right. The lack of feedback is not helping me at all. I do not even know if I am doing things right. I am concerned that the mistakes I make would become ingrained that it would be doubly harder for me to unlearn them.

To be honest, my motivation is chipping away. But I am pressing on. I think one of the hardest things for me is reigning in my passion and curiosity. I can be pretty intense when I am passionate about something. I fear that asking too many questions might be misunderstood as disrespect for our teacher or seniors. At some point during keiko yesterday, before Ono sensei joined us, I asked my two seniors about what is really the proper way to do kirikaeshi. I noticed that they were doing it with 5-forward/4-backward strikes after the men strike which was different from what I have been doing of 4-forward/5-backward. I was confused. I was next in line so I asked them. I am not even sure if it was proper for me to do so since it was not my turn yet. It was one of those times when I think I have committed a faux pas. But the curious part of me need answers. I learn better by asking questions, especially ones that can help me improve in whatever it is that I try to do.My two seniors told me that it should be 5 forward and 4 backward for kirikaeshi.

Sometimes it can be a pain to want to do things right. But past experiences have also taught me that it is more difficult to correct the wrong things once they have taken root. Lately, this path I have taken on is filled with uncertainties and doubts. Ono sensei’s visit, however, inspired me to continue on. I will just have to find a way to use the time I have now to learn, absorb, and hone whatever it is I need to learn at this level. And to correct my mistakes as quickly as I can before it is too late.

I guess for now I just need to focus on these things:

~Kihon. Kihon. And more kihon.
~Get feedback.
~Develop my stamina.
~Learn timing because right now I honestly do not have a clue on how that works in Kendo.
~Learn to be an “offensive” player since I have always been a “defensive” player in the other martial arts I have tried.
~Ignore the things I am not happy with and just work on improving myself.

Overall mood in kendo lately: Discouraged and lost, but hanging on.

Thanks to Ono sensei for inspiring me at kendo again.

Kendo Musings – Milestones and Other Reflections

October 21 marked my fourth month doing Kendo. And ten days before that, I finally donned a bogu. Everything seemed fast for me. It was not what I expected my Kendo journey would be. I did not know much about the martial art going in. But what I do know is that I want to take things slow and learn everything as purely as I can. Haste has never been my strongest suit. For me, there are certain things in life that need to be learned as slowly as possible.

In the four months that I have been training, I can say that I still do not know much about what I am doing. And yet here I was wearing a bogu since October 11. I feel that it is too soon. The weight of that feeling weighs heavily on me more than the bogu parts put together. I dislike being rushed. I had my second thoughts starting when I felt like I was being rushed to wear the armour. I wanted to be really good at the basics first before I do that. Because I feel like I am not worthy of the weight I will be carrying. A bogu symbolizes a major milestone for me. One that I wanted to achieve with confidence that I deserve to use it. But I felt that nobody understood my misgivings. The other seniors already have their bogu sets shortly after they started. It took several weeks of prodding by them and our teacher before I finally got mine. I figured I have to get one already lest I will be left behind in the training.

Last week, I mustered the courage to ask our most senior member about what I thought to be our “elephant in the room”. I do not know if it was only me, but I kept experiencing intense pain after taking a hit from some members during Men drills. I have noticed the differences in force even before we started wearing bogu and had to use the shinai as targets. I have been analyzing the strikes since I started feeling the pain. I thought maybe my head gear was the problem, a thought that really sucked since I picked the brand and type of bogu based on durability and level of protection offered. I initially thought that perhaps our teacher was not hitting me full force since I do not feel any pain after I get hit by him. But then I realized that there are no reservations in his strikes. He hits me with the same amount of force he usually gives to others. It only makes sense to assume that a strike, when correctly done, should not hurt as much as it does when I get hit by the others.

So going back to the elephant in the room, I think that pain is one of those things that some people would prefer to keep quiet about. Talking about pain in martial arts can be misconstrued as weakness. But in any sport, there is a limit to the acceptable level of pain. My chief concern with my kind of pain was it involves my head. I have suffered all kinds of painful injuries in the past in my other sport. Those injuries were no joke, with a lot of them requiring months of rehabilitation while I continued with my training. But I never had to absorb so many hits on my head every practice even when I was doing arnis and sanshou. This time though, the pain is literally on my head. I thought that there must be something wrong if it was that painful. I began to consider quitting because I did not sign up to mess with my head or my brain for that matter. Finally, I thought that it is time to speak up. After all, I may also be guilty of doing it to the others. I was hoping that we could focus on doing it correctly, like our teacher does.

