Last Days: Monday and Tuesday

Well, last day in Japan. Kotomi took the day off work (she didn't ask, she just said "I'm taking the day off."). We left the house at about 2pm (or 3?), Kotomi played a last song on the piano (which I have a video of, but the internet is so slow here I can't upload it) while the taxi was waiting outside.

Kotomi brushing her teeth before we leave... she's so kawaii :)
Trainstation. Lots of luggage. Running up and down stairs to catch the train. Head to Kashiwa and then towards Ueno. Kotomi though she heard the train diver saying the train would stop for 5 minutes and got out to buy a drink... the drain left with me on it... I got out at the next stop with all the luggage and waited. (The train actually stopped here for 5 minutes). The next train came with Kotomi on it, we were laughing so hard. Took a fast and expensive train to Narita. Checked in, luggage was 2 kgs over, but the nice lady at the counter let it through anyway. Shinai were no problem. We went and ate something, bought a little Buddha statue for 600 yen (something I couldn't find anywhere in Japan). Then we sat down and cried lots.

Said our goodbyes, through security, waiting at boarding gate for a while, get on plane, take off, fall asleep, wake up to yucky food, sleep, land, walk around Sydney airport for a short time, take a bus to another terminal, ask if my luggage is on the proper plane, it was, get on plane, take off, watch shitty movie, eat yucky food, land, through customs, bamboo swords are no problem, meet brother, drive to Hamilton, walk around uni for a while, go to kendo.

It was really nice coming back to Waikato dojo. Brings back memories. We did lots of warmup, something which I was totaly not used to. Lots of kakarikeiko, jikeiko, a small competition, more jikeiko (Sam sensei beat me up, man he's fast >.>). Ari broke a tsuba, I broke a shinai. I was pretty amped up because I wanted to get as much practise in as possible. Haha, go go go. Clement did insane kakarikeiko with me, he was almost falling over and then went again and again. It really impressed me. All in all I had a great time. Was even thinking of ways to move back to Hamilton so I could go back to regular training.

My brother had to sit there for 3+ hours, I think he was a bit pissed off because I told him it would only be 1 hour... haha. I have a few short videos he took, but I can't upload them yet because of the internet here. Will do soon. We drove up to Auckland, and then decided to drive home at 12 at night. Arrived home at 3:10am, went to sleep. End.

Last Days: Sunday

Wake up. Breakfast. Bike to Shimpukan to watch Funny sensei's morning class (for high school students). We also got to take some photos of the dojo.

Some older photos which I haven't uploaded before:
Then home again and off to Shinmaikan for my last kendo session. There's happy guy on the right.

Kotomi and Totoro sensei:
Kotomi drinking some cherry juice:
A group photo:
Kotomi and me:We handed out presents at the end. Sensei sensei got framed photos and a tenagui with 'great teaching', Totoro sensei got a stuffed totoro toy (about 20cm high) which we gave to him in private so not to embaress him (he knows we really like totoro, but the others don't), happy guy got a tenagui with 'happiness' and Hirai sensei got a bottle of plum sake (which Kotomi made), a bottle of normal sake and a tenagui with 'noblity' (like noble kendo), he was as cool as ever and showed no emotion. Totoro sensei gave me a really nice cup. We had tea and watermelon on the floor of the dojo, and then we left with lots of goodbye and see you again.

Some other stuff I forgot to mention. Grmpy sensei's son gave me a shinai on the last practise (we gave him a tenagui with 'tradition' and some sake) and we were going to give Book sensei some plum sake and normal sake and a tenagui with 'great kindness', and his wife an expensive box of chocolates, but we didn't see them again, so Kotomi will give it to them next time she sees them.

Last Days: Saturday

Ok, I've been back in NZ for a few days now, got everything sorted, and have time to write the last few entries in this blog.

