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

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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.

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…

Lightness Of Being

Arjuna StatueI had an incredible practice last night. After a good showing at the PNKF Taikai I was feeling confident that my efforts were finally paying off. My sempai had told me that my entire game would change once I started lunging forward (instead of down which really clips my wings).

So last night my game plan was to on focus smooth lunges forward, light swings, and better kiai and floor presence.

That last term, “floor presence” means a mix of really committing to one’s actions, having a comfortable bearing, perhaps even some swagger. It only comes from a natural feeling and not artificial moves or thoughts. For me, that meant choosing to enjoy what I was doing and doing so in a manner consistent with which I truly am as a person.

As a result I truly enjoyed practice. I felt light, smooth(er), and I was not sore the next day as I usually have been in the past. I also was getting more distance and finishing each match with a reserve of energy. I also smiled and even laughed!

That is the joy of kendo that I have been looking for. Even with some tough opponents last night, I felt that “peaceful abode within” that Krishna speaks of in the Bhagavad Gita.

This will be my kendo.

U Mad, Bro?

U Mad BroA couple of weeks ago at kendo a friend of mine asked me after class, “Wow, were you mad during our jigeiko?” The question caught me off guard and I think I said something stupid like, “No, but maybe you were!” Yeah, I have to work on that…

Anyway, there certainly is a fine line between aggression and anger in any kind of combat sport. In kendo, the goal is self-improvement and personal growth through the study of swordsmanship and sport. My friend’s question triggered a few days of introspection as I respect his judgement and observations.

In the heat of a sparring session, especially with an aggressive opponent, the symptoms of frustration and eagerness to score can take many forms. I know that I felt a desire to break through and score.

Looking at it now, it is not anger so much as it is a decision to not accept a course of action and using all of my will to change said course.

Yet the comment stuck with me and I am using this as an opportunity to ensure that I what do comes from a spirit of fullness and not one of frustration or anger.