Thursday, August 18, 2011

2011 AUSKF National Tournament Thoughts

This past weekend, I participated in the US National Kendo Tournament in Atlanta, GA.  I might have elaborated on this in previous posts but, in short, it’s a Kendo tournament held once every three years in which each of the 15 regional federations in the United States send people to fight in various divisions (Youth, Senior, Men’s, Women’s Teams, etc.) on the national stage.  How you get on the team will vary from federation to federation, but the overall goal is the same.

Ever since I found out that I got one of the positions on the team back in April, I have been trying very hard to improve my skills.  Whether I am instructing a class or just learning, or if I am fighting against a more advanced person or a complete beginner, I was learning about myself and where I needed to go from each experience. 

Based on the how I felt about my performance at the time and what I saw on video, I thought that the hard work paid off.  I must thank everyone that helped me, whether they were doing it actively or passively, and regardless of relative experience.  While I didn’t score anything from any of my fights, it wasn’t an all-out domination as I was able to hold my own for an appreciable amount of time.  The odds were most certainly against me since the people that I happened to get paired with undoubtedly have more Kendo experience that I did.  Despite that, I did my best to shed my worries about that and just did what I could to perform the best I could in my capacity.

The main things that I was working on for these past few months lied in both the physical and mental realm.  On the physical side of things, I needed to work on my posture to be able to reduce my acceleration time when I wanted to do something.  The solution to this was to play around with my center of gravity to unstabalize myself so that there was little to no prep time when the moment came that I wanted to move.  Also, I needed to gain the center, and keep that center when I begin to do something.  The problem wasn’t so much that my tip would always be to the side.  The problem was that my tip would move up too early which can give an opponent the opportunity to take advantage of the distancing and any openings that occurred.  Unfortunately, it’s something that I’m still trying to work on until it becomes habit.  Mentally, I would say the issues lie on being affected by doubt in my own skills relative to the person I’m going against.  Whenever I want to do an attack, there would be doubt in my mind as to whether or not my attempts would work which would only serve to slow me down as my head wasn’t in the game.  The solution is to just not think about it.  But the more complicated solution is to create situations in which I don’t have to think about it.  Particularly, I need to do what I can to read the opponent to see whatever openings there might be.  If there aren’t any openings for me to see, then I can create them through manipulation of my shinai, posture and movement.  This is something that I have just only started to understand myself.  While I was able to put it to use to some extent during my fights at the tournament, I’ll need much more time to be able to use it more effectively based on my own skills and the skills of the opponent.

Despite the results of my own performance, I was able to walk away with some very valuable lessons.  The most important one was that the skill of those that I was fighting and the caliber of the tournament at hand had helped change my perceptions of those that I fight in tournaments and during normal practice.  The high skill of those that I was fighting, and my own performance during the tournament, makes the various situations that I have faced and will face not seem as dire as they used to.  Confidence issues such as this has always been a thorn at my side ever since I started to have to think about more things during jigeiko, so a lesson like that should really help me.

After tournaments and promotional exams, I tend to take some time to reflect on my past experiences and try to formulate a plan for how I want to proceed.  In most cases, I’m usually concrete in where I want to go and what I should do with whatever acquired skills I gain.  This time, however, I might know where I want to go, but how I want to achieve that goal has become much more complicated.  Usually, it’s enough to say that I want to improve my tournament performance and that improvement would be through getting faster or hitting harder.  While those sorts of sentiments remain true, the mental improvement that I feel is necessary throws a whole wrench into the thought process, which might require some meditation on my part to sort out to an acceptable level. 

The tournament has provided me with such a great experience.  While I participated in the nationals three years ago in the mudansha division, the caliber of the tournament, the divisions that I was fighting in, and the necessity of making sure I helped represent the ECUSKF well provided me with all new thoughts and perceptions that I plan on taking with me into my future Kendo career.  I was given the opportunity to fight against people that are considered the best in their region.  Since I knew that they would be giving it their all—as opposed to regular practice when the goal is to teach people and possibly hold back—I was able to give it my all, and take home very valuable lessons and thoughts on Kendo.  I was able to gather a lot of material for myself, which I am still trying to sort through, though.

P.S.:  Please take a look at my Flickr gallery for some of the pictures I took.

Monday, August 08, 2011

What Is a Hobby?

There was a thread started on the Kendo World forums not too long ago that was discussing whether or not Kendo should be considered a hobby.  One thing that everyone can agree on is that there are various elements of Kendo that personally makes it enjoyable enough for use to continue.  However, the fact that it’s easy for Kendo to go from just an activity done outside of the home to something that affects just about every aspect of our lives made the discussion all the more pertinent.

Over the past few years, I’ve been able to involve myself in many Kendo events in the area and sometimes around the country.  I usually attend between three and five practice every week, attend tournaments and seminars and I try to help out the Kendo community as I am able to spread knowledge of the activity that I hold so near and dear to my heart and hopefully transform knowledge into interest, and ultimately into attendance.  In that regard, it’s easy to see how Kendo has become something more than just something I do on the side.

First, we can look at the dictionary definition of what Kendo is.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary states that the word hobby means, “a pursuit outside one’s regular occupation engaged in especially for relaxation.”  In other words, it’s considered any extracurricular activity or any activity that is done outside of working hours.  For some reason, the term hobby has turned into being perceived as something that’s fun, but doesn’t take much effort such as things like video games or sewing.  While the word hobby states that it’s something that we do for fun outside of school or jobs, it doesn’t mention anything as to how involved we are in these hobbies.

For instance, video games, sewing, and even stamp collecting can be considered activities that don’t take much effort.  However, a little searching can show how much dedication that people put into putting themselves on the tops of the leaderboards with video games, making the fanciest sweaters with sewing and trying to find the oldest and rarest stamps to add to their scrapbooks.  Kendo is not much different than that.  There are people that just go to practice and go with the flow, and there are others where they let Kendo permeate to other aspects of their  lives to reach their highest potential, whether it be rank, tournament performance or just technical prowess.

I can understand that Kendo has become something so important to us that we can’t really define what it means to us in just a word or a sentence.  But, at the same time, we must remember that it is also something that we do in our free time.  The other issue I see with those that feel like calling it a hobby is a bad thing is that it also diminishes people who are just as involved in many other activities which can also take the same amount of dedication to become great at what they do.  That sort of thinking doesn’t exactly help anyone since, instead of seeing what we do as a wonderful activity that we would like to share with everyone, people might get the perception that we are an elitist crowd of people who put ourselves above others who might not necessarily like the same things that we do.  Ultimately, maybe we should just find solace in the fact that Kendo means many different things to many different people, and just get together, relax and simply just enjoy practice together.
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