Monday, January 14, 2013 - Tokyo

Is it safe to say that I have a potential wealth of Kendo experience and training within minutes, now that I am living in Japan? I have begun pursuing an undergraduate degree in communications at Temple University Japan and - though I have not yet begun to look for a dojo which will have me as a student - I have already seen more than a few people walking around with Kendo equipment. A middle school girl and then a high school boy at the train station. An older gentleman with a shinai bag at the KFC in Shinjuku, quietly eating his meal. There is even a mystery kendoka who practices on the roof of the local post office, unseen thus far despite being spoken about by students. Each time, I want to put myself out there and say something to them.

'Sumasen, anata wa kendo desu ka?'

But I hesitate and the opportunity passes on. I have had no trouble approaching other Japanese people when directions are needed or a fellow student I am with wants to ask where a certain product can be found in a store. Even offering unsolicited compliments to someone who catches my eyes comes without any difficulty or awkward feelings. Like the Japanese man hawking for a Harajuku store front, whose gauged ear lobes were the best I have seen in Japan. They are also the only gauged earlobes I have seen in Japan but nevermind that. Or the woman at the train station whose guitar shaped bag was pretty much incredible. They smile and thank me, some with more vigor than others, and we both move on.  But the kendoka ... I see them and I freeze, feeling something that tastes a bit like admiration and kinship and inadequacy all mixed up into a slush. I do not know what I would say once I had engaged them. I do not speak Japanese particularly well. I lack conversational zanshin.





Kendoka know these as the four sicknesses, and I think we have all had to battle them at some point. I battle them all the time. Most people do not see it. People have told me that I must be so brave to be the person I am. People have come to me for advice because nothing seems to faze me. People have treated me as though I am an authority on things that I have only ever known a little bit about. But I am afraid all the time, and I doubt myself and my abilities constantly, and I always lose my focus when something suddenly changes. I am not very good at Kendo, at least by some estimations, because I always lose. I always end up exhausted. I think that Kendo exposes me for exactly who I am. Kendo exposes the openings. But that is why I do Kendo and why I love it. It is the reason I continue pushing forward and it is the reason I do not believe I will ever quit.

People do not really talk to strangers in this country, but Kendo is all about having a conversation between shinai. It is intimate and explosive, aggressive and loud. All qualities which the average Japanese person on the street avoids in their daily contact with others. Perhaps my desire to talk with these people, to meet them and know what Kendo does for them, is what will finally allow me to overcome the four sicknesses of the heart. Perhaps it is the thing that will finally cause me to control my center and run through.


Monday, May 7, 2012 - Shinsa

This past weekend was the Ito Cup tournament and shinsa event here in Colorado and it was a splendid experience. Just being around so many people who love Kendo really affirmed for me that Kendo is something important that I love as well and I am glad that I participated. Saturday was the team tournament day and Ben Senpai, Amaury Senpai, and I were competing together along with two other kenshi from New Mexico. I am very glad that I was able to be on the same team as Amaury and Ben! We were not sure whether we would be on the same team or not until the day before the tournament because Yamakage Dojo was unable to field a full team this time around. Our other two teammates were both very easy to get along with and their sensei had some excellent advice to give both before and after the competition had concluded. As far as rank goes, our team had two people who were testing for sankyu and three who were testing for ikkyu the next afternoon. Our first match was up against a team which had been fielded by the Kent Kendo Club and we were pretty much steam rolled. The Kent team was the same team which would later take first place in the tournament. But I think we all learned a lot from our matches with them and I know for a fact that I learned several valuable lessons. Among them is that I need to better protect my kote! The final point against me (no points were scored by me) was the cleanest kote-uchi that I have ever received.

