Tuesday, December 16, 2008

New Years Training Goals

This year seemed to have gone by really quickly. A lot has changed from last year after graduating, moving to Ohio and starting a life of my own in the process. But the Kendo has only ramped up with the great opportunities of practicing. I have also been able to achieve my dream of starting up Iaido as well.

As 2008 comes to a close, I would just like to go over some of the goals I have for 2009. The main criteria for this is to be as specific as possible to give myself a little guidance. So saying something like, "I want to improve my Kendo," really isn't going to work, but saying something specific about a specific technique or concept is what I want to go for.

  1. Make Shodan - Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make it to shodan this year, but I really do plan on achieving Shodan next year. There are two opportunities early within the year with the first being in Detroit in February and the next being in March in Lexington. I would really like to try out in Detroit depending on the testing schedule and if there is some huge, impending doom at work with huge looming deadlines. If not, then there's always Lexington!
  2. Become more involved with Iaido - I think that I'm beyond the point of knowing whether or not I would continue with Iaido, with the decision being obvious from the title of the bullet point itself. What I mean by this though, is that I should try to understand what Muso Shinden Ryu is, the philosophy behind it as well as memorizing the names and moves of the 12 Seitei kata. I should really be doing better by beginning to imagine that imaginary opponent, but I can only do that when I have more confidence in myself with the moves.
  3. Take advantage of different waza - I feel that I'm starting to get a very small grasp on doing this, but I could always try to be more efficient in using these. Not only does this include things like nuki-waza, debana-waza and harai-waza, but also just plain moving around more to get myself in a better position or throw off the opponent if that's even possible.
  4. Learn to taiatari more effectively - I know that, given my overall body mass, I would certainly lose at any sort of pushing match with someone. One thing I do know is that 150 lbs (including both body weight and bogu weight) of force coming in could throw off a lot more people. This can only be done by improving my overall body positioning and effectively using my momentum to give that extra push I need to hopefully gain that advantage. Of course, this isn't limited to giving taiatari. I also should become a better reciever.
  5. Keeping my back straight - This is something that Ariga sensei has been trying to pound into me for months. The issue isn't how to do it since I know that. The issue is actually trying to do it to the point of it becoming habit, which can be difficult under strenuous circumstances.
Okay, I think I'll end it here for the time being. Sure, there are a million things that need to be fixed, but it's a start. Besides, a list that's too big will only discourage me more.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Waza Usage

I had yet another hard practice out at Miami Valley this past Saturday. Beyond the usual keeping my back straight when I strike, there was one thing that he told me, then told the class afterward, that I would like to briefly talk about today.

During Jigeiko, he stopped for a moment to tell me that I needed to try using shikake-waza more when I attack. For the uninitiated, shikake-waza are the offensive techniques used to gain control of the center when it's not so simple to obtain it. These include hiki-waza, debana-waza, harai-waza, nidan/sandan-waza among others.

In order for me to advance to higher-level kendo, I feel I need to start taking advantage of these sorts of waza. When fighting people less experienced than me, it can be pretty simple to take advantage of patterns and inaccuracies. But when fighting someone with more experience, sometimes a little additional technique is necessary to gain the advantage over an adversary.

Of course, all of this is easier said than done (what isn't that way in Kendo by the way?). It's one thing to do all of this during kihon practice, but the mindset changes once you are in Jigeiko and, especially, shiai. In the beginning, a lot of what is taught is to just attack, attack, attack and get there before the other person does. It can be seen as a small application of debana waza, but it tends to just turn into rounds of ai-men until someone is lucky enough to get something through. This stage tends to not last all that long, but it's has a strong enough effect on their Kendo to be hard to break. Those that do try to move on might, from time to time, try out the various waza, but gets discouraged when they don't work. Of course, this isn't a universal progression, but it's something I have gone through and seen happen to a few others.

The only way to combat this? Practice. Jigeiko is the perfect time to really do this. Some might think of Jigeiko as just an informal shiai, but it's also a perfect time to try out various things and see how they work. Your abilities won't be so good at first, but things will eventually come together as you develop your own tokui-waza (your favorite and best techniques) and overall style. The reason why just attacking outright works at first is because a beginner's kamae is generally weaker so you can take advantage of those little gaps. But once you start fighing better people, the stronger kamae makes things a bit difficult and you are either deflected or given a nice tsuki.

I won't leave you guys without a little advice though. When we first start learning the various shikake waza, it's sometimes thought that we need to completely deflect the opponent's shinai far from the center to get to where you need to go. While this is physically true, this can put you at a technical advantage.

Let's take harai-waza, for example. The purpose of this one is to just physically move your opponent's shinai out of the center to gain control of the situation. The common thought is that you need to whack the shinai away to get to it, but it can cause two outcomes. If you do successfully hit the person's shinai out of the way by giving it a hard whack like a golf club, then you'll be out of the center as well and not in a position to get a good hit. If the opponent is fast enough, he or she can take the center again and attack when you aren't ready. The second outcome can be that they see you are moving the shinai much farther than you need to so all they do is just move and score the point while you are literally defenseless.

All you really need to do is move the shinai just enough where you have the center. This could be a physical push or an actual whack where there isn't much movement (like the concept behind that famous six-inch punch), but not enough where you yourself go beyond the center too much or telegraph your planned move.

No matter the level, we need to have a bit more confidence in our abilities and be willing to go outside the norm to better form our particular Kendo style. It's one thing to be very quick and able to get strikes in before your opponent does, but that will only get one so far. Being able to break someone's kamae and hit an open spot is one great way to raise one's level.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Johnson Cup Tournament 2008

I've had enough time to let this sink in and gather my thoughts. It's also the time when the planets align just right to where I'm not too lazy to write about this.

Last week, I attended the ECUSKF Johnson Cup tournament that is held here every year around this time. The overall attendance was small, possibly due to the snow the area had earlier along with other commitments that conveniently align itself with events like these that prevents them from coming. But it didn't make it any less fun. It was a day full of great Kendo and fun partying afterwards involving awesome, homemade beer.

I participated in the Mudansha division and actually placed first. I am very happy to be able to achieve such a feat. At the risk of sounding pretentious, it's that very fact that I'd like to talk about for this particular entry.

Some people say that, while it's great to win, it's just as good to lose. When you win, that means your skills were good enough to emerge victorious. If you lose, sure there's that feeling of disappointment, but it's a great time to go find out what went wrong and how to fix those problems. Well, I want to take this opportunity to still go over my thoughts about what I felt went right and how I feel I can still improve myself.

I like to think of any sort of victory as a series of events that happened based on the competition and your own personal skill set, that happened to work out in your favor. What I want to talk about first are some of the things that I kept in mind while fighting.

