Thursday, December 13, 2012

Kendo Ain’t Easy


Too bad I actually fail that men…

A friend of mine posted an article on Facebook titled, “5 Little-Known Secrets to Utterly Successful Karate-ka” which briefly talks about some of the things that some of the most successful Karate-ka go through to reach whatever level of success they want to achieve.  I think that the article itself touches on some very good points about what it takes to be the best in Karate.  What I got from it was that the great Karate-ka are willing to examine themselves and not too prideful to go back to the basics to improve on the advanced techniques and not rely on natural talent.  Quite naturally, I applied all of this to Kendo and even thought about how I approach what I feel is success in Kendo.

One thing that I can definitely understand is that, whatever we are seeking, we would love to find that small piece of information, that familiar grouping of words, that magically gives us all of the answers.  Of course, we all quickly realize that life just doesn’t' work that way.  I am most certainly guilty of that myself.  In the search of improving my quality of life, I would hope that there is an easy way to achieve my goals, despite that never really happening.  In terms of Kendo, I really want to be able to apply very effective seme and take advantage of those results.  I read books, read websites, watched videos and seeked advice from fellow Kendo-ka in the hopes that I would find that deus-ex-machina.  In the end, I just better understood what seme means, but it wasn’t information to directly apply to my everyday practice to quickly apply said information.Well, I most certainly got more acquainted with what seme is, but I was no closer to finding the answer to my question of HOW I should perform it.  At the same time, I knew that, in the back of my mind, that I would not be able to find that answer just by asking a few questions, watching a few videos and reading a few books.  In order to be more effective in seme, I need to put in years of trial and error to see what works and what doesn’t for my style of Kendo.  I can listen to and employ various forms of advice, but I would still need to see how that works and, if it does, spend lots of time working on it to even feel like its working.

As much as I want to improve on my applications of seme, I still need to be able to employ the basics well enough to be effective in it.  Unfortunately, it does involve lots of work with things as simple as working on my kamae.  Everything from the footwork to where most of our strength comes from provides that foundation that allows us to effectively employ those advanced waza that we love so much.  Even after I have done Kendo for 50 years, I can’t forget about the things that got me to where I will be at that point.  In our minds, we want to do all the fun stuff like harai-waza, suriage-waza, or even hiki-waza, but we can’t forget about doing simple things like holding a shinai to perform them correctly.

I did mention earlier that my quest for finding out how I can better employ stuff like seme only resulted in me finding out more about what seme is.  Regardless of that, we should be willing to search for the information that we seek.  It could be through books, videos or talking to sensei and sempai, but there is the difficult task of finding out more about what we are trying to do.  One thing that really helps is that, the people that we are getting advice from are either currently dealing with the struggle, or has at least learned how to deal with it.  Getting advice from people who have “been there” makes the advice seem more useful.  However, despite getting that information, the next thing is to be able to use the information in real-world applications.

I mentioned earlier that my quest for information about seme didn’t really answer any of my questions about how to perform seme well.  That doesn’t mean that my search was fruitless.  I was able to learn more information about what it is.  Another point that was brought up in the article is that we must be willing to seek out information and learn from the best.  Getting information from those that have gone through similar struggles can help get a grasp on what’s going one.

The most important thing that I got from the article is that we must really love what we are doing.  It seems obvious, but in the daily routine of our lives, it’s very simple to just go through the motions because it’s what we are used to.  However, if progress is to be made, we must really be able to examine ourselves and find out what’s REALLY important in our lives.  If Kendo is one of them, we must be able to learn from our victories and defeats and work through those moments that are so frustrating that we just want to quit (I’ll admit that I had that feeling once a few years back).  Working on Kendo can be very draining, painful and exhausting, but we must WANT to work through the troubles.

