Leaving Dinner

Some people at the Sunday dojo have set up a leaving dinner for me. I think its very nice of them :)

However, I feel a little bad about it too. They asked everyone else (apart from me and Kotomi) to pay 4000 yen... which is like NZ$55. I really don't want to make anyone pay that much just because I'm leaving. And somehow they booked it at.... a Chinese restaurant. In Japan. Kotomi and I both don't like Chinese food :(

I subtly suggested that we should just set up some tables in the dojo and I'd bring lots of fruit and pom juice, but they would hear nothing of it. They thought I was just being polite when I actually ment it.

Oh well.

Actually, many people in Japan have been really nice to me. I feel really indebted to them. I already have two copies of the English/Japanese dictionary, and almost got a third one but thankfully that person asked me beforehand. I have a large stack of various tenagui, key chains and other trinkets.

What could I give people in return for being so nice to me, and teaching me kendo for almost 6 months?!?



The dojo smelled like a sewer today. Maybe there's a sewage leak somewhere close by, or maybe some stagnant water.

I practised with a certain sensei for the first time. From watching him I could tell he wasn't very good, or at least not in comparison to the other sensei. His tactic was basically to hit kote all the time, which I countered easily. From my point of view when I pretty much beat him up. And that was why the egoism started. Oh my god, I'm winning against a teacher. Oh yea, how do you like that men cut? Yea, take that. Wow you suck. I'm so much better than you. Hahahahaha.

It makes me sick. I have no idea where that crap comes from. Perhaps it's a good thing that I constantly practise with people who are far better than me. If I were to fight people below me I think my ego would take over pretty quickly. Or perhaps its a bad thing? Perhaps I need to train with more people who I can beat, so that I become accustomed to it?

Well, at least I can see it, and I can try to change it.

Nihon Kendo Magazine article on Shimpukan dojo

The dojo I attend was in the latest (2008:9) Japan Kendo magazine. Unfortunately it's in Japanese (duh), but Kotomi tells me that the article is about saving old dojos (probably in regard to the demolishing of Noma dojo last year).

You can see a photo of the petition to save the dojo... all my teachers' names are on it :)

I have been told by one of the older sensei that the dojo (which is 90 years old) is a bit of a holy place for kendo travellers.

Click on the images to make them larger.


A Day

Practised with Happy sensei, he's really old and always smiling and laughing. I try to hit him as softly as possible. He must be 90 years old.

Someone else hit me really hard under my arm. If it had been anyone else he would have hit them in the side of the head. Worst do cut I have ever seen. Painful as hell. He told me to toughen up, didn't even apologise. But its ok, some people are just like that.

Broke another shinai.

Did really tough kakarikeiko with ___ sensei. I need to come up with a new nickname for him. We used to call him molester sensei because he always used to play slightly inappropriately with this one teenage girl after class (not in a bad way though, she always went up to him on her own). I've since noticed that he is probably the toughest sensei in the whole dojo, and he is also the tallest too. Keeps calling me Panik san haha. Kotomi says he likes me. And practice with him is always super tough.

Going out to get watermelon now. And pom juice. Crave pom juice.



Me doing (slow) kakarikeiko with Hirai sensei. He's one of the older teachers I mentioned who make me feel really self-concious.

Broken Kote

I have a bit of a problem. One of my kote has small holes in the leather, and they are slowly getting bigger. I've been told that I can get some patches put over them, but it would take 2 weeks to fix. And that means 2 weeks without kendo. Or I can buy a new pair of kote.... oh yay. I don't have the money. Or, I do, but I don't know if I want to buy a second pair of kote :(




The viewless view: outside of the view, there is no view. Only from inside of the view can we have a view.


Old Teachers

I really struggle while practising with older teachers. I tend to feel as if everything I am doing is wrong, and that I suck even more than normal. I become very self conscious of all my mistakes. And I also become aware of how little effort they put into beating me up. Sometimes I lose my concentration, and once I tripped on my hakama twice within a minute, so I said I felt dizzy and sat down. But I think it had more to do with the teachers overpowering kendo...

