What is my favourite waza?

•26 May, 2011 • Leave a Comment

My favourite waza would be harai-waza. Admittedly, I have not been at training recently so that I can practice this but in reflecting on this particular question (adapted for Postaweek2011), I would have to say that this is it – or at least until something else takes my fancy.

This refers to any of several techniques for deflecting an opponent’s shinai and attacking in one motion.  ie Harai Men, Harai Kote, Harai Dō, Harai Tsuki.

A video demonstration, from the All Japan Kendo Federation, provides a better idea of what this actually means in practice.

What do I want to accomplish in my kendo blog?

•14 April, 2011 • Leave a Comment

This is not the first time I have considered this question. In fact, there is an “About this blog” section to the website! However, it is interesting to pause and reflect on the purpose of this blog, particularly as the reasons behind it have developed somewhat since actually putting together in the first place.

There are plenty of kendo blogs out there in the blogosphere. Each has a different approach to the subject or a different way of presenting it. Mine is a mix of personal reflections as well as more scholarly observations. In other words, the blog is as much about my own personal experiences as a kendoka as it is making comment on aspects of kendo. I don’t claim it to be nearly as ‘academic’ as, say, kenshi247.net – not by a long shot – but I hope it is something that provides an insight into someone’s experiences in learning kendo right from when they first entered the dojo.

Would I ever write a book about kendo?

•7 April, 2011 • Leave a Comment

This is an interesting question. In the immediate instance, no. I would not.

I am currently writing a PhD in ancient history and that is enough. My son asked me what a PhD was and the best answer I could come up with was “I’m writing a book about history”. That seemed to satisfy his 7 year old mind, at least for the time being. I would have to finish that project before considering others.

I would be interested in writing a book about kendo. The question is, however, how relevant for today would that be? Putting something together would appear to be straightforward enough. A couple of kendoka that I know (one from my club in fact) have published their photos of Japan – and their kendo trips in particular – in to coffee table like photobooks. The results look excellent.

Much that is good is readily available online. One can search YouTube for kendo footage from pre-World War Two Japan or of a seminar given by Chiba Sensei in Rome. Texts written by Miyamoto Musashi or by Yagyu Munenori can be found as PDFs on the internet. Of course, there are also blogs that, in essence, ensure that the writing process never really ends.

In one sense, then, I am already writing a book about kendo. It is this blog. Of course, it does not necessarily have the same weight or significance as something that has gone through the publication process that a book experiences. I do endeavour, I have to say, to make sure that what I write is intelligent. There are posts that are flippant, to be sure, but on the whole, I would look at this particular ongoing project as something that contributes to the ongoing knowledge and thinking about kendo – even if in a small way.

What are the qualities of a good sensei?

•31 March, 2011 • Leave a Comment

There are so many different answers to this question. Mine is: a passion for kendo that is tempered by humility.

The term sensei, while in general usage refers to “master’ or “teacher”, is a term that basically means “person born before another”. This points towards the idea underpinning the word. Namely, a sensei is a teacher who teaches based on age, wisdom and experience. In turn, there is an implication of respected stature for the individual who holds the title.

Passion for kendo – this almost goes without saying. Almost. If you are a teacher, in my opinion, it is more than reasonable to expect that you are enthusiastic for your subject. Whether this subject is history or kendo, you need to be passionate about what you are teaching about. This is because, as a teacher, there will be times that you have to front a class with nothing in the tank. That is, with no energy at all. If you do not have an enthusiasm or a passion for what you do, it will be difficult in such times to be an effective teacher.

But being a teacher is not about oneself. It is about the student. Being passionate about the subject one teaches ultimately benefits your students. In one sense, your zeal becomes their inspiration. You are passionate about your subject, your students respond well to such positivity and are inspired to work harder in and out of your class. They go the extra mile.

Humility – this almost goes without saying. Almost. On the whole, people become teachers because they love what they teach. I became a history teacher because I am very passionate about history (and in particular the place that history has in society today. That is the subject of another post for another blog). Teaching is not a vocation that brings with it one’s millions. Even Miyamoto Mushashi’s Go Rin No Sho condemns such a result. According to Musashi, poor teaching, or teachinsg with the wrong motivation, will only lead to poor technique.

How does this all relate to humility? A humble teacher is one who is not concerned with reward. They are concerned with the progress or promotion of their subject. They are concerned with the advancement of their students, often at the expense of their own time and energy. Humble teachers put their students first. If a student receives an award, a humble teacher will not look to take credit.

So, by way of a summary: a good sensei is a teacher who, as an experienced kendoka, is both passionate and humble. They are a teacher who will put their students first and stretch them with a view to making them better. While there might be more than just passion and humility as characteristics of a sensei, they are certainly important ones.

When have I felt that my kendo has been really good? (Or: when have I been “on fire” with my kendo?)

