How many people can claim to have started kendo under the enthusiastic guidance of a dojo full of 7th dan teachers? And she's getting really good too :)

I've been sick for more than a week with a bad fever. I'm better now and am looking forward to practice on Saturday.


Kotomi Starts Kendo

Yay, Kotomi has started kendo. Grumpy sensei has agreed to teach her the basics before every class, and she just practices by herself while the rest of us fight. I didn't even have to coerce her into it; one day she just said she wanted to start ^^ I think it will be great when we are both better. (Grumpy sensei even gave her the gi and hakama she's wearing.... she is the same size as him).


Suburi Research

Found a very interesting research project on different suburi swings.

At Waikato dojo we were taught to swing our shoulders as far back as possible, so that the kensen hit us in the back. This was to teach us to use our shoulders for power, not our elbows, and I think this is very logical for learning to do kendo properly. However, now when I'm doing warm-up suburi at Shimpukan I get told off for doing it this way (yes, by Grumpy sensei), and he tells me to never drop my kensen below 45% above my head. Ever.

As I see it, even if this is the correct way to swing in kendo (never drop it), I think that if we start as beginners like this then we will end up using only our elbows and not our shoulders. But the trouble is that if you start with swinging the shinai all the way back you will adopt a bad habit (dropping your shinai), which is very bad (and something I still haven't unlearnt).

So I dono, both ways have their good and bad aspects. But I believe that once you've done kendo for a while you should really concentrate on only raising your shinai to 45% and never dropping it, something which I now have to do.

New Name Bag

Arrived today. I'm keeping my old one (although I took the kanji off it). This one says Noda, then my last name in katakana.


Dispelling Myths about Japanese Kendo

When I first started kendo, and for a long time after that, Japan seemed like the infallible overbearing authority for everything kendo related. For example, Japanese people bow perfectly, they are extremely polite and respectful, they take everything serious, they respect their gear, they treat shinai as if it were worth a million dollars, they move perfectly, they hit men perfectly, and so on.

Now that I've had a little bit of experience with Japanese kendo I can tell you that most of these things are completely untrue.

Some people fold their hakama properly, but others just hang them up. Some people place their men on their kote, while others just dump them on the ground. Some people place their shinai against the wall with the handle on the ground, while others place them with the tip down. Some bow correctly and politely, while others are already in sonkyo before you have even finished bowing. In general, Japanese people only give and take things with both hands if the situation calls for politeness, but in the dojo everyone is friendly with one another, and people give and take with one hand (unless it's money).

Not everyone who practices kendo in Japan is good. In fact, the majority of people see it as a hobby or weekend sport, and never dedicate much time to it. One guy told me he was 40 years old, and had been doing kendo since he was 10, and I thought he was really really bad.

When I first came here I tried to do everything exactly how my teachers in New Zealand had taught me, but the first thing I was told to do by a Japanese teacher was to RELAX, not to take things so seriously. Of course, when actually doing kendo, be very very serious. And there are times when doing what I was taught (being polite, not walking in front of a sensei etc.) was admired and praised. But when you're sitting down after practice, and someone asks to look at your shinai, you don't have to hand it to them with both hands.

It is important to strike a balance between seriousness and relaxedness, and to know which is appropriate in which situation. Thus knowing how to do things correctly is good, and will get you praise in Japan, but always doing things properly is bordering on fanaticism, and people will think you are strange.

Kendo Practice

Monday 5:30pm - Kata + ji-keiko Shimpukan dojo
Tuesday 7:00pm - Shimpukan dojo
Thursday 7:00pm - Shimpukan dojo
Saturday 7:00pm - Shimpukan dojo
Sunday 10:00am - Shinmeikan dojo, warm up, fitness training (70 press-ups haha), basics of kendo, continuous kirikaishi, then at 12pm high level teachers come and we do ji-keiko with them.

My head hurts.


Nodashi Kendo Meeting

I was invited to attend a Nodashi Kendo meeting which was held today. I didn't know what it was about but Grumpy sensei suggested I sign up.

When Kotomi and me went there today we learnt that it was an all day teachers conference.... yea, and here's me, a beginner, sitting in with all the teachers from around Nodashi, being lectured by three 7th dan teachers. In Japanese.

But it was great fun. For the first half of the day (9-12) everyone went through kata, and Grumpy sensei took me through kata 5 to 10. Even though I did really badly he was happy and said I learn fast.

After a lunch break we all went through how to do warm ups and basic practice. Then we put on our men and did more basic practice, followed by 1 minute ji-keiko with everyone in quick succession. I was so tired (after standing for 5 hours), and it was really hot, and I just wanted to go to sleep :(

A great and tiring day.

Will maybe post a video that Kotomi took if I figure out how to get it off the camera.


Things that get on my nerves in Japan

I've been in Japan for more than 2 months now (a little late with the blog) and I've been feeling a bit strange towards everything. Perhaps I'm starting to get sick of it. I no longer use chopsticks (spoon and fork are simply better) and I no longer shower sitting down (as is traditional). The trains are getting on my nerves, and I now hate being around the teeming masses of people I once loved observing.

