Don’t forget the fun in kendo

Yesterday, after a brief warm-up, my sensei told the highest rank, Cha, to stand on one side by himself and the rest of us (4 people of a variety of ranks) to stand on the other. This was to be a 1 vs 4. 2 mins total, using the honour system – if somebody got hit, it was on them to excuse themselves and leave the fighting area (sensei also had a whistle to call out a good hit).

It was over in 8 seconds flat. The first match, I got in a small men strike (from chudan) while he was blocking another’s doh-strike. We rotated. As I was the next highest, I was to be alone now. I took up jodan. While I was hitting a men, I got hit on both kotes and the men at the same time (which was weird. Talk about a total defeat… ). That took 12 seconds. The 3rd person was another ni-dan. He took up an extremely defensive position, which didn’t do him much good as he got stuck in tsubazeriai, at which point, Cha took ippon with a small men.

After another rotation of the 1 vs 4, it was changed to 2 vs 3. Me and Cha vs the rest. A quick doh-strike, followed through by covering the men with a raised shinai took care of 1, while the other two were ganging up on Cha, who, curiously enough, was managing to tsubazeriai TWO of them at once. As soon as they broke off, I managed to distract one long enough for Cha to get two quick mens for our win.

The people were rotated, but we kept the 2 vs 3 format for a good 30 mins. By the end, we were completely and totally exhausted… we ended up with bruises everywhere and a dizzying amount of white noise from the missed strikes onto the men-gane. But we were all laughing our asses off (in between panting for breath), and even our sensei had to fight his laughter while he was putting his bogu on for regular geiko. At one point, I had yelled out to Cha, “HYUNG!!!!” in a peeved, complaining voice because he got out in the first 3 seconds of a 2 v 3, and I got a gentle laughing knock on the head for that, as hyung is informal in Korean for big bro (basically for an older male in a friendly male to male interaction), and I had never spoken informally to him before. We ended the training session with just regular geiko after that.

When the training was over, we sat in seiza in front of our sensei as he gave us our usual rundown of each individual’s points to work on, what he or she did right or wrong that day, things for motodachi of that person to look for, etc… at which point he talked about the 1 vs 4 and 2 vs 3 matches. It was to sharpen our awareness, develop quick footwork, recognize that in order to win, attacking was the only way, to remember that kendo was in representation of a real sword fight, to develop teamwork, and to develop the warrior spirit. But what he said at the end was the most profound – he wanted us to remember that while in kendo, it is very very important to mind its traditions, rules, and etiquette, it was even more important that we enjoy our time together and to remember the fun in kendo.

And I thought that was too important not to share.

The past month-and-a-half to two months at my dojo, it has been a lot of serious work: kihon, kakari-keiko, simultaneous kakari-keiko, serious “good” geiko, kata, and bon guk kum bup (traditional Korean kata-ish thing that’s required to know in Korean shinsa. See below for a demonstration. Look, I’m not claiming kendo’s Korean, I never will, and I really have not met any other Koreans who argued that it was… It’s like the internet taking the words of the Westboro Baptist Church and saying that represents ALL of Christianity in America… it’s just not realistic. You won’t be required to learn this unless you go to a Korean dojo…. it is fun though.)


It was basically come in early, warm up on your own, suburi and haya suburi, then either kihon, skill/waza, or kakari-geiko, then geiko. This was because of the large number of students taking shinsa in these two months, the number of “visiting” senseis and kendoists from other regions and countries, and one member taking a higher dan exam.

For myself, these past months have been a huge amount of katate suburi, kihon from jodan, and much agonizing and analyzing of jodan. I practiced suburi at home and at the dojo until I had even more calluses than before and I practiced footwork until the skin on the bottom of my feet decided that blisters weren’t going to stop the friction and decided to just get inflamed.

Overall, the MO for the dojo the past weeks has been work, work, and work. And there was certainly fun in that. I truly believe that self development, in any form, is a fun process because of its rewarding nature, especially in something we do not do as a job, but as a passion, like kendo. And of course, there’s an intimate satisfaction in finally pulling off that seme-to-men-then-hit-gyaku-do from jodan (which I DID. WOOHOOO!!!).

But there is another type of fun – a childish fun, the kind of fun that we have when we abandon the everyday constraints and let loose for a bit… and this training session felt like that.

When I was a kid, maybe 10 or 11, we used to have balloon chases, where we tied balloons to the back of our hakama and ran around using proper kendo footwork, trying to pop each other’s balloons (HAH you thought I’d say pop the cherry…), as well as taking turns hitting the dummy with the shinai because sensei told us that if we hit it JUST right, it would spin like a top (of course, this was a lie… but I hadn’t taken physics class yet…). This was fun! This was fun in the going to the arcade and playing tekken sort of fun, not the self motivated work on getting better tenouchi kind of fun, yet it was still beneficial.

In my hurry to improve my jodan and my kendo in general, I’ve been forgetting to infuse my journey with the childish fun until yesterday… and it’s something that I think I will keep in mind in the future as well. And if anybody wants to give it a try with the approval of their sensei, of course, they should! I wouldn’t mind doing that again soon!


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