I generally don't feel these things with the younger teachers. I'm sure they fight hard with me... perhaps not as if they were in a shiai, but still, they generally don't give away hits. With younger teachers I feel on top (probably because I'm taller) and I'm not scared of them, I try my best to beat them... but with some older teachers I feel like I want to hide in a hole somewhere.



Starting Over

I've decided I need to start over. Learn kendo from the beginning again.

First, kendo is all about cutting with your feet. I know that if you teach this in a beginner class you probably won't have many students left. But still, this is important. If you don't get the feet right, then it doesn't matter how beautiful the arms and wrists are, it won't matter. Of course, as a beginner all you see is the shinai, and how it is used to wack someone over the head... but now I'm beginning to regret not concentrating enough on my feet.

Today I fully noticed how weak my left leg is. Left hand, left arm, all that, it doesn't matter if the left foot isn't there. I'm going to start training right now.
So my exercises are stretches, and straight leg lifts while lying on my stomach, and ankle raises while standing on something (like a small ledge). This will train the two muscle groups indicated in red, above.

The inset photo is of me (I had to flip it around, so I'm moving with the opposite foot), as you can see my muscles are weak and I'm leaning forward. Right, lets get to work and fix it.

Edit: found another exercise. Stand on right foot and kick left leg behind you as far as you can go (keeping your back and legs straight) and also contract your calf muscle so that the ankle kicks out (as per the picture above). If you can do this well then all you need to do is change feet (left toes ground, lift right foot) and you'll be able to do stamping.


Update: American Ninja in Japan Edition

I tried not to laugh. I swear. I tried to stop myself from smirking. But I think they noticed that my words were saturated with sarcasm.

Grumpy called me over. Please talk to these foreigners. Some fat Americans. Ok, chubby, not fat. Three guys, one girl. Kotomi had been translating for grumpy. I say hi, I'm the resident gajin here. [Joke, haha]. Oh hello. [American English is so painful to listen to] We're visiting Noda, and we saw the dojo and thought we'd have a look. Oh, so you do kendo? Um no. So what do you do? We do [incomprehensible Japanese]. Oh yea, and what's that? Oh... that's [quietly] ninjitsu. Oh, and what's ninjitsu? [Acting dumb. Sarcasm, remember? I could tell what they were right from the start]. Oh... umm, ninja... stuff. Oh. Smirk. So, ah, yea, we're here in Noda, visiting the sensei of my sensei. [Aparently Noda is famous for ninja. Actually, Noda has pretty damn good ninja; I haven't seen a single one yet]. He says, I run a ninja dojo at home in [nasal American English] Co-lo-radoooo Sp-rrri-nnnngssss. Oh, that's nice. [Thinking of excuses to leave.... damn, none coming to mind]. We really like Noda. Kotomi and me look at each other, try not to laugh. Smirk. Oh really? What do you like about Noda? [The soy sauce factory? The run-down shops? The small railway station?] Oh, you know, it's so great here. We're staying for two weeks. Oh, well... er, that's nice... I have to... er... go pack up my stuff. Bye.

I think they were pretty relieved when I left them.



Yesterday, torrential rain, thunderstorms so loud I covered my ears whenever I saw lighting (the thunder hurt!). Today, the clearest blue sky, so bright outside it hurts to look at at anything out of the shade, and the fan can't seem to keep up with the heat.

And two days of tough kendo.

Sunday dojo is always worse, because it's 3 hours starting at 10am... the worst possible time. It's hot hot hot. My hakama was a mess, fully soaked. I could actually squeeze the sweat out of my new summer gi (which is a lot better than my 'winter-gi').

At the end some sensei set up a mock shodan examination for me. Although I was dead tired they said I would pass easily. And a while ago grumpy-sensei's son said I would only fail shodan if I didn't turn up.

Kotomi is going to ask some of the sensei if they could plead with the Japan kendo federation to let me take shodan without having ikkyu, because I'll be leaving soon, and grading and training is a lot more scarce in new Zealand (for me anyway).

