Sometimes that’s all you get out of two or three hours of practice. Kendo is so technical that at my level of play that is enough, most days. I’ve said before that one good word from sensei can make my whole week, and it’s true, barring any crazy complications in my non-kendo life. But it can still be a very frustrating activity to engage in, because one good men isn’t guaranteed. The Four Sicknesses (fear, doubt, surprise, confusion) are harder to keep at bay when in a strange environment, and I’m not quite settled in with the KU club just yet.
I concentrate on what I’m doing instead of reacting in the moment, and I end up staring dumbly while my aite (partner/opponent) blasts me with his shinai. I get so tense that when I decide to strike, it’s slow and telegraphed, and I end up watching in frustration as my aite hits through my attack and manages not to be there when my own reaches its destination. When I grab hold of myself enough to make connections with my shinai, they’re sloppy and uncontrolled, muscles all tense with the desire to hit the aite, and I wear myself out with frustrated attacks. And when I finally relax, focus my ki effectively and maintain proper form and make good attacks… jigeiko is over, and I’ve spent the whole time forgetting what I remembered by the end of the last one. And sometimes it doesn’t matter anyway, because my aite is that much better than me. It is a goal of mine that nobody facing me take me lightly, so I try to make up for my lack of skill with a vigorous spirit and kiai.
The only sporting activity I engage in that rivals the masochism of JSA is golf. No matter how loose and comfortable I was the last time I was at the driving range, the first bucket and most of the second bucket end up nowhere near where I was able to put them at the end of the last session. Golf is very much like kendo in this respect, and in several others. Swinging a long tool at a tiny target with exquisite precision, knowing that the slightest deviation from proper technique will end up magnified into viciously crude ugliness that does nothing but frustrate and disappoint. Unlike kendo, however, the last ball I hit is often the one I remember instead of the best one. Sometimes, when my bucket is almost empty and I make a magnificent drive, I’ll just put the remaining balls in my bag and go home, just so I can take that memory with me.
But the beauty of one good men, and the solid tink! of a well placed drive, it makes the frustration worth it most days. Only in kendo I don’t get the luxury of leaning on my shinai and reveling in the glory of it, because golf balls won’t immediately retaliate…