Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Working Towards that Immovable Mind

There are many people who practice kendo that believe that they have completed their practice of the kendo fundamentals during the beginner stage and only attempt to relate to them theoretically thereafter.  However, this is a big misconception to the pursuit of true kendo.

Until you are 50 years old, you must endeavor to practice the fundamentals of kendo and make it a part of you.It has taken me 50 years to learn the fundamentals of kendo by body.  It was not until I became 50 years old that I started my true kendo training.  This is because I practiced kendo with all my heart and spirit.

When one becomes 60 years old, the legs are not as strong as they once were.  It is the spirit that overcomes this weakness.  It is through a strong spirit that one can overcome the inevitability of the body becoming physically weaker.

When I became 70 years old, the entire body became weaker.  I found that the next step is to practice the concept of not moving ones spirit (immovable spirit) when practicing kendo.  When one is able to achieve the state of an immovable spirit, your opponent's spirit and will manifests itself to you.  I tried to achieve a calm and immovable spirit at this stage in my life.

When I became 80 years old, I achieved the state of the immovable spirit.  However, there are times when a random thought will enter my mind.  I am striving to eliminate these random thoughts at this state in my life.

-Mochida Moriji Sensei 10th Dan (taken from Princeton Kendo page)

The above quote is from Mochida Moriji sensei, who is the last known 10th dan in Kendo before they reduced the maximum available dan ranks from ten to eight.  Here, he was describing, his progression in Kendo as his body became weaker through age.  Once his body became weaker,, he started on working towards that immovable spirit, or fudoushin, that allows you to keep calm despite what's going on in front of him and be able to move and react despite his physical shortcomings.  He was quite the accomplished kenshi for his time and definitely looked upon very highly when one wants to model themselves after someone for good Kendo.  If you haven't seen his fights, then you can click here for one that was done in front of the emporer at the time.  Here's another one that was from that 8th Dan video that has become popular within the Kendo circle in the past few years.

At 25 years old and in good health, I think that I am still considered young, depending on who you ask.  Despite what people think, when practice begins, I have no qualms with hitting the ground hard and run around the dojo since my body allows for that sort of thing.  No matter how healthy and young my body feels, I eventually run low on energy and I'm not able to move around as well.  So now, the important question becomes, "What do I do when my body isn't able to move as well as I want to, whether it be because of advancing age or simple exhaustion?"  Based on the quote above and my own recent experience, maybe I'm already working towards the answer.

Thanks to the recent weather conditions in the southwest Ohio area, I've had ample opportunity to deal with just that problem.  By time practice starts, temperatures reach the 90s with the dew points in the 70s.  After a series of lots of meterological equations, the heat index gets up into the 100s, sometimes even reaching near 110 degrees.  The fact that we're wearing the heavy dougi and bogu--which only gets heavier as they become sweat soaked--and that the sweat doesn't evaporate since the air is already waterlogged, only creates a recipe for disaster if you don't prepare for it and watch yourself during  practice.

This problem is especially apparent when I attend the practices in Dayton with the Miami Valley Kendo Club.  There are air conditioning units in the dojo, but only open doors and ceiling fans are operational throughout practice.  The practices are normally very intense all year, and practices are run the same whether it's 0 degrees or 95 degrees.  

These intense training conditions really put a number on my body.  In the beginning, I can move around just fine.  But fast forward to near the end of kihon practice when my bougu, my body is dripping with sweat, my bogu is wet and heavier, my legs feel like they will collapse under the weight of everything they support and my arms feel like lead.  Nonetheless, I have to keep going and make it to the end of practice.

Over the past year or so, especially after I got my nidan, I've been given copious amounts of advice on mentally fighting other people.  From being told to simply think before I move to how to use my shinai and body to assess the situation, I am getting to the point where I can't solely rely on my physical prowess anymore...though it does help.  It's given me a path to achieve that fudoushin, that is so sought after so I can remain in control of my body and start gaining control over the other person's body despite the situation at hand.

The benefits are many-fold.  On the physical side of things, it's less taxing on my body.  Being able to do more with less helps conserve the energy that I do have at any given point in time.  On the mental side of things, I find that I'm able to see more of what's going on in front of me.  Things like bodily patterns and openings become more apparent.  And, whether or not I'm even successful, I'm able to react faster since I'm relying on my own auto-responses instead of seeing and doing.

Unfortunately, it's something that doesn't last very long.  After a few minutes, I begin to lose focus, which is a problem because I didn't have a lot of physical energy left to begin with.  Then, I have to actively bring my jigeiko back to it's previous mental state, which can sometimes add a little more stress to the situation, albeit not much. Then it becomes a sort of ping-pong match as I bounce back and forth through various mental states.

At this point, I only know that time is the only medicine to work on this stuff.  Right now, my exhausted body has been the trigger for calming and strengthening my mind.  The next step would be to just keep things calm at any situation to make sure that I don't lose myself during critical moments such as testing and tournament matches.  Then, I guess it would serve as compensation for a weakening body, which hopefully shouldn't happen for at least another 30 years or so.  That fact should help me better concentrate on all those basics and stuff while I can efficiently move.


Kieran Rafter said...

Nice article. I enjoyed the quotation and video link you provided. It strikes me that it is not only those who practice kendo that could benefit from fudoshin, for me this is a general skill one could use in all tasks.

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