I hope they let me :(

Also. There's a guy at the Sunday dojo who I didn't like at first. He sometimes would try to teach me stuff, and I would resent that (we are even in skill). But even after I gave pretty strong hints that he should stop, he continued. I have now realised that he does this completely from his heart, so to speak. He is never cynical, or negative, always smiling and talking to me, being really nice. I sometimes disagree with what he is telling me, but now I know he is only trying to help, in a real way, not just "I am better than you, listen to me".

It reminds me of a saying I heard somewhere: "You should accept criticism and teaching from wherever it comes, because when people stop criticising you, or stop teaching you, it means they have given up on you".

I get ippon

Kotomi filmed me for a little bit yesterday. I managed to get a good ippon in ji-keiko on one of my teachers. He's pretty hard to fight: he either obviously lets me get a point, or doesn't... so this is one of the first times that I've actually managed to get one where he wasn't going to let me.



I'll try not to write how I feel about this, so make up your own minds:

In some parts (perhaps all) of Japan there are efforts under way to fight terrorism. For example:

  • They have sealed off the vending machines at the Noda and Kashiwa train stations. (Noda, in case you are wondering, is a tiny station. In fact, there is almost no station: it just has a few ticket machines, and 3 ticket gates... no shops or anything.)
  • They have sealed off all the coin lockers.
  • They have sealed off the few remaining rubbish bins.
  • There are people walking around with arm bands who look at you in a strange way.
  • There is a huge banner in Kashiwa that says in big letters "FIGHT TERRORISM".
  • There are posters everywhere which ask people to please call the police if they see anything suspicious. There are images of masked robbers on these posters, which are labelled "terrorists".
And this is all because some world leaders are gathering in Hokkaido. On a fortified island. A thousand kilometres away. Who runs this country?

Hight and Distance

Some teachers emphasise that my ma-ai (distance between me and opponent) should be far back. I think they base this on the fact that I'm tall, and that supposedly I have further reach. Well, ok, that might be true, but I feel that now I disagree strongly with the idea:
  1. Being back further does not help me attack better, or give me any advantage: it takes longer to attack, and my opponent has more time to defend because they see it coming, and when I hit men we will be the same distance apart anyway, so there is no advantage at all.
  2. Other people's ma-ai will not be so big, so they will move in closer to attack. What is the point for me trying to stand back so far?
  3. When we are at the "normal" ma-ai I have a disadvantage because I have not practised attacking from there, or closer. I actually had to learn anew how to do small stamping cuts when I came here.
Grumpy sensei is teaching the beginners to do small fumikomi first, he says that they can practice the long distance later. It's like long-jumping... you start small and practice going further when you get better (balance etc.).

Being short in kendo may be a disadvantage, but being tall is more a hindrance than anything else. Being "normal" size is the real advantage. People who are of average size can have strong kendo.


It's all I can think about right now. It's HOT.

Thankfully I bought a summer kendogi yesterday. There is a guy that comes to the dojo about once a week, and most people buy kendo things from him. He sold me the gi for 4000 yen, and said it was normally 8000 yen. So I feel pretty lucky. It smells of new shoes... reminds me of years past, hanging out in skateboarding shops :)

One thing that amuses me: when we finish kendo practice most people just stay in their shorts without a t-shirt while folding hakamas and putting away gear. (Woman have their own room, but men get changed in the main dojo). Apart from one or two people, no-one is muscular or "fit", in fact most of us are a little chubby, or just normal. Just an observation.

People tell me the heat gets worse in August.


Atsui Neko

All the doors and windows in the house are open. The fan is on. And it's 34 degrees.

I'm sitting in my boxer shorts, no t-shirt, sweating.

Last night it was 31 degrees at 10 o'clock. (That's 10pm.)

Today I am like a cat.

Sleeping, now here, now there.

Seemingly drowsy. Ambling from spot to spot. From shade to sun and back again. Dreaming.

But I know.

As soon as I enter that dojo. As soon as I begin.

Like the cat. Alert. Ready. Waiting.


Maybe not.

Oh yes, very alert, very ready, and always waiting.... but always while I get beaten up. Need to go faster, not just stand there and take it.

I hope my gear dries before kendo tomorrow. 10am start. Was sweating waterfalls tonight. Everyone was.