  • One of the big things that Ariga sensei told me that I needed to fix was that I tend to go into autopilot when I am fighting in jigeiko and competitions. This was something that he has told me over and over again for months on end and, while I would try my best to get a good understanding of what he desires out of me, still fail at it. What I would do is go in and just randomly attack, not really adjusting to the situation at hand. The biggest problem I have with this is that I would also not really remember much about the match. It's the same phenomenon when you are driving somewhere and all the sudden you realize where you are. You're driving just fine, but the lapse in attention span makes you forget the past few miles of road you just did. Basically, I tried to follow my instincts and attack when I felt ready and use techniques fitting with the situation.
  • There's also the issue of holding the shinai correctly. It seems like something that you should have down pat, but even the most experienced people fall into bad habits on the simplest of things. All I tried to do here was make sure my kamae remained low to allow for more efficient movement to wherever I needed to go and keep my wrists turned in for maximum speed and power.
  • I also felt I moved a lot more than I usually do. And when I mean move, I mean taking advantage of the fact that I can also move left and right in addition to moving forward and backward. Using such addidional movements allow you to find more openings and avoid some attacks. On a similar token, I also tried to use the various waza available like harai, suriage and debana. That allows me to take advantage of even more situations by having a bigger skill set. Of course, that only works when you can do it correctly :P.
Do I think that there are things I need to improve on? You bet. I can even use the points described above as a small shooting-off point to finding out what needs to be improved on:
  • It's not enough to just go with your gut feeling and attack when you feel necessary. What I need to try to do is better detect openings and respond to any movements by getting in harmony with the opponent. I also should try and employ less thought into my matches. What I mean about that is I should be able to just react to what the other person is doing and not cycle through my mind what technique I will use next.
  • Forming bad habits is always a part of Kendo. All I can really do here is really pay attention to each small bad habit and work on fixing those one by one. Once one thing is fixed, then it's on to the next thing as I repeat the cycle.
  • It's nice to have a big skill set, but it's more important to know when to use them and improve in one's accuracy on doing them. This is something that I will have to work on for years to come to find out what techniques work best for me depending on who I am fighting.
Of course, I'm not diminishing the victory, but I have the mindset that there is always someone better than you. Of course it's a fact right now, given my relative experience compared to people of sensei rank. But even if I were to win the WKC, while I would be considered the best at that point in time, there are many others that would be spending the next three years finding out how to beat me. If I were to slack off, then the opponent has already won with the tangible reward coming once we physically face off.

And, before I go, I would like to extend my congratulations to everyone that participated for winning and showing good Kendo.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Failing Kendo Exams

Okay, it's been about a few weeks since I last took my promotion exam, and now that I have nothing better to do, I thought I'd type this up. One thing I notice is that a lot of people don't really talk about the feelings of failing Kendo, so I think I'll do it here.

I recently tried to go for Shodan, but didn't make it this time around. Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed in myself for not making it. There's definately that period of sorrow, embarrassment and anger knowing that you didn't make it depsite your attempts.

Thankfully, my bout with college has taught me how to deal with failure since I did my fair share of that...a lot. Of course, failing those exams determines my future versus the Kendo ones just being a hobby, but I tend to look at them the same way. Within minutes of feeling pretty bad for myself, I was already looking ahead at what I did wrong and going for my next attempt either in February in Detroit, or March in Lexington, depending on how the work and life outlook is.

One thing to note is that, if you don't make the rank you are going for, you shouldn't dwell on feeling too bad. All that will do is make you angry. You should realize that everyone fails at a promotion exam at some point in their lives, no matter what the rank is. The most important thing to do is to keep your head held high and look towards the future to pass your next attempt.

On another, but similar, note. I was talking to a friend of mine from Indianapolis and she was talking about trying to test every attempt that she is able to. This isn't for the sake of just going through the ranks as fast as she can, but more for the testing experience and goal building. This is a pretty good point in my opinion since, if you pass, then great. But if you fail, you at least know what you need to improve on and know what the judges will be looking for.

Well, as they always say, better luck next time!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Interesting Kendo Week

Hmm, it's been a while since I posted. Well, I guess better late than never, except for those few "dedicated" readers that might be expecting something from me more often. I'll divide this post by days for organization purposes.

Tuesday was a pretty light day as far as activity goes. But that doesn't mean that it was light on the information. Takano sensei went over various tips regarding preparing oneself for tournaments and how to keep the teams strong. Some of the things was a nice review, but there were some things that was either new or clarified, mostly in the ettiquite department. There was some practice matches to put a few of the things into action. I was quite surprised to have scored with hiki-kote, though I was told I need to work on strength and snap.

Wednesday was okay, I guess. Nobody showed up at the community center so I mostly used that time to practice some of the iaido kata and some Kendo suburi. On the iaido side, I just did a few of the swings and practiced the seitei kata. One thing I really need to get better at is remembering all 12 of them though. For the kendo stuff, all I really did was do 500 suburi with the suburito. I was mostly trying to make sure I fall out of the habit of getting right handed and increase strength before it becomes a problem...

Wednesday was pretty entertaining. The main portion was normal practice with the suburi and footwork. Then some of the remaining time was with the beginners and helping them out with the technique. It was a very fulfilling experience seeing the improvement throughout the practice alone. The last part was the jigeiko amongst us advanced people. The first match was nice...though it lasted a bit longer than normal since I didn't hear the portion about us scoring ourselves. I definately tried to give it my all as I was getting more and more tired. Now, if only I could do that all the time :). But they were very awesome matches though as I could sense the fact that we were giving it our all despite deficencies in strength.

Ah well, that's pretty much all I have...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

1st Annual ECUSKF Student Tournament

This past weekend marked the 1st anniversary of the East Central United States Kendo Federation (henceforth ECUSKF) Student Tournament. The purpose of this particular tournament is to better cultivate the Kendo of the younger people by allowing them to fight each other in an environment made just for them.

Before I begin, I would like to congratulate all the participants. You fought very hard and made the spectators very proud!

Of course, being 23 and not a student in any way, shape or form, I was only there to do score keeping and make myself available for any other help that might be needed. This was the first time I ever got to score keep as well, so there was a bit of learning on my part. The scoring for Kendo is more than just saying that someone got a point and won the match. There are marks for what kind of score they got, if they had a penalty (hansoku), a no-show or whether or not the scores were judged by matches. Nagata Sensei asked me to do it in Japanese, which was really no problem at all. I got to learn some more Kanji and vocabulary from reading the instructions (the Japanese version was a bit more clear...hmm...) so that was pretty fun.

Being there was a blast! Seeing the little kids beating each other up or competing in the basics (kihon) tournament really put nothing but smiles on my face. They all fought very hard and looked like they were enjoying themselves the whole time. Seeing this sort of lit my kendo fire a bit.

After the tournament, we had a joint practice which was really just an hour of free practice, so we just go up to whoever we want and fight them for a few minutes before moving on to the next person. I was sort of freaking out a bit because, I was just going and going with one person after another with what I felt was a lot of spirit. The strange part was that I was really able to keep going after practice was over. I'm not sure if it had something to do with seeing the tournament (my spirits tend to go up after a tournament or exam) or if there may have been something in the Lexington water.

Of course, I can't finish this without any sorts of things I need to fix. There were three points that was made to me:
  • I need to know when to stop and complete my hits. This is really more of a recent phenomenon, but I sometimes get into a hitting frenzy where I tend to hit any chance I get. While that fact isn't so bad, it can count against me cause it could cancel out any sorts of points I may have made with my first hit by trying to fit in a second one. A more specific example would be a nidan-waza like kote-men. We do that a lot during practice and it tends to get into our minds to do a kote-men, no matter what the outcome might be with the kote hit. What we eventually need to get to is that we have the mindset to do one hit, but follow up with the second one in case the first one doesn't hit.
  • I seem to be tensing up a lot with my arms. Can't really explain it that much other than the fact that it tends to happen if I'm high in energy and ready to go. While it might feel like I'm going fast, the tensing up only slows me down and tires me out quicker. Looks like this is a big one to finish.
  • I could try to make use of shikake (offensive) and oji-waza (countering). Those actually tend to be my weak points since I'm either not fast enough or not accurate enough for them to become useful (Koizumi sensei noted this issue). These can be very important tools to grab the center if I happen to be at a disadvantage so I should make better use of these techniques.
I would definately like to congratulate Elizabeth and Nagata-sensei and all other people involved in planning and running the event for their efforts in getting the tournament going with very little issues. Everyone was very impressed and definately wants this to happen again.