What happened first? Well, on Saturday the 30th it was my leaving party for Shimpukan. Kimura san set everything up and asked all my favourite sensei to come. Before that we had wrapped all the presents, a bottle of sake and a hand written tenagui. Some examples:

It was raining very hard that night, the roads were flooded and taxies were not running. Kotomi and I decided to walk barefoot (it was really hot still) with our umbrellas, something Japanese people would never do. We actually met a few people on the way to the restaurant who were trapped on the side of the flooded road. Kotomi told them to take their shoes off and walk through, but they said they would rather wait....

We get to the restaurant and find out it's a traditional raw fish joint. Thankfully it didn't smell like fish, but it meant that Kotomi and I couldn't eat anything there. The owners were really nice and let us order a pizza from down the road. Everyone got really drunk. We found out that Yamazaki sensei had always wanted to come to NZ, and he showed us all these old brochures he had saved.

Then the drama started. We had presents for most of the sensei there, but not for two which I didn't really know or like (one of them was the really old guy). Kotomi said that could be a problem, but that I should do what I wanted. We asked Kimura san and she agreed with Kotomi, she said that the people who got presents would feel bad if some others didn't. I was pretty angry at this because we (ok, Kotomi) had worked so hard on these presents, and now we couldn't hand them out because of these two people who I didn't even know.

Tough sensei decided, half drunk, to go to shimpukan to practise and when he came back he said there were only 6 people there >.> He then said he would leave again, so we went out the door with him and gave him his present. I think he was really happy. I told him that when I get better I want to be just like him. His kanji was 'strength'.

A fellow student on the left (he's a high school teacher) and Toyonaga sensei on the right:

Left to right, Tough sensei, Kimura san and Funny sensei:

Well, eventually everything died down, and we all went up the road to a karaoke bar. Possibly the worst experience in Japan for me :( Dark, dingy, full of smoke, some fat woman and an old man singing horribly and dancing together... But actually, Yamasaki sensei was really really good at singing haha.

Anyway, Kotomi and me wanted to leave and we still hadn't given out the presents. So we kept asking Kimura san until she agreed. I think that these tenagui, although not expensive, were probably one of the more personal presents that the sensei had ever gotten. I mean, before handing them out we told them that 'when I first came here I couldn't read your name bags or remember your names, so I invented nicknames based on your personality. Now we have written these in kanji on a tenagui for you.' Imagine someone saying that, and now you had to open it and see how this person saw you. In the end I think they were really really happy.

Yamazaki sensei - Spirit
Tough sensei - Strength
Funny sensei - Joyous life
Kimura san - Friendship
Toyonaga sensei - Great Teaching

When we left someone handed me a traditional Japanese umbrella (which they stole from the fish shop haha) and said it was a presento. Funny sensei invited us to the morning practise the next day.


Omotesando Dojo

A meet up for keiko was planned on the kendo world forums for the 26th at a dojo in Omotesando (I don't think I ever caught the name of the place). Two other people showed up, a friendly Swede who spoke fluent Japanese (I gather he practises regularly at this dojo), and a polite American who teaches kendo back in the states. They both had far more Japan experience than me, and were also far better at kendo, so I think I was lucky to meet them.

The dojo itself was rather tiny, but still very nice. There was lots of bogu stored in the wall (see photo), the floor was solid but still had some spring to it, the changing room set up was different (as I'm so used to just changing in the dojo), and there were minor differences in rei. We did some kihon and then keiko. I got beaten up as usual, but did one kaishi do that I'm really proud of. The sensei was really nice, he always smiled and laughed whenever I laughed when he got a hit on me (which was all the time, he was super fast!). I also met a Spaniard who works in Japan as a professional photographer, and Kotomi and me talked to him a bit after practise was over.

It was a nice experience and I had fun.



For Sensei sensei -

And the stack of tenagui Kotomi has yet to start on (which will be hard work for her) -


Ok, I passed Ikkyu. Should have done it ages ago. Thank god I finally got it over with.

So, story time.

