I changed my mind ….. read this first…
As I am sure many kenshi 24/7 readers are aware, the state of emergency regarding the current pandemic has already been lifted here in Japan. It was lifted in Tokyo on the 1st of June, and here in Osaka a few days earlier. Students are already back in school, although staggered and for a shorter duration, and we are looking for a return to the normal schedule from the 15th (40 students rammed into cramped classrooms…). After school club activities, like kendo, are allowed from that day as well. The official guidelines from the prefectural government state that practice (judo in particular was specifically mentioned) can occur as long as:
- Keiko is short; - Hands and face are washed before and after keiko; - Students don't get to close to each other at any time other than during keiko (huh?).
Guidelines from the ZNKR and local federations are as they were before: “don’t do keiko.” In the meantime quite a few bogu manufacturers have (cobbled?) together various plastic face shield thingamabobs. The ZNKR seems to be researching just how such devices could be utilised (and, I hope, not only whether they are actually useful, but also addressing safety concerns), but nothing concrete has been communicated other than this as yet.
I would hope that my local federation will issue some sort of updated guidelines before the 15th, but I am not holding my breath (an insider friend says that nothing will come out until the end of the month). Today, I will give you some insight into my (proposed) plan for keiko from this time forward.
(note that we have a local school federation as well, but – since I have heard basically nothing from them at this point in time – the assumption is that they will follow whatever the prefectural association says)
I realise that my situation differs considerably from most people reading this blog but – as a kendo teacher deep in the kendo trenches here in Japan – I think that perhaps my perspective could be… interesting for some at least. Plus, there is nothing much else to write about at the moment!
Before we start it is important to realise that after school club activities are an vital part of the Japanese (junior and senior) high school experience. At them, lifelong friendships are made and health, both physical and mental, is cultivated and maintained; for some students, club activities can literally serve as a lifeline. NOT doing club activities, then, isn’t really an option (modifying them is).
During the last few months third year students – who were scheduled to have their final shiai and retire mid-June) – have had the rug pulled out from beneath their feet. New first year students have yet to arrive as well…
First 10 days – two weeks or so
Although we are officially allowed to do keiko with bogu on (government advice is mandatory for us at school, but kendo federations have no real say in the matter), I am going to hold off, at least in the beginning. I plan to do modified practice sessions while watching what the other sports clubs are doing and inquiring into how other schools are treating the situation (as well as monitoring the situation at large). My plan is:
Clothing: tracksuit Time: 5 days/week x 1.5 hours (A) + 1 day x 3 hours (B). (I may reduce this) Content: - warmup (A/B) - suburi (A/B) - wrist drills (A/B) - ashisabaki (A) and ladder training (B) - core strength training (A/B) - running (A/B) and sprinting (B) - kata (B) Aim: brush the cobwebs away, get fit!, talk to friends, recruit new students (first years), enjoy school life.
Or something like this anyway.
From about the beginning of July
If the ZNKR and the local federation don’t give me explicit guidelines one way or another (and if other schools have already re-started), I’ll probably get mens on and go. I will follow the governments advice listed above but modify keiko for safety (no tsubazeriai or hikiwaza for the meantime). No loss really.
I’m also hoping to try out a plastic face guard thingy… but I know already that it’s a lost cause, especially in the severe heat and humidity Japan experiences.
One other consideration that I have is that the third year students need to retire (we don’t want to end their school club life without doing anything). If we can get our mens on I will run and intra-club shiai (third vs first and second years) with prizes and speeches. If we can’t get that far I will do some sort of team-based kendo game: make some sort of assault course they have to traverse with shinai, do a kendo quiz, etc, etc. Let’s see!
I am not going to write anything political here, so don’t worry about that.
Basically, if the government say “it’s all good” (which they basically have done already) then I will go ahead and commence carefully from there. I think all the other after school clubs will flip back in to normal mode pretty quickly, and I am sure that most other school kendo clubs will as well. Perhaps plastic face shield things will be used in the interim, but I think they will be abandoned the instant they can be.
For whatever reason Japan has not faced the dire situation that I read about and see on the news. I don’t know why this is exactly, but here we are. For better or worse, I can see kendo re-starting here much earlier than a lot of other countries. Whether this is a good idea or not, I think only time will tell. I just hope that everyone, no matter where they live, can get back to normal as soon as possible.