Well, good night peeps!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Crazy Kendo Week

This past week has been pretty crazy for Kendo and Iaido:

  • Early in the week, the soreness in my left foot went from a dull soreness like it was overworked to a slight sharp pain. It wasn't a showstopper, but it really affected my Kendo to the point where it was kinda detrimental. I set up a doctors appointment for the following Wednesday (and skipped Tuesday practice just in case the pain is something larger). According to the symptoms, the doctor said that it was most likely a swollen tendon or something. Since I can't take anti-inflammatories like Aspirin or Ibuprofen, I'm out of luck in this regard.

  • Wednesday was the first part of a taping for a Public Access program in the Northern Kentucky area (which means I won't see it) called Men of Bronze and Fire. I know nothing about the program, but Atkins Sensei wanted to do something to hopefully boost membership. Of course, trying to do some stuff with the little experience I have is a little daunting in front of a camera, but considering the target audience, I don't have much to worry about.

  • I decide to try out Kendo on my foot the next day. It wasn't too bad, but I wasn't able to perform in tip top shape which is pretty frustrating. I later decide to skip on Saturday practice to aid in healing my foot as fast as I can

  • Sunday was the second portion of the taping that featured the Kendo half of the program. Things could have gone a bit better if I had realized a bit more about the timing and knowing what I could and could not do during the whole taping part, but it was okay overall. The good news is that the target audience won't fully understand what's going on, but hopefully would be inclined to start practice to increase membership

Hmm, well there really isn't much to say here for the moment. I guess if I learned anything from this past week, it would be to listen to my body better to make sure I can identify and fix pain ASAP so I'm not out for several months.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Getsumei Seiki

It's been a while since I posted anything anime/manga related, so I'll post something about a manga that I have read over the past few days.

The name of this manga is Getsumei Seiki: Sayonara Shinsengumi. The story follows the life of Hijitaka Toshizou as he follows his desires to become his definition of a samurai and eventually lead the famed Shinsengumi. The story takes place around the Bakumatsu era, around the time when Perry and those Black ships came by.

Unfortunately, only the first 17 chapters of the manga have been fan-translated so far, which can be found here if you want to take a look. As far as I know, the manga hasn't been picked up by any company in the US for official translation so, if you're interested in reading it, then you'll have to break out that Japanese dictionary.

I really enjoyed reading what little I could of it and felt hung out to dry after that last chapter. I do have plans to buy the rest of the series, but hope that the Japanese isn't TOO advanced for me to read without trouble. What I have enjoyed most about it is the relationship development between the major characters in the manga. Of course, the fact that Kendo and swordsmanship is in it kinda helps too :).

I guess if any of you have anything to say about this manga, then feel free to say something. If it's a spoiler, then I'll use my super secret Ninja techniques to kill you!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Shinpan Seminar

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the Shinpan seminar in Lexington, KY, instructed by Ariga-Sensei.

For those not in the know, a Shinpan is one of three people that judge any given Kendo match. The purpose of these seminars is to get people accustomed to all that is involved in judging a match.

When we see someone judging matches, it's easy to complain about how they score whether it be that they missed several good points, didn't give hansoku (penalty) when they should have, or just didn't seem into it. From the outside, it seems pretty simple; see a point, raise a flag. See an offense, give a hansoku. But what I quickly realized was that everything isn't as black and white as it seems.

For example, when scoring a point, it's not as simple as seeing someone strike men and raise a flag. Things to consider here are the concepts and intents behind Ki-Ken-Tai-Icchi (Spirit, Sword, Body as One), Zanshin and whether or not the person is showing spirit or just showing off. In terms of penalties, one has to differentiate between someone doing something illegal or if it's just part of a waza. You even have to think about where you are in the court since there are certain parts of the court that's your area and making sure you always have optimal view of the match.

After that, we had some matches to give the higher-ranked people to show us what they learned throughout the day. Some of the more fun ones were the ones where offenses were done on purpose, such as walking out without a tasuki, excessive pushing and holding the shinai with the wrong orientation.

I definitely learned a lot throughout the day. It gave me a whole new perspective on judging to hopefully make it less daunting when I have to go through the shinpan stuff once I reach San-Dan. Don't get me wrong, I always had respect for the judges. Heck, the sportsmanship pledge says that you agree that the judges' decisions are final. But now I have a better understanding of what goes through the minds of the shinpan within that 3-minute match. Thank God there's 3 of them.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Back to the Usual...

This past weekend was business as usual...if you call having to work on the weekend as being usual (overtime FTW!!!). It was a pretty productive weekend for Kendo and Iaido nonetheless.

The Saturday Kendo was pretty intense as usual. I've did my best to keep my energy up despite it leaving really quickly. There really isn't much to say in particular about this practice, but I was left with a few tips:

- My men hits are too high. In application, this caused me to hit more on the grill instead of the top of the men. Seems like it's an issue with my wrists not providing enough of that extra movement to get the downward force.

- This is an issue that I really should try harder to work on. I need to hit through the men instead of just on top of the men. This is a nice breakthrough that could help me hit harder.

Sunday was pretty nice. I went back to iaido and worked on ipponme through gohonme that day. It's really daunting of all the peculiarities that come with each of the movements. When you see it done, it looks so simple but actually doing it is another matter.

The Kendo portion was pretty interesting. Since it was the first weekend of the month, we spent a lot of the practice doing kata. I really need to learn the rest of the kata since I'm really behind. As it stands I only confidently know up to kata 4. I have done the others, but not really enough to count with confidence. The second part just consisted of kirikaeshi, uchikomi, jigeiko and kakarigeiko due to lack of time. I tried my best to make it intense.

Ugh, not the best of entries though it is getting kinda late. Hopefully my next entry will be a bit better.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Training Mind

Because of the Labor Day weekend, the Miami Valley dojo and Northern KY Dojo was closed. But that fact didn't matter because I am in Atlanta right now. Despite me being away, I still got to practice Kendo at Georgia Kendo Alliance.

Today's practice was okay. It was pretty difficult to navigate the floor because my feet would slide. Because of the differences in footwork, it kinda threw off everything else a bit as well.

I attended both the intermediate and advanced practices for the night. The intermediate practice went over the principles of kirikaeshi. It was a pretty nice breakdown of the major components of it such as good fumikomi, good swings and proper distance. I put those explanations together with the ones that people in Ohio tell me to really give everything my all.