One very important fact is that, in the end, success is relative.  Everyone has their own opinions on what the goals of Kendo should be.  The most important thing is that we must be willing to do whatever we can to reach whatever goal we set out to achieve, whether it’s to get that next rank, get a gold medal at a tournament or just hit men better than you did last week.  One thing that I think we all can agree on is that, whatever path we choose, there really is no easy route to reach our destination.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Dear Diary…

Bleh, yet again, there is yet another long time span since I made my last entry.  Things were getting a little busy around March due to events happening at work and balancing the responsibility of setting up the promotion exam for Kendo in the ECUSKF.  After that, I’ll admit that some laziness and distraction came up since I’m involved with other things in life that makes me wish that there was more time in a day to accomplish stuff.  Ah well.  Hopefully I can be more consistent with posting, as long as I have enough stuff to write about.

A few things have happened since I last posted.  Unfortunately, I failed my 3rd Dan exam when I went up to Cleveland.  I wasn’t able to get any advice since, by time they posted the results, we already started the Iaido seminar and just about everyone had already left by that point.  All I can do is continue practicing until the next round of exams and try again.  To compound that, my drive back was okay until the last five miles or so when heavy rain and hail started to fall to the point where I couldn’t see more than 10 feet in front of me.  Then there was the sprained ankle that magically appeared the next day, which still baffles me how that happened.  However, most of that was trumped by the fact that the UC team got 3rd place at the tournament.  We were able to defeat the other teams until we had to fight against the Canadian team.  The results really helped boost our spirits to continue practicing, improving and seeing the fruits of our labor.  Koizumi-sensei from Miami Valley Kendo Club was nice enough to post a video with just my matches in it, so you can take a look below at the team matches we had.

Video of my team tournament performance. Now, if only I can feel this good during the individuals, then I’d be all set.

I’ve had some ideas on what to type about next, but it was just a matter of actually posting.  At first, I wanted to talk about the last WKC in Italy, but I felt that, by time I would post it, most of what I wanted to say has already been said ad nauseum so I didn’t think that I had much value to put into it.  It doesn’t help that I’ve never been involved with something of that order of magnitude, nor was I even there so that was an additional strike against it.  What I did settle on though, was the concept of having a budo diary of sorts and talk about what it means to me.

When I first started this blog, I thought about making this a diary of sorts.  I guess I can say that it kind of is, but not in the sense of telling everyone how my last practice went.  I could very well do something like this, but I felt that I could provide more to the internet budo world than that so I finally settled on just talking about how I feel about certain concepts that I encounter through my practices.  Also, I don’t think I could get as personal on the internet than I can with written pages in a book where I can air my frustrations that I might not want to discuss nor do I want to bore people with the laundry list of things I did with little explanation to what they all mean.

I have considered, and tried, making a written version of the diary so that I can put my personal thoughts down on paper.  I know I really want to do something like that, but I don’t know if it’s something to do with being too lazy to keep it up, or if it’s something to do with the format of what I want to talk about.  My thoughts in the past tended to be very boring, only consisting of “we did X, Y and Z during practice and I thought I did well, or bad, performing those,” without any further reflection beyond that.  If what I’m writing is boring, then how can I really keep it up.

A few months ago, I was talking to a Kendo bud of mine and the subject of Kendo diaries came up.  He was talking about how he really goes into his feelings of the recent practice, down to if he agrees or disagrees with the lesson for the day.  It lit the light bulb in my head, giving me some additional ideas to make writing these entries a bit more fulfilling.  Instead of doing what I have done in the past, I really need to dig deep into myself to articulate my feelings on my practices.  And since it’s not really intended for others to see, I can get as personal as I feel I need to be in order to really reflect on how I feel about things.

Whether it’s online, on paper, or just in our heads, anyone that has done martial arts for even a little while notices the benefits of reflecting on practices.  On the surface, it seems like that practice begins and ends in the dojo and just attending practice a lot is sufficient to improve.  However, I think that the thoughts that are necessary outside of practice makes martial arts seem like one of those full-time jobs that people really don’t see until they are knee deep in it.  Recently, the things that I have been trying to understand go way beyond just mechanically doing techniques right.  Concepts like seme has popped up quite a bit in recent months that can’t be improved upon just by going to the dojo every day.  I really need to examine what needs to be done for me to understand it in the context of my current ability and understanding of Kendo.  You know what?  Maybe I’ll try again at one of these diary things.  There’s really nothing to lose, right?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Not Thinkin' About It

