Hotengahara

Using the lesson plan from GymJones (no equipment) I’m starting to feel more strength and energy as I did when I was doing CrossFit. I’m also incorporating a basic breathing exercise, adopted from by free divers, called Kapalabhati (it is a system with 50 different exercises but exploration would require a qualified instructor).

On Friday I did my lesson plan and then went to kendo which really pushed me to the edge. By the end of class I felt as if I was walking submerged in water. I felt depleted physically but, on a deeper level, I felt good.

Saturday was a rest day and then Sunday was, Hotengahara. If you’re not sure what that means, Hotengahara is an arid plain that, in Eiji Yoshikawa‘s fictionalized story of the Japanese sword master Miyamoto Musashi, in which the famous swordsman spent two years working as a farmer, trying to master the land as part of his physical and spiritual training. Historically, Musashi, did work the land for two years but no one knows anything beyond that.

So my Hotengahara was spending all day Sunday clearing my yard, digging up the soil, planting, and breaking down old furniture. All under the sun and without proper hydration.

By the end of the day I was done and done. Tired, muscles aching, dried out, and mentally fuzzy. I drank water, had a great curry chicken and went to bed early.

Today I woke up and felt great. Physical development requires breaking mental barriers. You need to both feel and *know* that you have broken through and progressed, even in a small way. For that, I have my own little Hotengahara to thank for that.

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UW Taikai – Post Report

I had a blast being with my friends from NW Kendo and everyone from the club was in great form. We fought well and the NW Team defeated Sno-King and had a tough and exciting set with the Vancouver team. In all, I was pleased.

From my own perspective, I found that I strike far too close to my opponent and that I need to be thrusting forward and not upwards. Valuable data for me to absorb!

My favorite picture of me from the event!

Armpit of Steel

Taikai Prep (or lack thereof)

With the UW Taikai coming up this weekend, I’m in no way ready for it. I’ve been traveling on business and haven’t touched a shinai in over a week. It would be great if that led to some kind of “sword-of-no-sword” epiphany in which I become a master athlete by Saturday but somehow I doubt it. I have a higher chance of winning the lottery…

In an earlier post I did outline my program for my sandan test in 2015 and really that is the long game that I am focusing on. For the taikai, my best steps are to be aggressive and single-minded, not thinking about victory. Beyond that, being there to support my fellow team-members and assist at the event will be part of my day there.

This even sounds like a cop-out to me but it would be presumptuous to expect anything better, given my other commitments and poor time-management.

That’s all for now.

Sandan Program (Kendo)

 

Image Courtesy of Trinh Ho
Image courtesy of Trinh Ho

Being a kendo nidan is being a person just outside a window display looking in. Then again, that is probably the same for a kendoka at any level but I feel this most strongly now as I am just considering taking the sandan exam next year.

Taking a self-inventory I find so much that needs to be learned and developed, though that is in itself a good thing. Looking inward and seeing nothing is cause for concern.

In the next 9 months my focus will be on the following:

1. Reiho: how I carry myself, how my bogu is worn, and cared for.
2. Kiai: working on finding my true voice. A voice that is effective.
3. Sutemi: learning to open myself up in every way in jigeiko, committing to single actions with alacrity and purpose. Pushing through regardless.
4. Basics: continuous improvement of my footwork and the quality of my strikes.
5. Conditioning: building physical strength and stamina through exercise, developing my lower body and my lung capacity.

With these 5 personal initiatives, I am confident that I will be in an advantageous position in 2015.

Details:

1. Buying new himo for my do, properly folding the hakama and, if necessary, actually ironing the hakama I use for regular training.
2. Committing to a real kiai, not just clearing my throat and exhaling. Directing my kiai to my opponent and, when striking, making it clear and loud (as per my sensei’s instruction).
3. Thinking less of hitting but, instead, hitting with purpose and commitment. Be willing to be hit and not reacting emotionally; making each strike a true combination of my will and my body.
4. Focusing on posture, tanden, ichi-byoshi, and fumikomi. Slower but better has the advantage over faster and sloppier. Kendo is a marathon, not a sprint.
5. My program of heavy bag work, kettlebells, and the training from the NYC Ballet will provide a good basis for the above 4 details and the above 5 areas of focus.

