Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sticking with it

Last October I went to Los Angeles and took my first Kendo test. Up to that point I had been practicing for about a year and three months.

I had never been to a shinsa and had no idea what to expect. I had been to about 5 aikido examinations watching Aimee climbing the ranks. When I was 13 I took Taekwondo for about 6 months. I ended up waking up late the morning of the exam and I missed my chance for getting yellow belt. The Taekwondo grandmaster Chun Lee let me test a week later and reluctantly gave me a yellow belt fearing that I would quit if I didn’t pass. Lacking discipline and maturity, I dropped out anyway.

Over the years I had attempted to sign up for and attend several martial arts classes. In high school Brian Iwakiri attempted to round up several of his friends to take judo at a local Japanese community center. Up unto that point I had not trained in anything so challenging and brutal. I would come home with the cross-hatch weave patterns of the gi ground into the skin of my chest in one big bloody mess. Not sure why I didn’t stay with it, at that point in my life I just never really stuck to anything.

It was around 1979 when I saw Sydney Pollack’s “The Yakuza” on TV. It was my first view of Kendo...I was mesmerized by it and was fascinated by the short scene that was at the beginning of the movie. After some research I was able to find a nearby dojo in West Covina. I just went to watch...I had no interest in joining. To me, watching Kendo was just fascinating. It was fast, flowing, explosive, beautiful. In my teens I would go back to the dojo just to watch, but I had somehow come to the conclusion that because I was not Japanese I would never really be any good at it.

As soon as I graduated from High School and I moved in with my father down in Huntington Beach I found a local dojo and started taking classes. Due to my constantly changing life, my inability to hold down a job or commit to school, I once again had to quit something that I wanted to learn.

About two years ago on my birthday, I just wanted to go and see a Kendo practice. Like so many times in my life before I though that I just wanted to watch. I didn’t think that I was going to make a commitment.

Aimee seemed generally interested as well and went with me on a frequent basis on the Sunday practices. With my change of job last year, I went from evening shift to the day shift so I was then able to go to the practices during the week on a regular basis.

Going to a Kendo test is sheer pandemonium at best. There are hundreds of people there in various ages, shapes and sizes. Fifteen minutes prior to the practice all of the students from the various dojos gather together for swinging and striking exercises. The noise for all of the students is deafening and overwhelming.

I was nervous to say the least. I did not know what to expect or for that matter what I should do. It was all new territory for me.

Once the testing stated the instructors and judges pretty much tell you what to do and how to do it. The hardest part was sitting in the torturous seiza position for an extended period of time.

I ended up having to participate in two matches. In the first I did pretty well. The second all I could think was “why does this guy keep hitting me with a stick?” No matter what I would do my second opponent would just find an opening and exploit it. I took a moderate bashing.

I left the shinsa and Torrance not knowing how I did or what rank I received. A couple of days later I received an email from my sensei with my placement results from the test.

Turns out that I got san-kyu which it about 4 “belts” below sho-dan or black belt. Not too bad for the first time around. I still have a long way to go from a skill level. My footwork is bad and my timing and sense for gaining opportunities to seize the moment in a second is non-existent. But, once again in my life I have managed to pick up where I left off and did better than I did before. Just like school I managed to dedicate myself to something and I gained something as a result.

1 comment:

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