The pattern here from authorities in Japan is to stress self-restraint then – at the very last moment – issue a strongly worded statement about what they would like people to do. I think this will almost certainly happen (with the kendo authorities) in this case as well. Let’s see.
At any rate, this post was about my experience here in the kendo trenches of Japan.
Update (5th and 10th June 2020)
Since posting this article there have been a number of notices concerning the imminent restart of kendo here in Japan. Since they are pertinent to this article, I’ve decided to update the post and add a little commentary as well.
I will start with a brief outline of the All Japan Kendo Federations (ZNKR) guidelines as they are both the most specific and the most restrictive.
- ZNKR (4th June 2020)
First of all, it is important to note that kendo federations cannot tell people what to do. The opening of public sports centres and public and private schools is not within their control. People will start keiko whenever and in whatever way they see fit. What the ZNKR doesn’t want (as it got when some Aiichi prefecture kendo tokuren got sick at the end of March) is bad publicity for their brand. As they have already taken a financial hit, I am sure they don’t want more bad press.
That they did take the time out to go over the problem of re-starting seriously and issued detailed guidelines is helpful. Most of the ideas presented are simply common sense and I guess have already been arrived at by most, so here I will only pick up a couple of points.
BTW, the missive starts of by saying something like “these guidelines were put together by an expert, but we haven’t necessarily tested everything out with enough scientific rigour.” Ok then.
“Start practise with warmups, muscle training, and suburi, then slowly work up to more.”
This is of course highly sensible, and the way that I (and I assume other teachers in other schools) will do so to.
First 10 days: 2/3rds of the practise time should be on warmups, training, and suburi; 1/3 should be with men on.
Second 10 days: split practise time 50-50 between men-off and men-on.
By July: return to normal keiko.
This is different from what I plan to do (probably no men’s-on in the first 10 days) but the idea is the same.
“Wrap a tenugui around your nose and mouth during keiko AND wear some sort of plastic shield inside your men. “
Nope, no way. Almost immediately they go on to admit that this will potentially lead to heat stroke. I suspect that it will not only be seriously hot, but that you will be unable to breath as well.
The idea is that wrapping a tenugui around your mouth stops you from transmitting the virus, and the shield stops you from contracting it, so unless you split-up motodachi and kakarite in teams (and have them change the protective method when swapping roles), or if you are doing waza keiko or jigeiko, you should wear both.
I have yet to try either but the tenugui idea in particular seems unrealistic. I am willing to give it a go though, and I have already requested some plastic guards to experiment with (no chance I will wear both simultaneously though). If nothing major happens regarding the coronavirus situation, I assume that the guards (and bandit-tenugui) will be abandoned by mid-July.
BTW, a friend of mine who works at an elementary school was required to wear a mask and face shield when teaching students. After only three days of trying it out the school stopped the face shields because it was too hot. And that was teaching kids in a classroom. How much worse will it be in an un air-conditioned dojo while doing rigourus exercise?
- Osaka kendo federation (8th June 2020)
Osaka kendo federations guidelines follow basically the same outline as the ZNKR except it stipulates that putting men on should happen from July the 1st. It is also curious in that it seems entirely aimed at those who run kendo clubs for children.
- High school kendo association (5th June 2020)
“Follow the guidelines stipulated by the ZNKR and Osaka kendo federation.”
- Osaka government (5th June 2020)
Like I said above, kendo associations have no authority over me or any students in school. The local government does, so it is clear whose advice I am required to follow.
The result, in brief, is basically to use common sense. They do stipulate this-and-that, but – as with the ZNKRs advice above – most of it easily arrived at by thinking things through. The only difference is (a) splitting the re-start in to two stages and (b) no shouting. Wearing masks for practise is not required.
For (b) we aren’t planning to put men of for a few weeks, so we will just talk to other kendo teachers in other schools, wait, and watch.
Stage one (6/15 until 7/10) = practise with school club members only;
Stage two (from 7/11) = practising with other schools and doing shiai is permitted.
If the situation doesn’t change then everything will be back to normal, or near-normal, by mid-July.
I’ve shared the ZNKR official video below. You can check out Andy Fisher’s informal chat about the ZNKRs missive here.