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.
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.
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….
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.