The Kendo in Me

by Patricia Talavera

Bakit ka nagkendo? Sa dinamidami ng martial arts, bakit yan pa?” (“Why kendo? Of all the martial arts, why that one?”)

I’d say instinct or impulse.

I wanted to find a physical activity that will balance my work- home pattern. I had a list, but in the end, I chose kendo.

Manila Kendo Club Philippines batch Jan 2018 beginner, Patricia Talavera
Manila Kendo Club Philippines batch January 2018 beginner, Patricia Talavera

I think one of the reasons is that I am your typical anime fan (disclaimer: not a cosplayer just a simple anime/ manga fan). But because of anime, I was introduced to the Japanese culture which I admire. I admire their discipline, the way they maintain tradition, and they way they fight for their honor. I have been a student-athlete all my life, that is why, I think I needed to do a physical activity after work. Maybe the kenshi-tachi in anime series were so cool it made me choose kendo. But, I wanted to find something that will help me in my way of life and I believed that kendo will help me with that.

So, I would say I am right.

“Do” means “way” and kendo is the way of the sword. It is based on principles and a way of life. They said something like that during the Manila Kendo Club beginners’ orientation, but I came to understand it on my own as I watch the sensei-tachi (teachers) and the senpai-tachi (seniors/ upperclassmen). They asked me why I joined kendo and in return, I asked them too. The answers were different as to why they joined kendo. Instead of simply answering the question, they added why they stayed. Most of them lead to the same conclusion – kendo helped their way of living (both physically and mentally). It was not a verbatim answer, but it was how I interpreted it when they answered it and when I observe them.

There’s the whole Japanese culture thing but the following are things I observed from the people in the club and kendo itself.

Kendo strives for simplicity.

As I practice, I see how simple kendo is the more you know about it. You learn and practice the basics and then you get to have a match. That’s all. Even the basics only have four moves (which are hard to get). There are no complex processes or explanations. You basically do the same things repeatedly. And the irony is that this simplicity makes kendo difficult. As we aim for improving ourselves, the harder it gets to successfully land a hit because others around you are improving as well.

You face different people with different ranks in the Manila Kendo Club. That’s the fun in it. You can learn a lot by having to face a higher rank. The senpai-tachi and sensei-tachi are very accommodating. Their lessons are non-stop before, during, and after keiko (our usual practice period), so we usually end up extending a bit (:D). But, to be honest, the two-hour practice twice or thrice a week may not be enough if you really want to improve. They tell you things that can improve your way after the match either through words or through their actions. I can go all out because the senpai and the sensei are giving us the opportunity to attack to grow. Because there is no rank to worry about, you can focus on what you can do.

Pat with her senpais and kohais during Manila Kendo Club practice
Pat with her senpais and kohais during Manila Kendo Club practice

Kendo tires your mind more than your body.

If you lose focus, you basically die. You must have the determination to bust your way against your opponent. When I get tired or when I think I am at your limit, the things that comes to my mind is “how long do I have to do this? Why can’t I get it right? Or why can’t I reach that area? Please let me hit. I am tired. Oh I want to stop and rest.” I easily get depressed or distracted. But when I look at my opponent, some sort of flashback happens. Then, I think I must strengthen my resolve to continue this match or practice. For my improvement and for person I am facing, I must continue. The word “kaizen” echoes in mind most of the time. Someone told me, “your reach is farther than you think”. This became a motivation for me because it helps my mind go further than what I think I can or keep going until I can do it (although for now my body still can’t properly keep up with my mind haha).

It totally puts me out of my comfort zone.

In kendo, you must have the “ki ken tae ichi” where your voice, your hit, and your fumikomi (step in) is done in one motion. Kiai is often expressed through you voice. So, the loudness and consistency of your voice show what kind of kiai you have. Shouting like what we do in kendo is not my thing. Even now, there are times that I am not able to do it. But, shouting does put your mind and feelings at ease. At the beginning of the match, it helps you focus your mind and it will show your opponent how confident you are as actions show how good you can be. It serves a reminder for me to restart myself or keep on fighting. Another thing in kendo is that you must not hesitate even if it ends up bumping into your opponent. “Your hit (or ki ken tae chi) is basically your declaration of your victory,” says one of my senpai. So if you show your hesitation by stopping your attack midway, it will be naught because you did not finish your attack. “Banggain mo lang kasi ibig sabihin nyan diretso ka,” (“Just collide because it means your direction is straight”) another thing they say to me. As you can see, I still have a lot to go on.

I like how kendo is being taught and transferred to the next generation in the Manila Kendo Club, simply because the sensei-tachi and senpai-tachi teach kendo because they love kendo.

Pat with the girls of Manila Kendo Club
Pat with the girls of Manila Kendo Club (from L to R: Sam, Pat, Leanne, Sun, Elvi, Mel)

Kendo knows no bounds.

You can start kendo at any age and still play when your old. And no matter how long you have been doing kendo, you still have a lot to learn. There is always the desire for improvement in kendo as you aim for perfection even if that is impossible. So, you keep on swinging until you quit or die (so death is the limit haha). But the fighting spirit I see from the kendoka and their unending desire to improve is what helps me to look forward to the next practice. Also, it’d be very cool if others see “kendo” in me.

I am still new to this and I have a lot to work on. I am not a fast learner, so it is taking time and a lot of advice from everyone to correct my form and the basic techniques. Kendo is simple yet hard. This irony makes it interesting because it goes down to how willing you are to put your effort in it.

To be honest, there is still uncertainty in me as I am still starting out my career. I’d say there are a lot of external factors, which are not bad at all. But, I want to devote my life to this martial art. That is why, I believe in the saying, “if there is a will, there is a way”. I pray that this desire will help me keep going. I have stated a lot of reasons how and why kendo is a way of life. So, if something happens, let this article be a reminder for me why I joined kendo in the first place.

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