It has been just over a year now since my dojo closed. Not my work one, luckily, but my main adult one. Since coming to Japan, the majority of my keiko has revolved around the police. My first two years were spent at the main police dojo for a medium sized city in Hiroshima prefecture, and it didn’t take too long after moving to Osaka before I got an invite to a central police dojo in the city. For a number of years I practiced between two adult dojo, a “shakai” kendo club (a normal kendo club for adults) and the aforementioned police one, before eventually concentrating solely on the police one. In mid-February 2020 the police dojo was closed temporarily due to the pandemic, and in I think around May (after a cluster incident with Aiichi tokuren police squad) all police dojo were closed for the entire country. This situation continues today, even while normal shakai kendo clubs have re-opened.
For the past year I’ve managed to continue regular practice at my job, but I’ve had almost zero keiko with any adults outside of this. At first, I didn’t mind so much, but over time it is obvious that not having access to my sensei and sempai (not only for keiko, but general chatting, and the occasional beer) has been hard. People who I saw three-five times a week, some for well over a decade, have become strangers. At some points over the last year motivation has been rock bottom.
However, in the midst of all this I realised something surprising: I am far more dedicated to kendo and motivated to improve that I thought I was. When the kendo club is on here at work, I almost always attend (99%+) sometimes skipping meetings, even if we can’t put our men on (i.e. during the last State of Emergency). I have also successfully coerced (!!!) colleagues to do kendo with me many times over the last year! I make time to do one, sometimes even two hours of self practice most weekdays (running, suburi, ashisabaki, kata, iai, sazen, etc). And recently I managed to talk two friends in to getting up super early and doing asageiko with me. Rather than being demotivated as I thought I was, it seems I am (have been) dragging others with me to the dojo.
Of course, I know that I am unusually lucky – we have no lockdowns here in Japan and (critically) I have a dojo, and some other kenshi, here at work. I sometimes wonder how I would’ve managed it if I were back home in Scotland. I like to believe I would’ve found a way to keep going, whether that was solo practice, suburi, strength training, zoom keiko, or what have you, but honestly I am not so sure.
It seems that, with the vaccines finally rolling out, the light at the end of the tunnel might just start to appear. Outside of Japan, I wonder about what state kendo clubs will re-emerge. Did people manage to keep themselves motivated? Will those with less years under their hakama simply not show up? If, as I discussed before, the perception of kendo is that it’s particularly dangerous, will new people even come? Also, I wonder if the budo shops that serviced the non-Japanese market will emerge ok. Hmmm.
Even though the pandemic might seem as if it is nearing some sort of end phase, I suspect the hangover will last for a foreseeable time. At any rate, don’t wait for other people to inspire you: motivate yourself! Don’t only do suburi and be careful of zoom fatigue: run, order some kettlebells from Amazon, eat right, drink less, read, start a kendo blog … anything!