"Bloody hell, you strike too hard!" "Of course, it hurts!" "Well, it’s not about power, it is about sharpness!"
We constantly hit each other with a bamboo stick that weighs about 500g (1.1 lbs) in training and in competition. I personally don’t really know any other sports or martial arts hit each other with a stick like kendo. The closest one must be fencing but they really don’t “whack” each other, do they?
We always have a few beginners looking shocked when they get hit once practicing kendo with a set of armour (bōgu) on. Were you in shock when you first got hit?
“I cannot wait to put the bōgu on!” I am happy for you! But do realise that now you will get hit.
People probably think they can really get into “fight” when they put on bōgu. And they don't even think about getting struck. Also when they watch others receiving strikes, those people in bōgu don’t really look in pain. Have you heard of a “poker face”?
Bōgu protects us. But it doesn’t mean you don’t feel pains. It still hurts.
A sad thing is that we never know how hard we hit others. Do you know how hard you hit? Have you ever thought about how painful your strikes are?
I had some complaints from my students in the past about how others struck them too hard. You know what? Their strikes were extremely painful and they talked about how hard others hit them. This is something we really have to keep in mind; “We are ignorant about ourselves”
So we really need to appreciate our training partners. Let’s properly show our appreciation to each receiver after they received your strikes. Bow to them with a true appreciation.
The pain goes both ways. We take pains from others and everyone else takes pains from our strikes. And our improvement is based upon our training partners. If they aren’t there for you, you cannot improve. If you are not there to receive their strikes, they cannot improve.
On the next day you had training, there are bruises on your body. You don’t remember anyone hitting you that hard. You didn’t feel any pains during training. How come?
Good strikes don’t really give you a pain. You might feel some sting like electricity but you don’t feel a pain in your bone. They pop on your bōgu. Literally you hear “pop!” when you receive a kote strike with a good tenouchi.
I don’t have any experience of pains when 8-dan sensei struck me. Most of their strikes are sharp yet not painful. And amazingly sometimes you don’t really feel anything. But when they want to, they can give you really heavy strikes.
Have you ever experienced that you feel completely defeated by a strike. Not only because they got you on men, kote, dō or tsuki. It’s not because they gave you a tremendous pain to deal with. It’s because the impact of the strike drives through your body. It’s like sonic wave going through your body. Not that I know how it really works but you know…you see something like that from some movies. I hope you know what I mean.
I’m fortunate because I experienced these strikes. And I know it’s possible. The problem is I have no idea how they do it. All I know is that they can do it. This actually exists. Do you believe such strikes are possible? I have to. Because they did that to me!
This is not something we can learn from books or speeches after training (maybe at the 2nd dōjō? That would be great, wouldn’t it?). This is how we learn. You feel it. You replicate it. We receive advices, practice them, get more advices and fine tune them. And boom! Some years or maybe 10, 15 years later we can do it. Fingers crossed!