A really nice woman at Shimpukan, Kimura San, said last week that she would drive us to the grading in Saitama (about 2 hours by train, ouch). She seems to get on really well with Kotomi, and they talk a lot about kendo and the dojo and so on. We were really grateful for her offer. So on Saturday I was to practice with Book-sensei (I don't want to use the real names of some of the teachers here), as he had set the whole thing up for me. He is 7th dan in kendo, 6th dan in Iaido and either 8th dan or 6th dan (can't remember) in Jodo. He used to be a police man and now trains the Metropolitan police force in arresting techniques, and is sent around the world by the AJKF to teach kendo.... wow, what a guy! Anyway, I practised with him for all of two minutes and he said "no problem, just do this tomorrow."

However. Here we go, you knew it was coming. Grumpy had somehow gotten word that I was going to a grading. Remember that he was the one that said grading was out-of-the-question. While we were sitting down talking to someone he told us to go over to Book-sensei and thank him, which we had already done before and which I was going to do again anyway (I like thanking people). So Grumpy pretty much forces us to go over and interrupt Book-sensei's conversation, he tells us to bow to Book-sensi and then bowed with us and said in very proper Japanese (all serious sounding) something like "thank you for giving Benji this opportunity." I was so utterly pissed off. I was being forced to do something which I wanted to do properly, in my own way, later on. And it was obvious that this was Grumpy's way of getting involved.

So anyway, it seems Grumpy told Book-sensei to drive me to the grading (even though Kimura san already said she would), and because, somehow, Grumpy is the leader of the dojo, Book-sensei said he would. To top it off, at the end of the practice Grumpy went up to Book sensei, and in a loud voice so that everyone could hear said "Benji is a vegetarian and doesn't drink alcohol." Thank you Grumpy. He also told Kotomi that we should have applied to the Noda kendo federation to see if I was even allowed to grade... You should have heard Kotomi swearing on the way back home.

Anyway. Turns out that Kimura san would come with us anyway, so she picked us up in the morning (6:45) and drove us out of Noda to where Book sensei was waiting with his wife (who was coming too), she is 6th dan in kendo. His car was like a brand new spaceship lol. He told us he can actually speak English but doesn't because he's Japanese. Utter coolness. We drove for perhaps an hour and a half, and thanks to the state-of-the-art navigation system that every Japanese car seems to have, we arrived at the dojo, which was huge and on the third floor of a sports complex. Kotomi told me that Book-sensei reminds her of a child who constantly has to remind himself that he is an adult and needs to act appropriately. I really like him, he acts very serious, but you can always catch him grinning when no one is watching.

The grading was for junior-highschool students. I think that's about 10-15 years old maybe. The only foreigner there, and obviously not in junior-high. Also by far the tallest, even among the parents watching on. Sigh.

The grading went fine. I was nervous as hell, but more about falling over in sankyo than about my kendo. Once the keiko started I just went at it. I fought against two pretty tall kids, but it was obvious they were scared of me. Then kata afterwards. And 20 minutes of standing listening to the grading panel talk about kendo. In Japanese. But it was pretty cool seeing an old guy in a suit get up and grab a shinai and do a perfect men cut so that the hall shook. When they told us we could leave you could hear the kids swearing under their breath (making kids stand and listen to lectures isn't going to keep them interested in kendo). They posted the numbers of those who had passed on the wall (very traditional in Japan), and it was hilarious to see the little kids run up and scream and cheer. They seemed really happy. I was handed my certificate (which usually takes 2 weeks) because they knew I was leaving soon. The Japanese certificates are far nicer than the New Zealand ones... something should be done about that. I also went up to the two kids who had done keiko with me and apologised. They thought it was pretty funny. I hope I didn't hit them to hard.

