So tonight is my first full Kendo class. Kendo is the martial art of Japanese sword fighting. Why am I starting Kendo?
After attending a sample class with some friends, I started reading more about Kendo and the philosophies behind it. One of the most interesting pieces I came across was entitled, "Kendo: Striving For Perfection When Perfection Is Impossible." Below are some passages from the article that caught my attention.
In my experience with other martial arts, the main focus always seemed to be on learning more and more techniques. Maybe I was just going to the wrong dojos (perhaps this is American style?). I’m not sure. If you learn 100 techniques with a certain skill level, you get this colored belt. If you learn 200 techniques, you get some other belt. In kendo, you essentially get to do four techniques. That’s it, and the last one (tsuki) isn’t even something someone can try for a number of years.
When I think about some other martial arts, all I can think about is how complicated they get. The higher your rank, the more complicated all your techniques get. Purple belt? That means you get to spin twice before kicking the target. It’s all about adding, adding, adding.
It took me a while to realize this, but in kendo I think it’s all about how much you can take away. I want to say that kyuudo and aikido are similar in this regard. When a beginner starts kendo, their swing is very complicated. They use all kinds of different muscles and make a lot of unnecessary movements. As you get better, you actually simplify your swing. You figure out how to turn off certain muscles. You make your movements more consistent. You don’t swing through your targets as much. It’s a lot like golf in terms of the consistency you need. You don’t want to swing your golf club differently every time. You want it to be like clockwork. Same goes for kendo.
A lot of martial arts dojos enjoy making lots of moneys (I guess to fill their mats?). In general, practicing kendo is very cheap. There are exceptions, I’m sure, but most of the time you just pay some dues for the facility you’re practicing in (for me, that’s $20/month) and then buy your own equipment (which lasts a long time, usually). The sensei don’t get paid for their time and they teach kendo because they love kendo.
There's much, much more commentary about Kendo in the piece, so I would recommend you read it if this seems of any interest. It certainly helped pique my interest.
Another article featured martial arts expert Alex Bennett and his experience with Kendo. From the article:
A quick stop at a martial arts shop in Christchurch told the 18-year-old Bennett there were no local kendo clubs, but the shop owner did have a list of interested participants who had earlier made inquiries. Bennett decided to contact a few and suggest training together. From that simple start, Bennett soon had over 30 people gathering for informal training sessions, many with other martial arts experience.
“The students wanted to do kendo specifically because they felt something was missing in their other martial arts experiences, and they hoped kendo was a martial art that could teach them more about the spirit or culture of budo or even this rather nebulous idea of bushido. I had absolutely no idea how to reply to them, so that’s when I first read everything I could find on the martial arts, [Inazo] Nitobe or Miyamoto. I felt a responsibility to the students, and I decided I should spend the rest of the year saving as much money as possible and then go to Japan to study kendo properly.”
It seems Kendo is a martial art that many start, many give up, and few continue and master. I've always wanted to try a martial art, but most are just too physical. Kendo seems to be more about improving your inner self. So I am giving it a go and will let you know what happens.
Below is part 1 of a documentary about Kendo.