Um, your shinai’s in my throat . . .

One heck of a tsuki . . .

On occasion you’ll encounter a person in keiko who tends to hold a strong kamae. When attempting an attack, you may experience the tip of their shinai impacting your do at the chest level – or if it’s an experienced person, your throat will be the recipient of the shinai’s point.

For those of you who are wondering about whether this is a good thing, here are a few ways I look at it when I do that to training partners of various levels.

  1. Please try that again (Sempai to kohai)
  2. I’m being kind of lazy (Sempai to kohai)
  3. I’m pissed off with you so I will passively-aggressively stick you in the throat or chest (Sempai to kohai)
  4. I’m not concentrating on the match so this is all the effort I feel like putting in (Sempai to kohai)
  5. I feel like seeing how strong my kamae is (Sempai to kohai)
  6. That wasn’t a point!!!!!!! Look how you ran into my kensen!!!!!!! (Usually for ippon-shobu or shiai – with anyone regardless of rank)
  7. Oh cr@p – you hit me and I wasn’t ready so standing in strong kamae is all I could muster in response. (Usually when I’m playing someone faster or the same or slightly higher rank than me. Not recommended for use on hachi-dans.)

I’m sure there are more, but you get the idea.

So, in case you’re wondering why you’re running into shinai more than usual, there are a few reasons you might consider your training partner is sticking you like you’re to be roasted over an open fire.

Who’s your best friend?

“Knock me and I’ll just get up again
Stronger, wiser
The adversary will now become my friend”

From ‘Stir it Up’ by Howard Jones

Yes, you poor souls who’ve had to drive with me long distances listening to my 80’s electronic-pop mix know I like Howard Jones.

One thing you may not know about Howard is that he’s the musical director for the Soka Gakkai sect of Buddhism. Looking back at his song lyrics over the past 25 years I’m amazed I didn’t pick up on many of the positive messages embedded in his music. So now, older and somewhat wiser, I listen to the same music with a different ear and a new perspective on life. Howard still rocks : )

Kendo has many challenges to one’s body and spirit. Physically, it can be tough. I recall training at the University of Toronto back in the late 80’s with more skilled opponents who were rough on me (from my perspective). When I went to Japan, I realized they weren’t rough at all…

One’s spirit can take a beating too. Many were the days I felt my Kendo sucked, and that I sucked as a result. The truth was far from my perception of things, but I don’t deny how I felt. I suspect you will go through a phase or two like this in your Kendo training. Especially when you play people who are better than you all the time. It can be demoralizing, if you let it be.

Remember this: your training partner is your best friend in Kendo.

You can’t do Kendo alone. You need someone to train with. Your choice of training partner is very important to your Kendo development. If I had my choice, I’d train every day with the top Sensei in the world because my Kendo would get better.

The stronger your opponents, the stronger you will become.

When you look at it that way, it makes sense that “The adversary will now become my friend”.

Another way to look at tough training partners is in the words of Jim Rohn, “Don’t wish it was easier. Wish you were better.”

Skilled and Tough training partners are a blessing.*


*Note: as long as those skilled and tough training partners know their limits and don’t purposefully hurt you. There is a world of difference between someone who demonstrates they want to help you improve and someone who just beats on you because they can. Learn to discern the difference.