After that, the advanced practice began where we started off with waza and ended with free geiko. There were two new things that I learned from training yesterday:

  • For the kaeshi waza, the foot must move as you are warding your opponent's shinai out of the center. This should allow you to more quickly get in before the opponent has a chance to react

  • Another point for the kaeshi waza. Whenever I do it, I tend to just try to knock the shinai out of the center. What I should be doing is just letting it slide out of the way before I counter attack to take over the center

The free gieko was pretty nice. I tried to fight against one guy doing nitou but he put his other shinai down when fighting the lower ranked people (I was hoping to get the chance to do it). I also got to fight an old friend of mine who pretty much dominated me as usual.

I did say earlier that one of the things that was holding me back was the floor. Normally, I would have eventually adjusted by the end of practice, but there is another thing that was bothering me at the back of my mind. Gustav is heading towards the Gulf Coast as we speak. I know that most of my family is okay, but just the thought of possibly going back and seeing the city destroyed yet again really sucks. Of course, only time will tell when the storm actually makes landfall where ever it's going. Now I know how it feels to have personal connections to various disaster areas.

This brings up a point about training while something is constantly on your mind. Before every practice, you meditate (command is Mokusou (黙想)) to bring your mind to the kendo tasks at hand and away from the outside world. But, even if something is a bit more difficult to shake than a few seconds of meditation, should you continue practice?

Sometimes it can help to do something completely unrelated to the problem to make you feel better. There were times during practice where I did concentrate all on Kendo to let go of what's been going through my mind. I did what I could to put my all into practice but overall was about 95%.

The difference between most activities and Kendo is that practice depends as much on yourself as the other person you're training with. If you don't do your part, then the other person doesn't get anything out of it and that part of the session just remains empty. Anyone who has done Kendo will probably know what I'm talking about to some extent on this.

But should you continue to practice? I would say that it depends on the situation at hand and how it's affecting you. In most cases, the Kendo can be therapeutic to keep your mind off the issues at home and allow you to deal with them with a vigorous activity.

But there are times where you can't really shake the feelings you have which can negatively affect your abilities. If it's just a practice and you have been finding yourself crying or doing things negatively in your main life, then it's probably best to skip one practice to not add to the guilt of being a bad partner and not doing so well.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Kendo Police?

What I want to write about today is something that has sort of getting under my skin for a while now. And since I want to actually do something with my blog, now's the time to do it. Keep in mind that this can be extrapolated to other aspects of life, but since this is a Kendo blog, I will be specifically talking about Kendo.

People on the Kendo World forums should already be familiar with this sort of thing. We see a video on Youtube that showcases some random yahoo doing what they think is Kendo and some people decide to get up in arms about it. In most cases, it's posted for people to laugh at. But in its most extreme case, some will go to the source of the video and pick it apart and pretty much flame the person to the point where the video is taken down. You may also see cases where someone will get on the forum and post something that shows that they don't really know what Kendo is, but they feel they do. As a result, the Kendo hounds sniff it out and pile on the person.

It is understandable to do this sort of thing. Everyone that does Kendo knows that it isn't easy. First you have to find the nearest dojo which, for most people, is not just around the corner. Then there is the long period of trial and error that people go through for the rest of their Kendo career which takes a lot of effort to keep up with and improve on. So to have one person come up and just say that they are doing what we are doing can understandably get under someone's skin.

Despite this going on, is this really justified? To be a little miffed, that is understandable. But I do think that there are better ways in which we can handle this.

A lot of times, we tend to make assumptions about the person, where they practice and why they do what they do. The majority of videos on Youtube and the like have people just dicking around, not really thinking much about what they are doing. Then you have the cases where people might be misguided, thinking that they are doing what they are doing is the right thing. What we may not know is that the person may not know about those intricacies of Kendo techniques, where a dojo may be, or how to find a dojo.

Making assumptions and immediately flaming people from the get go can only cause harm to the Kendo community. Ever since I have been involved in Kendo, I have only met kind and accepting people with the bastards being a very small minimum. This would be a huge contrast to what others may think if they thought all we do is go around finding bad Kendo videos and immediately chastising the person for what they are doing. While we know that everyone is an individual, we still represent the Kendo community as a whole wherever we go, whether or not the general public knows that we do it. It's hard enough to get people to stick with Kendo, but we would only be making it harder to spread if people think we're total bitches who can't allow people to enjoy themselves.

How can we better handle the situation when we encounter these kinds of people? If we see a video online, then don't immediately angerly flame the person. First see what the intent is and take appropriate action. If they are just screwing around, then just leave them alone and let them go about their business. We may be worried that they will hurt each other, but Darwin works in mysterious ways. If they are misguided and providing erroneous information, then you can correct them, but don't expect to have a new convert who is hurrying to the nearest Kendo dojo. If they start spouting out random samurai phrases to prove they are on the higher path...then run away, lol.

Really, the best way to combat this is information. If you happen to be in a conversation with a misguided person, you should be able to answer any questions they have. If you don't have the answer, then you should know where to seek it and get back to the other person.

The previous point brings up something else. We all know that there is a lack of information out there about Kendo compared to some of the more common arts like Karate or Tae Kwon Do. Let's face it. Most of the information that is really out there for people to easily see is found in anime and movies. Not to mention that there's the erroneous information about kendo and living the samurai way and stuff.

That means that we need to take charge and get this info out there ourselves. If you happen to be HTML proficient, you can make webpages about what Kendo is, what it means to you, the dojos you go to, things to look for in a Kendo dojo, journaling your own training process and other things of the such. If not, there are various blogging sites like Myspace, Facebook, Blogger and Live Journal where you can do similar things minus all the HTML work. You shouldn't have to be a 5th Dan sensei to do stuff like this either. In fact, it would be nice to have views of Kendo from people who may not be so proficient in Kendo to have that realistic view of what it's like to be a beginner out there. Plus, it's a very nice way to get to know more about the art you're doing with a little bit of research beyond the Wikipedia article.

I would say that the main point of the article is that we should concentrate less on the others and more on ourselves. We may be able to take one video down through flaming, but with the capabilities of Web 2.0, five more videos may show up within minutes. We know what Kendo really is so we should be able to stand up and take charge and be the forefathers (and mothers) of using the internet to our advantage.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Five Years And Counting...

The month of August marks the 5th anniversary of when I started Kendo. It's hard to believe that I've been with this for all that time, considering the big changes that have happened in my life during the time span.

As many of us know, it's hard for one to keep interested in one activity for so long and Kendo is definitely no exception. The plethora of options for things to do, work and school are the biggest killers of prospective college Kenshi, but I fought it. For those that can dedicate the time, sometimes people realize that Kendo is not really what one expected it to be or took too much commitment, but I fought that too.

I pretty much started Kendo because I wanted something to do when I was in college to break the monotony of studying and slaving. To be honest, I originally wanted to do Aikido. But I found out about Kendo and considered trying to do both. But when school started, the Kendo callout came first so I went with that one first. I would have done Aikido as well, but the classes clashed with the advanced classes that I wanted to eventually attend at the time. In short, I only had room for Kendo.

It seems like only yesterday that I walked into the Stewart center as a wide-eyed, timid freshman spending two hours a week going back and forth on the floor before moving on to spending those same two hours a week making our arms fall off.

What made me stick with Kendo? At first, it got me out of my dorm so it was pretty much something to do and something to pad my resume with. But despite the difficulty of coming back with sore feet and arms every week, I still had some mysterious force calling me back. What really made me stick with it was when I saw my first tournament in Chicago. Seeing people in the mysterious armor and uniform whacking away at each other gave me a preview of what we were going to do if we stick with things long enough. It probably helps that I had no expectations of Kendo whatsoever. Sure, I went to the callout the week before the first practice, but I was going into it pretty much blind at this point.