This has sure been an interesting couple of months.  I've been dealing with quite a bit of stress lately to the point where it has cut into my Kendo and Iaido practice schedule a bit.  This actually wouldn't be entirely bad if it wasn't for the fact that said stress affected my health for a few weeks.  In short, I had the typical cold symptoms that improved, then worsened after yet another hard day at work.  The good news is that I've recovered now after actually putting my health before my occupation (go figure!).  I've also been exercising my new duties as the ECUSKF Officer of Promotions as we set up the next promotion test for early next month.  It hasn't really been a source of stress, but I'm sure understanding what people have to go through to set these things up.  I've had a few hiccups along the way, but I can take the lessons I've learned now and apply them for the next round of exams for sometime in November or December.

Not too long ago, I was watching some episodes of Transformers that I have been recording on my DVR as of late, since The Hub started to finally air season 3.  There was one episode in particular that caught my attention due to a short Kendo scene in it (the scene below is about 15 seconds or so).

The clip above comes from the episode titled, "The Burden Hardest To Bear."  In this particular episode, Rodimus Prime lets the stress coming from his new found leadership position get the best of him and runs off. Later in the episode, he (now Hot Rod again after losing the Matrix) watches a "Kendo" class and ends up getting a very valuable lesson.  More details on that particular scene can be found in the clip below, which is about 2 minutes.

From the above clip, the quote that I took notice to was, "You should not expect to win, you should not expect to lose....expect nothing...One can not think of victory without considering it's opposite...and thinking of defeat distracts the mind from what must be done in order to win."  The subject matter contained in this scene is something that we've all had to deal with in life at some point or another.  While it's much less dire than the situation presented in the clips above, and even most aspects of our lives, it's something that we have to reconcile, and deal with, in our Kendo development.

After some thinking, I've applied the situation previously described with a term that most of us in the Kendo circles have at least heard of, which is mushin (無心).  According to the 2011 edition of the Japanese-English Dictionary of Kendo, is defined as the condition of the mind when it is not preoccupied with anything.  On its surface, it's a really simple concept to understand.  Through practice, we must get to the point where we're able to automatically deal with the situation at hand without the outside influences of extra thoughts, such as possibilities of success and failure with specific techniques or the whole match.  As we all know, it's much harder to actually perform.  I would also like to bring up the definition of a possibly lesser-known term, munen-musou (無念無想).  Munen-musou  is defined as  the mental condition of selflessness, free from worldly thoughts.  A mirror-like mental condition which reflects all phenomena.  The mind functions best when it is purely concentrated and undistracted, and the spirit is replete.  That particular term seems, to me, to further define the state of mind in which we need to approach the subject.  Much like how Hot Rod needed to clear his mind of the worries of success or defeat to win against the Decepticons, we must be able to do the same when faced with someone in front of us, or even when faced with no one while just doing suburi.

Now, I think it's important to contrast this from those situations of no thought that occur early in our Kendo careers where we just mindlessly flail about hitting whatever we feel like it.  The difference between that and the state of mind described above is that, in the beginning, while we aren't thinking, we don't have full control over our bodies.  It's like writing a computer program for your body, where you give it some conditional statements and commands and let it do its magic.  The program only works for the situations that the programmer can plan for, which is quite limited.  In the sense of Kendo, in the beginning, we only know how to execute a limited amount of techniques a certain way.  Through time, we must move beyond the computer programming operate in a way where we do what needs to be done without sacrificing any of the basics that got us to that point.  It seems like something that would be confusing to understand, but we all have certain activities that we have done for a long time, like turning on a TV or playing a video game.  At first, we're fumbling around with the buttons and commands.  After some time, we can pick up the controller and perform the tasks that needs to be done without thinking about it.

Of course, this is only my current thinking of what mushin is.  Through further experience, my interpretation could just mature a bit or completely change.  One thing that I do know for certain is that this is something that can only be done in time as we're faced with new experiences through promotion exams, tournaments and practicing with people we're not familiar with.  Unfortunately, unlike the physical applications of better footwork or more efficient strikes, it's not as simple as tweaking an angle here or applying less force there.  It's a state of being that seems like it might take some time without over-thinking the situation.  Trust me, I've tried only to end up being more frustrated than when I started.

