Monday, January 08, 2007

Thoughts of joy and kendo

Most of the people stop kendo within the first year of starting this martial art. There are many reasons for this: kendo was not the suitable martial art, the person didn’t fit in the group and so on. But, what about people who have been training for more than 10 years and for whom kendo has become more than just a hobby? In this case the person cannot say that he didn’t know what it was all about. These people have been in various kendo seminars and competitions in their own country and abroad. Why do some people stop kendo in this phase?

One Japanese sensei has said that when one loses the joy of training, then any excuse is good enough for abandoning the training; professional life, private life and so on. Perhaps it would be good to reflect what can take away the joy of kendo.

Everyone goes through moments of frustration in kendo life. Failing an examination is perhaps one of the most common ones. When that happens, the senseis and more experienced kendokas encourage to practice more as a solution. Of course there is no other way than that, though one wonders what was wrong and what should be improved for the next time. When one fails the same exam multiple times; is it then possible to practice with joy and without stress? One’s own high expectations and at the same time the fear of failing again are constantly present; at least in the sub-conscious. Only a very small portion of people pass the 6 and 7 dan examinations. So, the latest in this moment many people will go through serious thinking about the meaning of all this. One unnamed person said he would change kendo to golf after having failed several times the 7 dan exams. We might wonder how easily the failure in exam, or losing in a competition we could add, impacts on the joy of training.

We are used to rely on our physical condition and we have learned kendo based on that. But, what happens when, for example in an accident a leg or an arm is injured in a way that one must re-learn the physical part and adapt the training according to the new situation? How easy it would be to stop here! It’s much easier to abandon than to face one’s own expectations; one is not able to train as before, the others seem to advance much faster, and so forth.

When we get older the challenges are very similar. A middle-aged person doesn’t have the same physics as a twenty-year old; the recovery takes longer, muscle ruptures and other problems occur more easily. In addition, the older one gets the more responsibilities there are in general; the family needs attention and the professional life takes a lot of energy and time. The challenge is to find and re-find every day the balance with everything as everything is in a constant change. Training with a bad consciousness is an unnecessary burden and also impacts the joy.

It takes really a lot of humility, patience and persistence to re-learn and to re-find everything and to admit that there is no return to the past. It requires re-arranging one’s own expectations and objectives. It’s very difficult to admit that the speed and physical condition, that one has trusted almost blindly, are not the same as before and there is no way back either. To go through such a way builds character and mental capacity; by accepting the new situation and continuing to practice accordingly one wins oneself each time. Passing exams and winning in the competition loose their importance. The practice in itself and the joy it brings become the most precious thing.

People who get older with dignity, such as our own super-Francis (75), are great examples for all of us. For me these kendokas and other people, who, regardless of their challenges and problems, go on within their limitations, are inexhaustible sources of inspiration. They have gone through a difficult path and continue with all their heart whatever they do.

This kind of ideas have come to my mind while kendo has been only shadow-training and at the same time knowing that the way to the next ji-geiko with shinais is some light-years away. Fortunately there are plenty of sources of inspiration; one just needs to keep the eyes open!