What’s so great about getting hit with a stick?

Besides also getting to hit people with a stick? Plenty – eventually.

As a beginner in kendo you generally start by learning the body mechanics, repeating the same movements over and over while your teacher continually corrects you on what seems like an endless stream of minutiae.

It’s tough at this point – you’re not quite sure why you’re doing what you’re doing, and you can see off to one side the more experienced students spiritedly attacking one another in what looks like a free-flowing and even random manner, and you wonder if you’ll ever get there.

Gradually though, your body learns and you start to understand why your hands and feet must move just so. Eventually you strap on the armour and it’s like starting over again. Your hands feel weird holding the shinai through your kote, your field of vision is restricted by the men gane, and when you finally add an opponent into the mix, it adds a whole new element to the entire dynamic. Having someone screaming at you and trying to hit you with a stick is not what we usually identify as an environment conducive to learning.

At some point down the track, you face off against someone and your body knows what to do. You have internalised the body mechanics your teacher spent months drilling into you, leaving you to explore how to implement it. You attack your opponent. Sometimes you’re successful, sometimes not. Sometimes they counterattack. Sometimes they confound you with their ability to evade even your most spirited attacks.

The day you achieve a real connection between you and your opponent is the day a new world opens up to you. There comes the realisation that knowing how to strike is not enough – more important is knowing when and why. When you achieve that connection with your opponent, you engage them in a battle of wits and will.

There is an ebb and flow to a match. You can feel it when you have the ascendency, when your opponent does and when it’s in the balance. You engage in a chess match to outmaneuver and outwit your opponent in order to strike them.

Eventually, you realise that a strike is successful not because you have hit the target, this is only a physical manifestation of success. The strike is successful because you have won your chess match and like the final move of a chess match, by the time it happens, there can be no other result.

If you like physical activity and you like to use your brain, then you’ll probably enjoy kendo. I was contamplating adding a software testing analogy in here, but what the hell. You software testers out there can draw your own parallels. 🙂

5 thoughts on “What’s so great about getting hit with a stick?

  1. It would be an opportunity to be struck, yes.
    I wasn’t really talking about stopping to think, though. More about points of realisation as you progress, and the understanding that there is much more beyond the noise and apparent violence that meets the untrained eye. The thinking happens outside the dojo. When you’re training, you train.

  2. I agree whole heartedly with the concepts introduced in this post.

    What inspired me to reply was the title – “What is so great about getting hit with a stick”
    A question that I was asked – almost word for word – while dining with some other expats here in the wilds of Abu Dhabi.

    I was headed off at the pass by a new friend here who, having imbibed in a few bevvys decided that he would leap to kendo’s defence. He has no experience in kendo, but significant experience in boxing, and we have talked about the similarities at length.

    Strangely my first reaction to the question was the “everything else” aspect of kendo. The smell of my gear – considered noxious by some; for me is a great comfort.

    The mopping of the floor prior to training… the feel of my home dojo as I enter, pacing a shiai-jo before tournement, folding my hakama just so etc.

    While the tone of the question was probably combative – most drunken questions about a martial art, and ones interest in it are – I was glad of it.

    There is a lot that’s great about getting hit with a stick… and for me, mostly it’s in the quiet moments that surround it, I was grateful for the question, as it again reminded me to reflect on kendo in a holistic sense, rather than (to the outside world) the obvious violence involved.


  3. Thanks for stopping by, Drew.
    I hope the middle-east is treating you well.
    I love kendo and I love software testing (and crossfit and drinking good scotch, but that’s it. Mostly). I also very much enjoy talking with people who are passionate about *something*. There are often parallels you can draw between the dedicated pursuit of excellence (almost) no matter what the subject matter is. I am yet to get tired of having those sort of conversations.

  4. Passion unfortunately seems to elude the majority of Gen X (a generation-span to which that I have been arbitrarily classified), and has been more often than not relegated to being the stuff of concept.

    By passion I mean something that one chooses to investigate and pursue – without heed to what those around them are doing.

    There does however seem to be alot of effort, both intellectually and monetary, for the “Passion of trend” and the desire to rule that month’s passionate cause for reasons that involve social-standing, rather than the desire for UNDERstanding.

    Perhaps this is indicative of the priority shift in successive generations.

    Maybe it’s a natural evolution from the 50’s movie dialogue of: Girl says to guy “What are you rebelling against?”, guy reponds(moodily) “I don’t know.. what have you got”.

    Change ‘passionate about’ for ‘rebelling against’ and the concept seems to fit today – passion being an outward display of status rather than an inward desire for deeper understanding – that inward desire being the primary fuel for following whatever path it presents.

    Passion shows in people too – I had a discussion in a social setting with a client of mine. He is 70 years old and has been an avid 10 pin Bowler (if that is indeed the term LOL) for about 50 years. He began talking about the vagueries of ball coatings, lane polishing and the pros and cons of the Brunswick Vs AMF lane machinery… I had no interest in bowling (other than the usual bit o’ fun every other year) and still don’t… but I sat and listened and engaged in conversation about it for more than an hour.

    Because he was truly passionate… I couldn’t help but get drawn in, he wasn’t trying to convert me to the mysticism of throwing a ball down a lane, he was simply talking about something he obviously held dear.

    Passion has declined, but maybe it is part of the ebb and flow of our social evolution.

    Middle east is good.
    No kendo here which is bad.
    Have found a training space – that’s good.
    Have 2 beginners that want me to inflict my poor standard kendo upon them – bad.
    Will soon feel a timber floor under my feet, have a shinai in my hand, and my gear set out and ready for training – that is very very good.

    Likewise – I hope Japan is treating you well – much.. ummm.. much kendo over there? ROFL!


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