In previous years, I would at most miss two classes in 4 months or something like that but this year, I had missed at least a month’s worth of practice – this has got to be my worst Kendo attendance record to date and I want to keep it that way.
I’ve always found missing a class or two would give me a feeling of being slow, unfit and not being able to coordinate my own body as well as I remember. Fortunately, due to the intense practice we do, I gain my own rhythm again quite quickly. But missing 5 or more consecutive practices was something entirely different. After 2 or more returning practices I still felt “rusty” and (at the time) with my grading being so close I was beginning to worry. After each practice I would be disappointed at myself for not being able to do what we was being taught in class and for losing my focus on what I was supposed to be improving (footwork for example). It became a lot worse closer to the grading as I didn’t feel like I’ve gotten rid of that rusty feeling and my kiri-kaeshi felt so choppy and unnatural. In the last practice before the grading weekend I didn’t manage to make myself feel any better.
The venue for this grading is in Watchet which is more than 3 hours of driving from London therefore it was more economical and enjoyable if people travelled up there together. I set off on Friday evening after work and was accompanied by a few of my club mates (who were also grading) and they made the whole experience very enjoyable and everyone was very supportive. It was also my first time driving in a country lane during night time and boy was it scary! Everything was pitch black and the lanes felt so much narrower! Country lanes aren’t difficult to drive if you know the road, but I had never driven there before so every corner was a very scary experience. Although it was scary, it was also fun – what a great start to the weekend!
It’s normal to have a seminar paired with a grading so the plan was to have a full day seminar on Saturday and half day on Sunday, then the grading will follow on from that. So on Saturday morning, we arrived at the venue around 9:15. The opening rei started at 10am and we were split up into groups depending on our current grades. In my group, we must’ve done 15 minutes of different types of suburi with emphasis on relaxing yourself. Even when we moved onto kiri-kaeshi, the emphasis was to do it smoothly and relaxed.
Our group then moved onto seme and center, so we started off with both sides would try to hold center (applying some pressure) and a technique would come from that. This is something my dojo normally practices so it was familiar territory for me and I felt that all I needed to do was to believe in what I have been taught in the dojo. I used to strongly doubt that the last few hours of training will suddenly change your Kendo so much that you’d suddenly be able to pass (like last minute revisions)! But what the seminar allowed me to do was to take my mind of the grading for a few hours which in turn helped me relax in the evening.
We followed a similar regime on Sunday but I thought that we could’ve missed this part of the seminar and went straight into the grading as this time, all I could think about was the grading! It made me just g through the actions for the sake of doing them instead of trying to think about what I’m doing. So after a morning practice we had lunch and the grading was to commence in the afternoon.
Whilst the other groups were grading my club mate saw that I didn’t want to warm up before my grading. He thought this was a bad idea and gave me a thorough practice/warm up. I was very grateful for his consideration for me when he himself will be grading very soon and the practice did keep me warm and relaxed.
When it finally came to my group to grade, I was lining up and I was feeling a quite nervous (I was so nervous last time, I nearly fell over doing sonkyo). When we started, my kiri-kaeshi felt a little choppy and I could feel my kiai go funny but I kept going – it was quite scary, this isn’t the kiri-kaeshi I wanted to show the grading panel and it reminded me of my lack of practice before the grading. Whilst going back to the starting position, I knew that if I was to pass, I couldn’t have my mind fixed on the kiri-kaeshi I had just done. I decided I will need to have faith in the guidance and teachings of my Sensei and that it will pull me through the grading. So after what felt like a 20 second jigeiko the next candidate stepped up and now, I had to receive kiri-kaeshi. My second jigeiko practice felt just as short as my previous practice. After I came off the grading court to take off my bogu, I thought that under the circumstances, I’ve done everything I can.
After a while, I was informed that I have passed the Kendo part of the grading (yay! half way there) and will now need to do the first 7 forms of Kendo Kata. I think due to the participating in the National Kata Taikai helped as I didn’t really mind people watching me do Kata. So I was feeling quite confident after the Kata.
On the warm but cloudy afternoon of Sunday 15th May 2011, I finally achieved the grade of Nidan in Kendo!
I really had a good weekend and the support from my club mates made the grading feel easier. I think my Sensei’s teaching helped me face this test and also to pass it. Now I need to work towards the next grade.