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Chin up!

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!


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By George

George is the founder and chief editor of kenshi247.net.
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6 replies on “Chin up!”

Hello!
Around here in Madrid we have a similar situation, saving the distances. It has been a hard year and there are still months (or more) until we can regain the climate of previous training sessions, seminars and competitions.
Demotivation has caused many casualties and we suffer what is called here “pandemic fatigue”.
The pandemic has caused demoralizing drops in dojo attendance. As you mentioned, there are colleagues whom we have not seen for months.
We continue to have to make a daily effort to motivate ourselves and not lose contact.

On the positive side, despite the casualties and absences, there are quite a few people of all ages who have been encouraged to try kendo and, those of us who have been around for a while, have been able to focus on practicing without the pressure of competitions, returning to the base without emergencies, treating old injuries, calmly observing our companions …

I hope that the next step, thanks to the vaccines, is to go back to attending seminars outside our provinces and to see the people with whom we shared sweat and beer again.
The kendo community in Spain is not very big but there are great people who are missed. (And those from outside of Spain too!)
Hopefully that Edinburgh seminar soon!

Jose!

Yeah, as you mentioned it takes a tremendous, daily effort to stay motivated.

You left me quite hopeful with your comment, especially the second paragraph. Being “able to focus on practicing without the pressure of competition” in particular was an eye opener. I guess it’s the same here for my students.

And Edinburgh – yes please!!!

Cheers!

Since moving back to the UK, to keep myself sane I have been doing “hitorigeiko” every day. This basically just means kata, suburi, uchikomi and foot work – forcing myself to always use a full length shinai has been awkward with low rooves, but I made sure to go outside even if I got wet. The zoom keiko I attend – about 3 a week – are mainly just guided suburi sessions. I really miss the response of a strike landing, kirikaeshi into the thin air is no substitute, but anything is better than nothing. Next objective is building a proper uchikomidai!

Also, very much in agreement regarding kettlebells, got one so I could work out at home and it’s great for kendo.

For me, the most impactful thing this enforced sabbatical from keiko has shown me is how much kendo means to me and how much good work it does for my mental health. Cannot wait to get back.

See you sometime soon hopefully!

Hello! you know, I´ve been training more and every day thanks to the pandemics. I do suburi, a little kata and Zazen from monday to sunday, and specially I met people from all over the world. I met Kenshi from Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Panama, France, Italy, Switzerland, Japan, Korea and other countries. It seems COVID put us far away from the dojo but very close to Kendo. Is strange but, I think I´m going to remember this days like happy and very interesting Kendo days in my life.

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