Day 2

Arriving as Iaido was near its end I changed out of my work clothes and started stretching.  I’m wondering if any more new beginners show up today, or if it’s just going to be me again.  The beginner sensei mentioned last class he hoped more show, but to be honest, I’m enjoying the one on one education.

After rei and warm ups I again was taken aside.  No new beginners, just me.  We reviewed the okuri ashi footwook, combined with striking men up and down the dojo.  Last class we broke the strikes and footwork down into three parts:

  1. Raise the shinai above my head while moving the right foot forward
  2. Strike men while bringing the left food forward to it’s original position in relation to the right foot
  3. Return the shinai back to kamae posture (ready stance)*.

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This time we smoothed things out a bit into one continuous motion.  Things still lined up the same, raise shinai when right foot steps and strike at the same time your left food closes the gap, but we reduced the choppiness of it.  Time for repetition…

In order to give our arms a rest (ha! rest?!), we went over some basic etiquette such as how to bow when standing, how to enter and exit when sparring, and sonkyo.  Sonkyo refers to a type of squatting posture taken before and after you square off with an opponent.

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I was then shown how to do two more of the 4 strikes:  Kote (the wrist) and Do (the side of the belly).  The three strikes so far all start the same – you lift the shinai above your head while stepping forward with the right foot.  Part of this is to not let on to your opponent where you intend to strike.  With the kote you extend straight out similar to the men cut except you end up march farther down, but the motion is similar in maintaining the shinai in the center.  With a do cut, there is a slight curve as you come down to hit the side of the belly (and if this were a real sword/combat you would then proceed to slice all the way across disemboweling your enemy).

The do cut is a bit awkward as a beginner, because you have to keep your right elbow in and most have a tendency to extend the elbow out, which then puts the left wrist in an awkward position as well.  All this means is that I must continue to practice.

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The last thing we did was to put all the cuts to footwork and repeat up and down the dojo.  This time my sense held his shinai in different positions allowing me to actually get a feeling for striking an object.  Now that was something.  It’s one thing to just go through the motions of the body, but to actually strike something and hear that loud *SMACK* of bamboo against bamboo fills you with a certain energy and exhilaration.

I will continue to study and learn.  Until next time.

 

*There are five stances (or kamae) in Kendo:  jodan, chudan, gedan, hasso, and waki.  The most basic is chudan and is often taught first to beginners.

The First Step – Day 1

And so it begins…

I arrived at the dojo early and anxious, not quite sure what exactly to expect.  As I entered there were 4 practitioners present working on Iaido – the art of drawing, cutting, and sheathing a sword.  Removing my shoes I introduced myself to one of the club officers, filled out my paperwork, and payed my dues.  Because I’m new and not expected to have any of my own equipment, I was given a loaner bokken and shinai.  A bokken (bottom in picture) is a sword made of hardwood, crafted to resemble a Japanese katana.  The shinai (on top) is made strips of bamboo.  It’s completely symmetrical and is what’s used for actual contact between players.

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Iaido ends and Kendo begins.  I am the only brand new Kendoka present.  There are two other beginners who have been there for about 5 months and just started wearing Bogu (armor), 2 more advanced students, and the main 先生 (sensei).  We all start together with warmups – some basic stretching, ankle rotations, etc. – which is followed by a more formal opening ceremony.  We sit in a certain posture called 正座 (seiza), do a short meditation, multiple bows, and then return to standing.  It was engaging and helped to focus our mind on the task at hand.

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After warm ups I was taken aside, and since I was brand new, we needed to cover the basics.  We began with footwork, namely すい足 (suri-ashi, which is a gliding motion with the feet) and 送り足 (okuri-ashi, which is maintaining your right foot forward at all times when moving front and back).  We did the footwork while simply holding the shinai in basic posture forward and back.  And then we did it again.   And again.   And again and again.  And one more time, but not really because we really did three more times.  And then once more again.

You can see where I’m going with this.  As with any sport, martial art, hobby, etc. it’s going to involve repetition, repetition, repetition.  If Repetition is truly the mother of Skill, then she and I are going to be really close before I get to sign the adoption papers.

The last thing I learned was how to do one of the basic strikes.  In Kendo, there are 4 targets you can strike on an opponent and score a point, and without getting into too much detail, they are roughly the top of the head, the side of the belly, the wrists, and the throat.  The very first strike most kenshi learn is the men which refers to the head grill that kenshi wear.  Since it was my very first time holding a shinai I was obviously not going to strike my 先生 sensei, instead we focused on the basic mechanics of grip and striking.  And strike, and strike, and strike, and again….

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In total, the class lasted for about an hour and a half; a hour of direct education, with 15 minutes on either side for warm ups and opening and closing ceremonies.   Overall, a gratifying, rewarding, and valuable experience.  I will definitely continue.

 

A Prelude to the First Step

My very first time in a Kendo dojo will occur in less than 1 week.

I’ve known about Kendo for a while.  Being a fan of Japanese culture it’s hard to avoid and my fascination with swords and sword fighting goes back a long time.  It most likely started when I was 3 or 4 and my favorite film at the time was Disney’s Sword and the Stone, which, if we’re being honest, I was more interested in the magic of Merlin than Arthur or his ability to pull a sword out of a hunk a rock.

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The biggest push into swordplay came when I fist saw the original Star Wars trilogy when I was in middle school.  Magic and swords but just any regular swords, laser swords??  Count me in!   The style of their fighting also intrigued me.  It didn’t resemble anything I’ve seen in other films like Robin Hood or other European/English knight style fencing.  No hacking and slashing, no brute strength broadsword bashing.  There was poise, precision, calculation and seemingly mutual respect between fighter and foe.  Much later I would discover that Kendo served as an inspiration for the fighting style of the Jedi.

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Kendo is not my first foray in the martial arts.  About 8 years ago I started learning Taijiquan also known as Tai Chi Chuan or simply Tai Chi.   Taijiquan is a Chinese martial art of the internal style, meaning the energy comes not from your muscles but from the alignment of your body and the ability to redirect your attacker’s energy and use it against him.  Most people think of it today as something old people do in the park, but when trained properly and with the right teacher it can be one of the most effective martial arts there is.  I had to stop direct training in Taijiquan because I moved from Washington, DC to Chicago for graduate school.  I recently moved back to Maryland, but much too far from DC to return to Taiji training.  I looked for an alternative and in my investigation of various martial arts dojo’s in the area I turned up a dojo dedicated to Kendo – the Japanese way of the sword.

And so after contacting the dojo for more information I shall begin my journey in 2 days time.  This blog will serve as my travel diary and lesson log for this quest of Kendo. I hope it will serve to inspire others and give them a reasonable picture of what to expect along their journey should they chose to pursue one.  And if any more experienced kendoka read this, I look forward to their guidance.   Let us begin…

よろしくお願いします!