Whats your idea of the ideal summer vacation? Six days and five nights on the beach, sipping on a frosty beer whilst relaxing in one of those net hammock thingys? That would certainly make my top 5 list. But alas, in this month of August, the hottest period of Japan’s oppressive summer season, I have had to settle for a number further down my list of idyllic summer gettaways – the Taidai Summer Camp.

As I write this (somewhat overdue) blog on the trip home, I am riding up front in one of the two overnight buses that took the entire Taidai Kendo Club to and from Kumatori, Osaka, all the way to Hōfu, Yamaguchi.

A seven hour trip one way, the students who have not been selected to tour Hiroshima in a series of away games and friendly-practice shiai following the camp, lie in their cramped seats with limbs in all directions – completely buggered from the week long camp in a ridiculously hot and muggy setting. Meanwhile, I try to remain focused on my computer-screen as our bus driver – good mates with Evil Knievel – “death-defying-ly” weaves through traffic, cuts other motorists off, and insists on tail-gating people at…lets see…100km/h.

But I digress…

The Taidai Summer Camp is designed with a similar purpose in mind to that of Kangeiko – the Winter Camp. That is, to provide an extraordinarily testing training menu whilst making use of the elements. The mindset is such that with the big student competitions on the horizon (the Kansai champs, and the All Japans), the students will benefit from being “shocked” in to the next gear by practicing waza (techniques) and shiai (matches) in temperatures sitting around the mid-30s, with humidity in the late 80s to early 90s…in other words, if they can function effectively in the hottest/coldest time of year, they will be firing in the mild months.

Mornings began with breakfast at 7am sharp, promptly followed by a trip back to the land of nod before departing for the Hōfu City Budokan at 8:10am. Warm-up and bow-in commenced from 9am and, to my surprise, the sensei would tell us what we were to expect for the day’s training menu. (I don’t know about you, but back home we were seldom privy to that information prior to a training camp!)

Interestingly, despite accounts of traditional approaches to Japanese kendo summer camps by graduates of the school, and veterans of other camps, great importance was placed on hydration and recovery... trainings were broken into sections of 40 minutes and allowed for a 10 minute break to grab a drink and cool down a bit before continuing on.

“How is this news-worthy?” you may ask. “Shouldn’t hydration be a fundamental part of any training regime?” Yes. Of course! I know that, you know that. But it is only after certain unfortunate circumstances over the years (particularly in the high school kendo scene), in the face of traditional ideas and methods regarding the forging of mentally tougher kendo-ists, that kids are encouraged more to hydrate and rest injuries – rather than practice the noble quality of gaman (perseverance, patients).
Mind you, this issue runs a lot deeper than I make out, so it is better left for a another blog or Masters thesis…suffice it to say for now though, the powers that be of Taidai are certainly doing their part to put the wheels in motion and change some of the thinking in a sport that can be said to be *occasionally* overly-traditional/outdated regarding instructional mindsets when it comes to safety. Well at least that’s what I gather from it.

Following a morning of kihon (basics), waza, and jigeiko (sparring), we were fed and rested in preparation for an afternoon of shiai. The sensei encouraged me to be a part of both the matches and the judging during this part of the day. And as each activity requires a very different type of effort, this seemingly “cruisey” afternoon schedule proved exhausting.
My match results were nothing to write home about…so I won’t. But I can confidently say that I have been provided with an awful lot to ponder over the coming weeks both in and out of the shiai-jō.
In typical training camp fashion, the days training would finish with a 40 minute bash with the sensei etc., and the mandatory kakarigeiko (hell on earth) and ai-kakarigeiko (mutual hell on earth), spanning roughly 15 minutes in duration.
The buses would then take us all back to the hotels, boys and girls separated, where dinner was served and beers were opened! … boy oh boy, can the old boys drink! …

The following day would follow a strikingly similar pattern, and without a doubt, the evening would once again require a lot of sitting up straight, serving the sensei drinks, and for me, nursing my beer so I didn’t have to drink that awful bloody shochu…all part of the kendo training camp package! That said however, the conversations between H8 dans is certainly worth the sore head and red-eye in the morning…if only I could remember what he said about the secret to getting 8th dan…

All said and done, we get tomorrow off and then its back into it full swing…only six months to go until kangeiko!

Right then, nap time.

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