The graphic to the left is used on the Kendo24 website, to advertise their equipment sets for beginners. I can't help but giggle ^_^
Anyway... A hundred euros (or 114 including shipping) gets me everything I'll need for my first few months of kendo training. A hakama (special pants), a gi (jacket), a shinai (bamboo dueling sword) and a bokken (wooden sword for kata). Oh, and a baggie to put the swords in. That's a pretty good deal, though obviously none of it will be of stellar quality. Still, a hundred bob is certainly manageable as a starting point!
Next up, I know it's not required and might be a bit weird, I'll write a short letter requesting our sensei to accept me as a student.
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All the running I've been doing the past year sure came in handy today! Aside from the usual stretching and jumping, today's warming-up also consisted of multiple laps around the gymnasium. Roughly 700m of running, sprinting, strafing and of course the kendo shuffles (forwards, reverse and sideways) would've certainly done me in two years ago but not now! :D
Speaking of the warming-up: aside from the fact that it's very useful, there is also something very cool about it. The last part consists of various jumps, jumping jacks and stomped landings, combined with counting. It really builds my fighting spirit (if you will) to have a gym filled with the roars of ichi-ni-SAN!, timed to jump-jump-THUMP! of twenty people. Like there's a giant bass drum in the room... ^_^
Anyway. I learnt a lot today. I still have the same problem as last week, where I strike with my whole arm instead of whipping the shinai with my left wrist. Aside from that I also tend to stoop a little, holding the shinai too low (below navel level). And there's one problem that's obvious for someone completely new to martial arts: I am hesitant to actually strike someone. Today we practiced the basic men strike and the kote-men strikes and only near the end of class would I actually start HITTING people, instead of tapping, glancing or tapping.
All my sempai were very helpful and patient, with most everyone having a pointer or two. I enjoy training with this group a lot!
At least there's nothing wrong with my kiai. Finally my big lung capacity pays off and I can use my Voice Of Authority(tm) for something else, besides addressing crowds at the 'Anime 200x' festivals.
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I have to say that starting something completely new is very thrilling. Though I have to admit that sometimes it's exciting to the point of panic.
Case in point: we will be soon taking Dana on her first airplane ride ever. In preparation for our long vacation in Japan we wanted to make sure that Dana doesn't go nuts on a plane, so we thought we'd try a day in Copenhagen which is only a one-hour flight instead of twelve. For some reason the idea of taking Dana on a plane fills me with dread, even going so far to giving me a real panic attack. I have absolutely no clue why, because it's all very safe and sound. I need to go over my own thoughts to try and find out what the heck is up.
Putting that particular case aside, I really do love starting new things from scratch. It's quite refreshing to be a blank slate, being forced to learn something from the utter and complete basics. This is why I loved going back to college, why I loved learning golf and now it's why I greatly enjoy kendo.
It's interesting to see that in kendo I tend to make the same mistakes I did in golf: I cramp my arms and I still try to put force on both of my arms instead of only on my left arm. As is explained on this terrific website:
"Perhaps the most common mistake of beginners is to use the muscles of the right arm to swing. Ask any golfer what happens if you try and use the muscles of your right hand in a golf swing. The swing will go wild, you won't hit your target, and you'll hit very hard with no self control. This not only looks terrible, but will piss off your opponent as well."
I do admit that for the first time in learning something new I am actually daunted by the task at hand! The journey to learn kendo leads up a huge mountain and right now I can see the whole trip I'm supposed to take. I should really only focus on the first few steps though, because the enormity of the task may lead me to two of the four shikai: doubt and confusion.
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Today I did something new: I partook in kendo training.
Recently I've been getting the "itch" to pick up sports again. i've been running between the office and the railway station every day, trying to build up some stamina again. This is going slowly, but it's working. But as I learnt last summer, I doubt that I'd want to go back to long endurance running again. Well, as Menno so succinctly pointed out: "there's never a dull moment in kendo!"
The way I see it, kendo will be beneficial to me in a number of areas. Obviously it's good exercise, there's no doubt about that. It will hopefully also teach me some mental endurance and some much-needed humility. Personally I love the rigor, the tradition and the ceremony, so that's a plus. And physically? I can only dream of ever becoming as fast as some of these folks! One fellow I practiced with would be able to get in five to seven blows for every one of mine. The light footedness! Amazing!
There is one snag though. If I ever want to progress beyond the mere basics, wear a bogu and actually start fighting, then I will need to get over myself and start wearing contact lenses. There is no way that my normal glasses will stand up to the blows. So either I purchase expensive, custom sports glasses, or I get my eyes lasered, or I get contacts. Seeing how contacts are the cheapest and least permanent option it's safest to go with that for now.
The dojo in Almere, Renshinjuku, is an offshoot of a larger dojo in Amstelveen. There aren't that many kendo dojo in the Netherlands, but I appear to have lucked out with this one! For my taste the dojo has the right level of formality. I was dreading a group similar to my original archery group in Zutphen: no discipline, no rigor, just teenagers running wild. Luckily that is not the case at all! In the dressing room the atmosphere is jovial and informal, but once you go out to the training floor everybody gets serious.
I am really looking forward to next week's class.
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All content, with exception of "borrowed" blogpost images, or unless otherwise indicated, is copyright of Thomas Sluyter. The character Kilala the cat-demon is copyright of Rumiko Takahashi and used here without permission.