Almost a year to the day, I was once again subjected to long waits, sharp needles and difficult decisions…nope, I was not on the set of the latest “Saw” horror flick, it was in fact, the annual taidai student health check.
After last year’s debacle of wondering aimlessly around the school campus looking for the next place to be poked, prodded and measured, I had convinced myself this year that I would play silly buggers with some of my tests…in an attempt to resolve the issue of spending half of my day waiting in a long line for a prick in the arm.

I understand this is an important part of life that shouldn’t be taken lightly, after all, when was the last time I voluntarily sat a physical in NZ?!
Perhaps it was the fact that I never really pulled any pranks in my student days back home, or maybe its that I really don’t like the idea of the school knowing too much about what’s what with me (total conspiracy theorist!)…or maybe, just maybe, it was the fact that last year I was labeled “overweight" as a result of the school’s insistence to compare me with the Japanese BMI scale. Whatever the case, a flood of mischievous ideas filled my mind over the year, as I toyed with the idea of putting rocks in my pocket, hitting the turps hard the night before and even replacing the “sample” with a popular lemon fizzy drink.

Alas, faced with these decisions and weighing the (admittedly few) pros against the cons (such as angry kendo teachers), I backed down and joined the back of the line to wait my turn. Sorry team.

As it happens though, despite following orders and spelling my name right, my results still managed to turn some heads when compared to last year’s outcomes…as I had not only lost 7kg, it appears that I have also grown 3cm in height! Go figure! Surely being hit on the head as much as I do on a daily basis at trainings would put a damper on any last ditched attempt at a growth spurt (not to mention I am 27…!). Could it be bruising on my skull!? Or maybe a buildup of calloused feet?! It’s unclear. But the even better news is the fact that I just scraped through on the trusty ol’ BMI scale by a hair…I am not longer “overweight” now.

Right then, on with the blog.

My classmate, roommate and kendō compadre teaches a PE class once a week at a high school in Osaka, and last week asked if I would like to tag along for a nosey. I was very keen to see what kendō in the general education system looked like in recent times, as it had been a while since I have had the chance to venture out of the university kendō scene.
As could be imagined of a group of 14-15 year old boys (from a particularly wealthy part of town), the fact that they had to participate in the sweaty, smelly and noisy environment that is a kendō training, meant that motivation levels were less than optimal. That said however, there were in attendance a handful of students who either had experienced kendō at a younger age in a local dōjō, or who were simply willing to give it a go, making the overall experience pretty enjoyable for all concerned…and with a foreigner present in class, most were surprised that the well kept secret of kendō existed outside the walls of Japan!

Of the 30 or more students in each class (4 kendō classes over the space of a day), there were also one or two students dealing with physical disabilities. Although able, in theory, to participate in training to a certain extent, these kendō classes were already clearly heavy in numbers with regards to available instruction. And unfortunately, despite what I could see to be a genuine desire to participate, the cruelty of some able bodied children in the form of bullying and general torments, quickly turned the recipient’s mood upside down – consequently resulting in some students asking to sit the class out due to a “sudden injury”.
I consider my off-sider to be a top notch kendō player and a very good instructor. But, despite his best efforts and experience teaching at this level, keeping an eye on 30 or more little rat-bags belting each other with sticks, is not an easy task. And, as it happens, the bully armed with a bamboo stick and a sharp tongue will get away with a lot more than anyone will let on, before he is caught red-handed.

Fairly typical of many classrooms in many countries, I do not want to get into a discussion on the troubles most teachers face on a daily basis – trying to balance equal attention to all that need it, while covering the required syllabus. However, this is an ideal way to raise some of the issues that, I consider, Japanese school students and PE teachers alike will face with the introduction of budō as a compulsory subject in Japanese junior high schools in 2012.

A good idea in principle, the Ministry of Education have decided to add the instruction of martial arts to the curriculum for youth aged 13-15 for many reasons. Obviously, we all know and appreciate the benefits to be had in the pursuit of kendō. As a physical activity in itself, regular exercise and a release of tension are commonly heard as reasons for participation in our chosen pastime, and there is little doubt many Japanese children could benefit in a similar way. In fact, if we put our minds together, I’m sure we could fill pages with good reasons for introducing kendō (or budō in general) into the school syllabus.
However, a resounding concern that has been on minds of many in the upper echelons of kendō-dom, is the issue of ‘quality instruction’. This is not to say that the PE teachers of Japan’s junior high schools cannot teach PE…it is whether they can teach kendō (or whatever the budō may be) that needs to be considered.

(At this point, as far as I am aware, a crash course of 13 hours instruction in kendō will be mandatory for PE teachers to get them…up to scratch? Is that enough time for mastering the intricacies of anything, or even the basics for that matter? )

For those of you who are familiar with this topic of conversation, I’m certain there are many other factors I am missing in this (very) short overview of a (extremely) big matter.
It is not my intention to write an indepth article on the issue that is already saturated with discussions and texts by far more qualified kendō-ists and scholars than I. The point I wanted to raise refers to the passage above regarding the issue of overcrowded PE lessons. In most cases, where students are led by an underequipped teacher (in terms of kendō knowledge) will in effect, be a case of the blind leading the blind.
And, when one considers that even an experienced kendō instructor of this age group encounters the issues of dealing with bullies, as well as motivating and protecting the bullied, how on earth is a basketball teacher expected to teach ki-ken-tai-itchi to the same group?

Awaiting the response of the AJKF or MOE on this one any day now...!

KB