Contrary to popular thought, hell is not a fiery pit of pitchforks and sunburn, reserved for those of us who have lived a life of sin. Nay. It is in fact an icy dojo floor in the early hours of the morning, in the coldest month of winter, reserved for those of us with serious head issues.
As most people are more sports tape than human at this point (day 5 of 8), only the very sick and twisted would voluntarily rise at 5am each morning with the knowledge that the following 2 hours will be filled with pain and suffering of the most unimaginable kind. Depending on your club, your eternity in this wintery caldron of kendo hell could last anywhere from 8 to 15 days. And make no mistake, no matter the day, there will always be sensei/sempai/OB’s/OG’s in attendance to maximise the pain and grief, just as they went through many years before you.
Welcome to Kangeiko.
Today, after a beer-beach-BBQ Xmas spent in the sleepy town of Christchurch, New Zealand, I was welcomed back into Japanese kendo life with a quick, one day visit to Kansai University’s winter training camp. Only a taste, I’m told, of the punishment to come at the infamous Osaka Taiiku Daigaku Kangeiko…the winter training camp at my university held for 15 days, starting next week...*gulps*.
Beginning with a regular warm-up session of stretches and suburi, we were kitted up within 10 minutes ready to start oikomi-kirikaeshi (continuous striking up and down the dojo) in lengths of 4…swap…receive. Rinse and repeat for 20 minutes and line up for kakarigeiko (continuous attacking practice at 100% effort). I can’t be entirely certain of the duration of this part of training, as my attention was mainly focused on catching my breath. But I would estimate around 1 hour.
The training is then wrapped with a further 10 minutes of oikomi-men, oikomi-kote and “oikomi-good luck even lifting your arms”, a nice kendo bow out procedure, and for the students – no doubt a cigarette and a canned coffee in the changing room!
To be honest, describing the training menu on paper, doesn’t begin to do justice to the courage and determination I witnessed at Kansai Uni this morning. Thus, I will ask you to picture the most gruelling kakarigeiko session or sporting activity you have ever seen, to try and appreciate the scenes of terror and hurt I saw as part of the early morning “kendo on ice” show. In most cases, rather than a kendo session, things appeared more like a group sumo wrestling match. Kakarite (the attacker) with one aim in mind: to show how far he/she can be pushed. And the goal of motodachi(the receiver): to push kakarite harder still.
At times there were 3 or more helmets resting, head-less, on the floor. While the owner of said helmet was pinned to the wall/ground under a screaming pile of motodachi. I wasn’t sure which was scarier, being next in line to die or running through after the first attack awaiting…well, who knows what.
”How’s this gonna play out” you wonder.
“Is sensei gonna do that to me? He looks heavy”, your worries continue.
“Oh man, I could do that…oh wait…that looks super unpleasant…I better check to see if my shinai needs changing…”, and so on and such, until it is your turn, and you become the mop on the end of sens’s shinai…or whacking stick, what ever the case may be.
Yet, brutal as it was, they kept going back for more. The grimaces and fish eye stares in the heat of the moment, giving way to fat-lipped smiles and heartfelt thank you’s by the end. Just going to show why kendo-ists are some of the most sick and twisted folk around.
Put it this way, stepping onto the floor as kakarite with the attitude of fighting til you drop; and motodachi’s obligingness to facilitate this wish, has nothing to do with malice. It is 愛情 aijou – it is love, it is compassion and it is devotion that drives us. I think that’s why we make the effort even in the worst of times. With the knowledge that we are being pushed for our OWN sake, by a senior who genuinely wants us to improve is something special…something we all should/will encounter to some physical degree during the process to sensei-dom.
Granted, it hurts, and you may have your doubts during the “fatal beating”, but when we can walk away from the session with respect for our senior, knowing that feeling is right back at ‘cha…well, enough said I think.
To the outsider it may look violent, nasty and completely unnecessary. But through the steel grill, it always seems to make perfect sense.
Just a thought.
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