A few years ago I wrote and published my high successful Kendo Coaching Tips and Drills manual, the first of its kind, and still – afaik – the ONLY publication of its kind in the English language. The idea to write a more advanced manual for instructors first came in 2008. It then took four years of keiko, experimentation, keiko, writing, keiko, editing, and more keiko before it was finally released. For the first time in my life something concrete had come from my study of kendo that I could be proud of.
Over 10 years have elapsed since I first put pencil to paper to plan out the chapters, and during those years I have continued to practise and teach kendo on an almost daily basis. However, I am not the same kenshi today that I was in 2008 or 2012. I have grown older, my family and job responsibilities have changed, and, importantly for todays topic, a couple of younger, very able teachers arrived at my school.
Chatting briefly to a European kenshi who came to the Kyoto Taikai this year, I pointed out that teaching in school is much different to teaching at an adult dojo: I have the students for about 2.5 years before they leave the club. Students, then, are forever rotating in-and-out, and their age-range is always 15-18 (whereas I am always getting older!).
All of this has had an impact on my way of teaching kendo. First of all, after the first few years of teaching a lot (the years I was writing the coaching manual), my basic keiko method was firmly installed in the club. This meant I eventually stopped having to to repeat myself over and over again: the first few batches I taught directly passed this on to their kohai, who passed it on to theirs, etc. The basic club “style” has thus become my style.
The continual rotation of students over a short period of time, and the realisation that not all of them will continue at university level, has deeply impacted how I instruct (for the first few years I was not attuned to the cycle). For example, if someone comes in to the club with experience, I don’t try to bend them in to doing kendo my way – I generally look for their good points and try to motivate them to improve by thinking for themselves. If someone starts in high school, I aim to train them in solid basics, with the aim of passing nidan before they retire from the club.
The arrival of younger teachers (one in particular is quite forthright!) kind of disrupted things in the beginning, until they themselves got used to me. Delegating large jobs to them (for example, deciding shiai members, or teaching the gasshuku) helped give them a sense of place and responsibility. I also encourage them to teach, though the basic kihon menu must stay the same (I also ban jigeiko on weekdays unless its before a shiai). I, of course, still lead the club, and do all the paperwork.
The rotation of students, the fixing of the club basic style, and the coming of younger teachers, has, over the last few years, led me to explicitly teach to the group less. Instead of trying to coach everyone at the same time, I now tend to focus on an individual students technical and spiritual/mental development, and leave the more general, wider comments to the young teachers. Oh, and I can now concentrate on my own kendo more.
Competition concerns I have also completely left to the younger teachers – I have been to more shiai than I can count and, frankly speaking, it got a bit old a few years ago. Fun, yes, and a good motivational tool for young students, but nothing other than that. Even if we win a competition or place high in one, it is all forgotten a few days later, and it’s back to kihon-keiko as normal.
All of these things happened over a period of about the last five years or so, and I slowly realised that my position – self-perceived probably – within the club has changed. Although I am the leader, my focus is not on coaching the students in general anymore. Instead, I find myself making sure that their health is ok, that everybody is motivated and trying their best, and that they are not behind in their study. Kendo-wise, I give individuals things to work on, and modify my keiko style depending on the student in front of me. I am kind to some, hard on others. Compared to how I did things 10 years ago, I think I have built far more trust with some students, and I expect to be doing kendo with them far into the future.
But it wasn’t until at some point last year that it finally struck me – I feel that I’ve kind of graduated from being a kendo coach, and moved on to being a kendo teacher. Perhaps it’s an age thing or a maturity thing… whatever it is, I feel far more comfortable in the dojo now than I ever did before. This transformation (evolution?), then, I have decided to embrace rather than resist.
While writing this – more personal than usual – post, I started to reflect on probably the single most important person in my kendo journey and I realised that, the more my kendo matures, the more taciturn I become in the dojo… just like he was. How and where exactly kenshi 24/7 fits within this however, I have no idea!