There are so many little things that just get to me here:

Why aren't there any rubbish bins anywhere? I mean, if Japan is so obsessed with materialism, and with packaging everything in a hundred layers of plastic, and with having everything come in tiny portions, then it is inconceivable to me why there are no rubbish bins anywhere.

In the main centres there's always a sea of people rushing about. At first I thought it was a novel situation, a little funny perhaps; but now I hate it, and can't stand to be anywhere near Japanese crowds. And when you have to get on a crowded train and you know the next one will be just as crowded it gets worse.

The noise and the colours. Almost everything has to be 10 decibels too loud and in the brightest shade of pink imaginable. Turn on the TV and someone is yelling at you, walk through a city centre and there are giant TVs yelling at you, showing images of people moving really fast. Walk into a fucking supermarket and the workers yell at you (something like "WELCOME!!!! PLEASE SHOP WITH US!!!!!). And this is everywhere.

Then there are the bigger things that annoy me:

I absolutely hate the way Japanese people obsess over objects and ways of doing things (traditions, almost). For example, the obsession with always wearing shoes outside, and having a perfect barrier between the inside and outside world. Now, I agree that people should take their shoes off when they go inside a house, and that bare feet should be washed if it is dirty outside, but the extent that Japanese people obsess about this is just phenomenal. Public toilets sometimes have special slippers which you have to wear while in the room (always 5 sizes too small) and Kotomi's father told me I have to wear special shoes (again way too small for me) when I want to go onto the balcony.

There are also the cultural objects which are overvalued, such as the Japanese toilet. Why would anyone want to use these horrible relics? And why would anyone want to install them in brand new train stations? They are annoying to use, and compared to the western toilet they are idiotic devices. Perhaps nationalism has something to do with it?

There are more things, but I'll stop here.

I'm thankful Kotomi isn't a typical Japanese, and she agrees with me on most things.


I'm the only non-japanese in both of the dojos I attend, and am also the only one with English on my name bag. As everyone else's names are in kanji it can be a bit of a problem sometimes.... because I can't read kanji. Sometimes the kanji are easy to identify, such as Yamazaki or Otake, but most of the time they are extremely complex and written in a curved script which adds to the problem.

What I tend to do is remember things about the people instead. Are they tall, or fat, or do they have easily identifiable bogu and so on. In this way I have come to see all my teachers by how they look and act, and not by what they say (language barrier, remember?).

Hirai sensei - easy, he's always at the far right of the dojo because he's the highest ranked teacher (7th dan hanshi). He's a really nice old man who always smiles. I can always identify him even when he has his back turned by the way he holds himself, and by the way he doesn't move much. He generally beats the crap out of most people, but you can tell his age is getting to him :(

Grumpy sensei - he's next from the right, 7th dan koshi. I can never remember his name, but I'm trying. He is the one who always criticizes me: you're doing it wrong, no, like this, stop, let me show you, no, no, no (thus his name, which is meant affectionately). He also has a strange tendency to lean to one side, I think it's because his hip hurts.

Yamazaki sensei - has bright grey hair and dazzling white teeth. A little bit taller than the average Japanese person. He also has a yellow do, so I can find him easily (plus 'yama' is an easy kanji to spot). He's very aggressive, always gnashing his teeth and yelling. He's also very nice, he even invited me to go drinking haha.

Book sensei - I have no idea what his name is, but he gave me an English/Japanese kendo dictionary and ever since then I've thought of him as book-sensei. He's really cool, and I can spot him because he's a bit debu.

Sensei sensei - He's my teacher at the Sunday dojo. Quite tall and skinny, wears very old bogu and glasses. He is very nice and polite and smiles a lot, and always tries to teach me, thus his name.

And so on, will add more soon.

Sporadic Kendo Tips

For a long time I didn't understand what teachers wanted me to do when they said kakari-geiko or ji-geiko. I even sat down with a 7th dan teacher and asked him to explain, but I think the language barrier meant I didn't fully understand. He ended up saying 'you'll learn'.

Now I've had the chance to read up on the terms, and ask around, and I think I understand:

Kakari-geiko is "charging practice" which means just charge at your opponent without stopping, without regard for personal safety and without concern for winning or losing. Winning and losing do not exist in kakari-geiko. You throw everything you have at your opponent as fast as you can until you fall over, or stop just before.

Ji-geiko is "fighting practice" which is where you take your time and utilise everything you have ever learnt to try to get an ippon. Don't use any trickery here, just try to do things as correctly as possible.

Sound of the Dojo

Yesterday I had the opportunity to just sit and listen to the sounds in the dojo. I had exhausted all my energy about 5 minutes before we finished and felt the need to sit down so as not to fall over.
So I sat and watched, and listened. There was an almost rhythmic flow to the stamping and shouting. Sometimes everyone would be fighting all at once, and then, suddenly, silence would descend for a brief period.

I have also noticed that at both dojos no one ever speaks aloud to everyone, no instructions, no commands, no endless talking. The only time anyone talks is when we are all lined up and someone has an important notice to share, which I can never understand anyway.

Everyone simply practices kendo, and the teachers sometimes tell the student what can be improved upon.

We learn by doing kendo, not by talking about it.