Not only when Seargent Pepper taught the band to play, but when I lived in Kansai doing pretty much the same kendo stuff as George is doing today. One of the real differences between then and now is that through the wonders of internet, email and skype etc., it is easy to let friends around the world share your experiences, whereas then, you were pretty much on your own. So it is a new experience for me to be able to dip into George’s blog and compare notes. Having moved back to the UK at the end of the 70’s, a lot of things have changed, but having visited fairly regularly for Kyoto Taikai and grading examinations, there are no real surprises.
There is a strong feeling of continuity in Kendo, I still have many of the friends I made when I first started. Of course, some of the older sensei have now passed away, but their students and their students students keep their memory fresh.
After 25 years away, I went back for my first practice at the Shudokan. On the way there everything looked different. Osaka jo was no longer the tallest buiding in the area, being now sandwiched between high rise blocks. There was also a blue plastic lean to on the side of the dojo where a homeless family had made camp. I imagine and hope that it has now dissapeared and things have improved for the campers!
Beyond that however, all seemed the same. My Japanese kendo friends were still surprised by the size of some of the lady tourists getting off the kankou buses and when we started keiko, Shimano, Arima and Ohta sensei were in charge. Spookiest of all, when we sat down for the final rei; I was still in between the same two people I sat between when I was a regular. Ok, we had all moved round to the wall on the far right, but relatively, all was the same. As for the long lost friend greetings, forget it. It was more “where the hell have you been”
So what has changed – There are considerably more gaikokujin doing Kendo in Japan. In my three years in Osaka the only serious regulars were Mark Grivas of the USA, an Iranian guy called Sadat and me. I look forward to everyone’s input on this, but there seems to be less “tough love”, where some of the more traditional sensei had no qualms about giving you a very hard time for your own good. Maybe I just get treated better now that I am getting old! Overall though, I think our respective experiences are not that different.
Editor: You can see Geoffs own blog here: kendoinfo.net