A Frail Girl’s Journey Into Learning Kendo

by Samantha Cruz

In the Philippines, there’s this “inside joke” about how Pinoy moms would blame everything on using a computer: “kaka-kompyuter mo ‘yan!”, which indirectly translates to “it’s because you’re using the computer too much!” – that’s why you’re feeling bad right now, be it a fever, headache, toothache, or whatever. As an introverted girl with a 8-hour job as a web designer and developer with a hobby of playing video games, I wasn’t excused from a mother’s common phrase of anger and worry.

Unfortunately, she was right. After just a few years of working and doing other hobbies that involved my hands like drawing, yoyoing, calligraphy, and others, I was soon diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome back in 2017. To put it in simple terms, it’s a nerve injury in your wrist and fingers that makes it feel either numb, painful, tingling, or even burning. It affects your hand’s grip and dexterity heavily.

Sam Cruz (bottom, 3rd from left) with her June 2018 beginner batchmates.
Sam Cruz (bottom, 3rd from the left) with her June 2018 beginner batchmates.

So given my shut-in personality, a small and bony body, and an injury that made me stop my hobbies for a year and even rethink my career, it was a surprise to a lot of people that I would actually try kendo. The time I decided to do so, there were some legitimate worries from friends and families that I would make my injury even worse, and doing so would definitely put my career at risk. Another worry was about me not being experienced in doing vigorous sports, and that my body would give up pretty soon.

Regardless my physique, my attitude and mindset were the complete opposite of it. I see myself as someone headstrong and high spirited. I decided to do kendo because I know mental strength and spirit are equivalently as important as physical strength. I stepped into the dojo with hopes that soon, I can make my body follow what my mind wants it to become.

The Challenges

It was no surprise that my kendo journey would be a tough one. I had to find a way to make it work for my wrists, my body structure, and for me to try to keep up. During the first few months, I would catch my breath from exercises that were simple for most people. During the first few sessions in the advanced class wearing a bogu, I felt so much shame when I had to remove my men once in the middle of the class because I was so nauseous and I needed to vomit due to fatigue and headache. The shame was too much that I couldn’t even bring myself to go back in the room and show my face to the senseis and my senpais. It was that time when I was starting to think “maybe this isn’t really meant for me” and the anxiety keeps on creeping in my head. I was physically failing, and gradually, so was my mind.

But I didn’t want to give up. After all, there were a lot of people back then that I wanted to prove wrong because they didn’t believe that this is something I could do. For me, the thought of those people saying they were right was more irritating than hating myself for not being able to keep up. I used it as a fuel to keep going.

What you need to learn

Unwavering curiosity

It may not be true for most people, but personally, it helps me to read a lot about kendo. Reading about kendo makes me appreciate its cultural significance and how it develops one’s character, instead of being just a sport where a person hits another person with a shinai (bamboo sword). Of course, it would not be enough to just know kendo in your head. We also need to be curious physically and try approaches that works for us that will help us achieve the level of kendo we are aiming for. A lot of people, even in other disciplines, would only seek knowledge or advice when they are stuck in a slump. That isn’t a growth mindset. We should always stay curious and actively seek knowledge whether we’re stuck or not, through reading or asking senpais and senseis for advice.

Find people who will teach you

Sam (3rd from left) with her MKC senpais.
Sam (3rd from the left) with her MKC senpais.

When I decided to join the Manila Kendo Club, I told myself that I will be so dedicated that the senpais will not ignore me, and they will want to teach me. I wanted to prove that I am worthy to be taught. To do this, I made sure that people see that I’m sincerely eager to learn, and this makes instructors eager to help me learn kendo. Learning is a two-way street, and we shouldn’t expect that everything will be served in a silver platter and be spoon-fed to us. Knowledge from senpais and senseis is an overflowing resource that is open to everyone who are actively seeking it.

Learn it with your friends

Sam (4th from the left) with the girls of MKC.
Sam (4th from the left) with the girls of MKC.

A better way to do kendo is to do it with your friends! The Manila Kendo Club is a very welcoming community, and I’m glad that I get to learn kendo with people who have a growth mindset and make sure that you improve together. Find people who you know would pull each other up instead of the other way around.

Pace yourself and make sure you have fun!

It’s important to note that our bodies differ and what works for one person may not work for another. Find what works for you instead of forcing your body to do something that it’s not comfortable with, especially if you have injuries to consider. This is why it’s important to experiment and always be open to learning, but still adhere to proper kendo. I myself am still in the process of finding what works for me. Push yourself only to a manageable point and not risk your health.

Pace yourself when it comes to learning. Everyone is bad at something at first, and that’s how it usually is. Over time, through practice, we can gradually be good too! Practice makes permanent and that’s just how our brains are naturally wired when we do something over and over. It’s okay to be frustrated at the things that you can’t do right now, but instead of dwelling on it, use it as a fuel to improve more. Slow progress is still progress.

Lastly, make sure that you make your learning journey fun and fulfilling! A lot of people do kendo as a hobby and as a way to unwind. You wouldn’t want to feel that kendo is slowly becoming a chore that you have to do just for the sake of it. For me, the vast amount of knowledge in kendo is what I find interesting, and learning them and appreciating every bit of it is fun. What you find as fun about it may differ from person to person. Find what makes you love kendo and use it as a drive to make you want to practice even more!

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