kendo-kata2

Things always change

If there’s one thing for certain is that things change. Even Kendo, a staunchly traditional martial art changes over time. How one views these changes depends on your outlook, for example my view on the current state of the mountain biking industry and all the ‘advancements’, a.k.a changes, is mostly negative; very little of what’s changed has been for the better, but more to keep what is an unhealthy industry alive.

Like I said, one’s acceptance of changes is ultimately governed by one’s own world view.

Having finally got through to the end of the beginner’s class, which was a much needed refresher after all these years, it was time to join the club and start up with the regular week night classes. And on turning up my first regular class looked at me square in the eye and asked ‘ready for some change?’.

Back in the prehistoric times, doing Kendo was just that, doing Kendo. Bogu, Shinai and all that goes with it. Kata, fixed patterns of moves and cuts used to teach swordsmanship, with a bokutō, wooden sword, was something I only remember seeing our sensei do as demonstration; it certainly was not something any kendōka under the grade of first dan would do as part of regular training. I always found watching Kata akin to watching a highly choreographed ritual, minimalist and crisp, as only the Japanese can do. And my interest in learning it was always there but there are just never enough days in the week.

So imagine my surprise when on arrival to training I was told to take a bokutō from the equipment store, as it was going to be needed for training…

Eh?

The first three quarters of the class was then devoted to learning Bokutō Ni Yoru Kendō Kihon-waza Keiko-hō, or in simpler terms, Bokutō kata for Kendo. No frantic moves, no kiai (shouting), no contact. Just slow, movements with an emphasis on form, accuracy and ritual. It was not how I expected the first ‘regular’ training class to go, in fact, I was somewhat confused – ‘where did this come from and how come we are doing it?’. None the less, it was quite enjoyable both from the doing, as well as from the mindset required to do it well. I’ve never been much of a dancer but doing this seemed very much like learning a highly programmed choreography – the challenge lying in learning all the moves and the timing.

At the end of the night I asked the sensei just where did this come from, as it was not a part of the training I knew. Turns out it was introduced in 2003 as a way to inject more of the martial traditions back into Kendo, which to that point had been progressively becoming more of a sport. That the kata had been designed to have a direct tie to the actual practice of Kendo, made this ’new’ change very relevant – the kata is designed to improve your actual kendo, much like originally is was used to teach swordsmanship.

So I was greeted with change, and quite suddenly the dynamic had shifted. Where Kendo was a return to something I knew, could pick up again, and move forward with, I now have a whole new aspect to consider and learn. It’s also a change that offers insight into the world of kata that I may not have easily been able to do otherwise, or at least not for some time, so I am seeing this as a change for the better. That it is tied to tradition and the martial side of kendo is only an added bonus, at least to me anyway.

Image: kendomorelos.com

Note: Unless stated otherwise, images are not mine.

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