The Adventures of a Kendo Bum - Elitism and Kendo
by, 24th June 2009 at 12:28 PM (3290 Views)
Did you realize that its nearly July? What that means to you, I can’t be sure. But for me it means an ever increasing humidity, consequent sleepless nights and the conclusion of the first semester in the university school year. Hooray!
The warmer weather means that the 50mx50m plot of dirt next to my lodgings was recently filled to saturation point with water and rice plants.
As I began to consider the money making opportunities that lay beside me, such as a car park building or golf driving range (it appears you cannot have enough of these in Japan), I was happy to know that this seemingly wasted section had the important function of feeding the masses…myself included!
However, included in the deal is a substantial growth in the frog population! I would estimate about 3 per square meter! And they are all as happy about the expansion as I am…because they will not stop yelling about it! People tell me its like living next to a busy road, “You get used to it”. I doubt this very much, and have invested in the top-of-the line ear plugs to block out the ceaseless, celebratory noise of my nocturnal neighbors!
As I mentioned, I am drawing closer to the end of the first quarter of my Masters degree study. A bitter-sweet victory in many ways, because now, more than ever, I feel like one of the lads in the Taidai kendo club. And although study can be a drag at the best of times, more and more I realize that I have the great privilege of learning from a Hanshi 8th Dan, both in the dojo and the class-room.
I know now, before its too late, that I am in a situation that is totally unique and unquestionably fortunate. In this respect, I look forward to any opportunity I get to write parts of my thesis and hear the feedback from my professor/kendo god.
Nonetheless, the completion of the semester means that I spend most of my time writing reports on biomechanical issues of the body, in Japanese. A process that takes me 3 times as long as anyone else, as I write it in English, then look for the words I need to translate it, and finally, re-write the whole thing again based on the corrections my proof reader makes!
As a kiwi in Japan, I tend to be immediately identified as a big rugby fan. As a small country, New Zealand can be proud of her achievements in the sporting arena, and rugby, not unlike the topic of weather, certainly acts as a good starting point for conversation between a New Zealander and someone that, forgivably, doesn’t know much else about “the bottom island of Australia”.
But my friends and family know that I have never really been a fan of rugby.
I have been known to tell the stories of my time in a public boys’ high school in Christchurch, New Zealand, that traumatized me as a young athlete in the minority sport of kendo, as I was not part of the select “first 15”.
The first 15 at my school, as in many other NZ high schools, received special treatment all across the board. Apart from first dibs at the school canteen (!), special recognition and mentions in the form of a “school achievement billboard” and the like, were enough to instill an early resentment of the game in my younger years…cue the violins.
As I moved through high school, into the work force, and then to a sports degree at university, my opinion became more educated, yet remains more or less the same. That is, the rugby culture that exists in NZ schools acts as a means to define masculinity for a lot of young men, hence creating a sense of exclusivity to those that are a part of it, and the opposite for those that could care less/are good at something else.
Put simply, the Alpha boys who are “big and tough” enough to play the game, (and those who understand the rules!), were placed in a more important social standing on the schoolboy ladder in many people’s eyes.
Their sporting prowess on the rugby field was held in very high regard, and this exclusivity spread to other areas of school life. This ‘prowess’ tended to be used by the lads as a means to identify/define themselves in a “I’m better than you, because I play rugby” kind of attitude.
What has this got to do with the price of fish? Well, I was always so proud of the fact that kendo was different. Regardless of grade, age or ability, I considered kendo to be void of any kind of exclusiveness.
However, over the past few months I have attended a great deal of shiai and training camps, observed the dynamics of various “old boys” (the alumni crew) and how they dealt with me/others, and of course talked around this topic over a few beers with a few people “in the know”. And as it turns out, (probably no surprise to some of you), the “you’re not one of us” vibe certainly does exist in kendo circles.
I understand that universities are a business, and in order to increase prestige, new students and more money, results in competition count for a lot. Therefore the regular team members need to be groomed and given an appropriate amount of attention.
But what concerns me the most is the consequent attitude of “you’re not one of us, why should I be nice/polite to you?” attitude of the alumni and consequently the students.
I want to be very clear that my experiences in the Taidai kendo club DO NOT reflect on what I have said thus far. In actuality, I have always felt welcomed here – despite an extremely tight knit “old boys/old girls” alumni. I know I have not done the same yards as them, but this has never been rubbed in my face at Taidai.
This is a realization based on the time I have spent in and around other university kendo clubs. Not to mention watching the dynamics of the other sport clubs in this, a sport university.
Of course I can only base this on what I FEEL and observe, as it is not in the Japanese nature to blatantly tell me that I don’t fit in to their group. But with this in mind, I would be very interested in your opinions.