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.


1 comment:

  1. Awesome post! I'm looking forward to seeing you develop your kendo in Japan!