Using clips from a cartoon series seems a little weird to me, and possibly to many people.  But as much as we bemoan the depiction of martial arts in various forms of media, they all do come from come kernels of truth.  From that, those aspects get peppered with gross exaggerations to make the shows more viewable or games more playable.  Even a show like Dragonball Z, which was made famous by the 30-minute bouts of screaming and bright flashing by muscle-bound dudes that only live to pummel each other to death, has some basic concepts of martial arts in there if you care to look hard enough.  I'm the kind of person that likes to find those gems from unconventional resources to hopefully understand life better, so I'll continue to do stuff like this when appropriate.

Well, until next time!

Monday, January 02, 2012

Year in Reflection And Looking Ahead

To open up the new year, we held our annual Hatsugeiko practice.  It’s an opportunity for all participants to start the year off on a high note to make the current year better than the last with a high-spirited practice amongst friends and families.  For us in the ECUSKF, that involves having a dinner the night before, and then make it to the practice spot so that we can start at 6 AM on New Years Day.  Afterwards, we have some food, like zoni, kimchi and other dishes that I can’t really identify (but tasted good) as well as the requisite alcoholic beverages (and water for those that don’t drink or are too young to do so).  I love going to these kinds of practices as it’s a surefire way to start off the year on a high note.  I get to hang out with my friends as we all battle through the initial sleepiness and grogginess of waking up so early, and it’s just a nice Kendo practice overall.
In addition to that, I like to do some personal reflection on the past year’s events and think about the year ahead.  For Kendo, it was surely a big year.  I was able to participate in the AUSKF Kendo National Tournament in Atlanta on the men’s team and attended a wonderful seminar in Seattle, whose purpose was to give the attendees ideas on how to build and maintain a Kendo club, no matter where you happen to be based.  Iaido was a little less exciting, but I did attend the Iaido national seminar and tournament, which is where I got my 3rd Kyu.  However, some recent developments makes this next year for Iaido much more promising, which I’ll get to shortly.
This year isn’t going to be chock full of events beyond the regular tournaments and seminars held every year, but I expect nothing less in terms of acquiring better knowledge about the martial arts I know and love.  For Kendo, I plan on taking my 3rd Dan exam in March.  I’ve been preparing for this for a long time now by improving whatever I can, so it’s just going to be up to the judges as to whether they feel it’s enough.  I was also recently put on the promotional exam committee for our federation so I will be responsible for planning, organizing and running the exams every year.  I’ve never planned events of this caliber before so I’m a little nervous, but I have a great support structure to help me out if I have any questions.  For Iaido, I would like to be able to go to another seminar and test again.  I don’t know about the events that are being planned this year, so I don’t know which ones I will be able to attend.  The biggest thing though is that I’ve been hearing about there being a large demand for Iaido in this area of the country.  For now, people are making do with the materials they have, but they would like to collaborate with our dojo, being the only official AUSKF Iaido dojo in the immediate area, to help build up interest in their areas.  It’s nice knowing that there’s a demand for Iaido, and I’d love to be able to see it grow and give people more opportunities to practice it.
While I’m not much of a fan of setting those new year’s resolutions, I do like to be able to think about what I want to do based on where I’ve already been headed and set some goals along the way.  First and foremost, I want to be able to pass my 3rd Dan exam.  The sooner I pass it, the sooner I can concentrate on other things Smile with tongue out.  I’ve also been gathering materials to try to make a good program to keep practices fresh and kata learning more fulfilling.  I got copies of the Japanese-English Kendo Dictionary and Kendo Kata:  Essence and Applications for Christmas, which should really help out.  Of course, I’d like to get better and Kendo and Iaido and blah, blah, blah, but why should I plan for that?  That tends to happen just by virtue of going to practice regularly.
Anyways, I wish all readers a successful 2012 in their budo practices and everything else in life.
あけましておめでとうございます、皆さん!(Happy New Year everyone!)
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