A month or so ago – I can’t quite remember – I was reading a piece in one of the local kendo mags about someone who had, after many years of kendo practice, decided to quit. Of the many reasons he gave for this, one stood out: that there was no special ‘polishing of the character’ to be had through kendo practise. That is, through kendo there is no sort of ‘bettering’ of the person. This topic is actually something i’ve struggled with for a long time, so it made me (as occasional I do!) re-examine my rationale for doing kendo.
Being in the environment I am in, I have the chance to do kendo with a large variety of people across all experience levels. Of-course, there are many reasons why people do kendo, and thats cool, but it struck me during a couple of instances lately that my partner and I’s goal of doing kendo were mutually incompatible. In both instances the level of my partner was low/middle (around 3rd and 4th dan) and their kendo was – for want of a better word – random. Attacks came suddenly, without buildup, and at odd distances, and they attempted to block almost all of my strikes… including pulling their hands down to stop a (men-kaeshi) dou. They also enjoyed showboating strikes that they deemed good… as if their partner (me) didn’t exist. ‘Maybe, at that level, its to be expected?’ some may think (not me btw).
‘Ippon shobu onegaishimasu’ I said, admittedly trying to hurry up and put to bed what was for me a tiring and – dare I say it – boring experience. In both cases the people started attacking aggressively (and randomly)… not such a dreadful thing, so I remained cool and aimed to practise my debana or maybe kaeshi waza. One of the guys scuffed the left side of my men and then – much to my chagrin – chuckled when he saw that I ignored it and was prepared to fight on. The other spent all his time blocking any attempt for me to strike and – when he did try to attack – he found himself running into the point of my shinai. I finished one of the ippon by resorting to an overly flashy waza and then promptly going into sonkyo, and the other by letting the person hit me and say ‘thank you’ … both unfortunate and unsatisfactory results of keiko for me at least, if not all concerned.
The above are just 2 simple examples of keiko I’ve had with people whose purpose for practising kendo I can’t fathom. There is no polishing of technique, there is no respect, they show no understanding of when to strike… their kendo seems like a childs to me. Of course, I assume that 8dan sensei think like this about my kendo, but I do hope that I can recognise these actions in myself and can at least re-aim myself in the right direction if and when needed.
I’ve seen yet other people, of much higher level, acting in ways that have nothing to do with the concept of kendo, so much so that I couldn’t write a list if I wanted to. The worst include grooming of girls in the dojo for nefarious purposes (yes, you read that right), outward racism, and bitter political struggles in organisations that end up in the courts… all extremely selfish acts and nothing to do with the spirit of kendo.
Despite these examples, I do believe that there is a spiritual worth in practising kendo, and that if you subject your body to hard discipline it can help you mature into a more moral adult. The caveat of this is that it is not automatic… it has to be something you want, and you have to surround yourself with people that have, if not the exact same aim, then something similar. This may or may not be easy depending on your particular situation.
To go back to the person in the first paragraph: I’m not sure, but I suspect that he had an unfortunate experience or/and was not in the right environment to aim at what he was seeking. I know from personal experience that it sometimes hard to continue the daily routine of practise, sometimes because of personal issues, sometimes because the people around you don’t live up to your ideals, and sometimes because you yourself don’t live up to your own ideal (probably the hardest to overcome). Kendo should be demanding, both physically and mentally, and to ensure that you have a healthy, long term kendo career, its best to re-examine your reasons for subjecting yourself to such training. If you don’t bother, have only a short term goal, or have none, its only natural for you to quit when things because a little harder than usual. If you think about quitting perhaps its better to take a break, re-assess, pick a good teacher, and surround yourself with like-minded kenshi. Don’t give up!!
Recently some of my articles have been of a more rambling, personal type… and thus probably of dubious value to the general kendo community. Apologies!!!!