I haven’t written about kendo in a while.
I’m still participating in kendo, though I am on “winter hiatus” from my main club, the Kansas City Kendo Club, because we do not have an indoor training facility. Apart from absolutely despising the cold I don’t want to risk further injuring my knee by slipping in snow or mud, so I’m giving the home club a miss until it warms up and dries out. But I have the luxury of having my college club and the nice, new rec center to practice in, so that has been good.
Something funny happened to me with kendo after about a year into it. I started out gung ho, acquired my uniform and bogu quickly, worked out hard and often and made nearly every practice, twice a week for a year. I’ve been to a tournament, traveled to other clubs to practice and passed my ikkyu examination. Experienced kendoka will roll their eyes or chuckle at this, but I felt pretty accomplished after that first year, feeling like I had a pretty good handle on what was going on. Cocky, even…
The other day at my college club we had a challenge, sparring in matches for the right to have a refereed match with a visiting scholar who is very good at kendo. I drew a club mate for the first round who had started kendo just a few months before, right about my one year “anniversary”. What I thought was, “I’ll at least get to have two matches,” thinking that this newbie I had never matched against before would be a certain win.
If you just now thought to yourself, “I bet he got his ass handed to him” then you are correct.
I sparred casually and was surprised when the ippon scored wasn’t mine. No problem, got over confident, time to get to work. Then the ref announced “one minute”, and it dawned on me that down one point to nothing I was going to lose if I didn’t score ippon and do it quickly. I frantically started swinging, but to no avail. I was sloppy and unfocused and I wasn’t going to get away with it. Time was called and I had to see the situation for what it was.
I at first ran through rationalizations in my mind. I wasn’t feeling well. I was out of practice. Mars was descending into the House of Aquarius. The bottom line is that I lost. Period. But more importantly I also made a dishonest mistake in underestimating my opponent, which is fundamentally disrespectful.
There is no guaranteeing I wouldn’t have lost no matter what my attitude was in the square that night. It would be arrogant of me to make any assumptions otherwise. My opponent bested me in that match, and every match is a thing unto itself. But I didn’t just go out there and lose a match. Even if I had won the match I would have failed in spirit for the disrespectful attitude I had in my heart when I stepped into the square. It is fortuitous that I did lose, because it allowed me the opportunity to reflect on that attitude where I might not have otherwise, and to make a change to better myself. And as I’ve said many times, a failure isn’t complete until you miss the chance to learn from it.
I feel I did learn from it. It would have been missing the point to simply learn from his sparring habits and develop an answer to them. I want to be a better person than I was that day, not just a better at the motions of kendo. We’ve since had other matches, and while the results of those matches aren’t important, what is important is that I entered the square with complete fundamental respect every time since. Without that we’re just wailing on each other with bamboo, win or lose.