Our second round in the tournament was against a team from Chung's Kumdo school and it was a very different experience! I had never gone up against someone who studies Kumdo and I found it a little confusing to deal with. Our opponents on this team felt much closer to our level (though I cannot speak to their actual ranks) but they were also very fast. It was definitely different. I could see the openings but my opponent also moved quickly enough to prevent me from being able to strike them in time. So obviously I need to put much more work into my timing and my poise from here on forward. Begey Sensei - the sensei from New Mexico and whose students were on our team - also told me that I extend my arms too far forward and that this reduces the power and accuracy in my strikes. So that is something I am going to focus on improving as well. I will also work on getting enough sleep before any future tournaments! Neither Ben, nor Amaury, nor I had slept well the night before the tournament. I actually did the entire day on maybe 90 minutes of sleep (with only three hours of sleep on the night before that as well) and I was exhausted the entire time. But at least the exhausted kept me relaxed! We should always look on the bright side. The next day was the shinsa (grading) and the last day of the event. I was not nearly as nervous about the grading as I had been about the tournament. Our approach to training at Yamakage Dojo is very technical and we do very little tournament-style Kendo in our classes. We also practice the examination basics regularly, with kirikaeshi and the kihon. So I was able to feel very prepared. I passed the examination and was ranked third kyu. So I am thrilled about that! Oh! And the tournament was also my birthday!

It feels good.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - Session 1

Tonight we had Atarashii Naginata class. Maestas Sensei recently invited someone to come down and teach on Tuesday nights and a class has been started up at the YMCA as a result. It was a much different experience. Not as exhausting as Kendo but just tiring, if that makes any sense at all. My ability to breathe did not fail me because the workout was quite as aerobic as Kendo but it was still draining all the same. No fatigue but energy was burned. Something like that. We practiced a basic men strike and a basic block for almost the entire two hour period. It felt good. Atarashii Naginata does not seem to require me to work against my body (hypermobility syndrome and so on) in the way that Kendo does and so I think that I could end up being better at Naginata than Kendo, were I given equal time in both. But I will stick with Kendo as my primary art all the same. I like Naginata but I love Kendo and a person should never give up on what they love. Giving up on something that someone loves only surrenders a part of themselves after all. I like the challenge that comes from needing to fight my body and all its - heh - design features. I am a kendoka. No question.

Which is to say that I have not given up on Kendo at all. I have simply not been writing here because I have not felt all that motivated to journal about my classes. I am going to continue my break from writing about my Kendo training for awhile more. Give it until after May, which is when I will be testing for sankyu. The shinsa is on my birthday! I am certain that I will have something more to write about then. Until then... Men! Men! MEEEEEEN! Like that.

Monday, December 12, 2011 - Session 48

Tonight was another Monday night pickup practice. It was pretty good. Work did not let me out until eight in the evening so I was not there for the very start but I caught up quickly enough. Started with fifty men suburi and fifty do suburi followed by fifty more suburi and then we worked on our kirikaeshi and our testing preparations. Werden Senpai smooshed my toe again. Which means I need to work harder at keeping my left foot behind me. Our test and the Ito Cup are both coming up in just a few months and - unlike the tournament in Dallas which I wound up not attending - the upcoming tournament is a team tournament (with no individuals divisions) and so I really need to step up my game more than I have been! Practice was exhausting tonight as well! Normally, my EIA (exercise induced asthma) is not that bad because our warm-ups help me into my refractory period. But tonight I really jumped right into it from the beginning and so I wound up feeling a little wiped. But I still felt great too! It was like a steam room in my men! So much sweat! Fantastic! Unrelated to our actual practice, both Werden Senpai and I had relatively rough days today and so I invited myself over to his place after practice for some nigori and a few Bamboo Blade episodes. I definitely enjoy social time after practice, whenever it happens, and Werden Senpai also seemed much more cheerful by the time the night was done. So mission accomplished! Hopefully we will be able to get more people from the dojo in on the social time as well. That would be really nice.

Monday, December 5, 2011 - Session 46

How wild! Writing on a Monday evening! We at Yamakage Dojo have begun practicing on Tuesday nights once we realized that the YMCA has the room open in the evenings, and my work did not have enough hours to schedule me for either tonight or tomorrow night, so we had a pickup practice that lasted just under two hours. Werden Senpai led the practice and Chelsea was present as well. We also had a new person. He seemed to be into it and - as I do with all the new people - I will be rooting for him to stick with it! Mostly the practice was super informal. We opened with some suburi and that was when I knew that I was having an off night. I felt much sloppier than normal. But I got into the swing of things (my favorite pun) after awhile and mostly helped Chelsea with her tobikomi-men and her tobikomi-do technique. I wanted to impress upon her how useful it is to practice striking do because no one really seems to do it and it seems to me that many people consider do waza to be their weakest waza. We also ran through suriage-men a few times and then did some kirikaeshi. I was very impressed with the progress that Chelsea has made as far as her spirit is concerned. Actually got her to do a proper kiai to open kirikaeshi with! Much better than I had expected.

