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.