Written by Warren HO (last updated on 9 Feb 2024)
Kangeiko (winter training) at the University of Teachers education in Fukuoka has come to an end. What a fantastic experience being able to train during the coldest period (-3 degrees Celsius and snowing, at worse) in Japan! Most of our training days started with a wake up call at 4:30 am, a walk to the University at 5:20 am, and ready to train by 6 am! Training was for about 90 mins. It was a fantastic way to test my self-discipline, integrity and conviction.
Training with the university students has been an eye-opener. Their kendo is just so fast, accurate and smooth. I expected the fast and accurate part, but their "smoothness" is what really stood out for me - how they move seamlessly when engaging an opponent, to how they transition from one movement or direction to another. This for me was a massive revelation. HONDA sensei mentioned it briefly, paraphrasing an infamous quote to be, "flow like water". It is something I will have to put more work into when I return to the southern hemisphere.
That was one of many lessons learnt these past 2 weeks from sensei. Although not entirely new on the theoretical side, being able to witness some of the practical techniques, as well as attempt them while having sensei oversee it, has been a bonus. It feels great being a student again! Being one of the "highest" dan grades in South Africa, it has been a challenge getting the necessary practise to prepare me for the next level. Ironically, it was also pointed out by sensei that a dan grade in Japan has lesser meaning to them than it does to us Westerners. Rather, they value and respect the time one has spent DOING kendo. Age has seniority. I know this from my very Chinese up-bringing. Unfortunately this does not translate in our Kendo community back home. It is something that will have to be rectified.
SUMI sensei, hanshi hachidan, now 80, is still a force to be reckoned with! I had the privilege of doing keiko with him twice during these past 2 weeks. With each keiko, he imparted some invaluable lessons that addressed the fundamentals of my kendo training. A testament to what an experienced and skilled teacher he is. The last time I saw sensei was back in August 2007 when I attended the Rickmansworth (UK) seminar and grading organised by Paul BUDDEN sensei. At that event, had I successfully passed my nidan exam. 14 years passes by so quickly...
An now 14 years later, I am preparing for my rokkudan exam. The idea to do the exam in Fukouka, Japan, came to me whilst on holiday in Croatia in August last year. After some quick research, frantic emails and begging with my wife, I made the decision at that moment to book my flight to Japan!
Thereafter, it was a whirlwind of getting AJKF approval, visas, logistical planning for the dojo (since I would be away for a while), emails to HONDA sensei and sorting out accommodation with Yoko-san!
Mokkeiso has been a joy to stay at! It provides all the accommodation needs to help me prepare for the shinsa. Munakata and the environment I find myself in, has allowed me to fully submerge into my Kendo studies and really dig deep and reflect on my kendo training. I know that part of my preparation would be to focus on the lessons I am learning in the dojo and dissecting them to see if I can adjust my body and mind accordingly in time for the exam. On the flip side, there is enough social interaction for me to still feel human! There has been a few social activities that involved the other student residence and LOTS of food! I only wish I had paid more attention during my Japanese language classes! Being able to communicate in Japanese with them would have enhanced the experience even more!
Lastly, a brief mention my 2 other partners in crime: My fellow dojo member Cedric JACQUES, and Wai Kit WONG from Malaysia. My kendo brothers! We have probably eaten all the various 7-11 and Family Mart foods, bought tons of groceries and nic-nax from the one wholesale store (Mr Max), been to the same few restaurants countless times, and walked at least 100,000 steps during our time here (much to Mr Wong's dismay)! The way I see it, the only way we can eat all this delicious Japanese food is by working out extra hard (that includes plenty of walking for cardio)!
With less than a week to go, my focus will be even more on what needs to done for the forthcoming exam. Although kangeiko is done, we will still have at least another 3 opportunities to do training with more high-level senseis.
It has been a whirlwind of new and not so new experiences. Each one filled with invaluable opportunities to learn, enjoy and just be appreciated! I am so grateful to be able to have this experience as it will now be a part of me for the rest of my life.
Let's keep training together!
L-R: Sotaro HONDA sensei, Warren HO, Wai Kit WONG, Cedric JACQUES
1 FEBRUARY 2024 (Thursday): We were treated to a special training session last night at the Shinseikai Training Society (新誠会育成会), where we got to train with the children at the dojo! What an amazing experience with these fierce mini-warriors!
4 February 2024 (Sunday): This morning's keiko was our final session with the student members of the University of Teacher Education Fukuoka Kendo Club! It was a humbling experience going up against these young, fast, fierce and talented kendoka. However, with each practice, I felt that I was getting to know not only their kendo better, but mines as well! I will be forever grateful for each keiko opportunity I had with each of the students! 🙏
HONDA sensei and all the other senseis were invaluable sources of information and insight. Their wise guidance and motivation serves as a model for how I would like to be when I return to the RKC Dojo. I cannot thank them enough for accepting us into their dojo and letting us train with them!
My time in Japan will soon come to end. Regardless of the outcome of my exam, I will return home with an even more determined and resolute view of Kendo and the purpose and practise thereof.
Thank you to all who made this journey such a memorable one! 🙇♂️
The Ryū Ken Chi (RKC) Dojo train the traditional Japanese martial arts of Kendo and Iaido (sword-based martial arts), as well as Jodo (the art of the short staff), that encourages the cultivation of the human character.
Kendo Kid is also available for children aged 6-12 years old.
RKC DOJO has 2 training venues within Johannesburg - RIVONIA and OBSERVATORY.
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