Then came the keiko! Werden Senpai and I both decided to use the informal pickup practice as an opportunity to keiko with techniques we do not otherwise get to play with. He went in with nito and I committed the keiko to (judge me not!) hidari-gedan. And I felt super slow right from the start. But I think I did a decent job on judging the waza that were worth attempting and the waza that were not. I mostly focused on going after the kote and the do with a little mune-tsuki as well. Taking a hidari kamae rather than a more standard kamae made it easier to propel forward but I believe that is only because I am more comfortable on that side. I should start working on taking what I was doing with my left foot forward and reversing it so that I can really improve on my footwork. Werden Senpai negated almost everything that I threw at him but afterward he said that I was actually throwing some pretty good strikes. Using the stance felt good. I think it really made me emphasize a more direct approach in my waza because I could not rely so much on the nuki and hiki waza I tend to focus on when I am in chudan. It was a good learning experience and one that I should be able to apply to my chudan in our normal practices. But enough writing for now, since tomorrow night is another practice!

Thursday, November 18, 2011 - Session 44

Had an easily paced class again this evening. Maestas Sensei had us run through the first four kihon kata. Men-nuki-men, kote-nuki-kote, et cetera. It was my first time really running through the third kata as uchidachi and it really helped me realize just how intense that particular kata is meant to feel. Considering the fact that it begins in gedan-no-kamae, and everyone always says that gedan is the least aggressive stance, the actual aggression displayed once things get moving is pretty intense! I think I am actually beginning to finally commit those kata to memory as well. Focus and memory are both difficult for me but personal obstacles like that can be overcome with more discipline. I just need to figure out how to be more disciplined. Sensei made a joke about me being unfocused tonight so I am going to work more on that. I definitely appreciate the fact that he approaches things like that with humor and jokes, since humor is the language I understand best! I admit to being a clown! It also looks as though Werden Senpai has actually started up the Tuesday night practices at the YMCA that he had been thinking about. So now all I need to do is talk with my supervisors at work about starting my Tuesday night shifts a little earlier than normal so that I can attend. Some extra Kendo time is always good.

Thursday, November 4, 2011 - Session 42

Tonight was wicked fun. It wound up being a somewhat lighter class than usual and this was good because I have been having some serious winter aches now that the weather has begun to turn. Lower back goes all angry and circulation is no longer my friend. I will change that though! Time for steam rooms and calisthenics! Anyway, tonight we devoted the class to nito! I admit that I am not quite as excited about nito as my senpai and sensei but I still find it fun. Having a shoto just changes the game so much. For instance, having a shoto gave me something to hold on to after I was disarmed in my keiko with Werden Senpai, thus providing hilarity for all. Oh well. Setting aside the keiko, which happened at the end of class, we started out by running through the kihon kata and then drilled out some katate strikes before Maestas Sensei brought out a few shoto shinai and we got to practicing. We did some rotating drills and I filled the motodachi role for most of those drills. Which was good because I enjoy one shinai quite a bit more and just receiving strike after strike gave me an opportunity to see where I might look for openings were I to ever find myself against someone who practices nito and such. In fact I really do enjoy the motodachi role in general. I feel as though I learn a lot there! We ended the night with some keiko, with me and Amaury Senpai and Werden Senpai as the participants. Amaury used nito against me and - for once - I felt as though I could finally focus on successfully putting down some strong attacks. Granted it was only because he had no experience using nito in keiko until tonight... but still! Then he fought against Werden Senpai with only one shinai while Werden Senpai used nito, and that was fun to watch. The spirit was high! Finally, my turn to try out nito in keiko came and I was paired against Werden Senpai and I totally crumbled. His spirit is always very high and his seme has - thus far - been enough to keep me down. It was still fun though and being challenged like that (even when I am struggling) is always very inspiring! So even though I do not feel that nito is for me, it was fun just watching everyone else get excited about it and pumped. I love fun nights like this. Oh and the new girl will be buying some gear soon! Which means she is liking Kendo! Which is always good.