Fast forward five years and I'm still doing it with abilities that I never thought possible. I've visited various dojo across the country and participated in my fair share of tournaments with no signs of stopping any time soon.

Where do I see myself in the future? I want to be able to continue Kendo for as long as my body is able to allow me. In the present time frame, I want to do my best to develop my own style and improve on the skill set that I have now. I also want to increase my Kendo competency enough to be able to do my best by spreading the knowledge of Kendo by teaching those that are willing to learn.

Well, I got 5 years down. Now lets hope for 5+ more!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Some thoughts on my Kendo and Iaido

In my latest attempt to get more self-practice in for Kendo and Iaido on those no practice days, I've been having some thoughts about my progress in Kendo and Iaido.

For those not in the know, I participated in the AUSKF tournament in Las Vegas last month. I was knocked out of the first round, unfortunately, but it allowed me to really think about Kendo in a different kind of light.

One of the major problems that I have been having with Kendo is the fact that I'm most definitely not the strongest person out there. Sizing up at 5'7" and 125 lbs (170.18 cm, 56.7 kg for those that don't follow our system), I tend to get pushed around quite easily by a good number of people out there that I face. Due to this, I am trying to find a way around it by using my size and go the more agile and tactical route. This means taking advantage of moving around swiftly and taking command of various waza, such as hiki, nuki and kaeshi. In some ways, that sort of thing seems to be working, but there is still a LOT to do before I can really say that this kind of tactic is working.

On an somewhat related note, since this is August now, it marks the 5th anniversary of me starting Kendo. Can't believe it's already been that long. I'm very proud of myself that I started something and able to keep up with it for that amount of time, given the large amount of distractions in college. This is something that I really want to keep going with for the next 50+ years, provided my body is able to keep up with it. Maybe I'll do another entry about the future of Kendo in my own personal life and my thoughts on the growth of it in the western world.

BTW, for those that are interested, here's my match video from the torunament.

On the iaido front, I've only started in February so I'm still very green about the art. Lately, I've been doing things to get myself more familiar with the art by looking up information and making sure I actually remember the names of the seitei kata (the ones I'm working on right now). To help out with that, I'm looking at youtube videos for reference of the necessary movements and intent. I also bought a book called Iaido Sword: Kamimoto-Ha Techniques for Musou Shinden Ryu. According to reviews, it's supposed to be a pretty complete guide book for Musou Shinden Ryu. I haven't gotten it yet so I really can't say much about it.

Oh yeah, I ordered my Iaito from Aoi Budogu back in April...and I'm still looking for it. I emailed the people and they told me that the swordsmith was backed up so it might take another 6-8 weeks for my iaito to come in. I'm glad to know that at least it's able to come in. The way I see it, it gives me a bit more time to be "ready" for the iaito when it comes in. I have my bokken and saya right now, so that will have to do until it finally comes in. But I still come up to my door, anticipating the view of the slip of paper saying I can grab it from the main office of my apartment complex.

That's it for now!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

How important do you think timing really is?

Sigh, my wrist has been kinda sore for the past week so I've been out of Kendo and Iaido for the time being. Since the tournament is coming up, I don't want to risk injuring it further and ruin my chances of going to Las Vegas.

If you have been doing Kendo for a little while, you probably heard your sensei or sempai keep telling you of ways to improve your timing and how important that is. It's not that we don't believe them since we try to improve timing and strength along with the other Kendo requisites if we desire to improve ourselves.

But do we really understand the whole concept of timing? Most likely not. But this video that has been circulating on youtube for the past week or so should help with that. The guys involved in the video have the experience to move so fast and accurately and the judges have the experience to be able to see who is hitting what. But for us normal people, we have a high speed camera that helps us see just what's happening just before the hits that give them the edge. I don't want to give anything away, so here's the video, and I'll just leave it at that.

EDIT: Due to the fact that I'm having some issues viewing the video in its embedded form, I'll just post the link below.

Kendo in High Speed Camera (Slow Motion)

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Iaido Happenings and Random Crap

There really isn't too much to report on the Kendo front in terms of lessons. I did learn Kata on Sunday, but it was from a book so I don't really consider myself knowing it until someone can physically bring me through the movements. After that, I went to UC and basically went through drills as I was told that I was either moving too early or too late (sigh, the many contradictions of Kendo...).

I can take a moment out and talk about Iaido a bit. I started up in February and attended every practice that I was able to, with the only reasons being that I happened to be at the Kendo training camp that weekend.

Things in Iaido are going pretty well. As I am going through the motions, I am learning how there is so much more than meets the eye to the movements. There's always some better way to take out and sheath the sword or getting the swing correctly and whatnot. I think I'm slowly getting the grasp of the goings on there, though I have a LOT of work to do. A few months ago, one of the former members came by and showed off his Iaido skills (his name escapes me, unfortunately). Everything looked so clean and crisp. As I was watching, I was wishing I would get to that point, but of course that could take years. So here I am, attending practice at 8am on Sunday mornings to improve on the iaido.

One thing I would like to address is the whole concept of teaching stuff. I attend the Northern KY Kendo Club (they also do the Iaido there too) to get in some extra practices, but ended up having the teaching duties laid on me since I happen to outrank the people there (I'm only an Ikkyu by the way).

Here are some of the issues/ideas that I am facing

- I am an Ikkyu, so I sometimes wonder how far would I need to go before overstepping my bounds or something. The people seem to not have a problem with me teaching so at least the rapport is there. One thing I do want to do is try to keep an open dialogue of sorts. So I may be teaching them my way of things, but encouraging people to question my motives to get me thinking about what's going on and stuff.

- I don't want to change things around too much, but then I don't want to keep things exactly the same. Anyone can do warm ups, drills and end practice, but there needs to be something in between so that people can leave practice learning something. I'm probably thinking too much about this though. The formalities can remain the same, but I can pretty much do whatever I want in the middle, I guess. I just need to add some of my own flavor to it. I did learn quite a bit so it's nice to be able to pass that knowledge on.

- There's only an hour to do stuff so it's a matter of what to do and what is just fluff. I guess I could have some sort of themed practice as in one that concentrates on basics, and another on waza and another on fighting, etc.

I dunno, sometimes, I think I may be thinking so much about what I could be doing wrong, that it hinders me from trying to do what I think is right. I guess one of the reasons why I'm going through this is that I'm not used to being in the leadership position. There are some that are born leaders and others that need to warm up to things and I represent the latter case. We'll see how things go though. I have a few points I want to get across to the people there to hopefully get some sort of good stuff out of them.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Training Notes: 5/31/08

This has been one hell of a week. Work has been pretty hectic, though Kendo really helped take me away from the stresses of it. Unfortunately, it kept me away from practice on Thursday as I pulled a 16 hour day.

But it didn't keep me away for long since I was ready to practice again at Miami Valley today. As the weather warms up, my body has to acclimate itself to a new set of temperatures. This was only heightened by the training conditions since Ariga sensei only allows the ceiling fans and open doors to provide ventilation. I really had to fight exhaustion due to the heat, but I think things went well overall.