•24 March, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I can actually pin point a specific instance where I felt everything coming together. It was in the inaugural SKC3 Tournament a couple of years ago – ironically, the same tournament where an incurred injury threw my training out the window! That said, there was a bout where I felt my kendo was at its strongest. I can’t remember whether I won the bout or not. This is not the point. Attention is on technique in this instance.

The bout had started. Both players, my opponent and I, had been called on to the court. We had bowed (ritsurei) and moved forward to sonkyo. As we rose up from sonkyo, I let out a kiai, the sound of which I felt bounce off the walls of the hall in which the tournament was being held. My opponent stopped. I closed the distance between us so that I was at uchi-ma (or the most appropriate distance between opponents to strike). Another kiai. I saw my opponent become very uncertain. I executed a men cut. Successful, I won the point.

The success of the cut was evident not only in the fact that I won the point from that particular part of the bout but it was also because of the way in which everything came together. The initial self-presentation to the court, ritsurei and sonkyo, the kiai – these were elements that were also important in the successful completion of the cut. The way they all ‘clicked’ made me feel that my kendo was going well!

What kendo skill would I want to master immediately?

•17 March, 2011 • Leave a Comment

My immediate reaction to this question is that I want to master being able to “read” my opponent more accurately. That is, to anticipate what is coming and to then react accordingly. There have been drills and exercises where my concentration has not been as strong as it could be and so, when the time comes for the motodachi to open for a strike, my reaction is not as quick as I would like. That will all come with practice and training – indeed, it will only come with practice and training.

There is a second skill: fumikomi-ashi. This is the firm stepping of the right foot, with the entire sole, and forward motion of the left foot to gain forward momentum. The following video from YouTube shows Chiba Sensei demonstrating this to a dojo in Italy. There is a translator present but he is translating Japanese into Italian. However, Chiba Sensei’s discussion and accompanying demonstration makes things self-evident.

While it may appear an easy thing to stamp one’s foot as you move forward, the real ‘catch’ to this technique is having one’s timing correct. The shinai striking the target and ‘foot stamping’ all happen at the same time.

In addition to this, I also want to improve my physical resilience. That is not technically a skill, I know. However, I want to be able to keep going at training with minimal breaks and rests. I watch older, more experienced kendoka at training and they manage to do it so why can’t I? I know their kendo improves as a result – a further incentive to keep on keeping on. Again, this will come from regular and quality training – one will get used to the physical activity. It is something for me to work on.

God, Family, Work, PhD, Kendo – a juggling act and then some!

•9 March, 2011 • Leave a Comment

In the “About Me” section of this blog, I’ve described myself as a Christian, a husband, a father of three, an ancient history teacher, a PhD student and a keen kendoka. This is quite a bit to balance and I am often asked how I managed to do absolutely everything. I don’t really have a particularly good answer. There are times where it is tricky, I will admit. 2010 is a case in point. As I have mentioned elsewhere, 2010 was not a good year for me for a number of reasons – the birth of a baby daughter is NOT one of them, I hasten to add. Competing priorities meant that a number of things took a hit – kendo was one of them. My PhD also took a hit – to the tune of about 6 months in terms of productivity!

So, how do I intend to balance everything this year? That is the topic of this particular post. We are coming to the end of Term 1. We are, in fact, starting Week 8 (of a 10 week term) and Year 12 are about to sit their first set of exams. Marking deadlines and reporting deadlines will quickly appear. It is an appropriate point to think about how one keeps sane with everything that is going on. Term 2 will start in about a month’s time and that is traditionally considered to be a “make or break” term in New South Wales – certainly as far as Year 12 are concerned. There are no exams and so it 10 weeks of teaching.

There are five important parts to my life. God, family, work, PhD and Kendo. Giving each the appropriate amount of time is challenging, particularly when you feel that you might be neglecting one over the other. I have often described Term 3, 2010 as where things really slide out of kilter. Of all of the different areas of my life, there was very little that felt as if it was in control or behaving according to expectations.

Let’s bring this post back into line with its main theme – Kendo. With so much going on, how does Kendo not get lost in all the ‘chaos’? It is a juggling act, my life. Then again, who’s life isn’t? Somehow, it all works – but not without careful prioritisation and, with regards to family, negotiation. My wife knows that I need to have some time out from work and from study. She is very good that way. Kendo is the way out. Mind you, there seems to be a tacit understanding that if I am required at home (eg. the kids are loosing it completely and there is a distinct need for two pairs of hands over one) then all game plans change and I stay at home and help. This is not the norm, however. The fact that I am willing to do this means that more often than not, I do get to Kendo training and that is a good thing. There will be times where commonsense prevails. For example, there is too much school work to attend to and I need to stay back at night to sort it out – again, this is the exception and not the norm.

For as long as I can remember, Wednesday night has always been a night out for me. Kendo training has always been on a Wednesday night. It fits, then, with the natural rhythm of my family life and, for that matter, my work life. I can’t do kendo unless I have the support of my family and, really, at the end of the day that is how I manage the juggling act!