Tuesday, July 7, 2015

7 + 7 + 7 = Kendo

Everyday I Walk Towards The Ultimate Playground (2013). And perhaps I always shall, just as my kendo journey in particular requires me to keep going and to never stop, no matter how many blisters I get on my feet and my hands and even my spirit. 

This post is unplanned, but while I was making today's art-sprint (I do make them everyday and I have been able to do so regularly so far; I just have yet to post them ^^U), there suddenly came an avalanche of thoughts, springing from my realisation that today is my kendo anniversary :))))))))) 

I am quite peeved by false modesty and I am so not a fan of self-deprecating remarks, but I must admit that there is a huge part of me that refuses to admit that I am already eight years old in kendo - mainly because I feel that I have been doing it for this long a time and my skill level is closer to having practised kendo in eight months rather than eight years. On my worse days, I look like an eight-week old student. 

Anyway, as I have learned, I can only move forward and continue to do my best and maintain my clarity on why I am doing all of this. 

Furthermore, my eight years has taught me so many lessons. I mean, lessons beyond the right footwork and doing proper kamae and timing your strikes to get ippon. I mean lessons that go beyond the physical routines and that have more to do with your journey both in kendo and in life and with how you get to know things about yourself and other people as well. Things that you learn while inside a dojo and during practice that can just as be applicable to your daily life. 

And so here, off the top of my head, are Eight of the Many Things I have Learned, and all of which I learned the hard way. These are pulled out of my own personal experiences, and not just things I saw or heard. And now, looking back, they have played very huge parts in helping me become the person that I am now. Basically, being in kendo has taught me so much more beyond the physical activities and how to win in shiai and how to pass exams; it has also opened me up to certain realities that I believe have helped me see things differently and deal with them accordingly. 

Most importantly, it has helped me find my place inside me as well as outside, and to recognise that wherever I am is where I should be at that moment, and therefore, I should simply live through it as gracefully as I can. 

Running Along with Batcakes (2013). It is perfectly alright to not catch up right away to everyone, because at such times, I am accompanied by batcakes. 

1. Harsh comments are tests of character.

I have been told many times over (by both senpai and kouhai who must feel like a hachidan) very harsh comments about my kendo. These are NOT the corrections or constructive feedback that you usually get from the sensei and some senpai - these are just harsh comments that they said to your face (or behind you, except you heard it), which do not really serve any real purpose except to give them the satisfaction of just bitching about your kendo because you are fat (there was actually someone who picked on my size and laughed about how fat I am), slow, and unpretty (I have been told by someone that I will never be pretty and I do not know why he had to effing say that), or the exhilaration they get from listening to their own voices as they rub it in your face that your kendo sucks. While I naturally felt bad and deeply unhappy about them at first, I now look back and see them as the tests of character that I needed back then. I guess years of hearing them over and over again sort of make you used to them, until you learn to use them as fuel for you to do even better than you did before, regardless of harsh words that are usually empty anyway. 

Moreover, being exposed repeatedly to such people with their heart-harming comments pushed me to really look at why I am doing kendo and why I am still going on despite all the difficulty; this means that they helped me gain more clarity about my purpose and direction. In other words, while these harsh words by verbal bullies made me feel bad, I believe they also toughened me up and trained me to learn how to speak up later on, if I needed to waste words and energy at all. 

So, when anyone says anything to you, or your kendo, or your art, or your work, or your anything, which is just simply harsh and has no substance and real purpose in it, do not let it get to you so much. I know it's hard sometimes, and it takes time to get used to them, but do try to use them as fuel for you to just keep moving forward and doing your best. Not for them, of course, but your own sake and for what you want to achieve. It does not matter how long it takes or if what they say is true; what matters is that you try to let these things strengthen your character and your resolve to pursue what you want. 

2. Offer help where it is most needed. 

Share what you have and what you know not only to those who are popular or who are already good at what they do; but even more so to those who need a bit of help or push or encouragement. Sometimes I am bewildered by how people flock to "help" those who are already as good as perfect, and conveniently forget or brush aside those who badly or especially need some tips or guidance. 

I believe we must all continue to support and encourage those who are already on the right track, but I think we must also give more to the "minority" - the less popular ones, the less able ones, the ones who are doing their best but are just really having some difficulty. Especially if we are supposedly among the best ones. It is not about wasting your time and effort to help the ones who do not seem to deserve them because they are not skilled anyway; it is about sharing even a little of what you have and know to those who obviously could use some of it. 