Finally, I will explore my artistic side. My skills are rudimentary, but I enjoy writing and calligraphy (Western and Asian) and I will explore that with greater effort.

Way of the Warrior in the 21st Century

2013 ShinsaAs a kendo practitioner I am attracted to the concept of being a “modern warrior” but I really don’t know what that means. The concept is seductive and empowering but mis-application can lead to ridicule and even injury.

Step one in exploring this concept is understanding what is a warrior. I completely agree with Wikipedia’s definition of the term “warrior.” It is a person dedicated to the art of war and who’s world view and personal behavior is bound and defined by a personal and philosophical code of honor which dictates his (or her’s) every action.

Definition of honor, in my mind, is the concept of a higher code of ethics and personal responsibility that exceeds the value of the life of the person. In effect, death should be less frightening than dishonor.

Are modern soldiers warriors? The term “warrior” is applied to soldiers in the US as a sign of respect, especially in light of the terrible treatment that Vietnam-era soldiers suffered at the hands of their citizens.

In reality, though, soldiers are not warriors. Their behavior is dictated by military policy that demands obedience over anything else. The reason is sensible and derives from the time of fixed-formation movement as far back as ancient times. A soldier cannot ignore an order even if it goes against his code of honor (though he can ignore an order that goes against military policy but that is not the same thing).

Are mercenaries warriors? They can pick and choose their fights and have more freedom than soldiers. I suppose that is possible but most mercenaries (or contract soldiers like those who protect ships from pirates or who work for military contractors) are usually fighting for money which is not something that appears in ethical or moral codes (unless there is an Ayn Rand-themed band of warriors that I don’t know about!).

I think the door has closed on the warrior concept being realized in current times but that doesn’t mean that we cannot take some of the higher concepts from the warrior codes and apply them to our lives, here and now.

Budo, the Japanese concept of the modern martial arts does this really well. A person can study martial arts (whether a budo practice like kendo or the actual science of swordsmanship like one of the traditional sword styles that do not have a sport application) and just taste some of the deeper concepts that once permeated the air of those ancient warriors.

In practice, one can choose to be just, treat others with dignity, and dedicate one’s life to a physical and mental practice that expands their view of themselves and the world around them.

It may be just a taste of a bygone age, but it can still be a sweet and satisfying one.

Keiko – Feb 7, 2014

My calf muscle hasn’t fully recovered it seems and I also know that I was very dehydrated. However, practice the other day was instructive. Some key learning for me:

1. Hydration begins not before the workout but, rather, at the beginning of each day. Drinking water and tea is necessary for stamina and muscle efficiency.

2. Engaging the core. When I do that my moves are more efficient and effective. Activating my lower front and back muscles relaxes my body and lets me focus. This needs to be done always, not just in kendo. It is key.

3. My shoulders drag (but that could be related to not engaging the core) and I need to work on ki-ken-tai-itchi. One thing I can do is focus on striking and then having the foot hit the ground. This may actually help propel me forward after the strike so there is a 2-for-1 reward here!

 

Horse Stance

HorsebackI was chatting with a co-worker and she told me about her experience in equestrian sports and how, as a rider, her goal was to connect with the horse in a symbiotic way, allowing her to direct it.

The connection with the horse required that she would be sitting with spine straight, head and neck in neutral position, abdomen and legs taut and engaged but hips flexible enough to roll with the movement of the horse. If that sounds familiar to people in kendo, it should.

My sensei said that good and correct kendo is done using the body as if one is riding a horse. Spine is straight, chin tucked in, lower back and abdominal muscles tensed and in use, allowing for smooth movement of the upper body.

It is interesting to me how all of the traditional war skills of the past require similar body movements and concepts. For those not involved in martial arts or riding, the rules still apply, though. I recommend that anyone interested in knowing more about this should visit Kelly Starrett’s YouTube channel. Kelly is a medical professional and a CrossFit owner and he has a valuable series of videos on body movement and health. This video is a good introduction.

With that, I will now ride off into the sunset…