For the eighth time in 15 years (including the three forced-hiatus years during the pandemic) I travelled to my home country of bonny Scotland to instruct a kendo seminar hosted and organised by Edinburgh Kendo Club. This was the first time since 2019 that I was able to leave Japan and it was the second time since 2018 that I brought a hachidan with me. Not only a hachidan, but I was able to to muster up a great bunch of people to help instruct and organise things with us, without which we would have struggled.
Although I didn’t promote it a lot and there are lots of competing seminars around the same time, we got lots of interest from all over Europe and further afield. Due to the hall size we decided to cap participant numbers (including instructors) to just over 90. This was about 40% more than the 2019 seminar. If interest remains steady or increases in the future, we probably should re-think a couple of things (see later).
As far as I can work out, participants came from: Scotland, England, France, Luxembourg, Spain, Italy, Greece, Denmark, Poland, Canada, and Japan. There were almost certainly more nationalities represented.
Friday night (seminar day ZERO)
The official seminar was on Saturday and Sunday, but Yano sensei and I also consider the days before and after to be part of the seminar itself as well. We had about 50 on the Friday session which, being only really 2 hours long, concentrated mainly on kihon plus a jigeiko session.
After keiko (the venue I had never been in before) I had a re-think about how we were going to move such a large group of people around the space we had, after which I sent my plan out to all the instructors and to Edinburgh Kendo Club members as well. Due to their help, the rotation method worked well for the duration of the seminar.
Saturday (seminar day 1)
As people began to stream in it was obvious that space was going to be tight. As you probably noticed from my hand-written note above, I split the the two sides into zero-nidan and sandan and above. This was done simply because the numbers meant that we had about 45 people or so on both sides, so it was easier to communicate to everyone what was going on, and allowed the rotation to work smoother than it may have done had it been a free for all. As a teacher this makes it easier to tweak instruction points as well, which is great, but I feel that we probably should’ve allowed for some mixing up of grades as well (I have an idea for the next time).
Prior to getting bogu on we started with an awesome warmup from Edinburgh Kendo Club’s own Dez, before moving on to suburi and ashisabaki. Yano sensei kept things relatively simple here as, well, they are the most basic of basics. Over the Saturday and Sunday sessions he did add in one or two drills that I, and I guess most of the participants, hadn’t seen before.
The rest of the morning session and most of the afternoon session was spent with mens-on focusing on basic movements plus a little bit of shikake-waza, nothing too complicated so that everyone could concentrate on their basic form.
Something I’d like to point out here is one of the basic premises I have for this seminar that is: no shiai and no gradings. The seminar has been and always will be about training in basic kendo movements in order to help everyone acquire good kendo. Shiai and gradings are fine, but I don’t want to waste what little time we have on them.
We finished off the first day with a 40 mins or so jigeiko session (later Yano sensei said he wanted to have more jigeiko time, so we increased it the next day).
BTW, due to the timing of the event, it clashed with Yano sensei’s birthday (last time as well). Keeping up with tradition we gave him a song, a present, and a cake at the sayonara party. Needless to say, he was very pleased!
Sunday (seminar day 2)
The morning of the second day was basically a revision session of suburi, ashisabaki, and basics. Yano sensei said on the first day something like this:
I know everyone of you have your own teacher or your own style. Just for these two days try to abandon your preconceptions and attempt to do things as I say. Just try. If it doesn’t fit you that’s fine, but please give it ago.
The participants, I think sensing Yano sensei’s kindness, did their best to follow his advice.
Half-way through the morning session I decided to baton-touch the translation duties with Andy Fisher. The main reason is that I wanted to go around and give individual advice to and interact with as many participants as I could plus, if possible, take some pics and video (something I wish we had more of).
Also, in the future, I would like to delegate more duties of this nature to other people – in the instructors group this time we had, apart from Andy and I, a couple of other people that could possibly do the job as well. In fact, I had one of the other guys teach the Monday session by himself (see below), which was, I hope, an invaluable experience for him.
Knowing when to step back and give others a chance is, I believe, something I need to be conscious of doing as well.
At the end of the morning session Yano sensei suddenly threw in a drill that I, by chance, also teach my students! We hadn’t discussed this beforehand so I was happily surprised. Everyone loved trying it out.
Here I am demonstrating it with a couple of Spanish kenshi. Instagram embeds are a bit finicky in wordpress, so I hope you can see this (if not, check this link out):
(The Spanish lady – Deborah – was very good, but due to the angle of the video you can’t see her panicked expression as I sped up!!!)
After lunch we moved into “oji-waza.” I put this in quotes because well, Yano sensei said “oji waza are basically shikake waza.” That is, they require a “pre-action” by the person executing the technique… they don’t happen in “response” to an attack. This is something that experienced kenshi usually work out by themselves of course. Less experienced kenshi – who wait – obviously tend to struggle with the concept.
BTW, as a historical aside: the division of techniques into shikake-waza (“attacking”) and oji-waza (“responsive”) is a post-war one. This was done to re-organise techniques in a more “logical” manner in order to write textbooks and teach to large groups. Strictly speaking then, kendo has only – or should have only – positive attacking techniques. I’ll let you ponder that for a bit.
The seminar finished with a longer jigeiko session of about 60 mins. It was really hard to do keiko with everyone, so apologies if I had to turn you away due to shortage or time … I really didn’t want to.
At the end we took a group photo. In all we had over 90 participants, but not everyone was there right at the end.
After keiko on Sunday a few of us went out to a nearby beer garden for a few light beverages. Scotland in summer stays bright until 10 or 11pm at night depending, and we took advantage of it. Good times!