I packed up and we left. Sensei said we should eat to celebrate, so we went and had some pasts and pizza. He rang Grumpy from his phone to tell him I had passed, and said "thanks to your amazing teaching Benji has passed Ikkyu" with a grin, and Kotomi and Kimura san could hardly contain their laughter. It turn out everyone thinks Grumpy is a little strange, but everyone has to stay on his good side because he sort of controls the dojo. I don't quite get all of it. Sensei and his wife refused our money when we tried to pay for the food. Then Sensei gave me a shinai, which he had set up himself, and which was like the ones he always uses (probably super expensive). Then his wife gave me a traditional piece of cloth used to wrap gi and hakama in, and two tenagui. I was bowing and saying arigato over and over. I should be the one giving presents >.> When they dropped us off we gave them money for the petrol, which they at first refused, but took when we insisted quite strongly.

And then we drove home with Kimura san, talking about all sorts of stuff. A good day I think.

Here are the videos. I did almost everything wrong, but oh well. Learn from your mistakes, and from slow motion frame-by-frame replays lol.


The other day on our way to the dojo we were about to cross a road when we saw a man lying on his side next to an overturned bicycle a few meters down the footpath. A woman had stopped her car and was getting out, so it looked like she had hit him. We went over to see if we could help (and because of the underlying inquisitive nature all humans seem to posses). The man was very old, and was bleeding from his head. He was talking in Japanese, but it sounded pretty incoherent, and was making strange movements. The woman was trying to console him, while I took off my hoody and put it under his head, and Kotomi called an ambulance. Several other people stopped their cars and came over, some got towels and other got umbrellas to hold over the man, as it was raining. Another woman spoke to me in pretty good English, she sounded a bit panicky, so I told her to keep the old man awake until the ambulance arrived and to talk softly so not to scare him.

Kotomi told me to go to kendo, as I was supposed to come early to meet with a sensei. So I left. She came to the dojo about 15 minutes after me. Apparently the old man had been drunk and had tried to ride his bicycle home. He had fallen off about 20 meters from his house and knocked his head pretty hard. He wasn't aware that he was bleeding, and didn't know why there were people crowding around him. When someone told him an ambulance was coming he got scared and said he didn't want that in case his son found out. Maybe he wasn't supposed to be drinking?

Anyway. I've heard that rubbernecking, the act of crowding around accidents, is quite common in Japan. If there's a crash on the motorway, people will slow down and take photos as they pass. And even Kotomi's dad, when he heard there had been a house fire in Noda, walked to the site just to have a look.

But in this one incident I saw a lot of very kind and helpful Japanese people who's intentions were to help someone in need. I wonder if people would act this way in New Zealand?

Dojo Drama

So I mentioned that Grumpy seems to hate the Shinmeikan dojo. A little light has been shed onto why that is. Apparently quite some time ago there were 4 leaders of Shimpukan, but they were getting on in their years, so someone (perhaps Grumpy) relived them of their leadership roles. They weren't kicked out of the dojo, but 3 of them, apparently to keep their pride, refused to come back. These three are now teaching at Shinmeikan. I don't know if they started the dojo, or if they just joined up. The fourth one still comes to Shimpukan, but I've heard several people say that he does "funny" kendo, which is a mixture of old age and the "traditional" kendo which he was taught when he was young.


No idea why I'm building this shinai. It's the one I wrote about a while ago, the one I got for half-price. Bought a nice tsuba for it today. Don't think I'll ever use it for keiko though... would almost be a shame.

Also bought two more shinai to take back to New Zealand, super big grip. I've always had a bad feeling about the shop we go to: they never seem to care for their customers, and when we ask questions (like 'which shinai has the biggest grip?' or 'do you have this shinai bag in a green colour?') they don't seem to know the answer and look around stupidly.

I only found out at home that they had put a 38" tsukagawa (grip) on one of them (a 39" shinai). We rang them up and asked them to send us a proper grip. They agreed but said they always put those grips on the larger shinai... yea right, not on any of the 5 shinai I've bought there so far. I'm happy that I won't be going back to that shop any more.


Grading and Kendo Attitude

Firstly, it seems I will be attending a grading in Japan. In two days in fact. I'm nervous.

I initially asked some teachers at the dojo if I could attend a grading somewhere, because, well, I have to get ikkyu some day anyway, and I might as well get it over with. They all said they did not know of any dojos that were grading in August, and Grumpy, of course, flat out said that I can't grade in Japan.

