Monday, March 17, 2008

My son and I are now offically both Kendoka

Simply put, practicioners of Kendo: The way of the sword.

We started Saturday... and today my body curses at me through the chemical processes that produce pain while repairing and growing stressed muscle tissues. Bicepts, tricepts, forearms, shoulders, upperback, (abdominals a little bit), quads very much so, calves a bit; these are all the areas in which I hurt. There are a few little muscles here and there that I've probably never used. The principle evil which causes me this pain is known as the haya-suburi. Now there were other lesser evils which played a part but none so much or so greatly wicked as the haya-suburi. Four sets of 50 reps... a mere trifle according to Drakey Sensei... he does 1,000 reps when practicing. The bokken is raised over head so that the blade points upward behind the head at a 45 degree angle to the torso (the Jodan position I believe it is called)... then as you perform the correct ashisabaki (footwork)... a forward step with the right foot, the bokken is brought down and stopped at the opponent's forehead level (men uchi attack) and the left foot is brought forward as well... then in reverse the left foot goes back as the blade is returned to the Jodan and the right foot follows back to the original position... this all happens in a fast single smooth (well it will be smooth when I improve a bit) motion. It feels like you are sort of hopping forward and backwards but really you are supposed to move forward at the waist... meaning no up and down movement - only forward and backwards movement. The entire motion is one rep... and we count in Japanese: ichi, ni, san, shi, go, roku, shichi, hachi, kyu, ju... and then repeat 1-9 but counting the 10's up through 100 (i.e. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10...1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,20... etc.) I still need to learn 20,30,40, etc in Japanese.

So the three hour session starts with stretching for about 30 minutes and some basic excercises without Bokken to get the blood flowing. Then the bokken calisthenics begin. The haya suburi is the last excercise we do and is the most difficult, then we break. Then we lay down the bokkens and use the shinai for the remainder of the session. We line up in two rows facing each other (1 on 1) and do practice attacks. Kendo is not free style sword fighting; there are certain spots you attack: head, temples, wrists, abdomen - these are all slashing attacks, and the only stabbing attack is to the throat). So we practice a few of each one where one partner attacks and the other acts as a target dummy... at this point since no one has on the bogu (armor) the target holds the shinai so as to act as the target. Then after that portion of the class we take another break and those who own Bogu put it on. The remainder of the class invloves more attack practice in the two lines, but this time those with Bogu allow the attack to hit the correct target, then after that the advanced students actually do sparring and the beginners watch.

The bogu itself looks like a cross between sport protective gear and samurai armor. We won't be buying our own sets for 5-6 months mainly because it is pretty expensive and I want to make sure my son is 100% positive he wants to continue Kendo for the long term. If he does well these first 6 months and says he wants to seriously study Kendo then I will buy us both a bogu set. At that point my goal will be to make sure he sticks with Kendo until he reaches black belt (Kendo doesn't actually use a visual belt system, but the equivalent to black belt is called 'Shodan' which I believe requires the practicioner to be at least 14 years old). So in Nathan's case this will be quite a long term commitment and one he probably doesn't even understand yet but I feel it is important that he (and I) stick with it if he does seem to really enjoy it by the 6 month mark.

So anyway... long blog, but it was all to say that Nathan and I thoroughly enjoyed our first Kendo class and look forward to improving (and for me getting my flabby self into shape.)

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