There wasn't much that was different from the normal practices there. We had warmups, kirikaeshi, waza and then mawari geiko. The only difference was that I didn't go to second dojo due to some work issues that I couldn't solve anyways due to the files not being sent till um...two hours ago...Yeah, I'm not happy about this.

As usual, I will leave some words of wisdom that was left for me by the sensei and sempai in attendance.

1) I need to try to feel out my opponent instead of just blindly attacking. This seems like a somewhat difficult concept to understand since there seems to be the necessity of balance between blindly attacking and waiting around for the opponent to hit me.

2) I have the tendancy to hesitate before attacking. If I move forward, then I need to become committed to the attack since I am so close to the other person. Being closer than issoku-ittou no maai puts me at an advantage since I don't have to move so much, but it also gives the opponent that same advantage. And if the person I'm going against is much faster or more experienced than I, then that can only spell trouble for me.

3) Gotta work on that distancing. It's harder than you think to guage how far you need to be since there's only a certain part of the shinai that will count as a point. On that note, I should fix my shinai since my nakayui seemed to slide down a bit.

Now it's time for me to wait until tomorrow to try my hand at Kendo and Iaido again with my tattered body.

One final note before I go. I am going to pursue the fansubbing of the anime Musashi no Ken to see how well it does with the general public. Bamboo Blade seemed to have some sort of popularity as of a few months ago, so it would be interesting to see how things go when it's accessible to the English speaking world for the first time (to my knowledge anyways). Plus, I think it would be better if the person translating the anime actually knows a bit about the subject matter at hand, which is Kendo in this case.

If you would like to help me out on this, feel free to holler at me. The only requirements are that you have some knowledge of the Japanese language and the desire to translate something. The Kendo knowledge can be proofread by me if you have no knowledge about it.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Training Notes: Pittsburgh Joint Practice

This past weekend was another one of the ECUSKF joint practices in Pittsburgh, PA. It was a nice, kendo-filled weekend full of fun and excitement as I do my best to improve my abilities whilst staying alive during these very tough practices.

The first day was mainly for the senshu in preparation for the tournament in July. It started out like the general practice and then moved on to the practical matches. I participated in three matches and won the first two. This is pretty nice since it seems to be pretty hard to win, considering you have to get judges to vote in your favor. Of course, I didn't leave it to just those wins. I could always use some tips so I went to Nagata-sensei for some afterthoughts. These were some of the points that he left me:

1) I should concentrate on going forward as much as possible and taking advantage of the position. Overall, I did a decent job with keeping maai, but sometimes I went backwards more than I should have.

2) On the subject of getting the correct maai, the opponent was able to get the correct distancing faster than me. I need to work on not only getting the maai, but getting it quickly before the other person knows what's going on.

After the practice, we ate dinner at this restaurant that was pretty expensive, but had good beer. Then we went over to a fellow kenshi's house to watch the videos. It felt strange looking at myself after the fact, but it was a great opportunity to see what I look like in a match from a different vantage point. It was pretty uneventful as most of us were tired and concerned about staying up too late for the practice the next morning.

The next practice was the general practice for everyone. There was a lot of people there for such a tiny room. The main practice included the general men, kote and kote men before moving on to a variety of oji-waza against someone doing men and kote.

After a short break, we moved on to the free practice against the highest ranked people there. I went against some people for the free practice the day before, so I made sure I went against those that I didn't get to go against the previous time. The first person was Nagata-sensei, which is always an exercise in survival. No matter what I did, my distancing was always too close or too far for a good hit. Sigh, yet another thing I need to get straight.

The practice finished off with kakari-geiko with the Sensei there...which was 7 people for 10 seconds each. It's really hard to keep going, but it was something I had to do if I wanted to improve. After that, practice was over and I got some more pointers from Nagata-sensei.

1) He said that I have improved a lot since I first met him as I have done my best to improve each point. Now the next step is to get my footwork straight by not moving the left leg and having good weight distribution. It was the only point that he gave me that day. but you don't want TOO many pointers!

Well, the tournament is coming soon so I need to take everything for what it's worth...and dry out my uniform...

Friday, May 23, 2008

Training Notes: 6/22/08

The practice last night was pretty intersting. Nagata-sensei came to visit us about halfway through practice to teach us quite a few basic points:

1) When you are about to push off, do not move the left foot forward. It's something that's quite natural if you aren't confident in the power of your step, but all it does is telegraph your movements to your opponent.

2) Pay great attention to your maai. There's a fine line between being too close and too far, which can mean the difference between making a successful strike or not. This practice for distancing really made me pay attention to the huge importance of all the elements of the stance to achieve optimum ability.

3) When cutting men, better power can be achieved by hitting through to the ear instead of tapping the top of the head. It gives enough power to be strong without overpowering your hits. This is something that could definately help me out since my hits tend to be on the weak side.

Paying attention to these basic points made the practice a bit difficult by trying to approach things in a different light. Of course, it wasn't the hardest part once things got moving with the jigeiko with Nagata-sensei. It was more of the usual in the fact that it's an exercise in physical longevity while keeping your spirits up. He has to be one of the toughest sensei out there, but it's something I appreciate since his methods tend to make me REALLY see what's going on with my Kendo.

Well, tomorrow is the joint practice at Pittsburgh. Hopefully, things should go over pretty well there.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Training Notes: AUSKF Tournament Update Edition

It's been quite a while since I have updated the blog. I should really try to update more regularly to keep track of my progress and hopefully give others guidance on things they may be having trouble with.

It's about 43 days until the national tournament in Las Vegas and I've been practicing hard to make sure I can get past the first round in the Mudansha division. I have been doing this mainly by going to lots of practices that are routinely held in the area as well as the special tournament practices that have been held recently.

Generally, the tournament practices aren't too much different than normal joint practices, except that there are shiai-styled matches alongside. The practices may not seem like much on the outside, but can teach some very valuable information if taken the right way. The most important takeaway I see from this is the chance to see how well you handle yourself when people are watching your every move. It's one thing to be able to judge you and your partner's hits during jigeiko, but it's another thing to be able to practice how to make all of your hits strong and believable enough for at least two of the judges to vote in your favor. It's a completely different environment that's necessary to get some acclimation to if you hope to succeed in tournaments.

I have been told by many people that my form is great, as well as a few suggestions for improvement. One thing that I seem to not be able to shake off is my hesitation before I go. It really seems to depend on the experience level and fighting style of the person I'm going against, but I really need to at least be more aggressive and resolute in my style. I don't think it's an issue of doing the high school kind of kendo where the senshuu are extremely aggressive to the point of knocking each other down, but it's more of me taking opportunities as I see them instead of worrying about getting hit. This is something that can be stopped in time by paying more attention to doing what I can to break the opponent's kamae to create openings instead of them hitting me.

There are also a few other smaller issues that need to get worked out, such as doing taiatari from the stomach instead of the arms. This is something that could possibly help my arms from getting tired out so much as well as being able to go in with more force with someone with a frame as small as mine. To round things out, there are some small issues with footwork that should allow me to push off with more explosive force by keeping both feet parallel and having more strength in my hits.

