by Chenney Navarro
“In all forms of strategy, it is necessary to maintain the combat stance in everyday life and to make your everyday stance your combat stance.” ~ Miyamoto Musashi
Life really gets in the way of kendo. It’s that surprise overtime you have to clock in or not being able to sneak out an hour earlier to make it to practice because, well… #adulting. And when the planets do align for you and kendo to finally enjoy a sweaty embrace, the clouds arrive and dump a deluge on everything (hello rainy season, I’m talking to you). And as we have come to know with metropolitan traffic in the Philippines, you just need to add water to make it extra special exponentially.
On a good week I would say most of us in the Manila Kendo Club get to attend around 1-2 practices. So as a mean practitioner (or practitioner in the statistical mean), you probably have around 3 hours worth of kendo practice a week plus an additional hour daily since we all love to do suburi at home. Given that you are also a responsible adult who gets a healthy amount of sleep (or Netflix), that’s a total of 10 hours of dedicated kendo in the 112 hours that you’re awake. 10 hours is good enough but when it’s all said and done, it doesn’t really amount to much. The question you should really be asking is: how do you use the other 102 hours that you don’t do kendo and make it work for you?
Practice makes permanent. The more you do something the more it becomes ingrained in your system. Again let’s stick to the mean and take the average modern day Juan as our example. For the most part you sit for around 7-8 hours each day at your desk job. Your workspace isn’t ergonomic; the monitor isn’t eye level forcing you to adjust and tilt your head. You slowly get tired keeping posture, your shoulders start to droop forward and your upper back curves to support the weight. Minutes or hours later you snap out of your flow noticing your bad posture, but you are knackered, physically and mentally, and you just need to get through this last bit before you can take your break. You compensate by edging your ass forward and leaning far back into the seat rest – you give your shoulders and upper back a rest but you load your lower back incorrectly to compensate. Rinse and repeat daily, forever.
This is what most people practice doing for the majority of their other 102 hours. I do not blame you. Adulting is hard and those bills won’t pay for itself. But again, practice makes permanent. Your 10 hours of “perfect” kamae cannot overturn 102 hours of bad posture and biomechanics. But this is the blue ocean that most people truly gloss over! That whopping 102 hours, even if you procrastinate unto eternity, is more than enough time to maximize opportunities to not only to improve in kendo, but to fundamentally hack your own movement which can drastically shift you into a healthier lifestyle.
All functional movements, be it in daily life, sports, or kendo are based on the rules of the human body. Optimal movement is grounded on common fundamental concepts on human kinetics. These concepts and their derivations hold the answers to all the physical challenges you will encounter. Daily life is a no-brainer test on biomechanics, structural knowledge, range of motion, and motor control – you don’t need much to pass and the body is resilient enough to fill in the blanks for you (albeit to your detriment in the long term if done poorly). Kendo on the other hand is a similar activity elevated into a higher degree of physical performance, operating on the same rules but with tighter margins for excellence – within the split seconds where ippons are won and lost. Any flaws in your understanding of these principles will show in the cracks of your execution.
Let’s take chudan no kamae for example. Chudan, more or less, is quite similar to the beginning of walking forward. It is standing up properly in a wider stance as if someone caught you midway into a step. For most people this isn’t even an actual position but a transitionary frame in their walking skillset – they can hold a strong stable position before or after the step, but not in the space between. However you don’t really need to be able to keep a braced neutral spine and strongly rooted feet mid-stride — you can walk well enough regardless. On a daily basis, the demands on alertness at this instant is practically zero. You usually just have to put one foot in front of the other and walk, with only a very small chance of anyone bothering you or a rogue car barrelling straight at you as you stroll around. But if this is your baseline, the foundational structure from where you subconsciously begin, then any amount of conscious change you attempt to achieve (which may result in either direction in quality) will be largely limited by this constraint.
So in an overly simplified but relatively accurate statement – how well you stand and walk everyday will dictate how bad your kamae is in the worst of situations and how good it is during the best of opportunities. Who you are physically daily is who you will show up to be each time you enter practice. So if you have to spend unreasonable amounts of focus and effort to get from awful to good every time, you will never be able to reach, let alone comfortably stay, in greatness.
So be conscious of yourself and make an effort to get to know and improve your baseline everyday. Understand how to sustainably maintain braced neutral spine when sitting or standing (endurance is key). It will take some practice to do, but proper posture is a skill which also involves mastery. Observe how you shift your balance as you take each step when you walk. Is the transfer of weight smooth or is there slight jarring as your body suddenly locks the structure in place, unprepared to receive the weight? Where does the tension travel up your leg as you support your weight on that leg? Outer foot, inner quads, loose hips? Is it the same for both the left and right or are you more proficient with one leg over the other. Do you lift your body evenly from either leg as you go up the stairs? Have you created a bias in your body due to kendo and have started to lean your lumbar spine to the right after 8 years of a constant over-engineered chudan no kamae (true story which I think I have finally fixed now!)?
These are important questions that most people have ignored and regretfully taken for granted, and it will take a lot of effort at the start to just even begin identifying and understanding the whats, whys, and hows of your body that you have built subconsciously over your lifetime. Truthfully it will probably take years to fix everything and even then it might not even be enough, but as is with kendo it also will probably take a lifetime to figure out how to get that one single perfect men. So there’s no rush really, let’s just take one balanced mid-step at a time and we might make it in a lifetime.