Or someone very much like him. A guy came to practice yesterday. No one could lay a finger on him. My jaw was on the ground. The absolute control he had over other people. Kotomi thinks she overheard someone saying he was 8th dan, but he looked pretty young (but still with a few grey hairs). He also wasn't presumptuous: he would line up with the teachers now on the far left, now in the middle, or anywhere. This is something I greatly respect: when teachers just practice wherever they fit in and don't worry about the grade of the person to either side of them (which is something all my favourite teachers do, the lining up anywhere thing I mean). He also had the fattest grip on his shinai... seriously, it was twice the size of mine.

He pointed out some mistakes on my small men cuts, and I practised these points with all the other teachers. Squashi chisai men onegashimas haha.

Another important thing I learnt recently: Grumpy sensei's son pointed out that my left leg is always a little bent, and that when I cut I tend to straighten it before moving forward, which is a sign that I'm about to move, and takes time. He said I should have my left leg straight all the time. I've never really considered this... I was under the impression that I needed to have my leg bent so that I could jump forward. But he said that with my hight and reach I shouldn't worry about the distance, and instead concentrate on speed and correctness, and keeping my body straight.

Sigh... it's hard to remember all these points when you're actually there fighting, which shows how important it is to learn everything right the first time. Having to change something after you've done it a thousand times is a little difficult.

I tried drawing it here (I couldn't find a side-on image online, but I hope to find a better one soon):

So, the power comes from the ankle and hip working together, and that same power is used for small men cut (which is not in the image of course). It's great realising things that didn't make much sense to me before.


A short video of the Dojo

My camera is small, and it's late at night. The Dojo is 90 years old, and constructed without nails (for the most part). I think it's absolutely great, apart from the low lights (I haven't killed one yet, but close a few times).

Wooop! and other things

Haha, I knew the Japanese were great with fireworks, but I didn't know you could find them at the 100 yen store. We bought a few packs of those fireworks that fly up into the air and explode (do they have a name?). I only remember playing with them as a child as they were banned in New Zealand several years ago. The restrictions on fireworks in New Zealand are quite strict, with shops only being allowed to sell them on the 5 days before guy fawkes day (5th November) and at no other time. One of the best memories I have: I was young and had saved up a lot of money to buy smoke bombs, and when I carried a huge storage box (containing something like 30 small boxes) of them to the check-out I was only charged for one small box. I felt like a million birthdays had come at once.

In other news, Kotomi has started her new job. Apparently its going well, so I'm happy for her. She is going to a woman-only kendo session on Sunday, no men allowed :( Oh well.

I had a long talk with one of the sensei about something that's been bothering me. When I strike and move forward I tend to slow down and lift my hands high. I believe I do this because I fear hurting the other person: I've already knocked one guy on his back. I'm 2 meters tall and weigh close to 90kgs, and when I get going, especially after a men cut, with my arms in front of me (at the hight of other peoples faces) I could probably really hurt someone. However, the sensei said not to worry, especially with teachers. I should just steam right at them. But if it's older people I should be more gentle. I'm going to give it a try next time. It seems to fit in with my resolution to become 'more aggressive'.



At Waikato dojo we were taught, as beginners, lift the shinai up first and then move forward as we cut down. I distinctly heard someone say that I should never move my right foot before my shinai starts to come down, and that instead we should lean forward a bit before we stamp. This has stuck with me for quite a while, and it has caused confusion here in Japan when Grumpy sensei said I should move my right foot forward as I lift up my shinai. He has also told Kotomi to do this even though she is a complete beginner, so I merely put it down to different kendo style.

However, there is an interesting discussion here about this difference in stamping.

Beginners: lift the shinai up and then moving forward as you cut
Intermediate: lift the shinai up as you're moving forward with your right foot
Advanced: move forward with your right foot and then lift your shinai up and cut

This improve coordination and timing, as you have to improve your arms' speed to achieve the third stage
And I think this makes a lot of sense. Perhaps Grumpy just starts off with the intermediate stage?

My big men cut has gotten faster so that now my body cannot keep up, and I've started trying out the second way of doing it. My ki-ken-tai-ichi is really good, but I have found that I tend to bend my body a little when I cut, perhaps because of lack of body strength. I have to work on that now.