Am I doing enough to prepare myself? In the context of the typical American lifestyle, one would think so since the opportunity is rare to be able to practice more than once or twice a week. I tend to be able to get in four practices at most. But there are some things that can be done at home on my part to keep my body moving, such as suburi and running. The suburi thing is nice since I have the vaulted ceiling that gives me the extra space necessary to swing a shinai with little problem. As far as running, I could possibly do more of that so I don't get as tired from practice. The weather is warming up outside and there's a park behind the apartment complex where I can run around...provided there's no rain. I guess I could use the treadmill in the crappy gym as a substitute on those bad weather days, but it's just not the same.

Ah well, I can do all the things in the world to prepare for this, but the thing that really matters is whether or not I give no less than 100% on the fateful day. One thing that might help is to reset my goals for the tournament. In most tournaments, I only hope to get further than the last one, which may be something that's holding me back. I should set my sights on getting first place, and nothing less. In a way, I thought that this sort of thought would only lead to disappointment, as it's not an easy task to achieve as you weed out the lesser-experienced people. But really, having this sort of goal forces you to give your all every single time to improve even the slightest imperfection with your form and thought processes.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Great Kendo Weekend

Before I begin, I think things would make more sense if I provide an update to my Kendo life.

I recently started a new job here in Cincinnati, OH doing heat transfer analysis on gas turbine engines. Over time, I have adjusted to the new area which includes joining in on the Kendo activity in the area. There are practices at the University of Cincinnati and in Covington, KY which is just across the river. Once a week, there are practices in Dayton, OH at Miami Valley Kendo Dojo with Ariga Sensei.

Things are going very well over there as I was immediately accepted into the Ohio Kendo family. No sooner after I start before I am invited to pretty much every planned outing that has happened recently. I felt very welcome and I know I will be happy being here.

Now, let's fast forward to this weekend. There were two Kendo events that happened over the weekend. One was the normal practice in Dayton on Saturday and then there was the joint practice with the East-Central United States Kendo Federation (ECUSKF).

Saturday's practice was more intense than the previous week's practice. It started up with stretching and warm ups which included a mix of suburi and footwork. That was followed by the practice of various useful waza. By the end of that, I was already feeling weak. It's drill after drill that can really take the wind out of anyone, whether or not they are prepared for it. After that was a small break in which I took the opportunity to wet my throat and take a swig of my asthma medication before the fun really starts.

It's a good thing I took the time to do that because practice finished up with mawari-geiko. There were 8 people in total so we had to fight 7 times in a row for a few minutes each. Throughout this time, I tried to remember what I was told last week about me being afraid to get hit and just concentrate my energy on pushing through. There really isn't much of an explanation for this other than it's a bad habit of mine to not really push through like I should when I'm sparring with someone. The hardest moment came when I had to go against Ariga sensei and Koizumi sensei in succession. It turned into essentially a 10 minute constant bout trying to muster up any sort of energy I had to make hits as effective as I did when I started practice. Naturally, I kept getting my but kicked, but that's pretty much expected when you go against people who have been doing Kendo like 10 times longer than you have.

After that, practice ended and we went across the street to drink some beer and eat some grapefruit slices and peas. There's just something about Kendo and beer that goes together, but I can't put my finger on it. I did discover that Killians is a very good beer by the way.

The next day was the joint practice. The ECUSKF holds this monthly in Columbus to allow everyone to get together, meet up and exchange knowledge and form friendships. It was a 1.5 hour drive to get there, but it was well worth it as I got to meet a lot of people and learn how this regional federation operates. I had some trouble finding the exact location because it's a little weirdly situated, but after a call and some asking around, I was able to find the place.

The practice started off like any other practice with the stretching ane warmups, then began with some tryouts for the US Kendo tournament in Las Vegas in July. The matches were pretty interesting because I saw some really good Kendo. One thing that was really interesting was that there wasn't one person that even remotely dominated the brackets. One person might lose a match against one person but would win the next.

After the matches, everybody who had bogu put theirs on and began the free practice. I honestly was expecting some sort of a structured practice, but it was just a free practice with anyone you could round up, with the sensei fighitng anyone who was in line. I fought with about 5 people or so including Ariga sensei and Nomiyama sensei. I tried to have an additional match with Kojima sensei, but I ran out of time. I guess I know who to go to next month, lol.

All in all, I had a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to next month's meeting. I ended up spending any energy that I recoverd, and then some, from yesterday during that practice. I also met quite a few people who were all pretty nice. One interesting note is that I saw two other black people there! I don't want to make it racist or anything, but it's nice that there's some increase and potential in increase of diversity that Kendo really needs (this was discussed somewhat in the previous entry). Either way, I was glad to meet everyone there.

On the upside, I found out that there are some openings for the mudansha division in the US Kendo tournament. I've heard about people going for it, but because I was going back and forth between Indiana and Georgia for college, I didn't make much of an effort to try since I wasn't sure about where I would fall. Now that I should be living here for at least a few years, I thought I would give this a shot. This would be the first time I get to go to Las Vegas, but this is also an opportunity to not miss to be able to participate in a highly regarded tournament within the Kendo community. I sent in my application and everything so we'll see what happens from here on out. Other than that, I will be trying very hard to prepare myself for that moment.

Next week is the Detroit tournament. Regrettably, I won't be participating in it due to the whole moving thing and whatnot. I was on the fence about going because I'd only be watching and possibly participating in a godo-geiko and after party that usually occurs after these things. I found out that the All Japan Kendo Champion will be giving a seminar that weekend. Now I REALLY have to go and take advantage of this. I could really use any help I can get if I plan on improving over the next few months. There is the Cleveland tournament that I will be participating in. I was told that they are expecting this to be pretty big due to the Japanese team captain in the World Kendo Championships will be visiting and this will be the 20th anniversary of the Cleveland tournament, so this year should be exciting. My goal here is to do better than the last tournament and get to the 4th match without almost passing out.

On a side note, I started Iaido recently. This past Sunday was my second class (I left right after to go to Columbus). This practice was better than the last one since there was only three people there. Due to this, more time was able to be spent on learning more about the basics. This gives me something more to think about with the training. All I have right now are the knee pads which are pretty much necessary if you plan on walking when you're 30. My paycheck is coming in this week so I know I can buy an Obi. I think I might just go on ahead and purchase a plastic saya for now while I do some financial planing to see if I can get an iaito. Of course, I will ask the instructor there before I buy one to make sure I don't make any mistakes or buy one earlier than they allow. I can only go so far with holding it in my hand, you know.

Due to the tournament and visiting a friend of mine, I won't be able to attend for the next two weeks, which is pretty unfortunate. I told them that I would be there next week, but I didn't realize the Detroit tournament was next week and that there would be an important seminar going on there. As for next week, I think I might stick around for the weekend and practice with the old Purdue club while I'm there and get my Menjo. They practice on Sunday afternoon so that would cause me to miss the iaido. I wish I could get in contact with someone who plans on going since I would like to let them know I didn't just drop off the face of the earth. I tried sending emails earlier but they seemed to never get through. We'll see what happens. I know I will return, but it would be nice of me to tell them if I'm not coming since the club is small and close-knit enough.

Okay, I think that this entry is long enough. I hope you were able to read all of that!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Diversity in Kendo

There was a recent thread on the Kendo World forums that, admittedly, hasn't really been talked about too much. The thread was talking about why women tend to not stay too long in Kendo, but it can also be applied race as well. As a disclaimer, I'm not trying to incite any sort of racism. I'm just bringing up an issue that I have thought about for a bit and would like to bring to the masses and find their opinions on it.