It was a load off my chest talking about that pain thing. Our most senior member was quite understanding and responsive about the whole thing. Practice was better yesterday. I thought maybe I can stick with this. Because I do want to. I just want to take one step at a time and learn everything as they ought to be learned. I wish myself all the patience, determination, perseverance, and luck to get through what lies ahead.

Being in the Moment, Self-Reflection, and Looking Ahead

“Anyone who makes significant progress in a sport or art, has to be to a greater or lesser degree, self-centred; putting in extensive time for training and reflection. Kendo is by nature an introspective pursuit. The character, do or michi, tells us that it is not just a pastime but a way, a path or roadmap for our lives. If we travel even a moderate distance down this path, we tend to invest an enormous amount of time and mental space in the pursuit of our kendo goals.”http://goo.gl/CilpsR

sketched by Bixie Villavicencio
sketched by Bixie Villavicencio

My friend Bixie drew a sketch of a Men (Bogu) for me a few days ago. We had a laugh about it. Or more like a kind of shared laughter over something that we both find fascinating and awe-inspiring. She’s been really excited and supportive of my Kendo journey. I told her that one of the things I like about Kendo is the inner calmness I’m beginning to develop, a more sustained and deeper sense of peace I  seldom get to enjoy. And that’s a revelation for me given how I always find the water sport I’ve devoted several years of my life (and will continue to do so for as long as I can) a calming, meditative, & intense pursuit. The sport I love and Kendo have their similarities. But it’s the differences that I couldn’t quite put into words yet that fascinate me.

I agree that “Kendo is by nature an introspective pursuit”. Every after practice, I find myself reflecting on what I did and on how I can improve myself. It’s like once you become a kendoka, you live and breathe the Way. Last night’s post-practice reflections touched on humility, stoic acceptance, the desire to master the basic, the importance of not hurrying through the process, and the admirable discipline Kendo tries to teach each and every one of its students. I realized after last night’s practice that I’m like a dust mote among the giants of this sport/martial art. And I’m perfectly happy with it. I think it’s slowly dawning on me why they say that Kendo is a lifelong process.

The Gifts of Discomfort

shinaiNow that I feel normal again after the grueling Kendo practice last night, I could start piecing my thoughts together. And here are just some of those that popped out of nowhere during and hours after training:

Never, ever expect anything to be easy when hard work doesn’t come first.

When I left Manila five years ago, I also said goodbye to my usual routines. Gone were the sanshou training, regular running schedules, body combat classes at the gym, and weight training. These activities were on top of the usual daily grind that includes long commutes to and from work, marathon meetings, volunteer activities for rowing, and more. Since I came back to my hometown, the once active lifestyle transitioned into a  sedentary one. Kendo is the first physical activity that I’ve committed to with rekindled enthusiasm and fervor. But the 2-hour practices with only two very short breaks in between are stretching me to my limits. I remember thinking after one of the most difficult drills we’ve done last night that I shouldn’t be a wuss because I’m only getting what I deserve. I can never, ever expect it to be easy when I haven’t done anything to stay in shape all this time.

Embrace the gifts of discomfort.

Nothing initiates growth and progress like discomfort. I used the thought as a mantra to keep me going when all my body wanted was relief from the intense discomfort it was feeling. I truly believe that in time, it’ll be easier to perform those drills. I’ll just have to hang on long enough for my body to get used to them.

Never underestimate the mind’s power to make things happen.

One of the things I love most about sports and martial arts is that they help in cultivating strength of will. It may take a while for a seamless mind and body connection to appear. But initially, you can trust the mind to keep the body going if it chooses to. The body will eventually catch up and stay in synch with the mind.

Things get better.