However, Kotomi found a dojo in a neighbouring prefecture which was holding an ikkyu grading, but for children. She mentioned this to one of the nice sensei at shimpukan, and he said he knew the dojo leader and would talk to him. Apparently he convinced him to let me attend. So on Sunday it's grading time. I'm scared.

I have only ever attended one grading before, and it was a disaster. I was pretty much a complete beginner. I didn't have my shinai, so I had to borrow someone else's, which felt really tiny in my hands. They asked us to do stuff I had never done before, and I got 6th kyu, the grade everyone starts on any way.

Oh well, I'll just think of Michael Phelps. What would Michael Phelps do? He wouldn't be this nervous, right?


A female member of shimpukan told Kotomi (they talk a lot in the changing rooms) that Grumpy got drunk one night and started talking about us. He said "who the fuck took them to shinmeikan?!?" (The Sunday dojo). Apparently he really hates the dojo. Also he complained about the fact that we are going to both dojos, and that this is not acceptable. It seems people should only attend one dojo, and have one sensei, and going to two or more at the same time is rude or disrespectful. Well, no one ever told us. And Hirai sensei teaches at both. And even if someone had told us, I would have pointed out to them that I'm just visiting, and that I just want to do kendo, and that they can stick their tradition wherever they want. If there is no class on Sunday, or any other day, then I'll bloody well go practice kendo somewhere else. Oh, and Grumpy is pissed of that Kotomi's name bag says 'Noda' instead of 'Shinpukan'.

Even worse, he has been getting on Kotomi's nerves lately. First he wanted to give her all the bogu he had lent her, which is strange. Then he said he would get better bogu for her soon, which she never asked for. When she said she was going to buy her own he offered to take her to a certain shop where he could get her big discounts. Normally this sort of thing would be great coming from a nice sensei, but somehow coming from him it is unnerving. Sometimes he makes inappropriate comments, like saying "I missed you" when Kotomi didn't show up to practice. And when she practices with other teachers (which she enjoys) he always manages to criticize something, sometimes even saying "your kendo was horrible today."

Yesterday, after mokuso, he suddenly told some young kid (about 16) sitting next to me to go to the end of the line, so he had to pick up his shinai and bogu, get up, walk all the way to the end past the beginners and sit down again. And why? Well, we have no idea. He only comes every now and then, so perhaps because he is a visitor? But other visitors are not forced to sit behind the beginners (he was pretty good too). I think it was just because Grumpy just wanted to assert some authority, because no one else seems to recognise it.

I think Grumpy's kendo attitude is bad. And I think it shows in his kendo. He seems arrogant, and bent over and twitchy like an old wrinkly man. When I compare him to Hirai sensei, the calm and polite teacher, it is obvious who is the greater person. His kendo is also not very good: he has no ki-ken-tai ichi, he leans to his left all the time, his kirikashi looks like he's butchering something. He thinks of himself as the best, and is blind to his own mistakes. And no one would ever dare to tell him otherwise. A few days ago Tough sensei beat the shit out of him, and god did he look angry afterwards (but I think Tough sensei was being a bit arrogant, he wasn't even trying very hard haha).

I think all this is a good experience, it shows me how not to act and how not to treat people. But I do wish Kotomi had started at another dojo, or at least with another teacher.


Books and Photos

While sitting down drinking tea after kendo last Sunday, I came across a collection of old books. They appear to be an encyclopaedia on Japanese martial arts, such as Kyudo, Ninjitsu (lol), Judo, Karate and so on. Most of each book consists of writing (in Japanese) and some black and white newsprint type photos.

But at the start of each book there are several pages of glossy full-page photography. Absolutely beautiful photography.

I asked Sensei sensei if I could borrow some of them, and he happily let me. I have tried to scan as best I can some of the kendo related photos, below. Click on the images to enlarge them. Enjoy. (Also, if anyone knows how to get rid of the light patches everywhere, please let me know.)