Am I a sabreur? I AM a kendoka!

Yesterday (24Aug09) I started my club activities at the University of Kansas. I’ve only the one class on Mondays, so I spent most of the day holed up in the student union and reading the assigned text for my classes. But come evening I went on over to check out the exercise facilities on KU, and then participate in fencing.

First I met with the KU Fencing Club in the Robinson Gymnasium. We were introduced to footwork, the smelly, ill-fitting equipment and shown “three, four and five”, which are the basic strikes. Let me back up for a second. The three types of Olympic Fencing were demonstrated to us, and then we were asked which style interested us and told us we could pick whichever that was to do. KU seems to have a heavy concentration of saber fencers (termed sabreur), which works out because the saber is what I am interested in.

It remains to be seen how much kendo is going to help or hurt me. Initially it seems like there are concepts that are similar, it’s just that the executions are technically different. For instance, in moving forward in kendo the feet are both pointed forward at the opponent, and in fencing only the right foot is pointed at the opponent and the left is turned sideways, but the movements and balance are similar. I imagine it has something to do with the attacking techniques required by the differences in the weapons. I’ll figure out all that kind of stuff later.

I’ve decided to make a commitment of one semester to fencing, to see where my interest with it goes. Currently my interest lies with familiarization, and trying something new. I figured that if I was going to practice swordsmanship, trying out a different style would be a good thing. I’m not sure how to put exactly why into words yet, but it’s something I want to do. I’ll be going once a week, and in that time I hope to learn whether or not I develop an interest in fencing as something on its own, or if I tell the club “thanks for the experience” and not come back in spring. It works out well for me because both clubs meet on the same days, only at different times. My Mondays are going to be pretty action packed for a while. You would not believe how sore and tired I was last night.

Which leads me into the KU Kumdo/Kendo Club. After fumbling around with the fencing club for a while, it was nice to go back to something I felt more confident with. This is the second new dojo I’ve been to. It’s a little weird practicing at a different place, because the routine is different. The KUKC is less formal than the Kansas City Kendo Club, being mostly students and Korean kumdo folk. In kumdo the rules are the same but the style is different, and the kumdo folk tend to drop a lot of the formalities of the Japanese. There were four or five returning club members, a visiting scholar who is the senior member, three absolute beginners and myself.

I introduced myself and everyone was pleasant, and then we got to warming up individually and I felt pretty good about myself. The group warm-up was brief but intense, and I probably sweated as much just with 150 hayasuburi with KUKC as with 600 hayasuburi with KCKC. The Tae Kwon Do Club warmed up the room for us before we got there (it’s in the Martial Arts room in the new Student Recreation Center), and it was like exercising in a very stinky sauna. On a side note, the new Rec Center is really nice. The MA room has these “pseudo-tatami” foam mats, and its not like a wooden floor, but it’s much better than outside.

I started off with kirikaeshi with the senior member, then back and forth with kihon waza. Then we moved on to jigeiko, and I got to spar with just about everyone who had bogu. We finished off with one point knock-out competition, and I ended up getting to try my hand as a shinpan for the first time. Which was a whole new level of difficulty, and not something I was real comfortable with. BUT, I managed to score men on my first match, so I feel like I didn’t show up and make a fool of myself. Lost the next two, of course.

Everyone at both clubs was friendly. I had a really good time at both, but especially at KUKC. The sparring was fast and aggressive, and in a style that I’m not used to. I feel like I have a lot I can learn from them, and look forward to participating with KUKC for the rest of my stay at KU. There was brief talk of maybe arranging a dojo visit/special practice between KUKC and KCKC. It’s just idle talk at this point, but I think it would be beneficial. One, to get more diverse experience for club members, and two, to help build good kendo relationships in the area. I put up the KUKC contact information on the KCKC website, and will mention to sensei this Wednesday about it.

This was an excellent start to student non-academic life. I believe that success lies with involving yourself at many levels, and committing yourself to the school. Investing in the school on a personal level, and outside of just wanting to get good grades. I don’t want to show up, do class, and then bail afterward. I want my life centered on KU, so that I will have a better chance of doing well in the school.


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Filed under Budo, Fencing, Kendo

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