Things get better once discomfort fades away. It always does if you decide to commit to whatever it is that you choose to do. But you have to be careful not to get too comfortable once things begin to flow smoothly. It’s like climbing the proverbial mountain. You get to rest and enjoy the scenery for as long as you want. But you  eventually have to leave that place unless you want to get stuck longer than you have to.

Other people’s passion and commitment are inspiring.

There’s only four of us who’ve been showing up since I started practicing Kendo. I didn’t meet the others who were present at the first practice that I missed. So every training, there’s only the teacher, the other two students who’re siblings, and me. Our teacher is in the process of relocating from Manila to Davao. So I could just imagine how busy he must be with all the arrangements involved. But still, he never misses training unless he’s traveling. He takes the time to teach his new students and even pays his share for the venue’s rental fees. The siblings, who are the youngest among us, seem to share the same commitment. I honestly don’t think the club would’ve survived this long without them. I couldn’t help but think that it’s usually the most dedicated and passionate about their hobbies, whatever they may be, who do whatever it takes to pursue them.

 

Post-First Kendo Practice Thoughts

I’ve wanted to learn Kendo for years now. I even made inquiries early this year from the club manager of the dojo in Manila if there’s Kendo club in Davao. Unfortunately, there was none at that time. So I decided to wait. I have always believed that something worth pursuing is worth waiting for.

About a few weeks ago, the same club manager contacted me. He said that a Davao Kendo club is already being formed. He then gave me the link to the Facebook page and that was how it all started for me. I missed the club’s first practice session. But I was finally able to join last night.

Trying something new is without a doubt one of the most edifying experiences anyone can have. Doing Kendo for the first time last night made me think about a lot of things. And here are just some of them:

Metaphor for life. Sports and martial arts are a metaphor for life. Practicing Kendo reminded me of that. I was particularly struck by what our  teacher said about the importance of always looking at our opponent’s eyes. He emphasized the importance of never, ever taking our eyes off the target or turning our heads away even for an instant. It made me think that whatever it is that tries to bring us down, whether an enemy or life itself, we should face it with courage regardless of how we feel in that given moment.

Never go down without a fight. Samurais face each other not always knowing how the confrontation would turn out. Every fight could essentially be to the death. So you stare at your opponent’s eyes and try to anticipate his next move and act appropriately. It takes unflinching resolve to keep on fighting to the end when the stakes are at their highest.  You have to enter any fray with a mindset that you will never go down without a fight.

Strength of spirit and will matters big time. Kendo is probably the noisiest sport I have tried. As a former water sport competitive athlete, I’m used to making a lot of noises myself (i.e. exhaling and grunting loudly, shouting while catching a breath at the end of the finish line, etc.). I think most of my athlete friends from other sports do it, too. But usually, not everyone in the boat with me does it. In Kendo though, it seems like every kendōka shouts everytime he or she wields the shinai (bamboo sword) or bokutō (wooden sword) to strike. Our teacher said that is like an expression of the warrior’s spirit or will, which is essential in any battle. The one with the stronger spirit and will has a better chance of winning.

Intense focus. There’s something meditative and intense about Kendo practice. I realized a few seconds into the basic training that I can’t afford to lose concentration if I want to do it right. The drills looked simple while I was watching the others do it. But it was far from easy when I was already doing it. I noticed that the more I focused, the more I could execute them correctly. I felt my mind emptying itself of other thoughts leaving me so deep into every moment. While I am used to focusing, there was something about the experience that was totally new to me.

Some of the many other things I learned include the importance of mastering the basics and staying relaxed while doing the routines. These are familiar concepts that I am sure anyone who has played a sport or martial art would know. But it was a great experience to learn them again.

I have to admit that my first Kendo practice was a most challenging one. I love being a beginner again, but it does not change the fact that it can be painful at times. The two-hour session was mentally and physically demanding for me. I’m not sure if it was because I have been sedentary for some time now or if Kendo itself is by default that difficult to learn in the beginning.

But all the hard work was worth it. It was both tiring and motivating. It was also a humbling experience. Because no matter how much I think I know about a lot of things, there are still more I need to learn. It was a good reminder to me that cultivating the important teachings I learn over time and being in the look-out for more would help define me as a person.

I’m seeing Kendo and its practitioners in a whole new light right now. And I’m so loving this sport/martial art already.