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Kendo-Guide.Com Newsletter, Issue #021 - Kendo Exam Tips
August 19, 2009

Kendo for LIFE

Kendo-Guide.Com Newsletter, Issue #021 - Kendo Exam Tips

One of my students received 1kyu on his third trial. I asked him to write an article to share his experience and tell us what he did differently this time.

I was actually very surprised at his answer. He knows what kendo is all about. Probably he knew it but he could not do it. This is true for all of us. We know what we should do but we cannot do it.

I hope you enjoy his article as much as I did.


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What we have in this issue is shown below. Enjoy this Newsletter!

Table of Content

- Kendo Q & A -

- Kendo Exam Tips -

- Comments or Questions -

There are links to change your email address for the newsletter or unsubscribe at the bottom of every newsletter. Thanks!

- Kendo Q & A -

- Carbon vs bamboo shinai

- Nito regulations in kendo matches

- Kendo Exam Tips -

Kendo is a humbling experience. It has often transformed me, a professional teacher, into a struggling student. This is a good thing.

I first tested for rank after nine months of kendo instruction, and to my surprise was awarded the rank of 2nd kyu—better than I expected. I mistakenly and arrogantly concluded that climbing the next steps, to 1st kyu and eventually the dan ranks, would be easy. I instead received a well-deserved dose of humility, failing my next two rank examinations for 1st kyu.

Realization of Problems

The rank examinations exposed deficiencies in my kendo. This was not so much a matter of waza, but the more subtle and challenging mental and emotional aspects of kendo. In particular I have found achieving the relaxed state of mind (mushin) necessary to practice kendo is very difficult.

My sensei and fellow students continually remind me to calm myself, relax my shoulders and upper body, and suppress the nervous energy which I unfortunately possess in abundance, and which tends to wreck my timing, footwork, and form.

I understand the basic concept of mushin and its importance. But thinking about mushin is one thing; practicing it is another matter entirely. Thinking is the problem.

During my first two failed rank examinations, a thousand little pieces of advice coursed through my head all at once: bow properly, hands at the correct distance and position during chudan no kamae, kensaki pointed at my opponent's throat, execute a good men strike with good timing, don't forget about zanshin, loud kiai, and so on.

Thinking about everything, I naturally was unable to properly relegate anything to the level of instinct. With my mind spinning in many different directions at once, my energy level and general nervousness increased, I rushed my strikes and the result was bad timing, poor footwork—and failure.

Humble Student

In July I attended the AUSKF summer camp in Millettesville, Tennessee, where over 140 kendoka assembled for three days of instruction, practice and, on the final day, rank examinations. This was my third attempt to attain the rank of 1st kyu.

I finally succeeded, for a variety of reasons.

First, I was simply exhausted, in a good way. My sensei in past classes pointed out that my form often improved as I grew more weary during a class. I tended to think less, and react on a more instinctive level. In Tennessee, I experienced nearly two days of continuous kendo practice, and I was too worn out to over-think my kendo by the time I took the rank exam on Sunday afternoon.

Second, I shut out the distractions that bedeviled my past efforts by the simplest of methods: focusing on only one word: calm. Repeating this as a mantra, I relaxed, concentrated on keeping my mind still, and allowed the instincts created by over three year's worth of training to take over.

Rather than the somewhat overwrought (and counterproductive) checklist of issues that normally ran through my head while performing kendo, I kept my attention on just that one word, and the result was calm, relaxed and proper kendo.

Third, I remembered the words of Takahashi-Sensei, the distinguished 8th dan kendo master who led our summer camp. He told us that a rank examination is our opportunity to express the “beauty” of our kendo, as if it were an art form. This is a dimension of kendo that I often neglect, particularly during jigeiko, in my eagerness to score points. Such eagerness has been my undoing, as my determination to score points undermines my form.

While performing jigeiko for the rank examination, I tried to follow Takahashi-Sensei's advice, essentially forgetting about points altogether, and instead concentrating on the achievement of a smooth, free-flowing kendo form.

During the summer kendo camp, Takahashi-Sensei frequently described himself as a “humble student,” rather than a kendo expert. This too, was an important lesson. We are all students, and the secret to success in kendo (or anything else) is cultivation of the ability to learn and grow by an honest appraisal of our shortcomings and mistakes. Perhaps the essence of mushin is not just calmness of spirit, but the humility and lack of arrogance necessary to achieve such calmness.

- Comments or Questions -

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