Monday (seminar extra +1) | Wednesday (seminar extra +2)
For the extra Monday session (2 hours long), attended by about 40+ people, Yano sensei and I decided to give the kihon session to Goto sensei to run by himself. If you’ve read the instructor bios you will know that I and Goto sensei worked in the same school for seven years together, including at the kendo club, so I knew he was more than capable of leading the session. As a high school English teacher he is also fluent in English, though he’s never had to instruct in English at a seminar like the one we were running before. We basically made him do it! He did, of course, a great job.
On Tuesday morning I headed off up into the highlands where I am from to do family stuff and left Yano and Goto sensei in the care of Edinburgh Kendo Club. They taught one more session on the Wednesday evening for local kenshi before flying out early the next morning for Japan.
Wrap-up and thanks
Myself and Yano sensei had an awesome time in Edinburgh and, I hope, so too did the participants. Over beers we managed to converse a little bit more with everyone and got many positive comments and feedback. All in all, I think the weekend was a success.
However, there is always room for improvement. For example: booking a bigger hall, using a PA system, mixing up grades, and so on. The biggest thing I am actually puzzling over now (actually, for a few years now) is that I want to find and bring over a female instructor with me in the near future.
BTW, during a meal after keiko on Monday evening, Yano sensei commented that he wished his university students showed half of much the motivation as the seminar participants did. This reminded me of something that he said during the seminar that I was particularly impressed by:
Although there are many different people here with different kendo backgrounds and skill levels, everyone is equal when it comes to motivation to improve.
There are two groups of people to thank. First of all is everyone at Edinburgh Kendo Club, especially Xabi and Dez for organising the whole affair. As an example, arriving at our flat on the Wednesday night prior to the seminar, Yano sensei and I were amazed at the fridge full of beer Xabi had prepared for us:
About three days later when we had basically finished it, Dez rolled up with a refill:
This attention to detail applied throughout our entire stay in Edinburgh and applied to more that the contents of our fridge (p.s. don’t worry, we had help in emptying the fridge as that was way too much for only two people!).
The second set of people to thank is of-course everyone who helped out with the seminar itself, the instructors and assistants, without whom Yano sensei and I couldn’t possible handle so many people: Jon from Athens, Andy from KendoStar, Ryuichi from Canada, and Goto sensei from Osaka. I hope they can join future events as well.
But wait, there’s more!
At some point during day one Andy suddenly wandered up to me and gave me some (free and unasked for) swag. It was just as well it happened at this point in the proceedings, because I am sure he wouldn’t have given me anything after I made him work on day two.
Here are some pics (unedited, taken on an iPhone SE2), links to the products, and a super quick review of the items I received. As noted above, I did get the stuff free but, as always, you will get an honest review here.
‘VANGUARD MYRMIDON‘ Super Protective GUARD-STITCH KendoStar Kote
In short: these kote are a protective kote with original KendoStar protective stitching and extra cushioning. Importantly, the product page also states: “Extra durable features for long-term heavy duty use.”
First of all, check out the pics:
Note that the size of the kote in comparison to a set I got in November last year (a more “standard” kote): they are considerably larger, the cut is different, and the construction on the wrist is different.
My comment: When Andy gave them to me he said they might be a bit stiff on first use, but when I first used them the nexnt day (against Andy actually!) it didn’t even register that I was using new kote. Nothing felt strange or awkward. At the end of jigeiko with Andy I said “your kote work!” Coming back to Japan I’ve used them for a few successive keiko (mixing chudan and jodan) and find they are simply just really good kote. The size of the kote (I didn’t even notice they were larger than most of my other kote until I took a side-by-side picture) is a non-issue. In fact, I think I prefer my kote to be on the large size.
Overall: light, strong, protective, good length, made well, nice palms, attractive… just very good kote. What more can I add? If you are looking for new kote it’s a no-brainer.
Elite Featherweight Kendogi & Pleat-Lock Hakama Uniform Set
I wish Andy had told me that he was planning to give me some dogi beforehand because I had already carried one hakama and two keiko over with me from Osaka. Still, I shouldn’t complain!
In short: a “synthetic uniform, that is lightweight, comfortable, and fast-drying” that still presents a “traditional appearance.”
A couple of pics (check out the product page for more):
My comment: I switched over to using mostly lighter dogi about four or five years ago. I really (really…) hate synthetic “shiny” keikogi (hakama don’t seem to have the same problem), so I am very careful about what I use. Andy knows this of-course, and is obviously confident that the keikogi will make me happy.
Basically, I know I will get a lot of use from the hakama. It is pleat-locked and, in a good way, heavier than my other light hakama (and, importantly for some, it isn’t see-through). This means it not only feels more secure, but it sits better. The dogi I am not so sure about yet. It feels nice, has a good texture, and dries fast. I think my problem is not with the dogi itself per-se, but that the size I was given (my usual size) doesn’t seem to fit me as I like: the sleeves are a bit longer than I am used to, and the whole thing is a little bit baggy. I wonder if they run slightly bigger, hmmm. Andy did ask me was the size ok, so that’s my fault for not mentioning it at the time (remember, I got this stuff free, so I shouldn’t be selfish). I think wearing a juban with it would solve the problem, so I will try that in autumn/winter. Also, I will have the sleeves cut by a few centimetres.
Overall: the hakama is probably the best “summer” hakama I’ve used, so no complaints there. The dogi almost certainly fits the needs of 90%+ of kendoka, but you might want to order a half-size down… maybe.
I am already in tentative discussions about holiday the seminar again next year, perhaps a week earlier (July 20/21, about three weeks after the WKC) so as to avoid the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I am also exploring doing two seminars in one trip: one in Scotland and one in mainland Europe. Fingers crossed.
Check out two short vids of the event: