Thursday, July 20, 2017

Motivation, Kendo Videos, and Female Samurai

“there is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself.” ~ Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings.

I have been scanning YouTube for the best videos related to Kendo.  Some are quite good, and I am posting them below so I can find them again.  

I liked Kendo the minute I saw it.  I wish there was more I could add to that statement, but there isn't. I just liked it.  I like swimming for the same non-reason.  I just do.  But, there are other sports I like to watch but have no desire to play (ice hockey, European soccer).  But for swimming, I knew the minute I saw water as a tot than I wanted to be in it, on it, around it, near it, and under it.  I find much peace in or by water.  For whatever reason, I felt that same peace when I saw Kendo for the first time even though it is absolutely more aggressive than swimming or kayaking.  

When I went home to do research (once a geek...always a geek), I learned that Kendo is a trifecta practice of mind, spirit, and sport. The videos I am most drawn to aren't the ones that showcase technique (although I am grateful for the ones that taught me how to put on the keikogi and hakama).  The ones about developing character and inner peace are the most engaging, and I think about them when I do my practices here at home.  I do wish I had the tall ceilings of my Connecticut house, though.  I have to practice without the shinai if I am inside because I keep hitting the ceiling.  

Side Note:  An interesting fun fact that I stumbled over...there were, in fact, female samurai (Onna-bugeisha). They, like the men they fought battle with, were part of the nobility, but used a slightly different kind of sword.  Interesting.  

But, I digress.

I really think I can learn the most from Master Song in regard to the sport. Watching the videos is helpful because the more I see and hear it, the more I get used to what is going on, but the actual learning of the sport will require his guidance and expertise. He has the patience of a Saint which I most appreciate.  He also seems to have abundant energy which is exactly what I want to have when I am his age.

I have one more practice night before I leave for two weeks of work travel.  I couldn't order a case for my shinai in enough time to take it along, so I will have to practice without it. Sensei Simon gave me some good exercises to do, and if Master Song has time, I might ask him what I can do since I can't take the shinai.  However, he is a very busy man, and he has a range of students from totally newbie (me) to folks like Sensei Simon who are way up there in the Dan level.  I don't want to tax him or make him tired of teaching me, so I think I will not try to tax him with too many questions.

Anyway, here are some videos that I found really helpful:

Monday, July 17, 2017

Learning the Lingo

Image Source
So, I have degrees in English.  Specifically, I studied archetypal patterns in American women's literature.  Virgins and whores.  In my career, this has never been useful.  My secondary area of study was British and American Romantic writers.  This has been useful since I teach courses on those dead dudes regularly (and love it).  I am a devoted reader and have a goal of a book a day, but lately it's been about a book every other day.  I love language.  I love programming languages (Java, C++, Java, Python, and now Ruby).  I love the English language.  But, apparently I can't tell the difference between Japanese and Korean.  In my quest to learn how to count, I tried learning to count in Japanese which sounded nothing like what they were saying in class.  THAT is because they were counting in Korean.  Epic fail on my part.

I truly just love Master Song and think he is the greatest teacher I probably have ever had, and I have had a lot of really great teachers over the years.  I love watching him teach (not just me....which I must say... he is so completely patient with a middle aged chubby chick on a quest for preserving her youth).  He knows each of his students and he spars with each and every one of them every night.  It is entirely captivating.  And apparently he never gets tired.  These young adults are panting and huffing and the guy hardly breaks a sweat. He has the best game face I have ever seen, and I love listening to him yell.  If you have been to a Kendo studio, you know there is a lot of yelling.  I can't tell if they are words or sounds, but it is loud, and, at first, it blew me away because I typically do not like shouting or loud noises.  In fact, when I took Moustache Man, he leaned over and said, "Seriously, Mom, you hate loud noises.  This is going to drive you crazy."  But, it doesn't.  I actually like it because it makes sense to shout when you are gonna whap someone with a bamboo stick.

Did I mention that he is 60?


So I am learning words.  The uniform that is worn is called a hakama.  I received mine tonight but have no idea how to put it on, and, of course, being the ridiculous woman I am, I just want to know what gets worn under it.  Pipers don't wear britches but I always did.  And it's not like I can ask, hey, I know you just met me, but are you wearing shorts or just panties under there?

Kamae is the basic stance.  This is the thing I am learning how to do.  It isn't as easy as you think it is. The bamboo sword (shinai) is a lot trickier to wield than it looks.  The foot work (okuri-ashi) is also pretty tricky.  But, I practice in my living room and scare the cats and make my teenage sons laugh. So, yeah, there is the family entertainment of it all.

My favorite part was at the end of the night.  You kneel in front of each other and say thank you.  I think.  I am not sure if I was supposed to talk or just bow.  No one told me to shut up, but maybe they will get around to it.


Thus far, I am enjoying myself.  It is a lot of work but it doesn't feel like being at the boring gym.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A New Journey (and why a fat middle aged woman is trying Kendo)

So, I wasn't always overweight.  As a child and teenager and young adult, I was well proportioned. But then I got married, had babies, and got lazy.  Now I am in my mid-40s and I have lost a considerable amount of weight over the past year, but I am slipping and I need to refocus my energy. The gym is boring to me.  There is no motivator, and I am not learning new skills.  So, it takes more energy to convince myself to go there because while the results are always positive, the experience bores me to tears.

So, why Kendo?

I am not Japanese, and I truly know nothing about Japanese culture.  Of all the world's literature I've read, I have never read anything Japanese.  I do eat sushi, but it's American sushi which is apparently very different.  I don't read Manga, and have only heard of that because I am the advisor of our Gaming and Anime club on campus.  I don't follow any sports, but when I have, it has always involved ice and sticks and guys dressed in orange (Go, Flyers!).

I'd like to say it's because I like the pants.  And it is true, of all the martial arts uniforms, the Kendo uniform is the most appealing to a woman of my size because it is blue and not white.  But, I can buy Palazzo pants and save a lot of time, effort, and sweat if that were truly the case.

I'd like to say it's because they would kick me out of Geisha Girl school for being slightly dopic and a terrible singer, or that I have a deep desire to be a samurai warrior. Neither is true, although I suspect I would get hauled out of a Geisha training school for having little musical and dance talent.

But the truth is this...I know nothing about Kendo, but it looks challenging and a lot of fun, and who DOESN'T want to whack someone in the head with a bamboo stick?

I had never heard of Kendo.  But, I was talking to my colleagues about trying to find something I could do with my teenage sons, and my Dean said she lived near a Kendo Dojo (she probably called it a studio).  She said it looked like a lot of fun and that is seemed to be something that I would probably love.  I am not sure if that is because I present myself as someone who wants to whap people with sticks (probably), because I am the kind of person who likes big pants (so true), or because I love a good challenge (amen).  But, in any case, I looked it up, got the address, and hijacked my 15 year old son, Moustache Man, to the Dojo.

He hated it.  Instantly.
I fell in love.  Instantly.

But, I couldn't justify, yet, being a middle aged woman amongst a gaggle of young Japanese adults until I realized that there were people there older than me.  On that night, I was the only person who wasn't Japanese, but the very kind and wise Master told me that since it was Friday, and it was summer, not everyone was there.

So I went back Monday. I dragged my 14 year old, Sharpie Boy, with me this time.  He loved it. But, he has functional cerebral palsy as a result of an infant stroke and is Rain-Man Autistic, and rules aren't a really strong magnet for him.  He wasn't sold on it.  But, omgosh, I was.

It could be the academic in me, but I truly love being a student. As far as reasons go, not knowing anything is usually a good place to start.  If we approach something with some knowledge, we sometimes over exaggerate what we know and we place a block where we need to be open.  For example, I have been horseback riding for years.  I am not an expert, and I have never owned a horse.  I go on trail rides about 4 times a year, and I truly love it.  When I go, it is usually with a mixed group, and inevitably, someone says, "oh, I know how to ride a horse" because once - when she was a tot - she went on a pony ride.  She doesn't listen to the instructions and then we all suffer because the horse wants to eat snacks all along the trail and she doesn't know how to control him.  I try to stay humble on every trip I take because I don't know the horse or the route, and because, while I have ridden a lot, I have not studied horsemanship.  I go because I enjoy it, and I try to learn something new every time.  Humility is a place to start and stay.

So, in visiting the Kendo Dojo twice, I realized that it was something I truly wanted to learn how to do.  It will help keep me focused on exercising regularly, and it allows me to be a student.  As a professor, I spend my time teaching others, and in this case, I will be learning.  This is where I want to be.  I may never be good enough to spar with anyone else, and that is OK.  I will work toward that goal.  For now, I am learning - not just about the practice of Kendo, but about a culture I know nothing about.