Monday, October 3, 2016

Returning to Kendo - An Insider's View

Photo by A. Melton
 It's been a while.  I seem to write that a lot.  Not for lack of thought, though.  I've been doing the "kendo grind" lately, as I call it (The Kendo Grind).  A lot of it!  I have some big plans that are in motion right now that I'll post about later on.  But for now I wanted to look back on something that is near and dear to my heart, mainly because I went through it myself.

I recently read an article about returning to kendo written by Zoe Hinis.  It was a well-written article and touched on a lot of points that I had considered myself.  But I wanted to write this and put it out there as a look at it from the viewpoint of someone that went through it.  A little backstory, to start.  The first time I stepped into a kendo dojo was WAY back in 2004.  I had heard of this "kendo" thing and wanted to check it out.  I had always wanted to take up a martial art, and I had always loved swords, so when I heard that there was a martial art out there involving swords AND it was available in my city I wanted to go check it out.  My mental picture of kendo, though, were way off. Nowadays I liken my early thoughts about it to iaido; I thought that kendo would be a lot of learning various strikes and movements with the swords that are built around kata, much like I see iaido actually is.  Imagine my surprise when, after I signed up and showed up for my first beginning class, I walked into the dojo and saw people clad in armor, shouting and flying at each other with bamboo swords.  I was in awe from that first moment and glad that the reality of kendo was so much more than my mental picture made it out to be.  So, with this new picture in mind, I began my experience with kendo.

Let's fast forward a couple of months.  Even though I had the interest, I definitely didn't have the dedication.  I was 23 and nothing could really hold my interest for too long, which unfortunately meant that I ended up missing more training than I was attending.  I made it into the intermediate class, received my first uniform and....that was it.  I soon dropped out. Partly because of a new job with the railroad that first sent me to Oregon for training before sending me to Texas and California for the better part of a year to work, but I also dropped out because I just wasn't making it a priority in my life.  I wrote my sensei an email about it, detailing why, but even after I left the thought of going back to training was always lingering in my mind.  Some days it was a faint whisper in the recesses of my thoughts.  Some days it was front and center, demanding all of my attention.  But it was always present.  One year turned into two, into three, four and five.  Five years and no kendo, and not one day went by where the thought of returning was silent.  I guess I had the kendo bug before I knew what the kendo bug really was.

2009 and life had handed me a lot of twists and turns.  I had a kid, got married, got divorced and was kind of finding my own way again.  I decided to finally make good on that thought that had hounded me all those years and I contacted my old sensei again to find out if they were still training and if I could possibly come back.  Sinclair Sensei remembered me immediately, noted that he was glad to hear from me and told me that a new training class had just started the week prior and that I was more than welcome to return and start training again.  Since it had been so long he and I agreed that starting over was the best course of action.  Honestly, besides the stance and some basics about swinging the bokken and shinai, I'd lost everything.  But that didn't matter to me.  What mattered was that I was finally returning to the dojo that I had left and making good on one of the regrets that had plagued me ever since I left it.

Starting out again wasn't easy, at all.  I didn't see anyone there that I had started with before.  None of that class from five years ago had stayed, even though there were people there that somewhat remembered me from before and had been training even longer.  I got through the beginning and intermediate classes without issue this time around, and was welcomed into the advanced class for pre-bogu training.  This is where we, without armor, train with the main class and learn to use what we've been learned in a more fast-paced and realistic environment.  Soon after I was given the ok to get my own bogu.  Even though I wouldn't be able to afford it for months after that, it was nice to have that acknowledgement that I was ready for it.

I bought my first set of bogu in March of 2010.  About a month after I started really slacking again. I was finding any reason to not train.  I didn't feel good, I was tired, I had errands to run.  In reality these were all just excuses, and bad ones at that.  This went on for about a month.  It finally came to the point where I had to ask myself "Is kendo something I really want to do, and if so am I willing to get serious about it?"  Fortunately the answer to both questions was "yes."  Since that day I've mad ea very conscious effort to attend each and every training and to push myself as much as I can.  That was six years ago.  Today I am 3 dan and teaching beginning classes at our dojo, along with improving my own kendo each and every day, and I love every minute of it.

That's not to say it's been easy.  There have been up and downs in the road.  Days where I really didn't want to go, but I had no actual reason so I would drag myself to practice.  Those days were almost always the best trainings for me.  There would be days where I was lazy and I'd get called out on it, sometimes in private and sometimes publicly, which would push me to train even harder next time.  There have been days where I had an injury and could have easily rested at home but instead I went to the dojo and did what I could within my physical limits.  The road so far hasn't been easy, but man has it been fulfilling!

I owe a lot to the friends I've made at the dojo, most of whom are as close as family now, and to my teachers that have helped guide me and push me to find the best I have and make it even better.  But I also owe a lot to that voice that was with me for those five years I was gone.  That voice that pushed me to return to kendo.  I know many people in our dojo that have left since I came back.  Some have returned themselves and others have not (not yet, at least).  To everyone that has gone and has considered coming back I say listen to that voice.  I did and it was one of the greatest decisions I've ever made.