For those that aren't in the know, there are about 8 million Kendoka (kendo practitioners) in the world with about 7 million in Japan alone. Everyone else is dotted throughout the world in various clubs and organizations with an interest in Kendo for various reasons. I don't have any demographical data, but one can infer that the vast majority of people that practice in the world are either Japanese or Korean. Then you have your Whites, Blacks and whatever bringing up the rear.

Anyone who has been practicing Kendo for long enough has seen a number of people come and go. These beginning groups can be quite diverse with a variety of types of people, but quickly dwindle in the following weeks for a number a reasons that would be left for another blog entry. The exact number of retainers vary from place to place depending on the local demographics, but it's usually males of caucasian or asian descent that are more likely to stay longer. There are exceptions to this rule, or you wouldn't be seeing me typing this up.

Why do you think that this sort of thing happens? One could look at the structure of Kendo and even the people involved. Of course, we can't ignore the people themselves. There are a multitude of reasons why people decide to leave and stay in Kendo, but they can be rooted into those basic reasons. I'll tackle these reasons one by one and give possible ways to possibly retain people.

- The Newcomers Themselves

As I said before, there are a large variety of reasons that people join and leave. The issue here is that some dojos might see an influx of beginners only to be lucky to have one person stay from each new group.

In terms of diversity, when we think of the typical Kendoka, we think of the asian or caucasian male. Because of this sort of demographic, it can be quite a culture shock if they don't see someone similar attending practice. Depending on the person, that can be handled in a number of different ways.

As far as increasing diversity, the only thing that can be done is exposure. Kendo is such a small community and doesn't get much exposure to the masses like other martial arts have. As a dojo, it helps to do demonstrations that show what Kendo is, what practice is like, any information about joining and some contact info. As an individual, don't hide the fact that you do Kendo and be willing to explain things to people that are interested. With doing this, you give the exposure and the ability for people to start if they are interested.

- The Structure of Kendo Practice

Anyone who has experienced one Kendo practice should know how greuling it can become. Those with a bit more experience in bogu have a better idea of the intensity of practice while wearing 15 lbs of dead weight on your body for an hour and a half each session. In some cases, practice can be too hard for some if they aren't prepared for it. There are many variables that come into it like over-agressive people or a sensei that wants to see the best out of his or her students. Sometimes, it might get too intense for people and you might see people drop off at this point, which can be a problem for those that just start getting into bogu.

What can be done about this? I guess the real question is whether or not anything should be done about this case. Each sensei has a responsibility to their students to plant their knowledge on them in the best way they know how. Each one has a certain philosophy to Kendo and the teaching structure is based around that. So it really wouldn't make much sense to change their instruction for the sake of a small minority of people that may not be serious about it. The most that has been done was to offer a children's class so they can have someone similar in size to practice with. I mean, it's hard to do men on someone who's a few feet taller than you.

In this situation, I wouldn't say to really change the practice structure. The best thing to do is to encourage the beginners to keep going and do their best and show that progress can be made. The most important thing to do is to expose them to what is in store for them when they stick to it. I was always interested in Kendo, but going to the first tournament way back in the fall of 2003 solidified my notion that kendo was for me and I wanted to get to the point where they were at. In a way, you would be telling them that, while practice can be hard and repetitive, if you stick to it, this is what you will be doing. It really helps if you give them some sort of end-goal to all the drills and show them how they will be applied later. If they are truely serious about it, they'll form their own goals later on so I wouldn't be concerned about that.

- The Kendo Practitioners Themselves

The Kendo world is a pretty tight-knit community. No matter where you go, you will most likely be welcomed with open arms as we realize that Kendo is such a niche community and desire to expand that. For this, the thing to do would be to do a better job with having people feel included. You could have the best of instruction and the most skilled Kendoka around, but it all goes to pot if there's no sense of belonging.

What I am saying goes beyond what I said in the second part. There are outside gatherings for various reasons and conversations that go on before, during and after practice. To make them feel belonged, try including beginners in these things to have something to come back to for the next practice. In a way, this also makes the beginners start to feel a little guilty if they decide to not attend practice anymore. Don't get me wrong, if they don't like Kendo then they will stop. But if there is a small desire to keep trying, just that small push of inclusiveness could keep them coming.

Note that these aren't supposed to be the end-all-be-all for reasons why there isn't a diverse crowd in Kendo or methods for increasing the population and diversity of those that are involved. Every dojo is different in terms of available demographic and philosophy. I would be interested in hearing from others what they feel the problem may be and any possible solutions to alleviate the situation.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

New Years Resolutions

The New Year is finally upon us. For most, it's a time to start over or change things about yourself to start the year on the right foot. This is where the New Year's Resolutions come in. We all make them, and most end up not working out in the end for a variety of reasons. But we keep making them anyways. Well, in the spirit of the new year, here are some resolutions that I am proposing to do that is largely Kendo related.

Of course, this stems from my month-long absence from Kendo. Due to finals, graduation, trip to Japan, and apartment hunting, I wasn't able to find the time or energy to do Kendo practice. I was able to return to practice this morning and it obviously showed that I wasn't in practice for a while since I reverted back to some of the bad habits that occured while doing Kendo. As a result, the little Kendo flame ignited strongly so I have a strong desire to improve.

1. Do something Kendo related every day
When I see Kendo related resolutions, they usually revolve around going to the dojo more and being less lazy, etc. I have the same goals, but I want to make this one more achieveable in the fact that I honestly think that it's physically impossible to do physical practice every day of the year. We all get sick, go on trips or have last-minute engagements that may keep us away.

My version of this resolution is to make sure I do something that is related to Kendo every day. It is optimal to do physical practice every day, but I also need a backup plan just in case things go wrong. So I want to make sure I do ANYTHING along the subject of Kendo in the attempt to increase my knowledge and increase my ability. If it's not possible to do physical practice, then I will read an article in a book or watch a video or read a manga. Just something to keep the kendo flame burning consistantly. One other thing I would like to do is to do 1000 suburi in a day, once a week.

One note about the 1000 suburi deal. I am using this more as an exercise in concentration instead of an exercise in endurance. Anyone can work up to being able to do 1000 suburi in one sitting but I believe that it takes real effort to do each one correctly. So once I can do 1000 suburi in one sitting while concentrating on each swing's footwork, arm placement, etc., then I feel I have mastered that aspect.

Okay, that happened to be the only Kendo related goal since that pretty much encompasses anything that I feel can help me improve. The goal isn't to just be able to win tournaments, I want to be a better Kenshi.

On the note of resolutions, here are some other goals that I am setting for the rest of the year.

I. Begin Iaido
I found out that there is an Iaido dojo in the Cincinnati area that I could possibly attend. This is something that I have wanted to try for the longest time, so I want to try to fit iaido into my schedule so I can at least try it. They say that Iaido is a great compliment to Kendo, so I'd like to see that for myself.

II. Learn more Kanji
After my trip to Japan, I would like to try to learn more Kanji to make things more readable when I make a return trip. I bought a game called Tadashii Kanji: Kakitori Kun which is a DS game that allows one to practice writing Kanji. So far it's going pretty nice and I hope to learn more vocabulary and grammar along the way.
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