July 2, 2021

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Age and reckoning: Slowing Kendo down.

It seems the move to a colder climate, or at least an area with a much colder winter than we are used to, has brought on a few…. issues? Constricted breathing is an issue, right?

I noticed it over the past month and a half. At first I didn’t think anything of it, ‘one of those things’, but when doing workouts on the indoor trainer, I started noticing things going weird when the HR popped over (and only over) the 90% mark. Never used to happen. It was not until lunch with a friend and the mention of ducted gas heating did I really start wondering. Turns out it’s probably a combination of a few different things, but cold air is more than probably part of the cause.

Now you’re probably wondering what has any of this have to do with Kendo? Well, quite a bit actually. Namely, Kendo when done at full tilt, pops the HR into the 90% range in bursts. So as you can imagine, suddenly not getting enough breath becomes a bit of an issue in the middle of training. This of course gets compounded when wearing a ‘Men’, which is kind of akin to sticking your head in a bucket and looking out; and let’s not mention the addition of wearing a mask.

This of course became a point of much pondering. Being twice as old (or more!!!) as many in the club is one thing, but what if I also have to put up with a throttle on my output, at least during the winter months? Fitness is not an issue, I’m training around 7 hours a week, but one has to be realistic and accept that you’re not going to be as fast as someone half your age, more so if your output is kneecapped. So this got me thinking. No way I was going to stop Kendo but at the same time, I had to work out how to progress in a fashion that was going to result in a useful, forward moving outcome.

The week prior to me starting to think about all this, Jo sensei had pointed out that being a big guy, I needed to take advantage of my physical presence. Getting worked up and folding inward physically is simply not working with my given attributes, so slowing down after each strike, breathing and re-establishing my ‘presence’, or stance, before moving in again will work to my advantage. The following week, in light of my newfound breathing fun,  I had emailed him to discuss what I had termed ‘slow Kendo’. Turns out (of course) that it was already a thing…

After some discussions about the issues at hand and working on ways I could slow things down, the core part of the prior week’s discussion came back around – establishing stance and presence before moving forward would be a key to slowing everything down.

Pondering this between training, it seemed to make very logical sense. Making myself a large, somewhat immovable object was not only a way to help offset tanking myself by hitting the redline too often (where settling and controlling breathing becomes a unified process), but also a very legitimate way to hold my own against those who are younger, and faster. Being tall with a good reach means I can hold many others off at a distance, making them have to do the work to move into their own strike range. That, buys me time.

While I don’t like the phrase ’slow and steady wins the race’, because it doesn’t, I can say that, as far as Kendo goes, composure, form and technique goes a very long way when put against fast and frantic. The whole trick for me was to accept that slower is indeed better, so having the ego accept that trying to compete with 20 year olds, when I’m clearly not one, is indeed actually good for it, not deflating!

My last two trainings where I started to employ this new level of thinking have gone swimmingly well. Indeed, slowing everything down in the aim that a slower Kendo would help resolve other non Kendo issues, has actually resolved some core Kendo issues I had been grappling with as well. Even in Kakari-geiko/Ji-geiko, the slowing down and re-establishing of stance has opened a new, more controllable Kendo, one where I don’t feel like a thrashing rabbit all the time. This leaves me with the mindset and attitude, for the all out effort, when I need it, not trying to maintain it at all times.

As Darren sensei likes to say, slower IS actually faster.

Note: Unless stated otherwise, images are not mine.

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