Lessons Learnt

Useful lessons

21 Apr 2021

Reading Time: 3 minutes

One of the first things you learn about Kendo is that it’s something you do with other people. After all, you can’t fight yourself…. well you can, but that’s another matter. The other thing is that to do Kendo, good Kendo, is to help the others around you. Regardless of your level, you help them and they help you, in that very Zen way that no one is perfect and we all need to work on something to be better.

So when starting out, the advice your sensei and motodachi give you should be listened to and taken on board, because, well, you need all the advice you can get.

Are you asking yourself when the ‘but’ is coming?


But… well, this was the but I wrote:

Having taught visual communication at University for a few years I know that teaching is a skill, especially in a subject that can be as much about learning to overcome your own self doubt, as it is about the mechanical skill set you are trying to learn. In teaching there’s a delivery and mannerism that needs to be learnt that plays a big part of the process of helping the student take things onboard, but more than that, there’s a skill that needs to be learnt in knowing just how much information to impart, and when. Get that wrong in some way and you can easily loose the student.

And so it is this night. The motodachi offered so much advice, about everything, that it eventually became off-putting and I ended up flailing all over the place. At the end of that class I thought it was all me (which as we’ll find out later it was), until a class or two later…

This time I found myself doing the same thing with one of the highest level sensei’s in the club (and my original sensei from way back), but this time everything went smoothly. I was not perfect, far, far, faaaaaaaaar from it, but the advice was delivered in sparse and succinct bursts that not only kept my focus but also allowed me to take it onboard, try it, and move forward. He also had that ability a good teacher has, which is to read a student, understand where they are at, and adjust the advice accordingly.

And to a certain degree, the above still stands. It’s what followed on that’s changed…

Four classes later, I found myself once again with the same motodachi, and once again, there was a stream of advice… are you feeling another but coming on? Yes?


This time I was far more composed. I purposefully did not workout during the day and though I was feeling a little brain tired, I was not battling myself as I had classes previously. As a result, I was feeling good and doing reasonable Kendo; which then made me feel good. When the advice started coming in, I saw it clearly (as opposed to cloudily) and, most importantly, helpful. I took it onboard, filtered it, and over the class my Kendo remained solid (except for the few blunders that created a few good hearted laughs) and even inched, ever so slightly, forward.

What I took away from this is that often your perceptions can be clouded because of your own inner state – you only get flustered if you let your own situation derail you. Thus the best way to do this is to not let, or do, things to cloud your view so your own judgement, and interpretation, of situations remains clear. The second, is that teaching is a skill and in many ways an art form. Just because you know something does not mean you always know how to impart it in a way that’s always useful.

Image: Kyoto Butokuden – Instructions by Ishikawa Sensei, 8th Dan


Copyright 2023 Gerard Thomas. All rights reserved.

Note: Unless stated otherwise, images are not mine.

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