I am not exactly an exemplary senpai to my kouhai because of my still numerous mistakes and failures in kendo, but I do teach what I know, when I can. When I see awkward, panting, uncoordinated juniors struggling to move gracefully, I know what that is like - especially when they are no longer beginners and still feel as though they are not progressing. And I try to share as much as I can to them because I have had my own share of being "skipped" just because it seemed futile to teach me, and of being yelled at and pushed just because I "don't get it," instead of being taught. 

And I am just bewildered by how some just selectively help. I know of one who has never given me a word of advice or correction, considering I obviously need a lot of "fixing" and help, and considering how high up in the ladder that person is; and yet that help is freely given to chosen friends and some selected males, and with more sparkle and a bit of breathy giggle than anything. 

And so I shall always be amazed by and grateful to those moments I have witnessed when helpful feedback and constructive criticism were given after every match (on one occasion, by a senpai, and other occasions by different sensei each time); or to those times when a truly admired senpai always patiently corrects me and shares with me and other kouhai her own tips, among other similar moments. 

Hence I think we must offer more help where it is more truly and urgently needed. If we just keep polishing those that are already shiny, we would all be blinded by such light in no time at all, while those that are missed or skipped just cower and get lost somewhere, no one knows. I've been bringing shades, since I've witnessed far too many polishing wherever I went, so I guess I can see just fine. 

But seriously, while equality sounds idealistic, let us at least try and extend our help to those who really need it. 

3. Determination is one of your most important personal weapons. 

More than having the skill and the super strength to master kendo or practically anything else, determination is one of your most important personal weapons. 

You can have the flexibility of a yoga master and the endurance of a mountain goat in getting up there, but without determination, you can easily give up when faced even with the smallest form of defeat or when falling on the floor in public. 

On the other hand, you can feel like ten batches of kouhai have turned into your senpai already and you still have hardly progressed; but if you are determined to get to a desired point, you will not just give that up. Of course, we have to be determined to do the right things, and not just be determined to, let's say, steal, or, perhaps just be noticed. 

So whatever it is you are struggling with now - not just kendo - your determination will get you through. You may not have the resources or the skill or the opportunity yet, but I believe that if you are determined, then you're good wherever you are. 

The truth is, I have lasted in kendo (so far) not because I am so good at it; I mean of course it is a given that I love and enjoy it despite its pains, but more than that, I am determined to do it for as long as I can in order to continually improve. Even if I have failed exams and made a fool out of myself in local and international shiai, I am determined to someday level up and reach the farthest point I can, even if it is not really describable by "far." :))))))))))

4. The actions done inside a kendo setting must translate to daily life. 

In kendo we observe good manners and respect - we bow, we greet appropriately, we show up on time, we make sure we keep our word, and dress properly, among other things. 

Basically the idea is to be trained while in kendo, not only to handle the sword well, but to develop our character too. Hence, if we rush off because we never want to be late in kendo, we must also keep the same kind of commitment outside of it to those we commit certain times to. It does not make any sense to be so anxious to get to kendo on time if we are always late with everyone else and everything else outside of it. 

In the same manner, it would be quite unimpressive if we want to play a huge part in it to be seen and to be recognised, while neglecting our roles and commitments outside of it. It is ironic if we pick on the bad manners of those inside it and then exhibit our own versions of bad manners outside. 

In a nutshell, our kendo persona must somehow be reflected on how we  are outside. Of course we all have our moments, but generally, the point is not only to show the world that we have bamboo and wooden swords and probably know how to use them and how cool it must be like oh-yeah-look-at-me; but to show what kind of character is being developed and moulded from all that training. 

Do we want to be a person who is clever with the sword but is wanting in character, or do we want to be someone who is characteristically consistent in manners and respect, and who also happens to be skilled with the sword as a plus? 

Personally I am trying to make it work both ways. I am trying to make my "best practices" from within kendo and outside of it apply to both settings. It is tough, especially with the many voices in my head and my personality shifts and my overthinking, but doing kendo really helps in balancing things out. It gets your mind off the daily grind, and then gives you something to think about when you go back to your daily life. 

5. Never compare yourself to anyone; also, the favourites are not always the benchmarks. 

We naturally feel bad about ourselves when we see how everyone else seems to be progressing while we seem to be stuck someplace dark or awkward. Whether it is kendo, or art, or finding the right relationship, we must never compare ourselves to others. That will always trigger discontent and loss of determination. It is one thing to have someone you look up to that you wish to be like, but it is another to compare how you are doing with others. 

Moreover, it frequently happens that most of us end up comparing ourselves to popular ones or favourite ones. While most of these people can be pretty impressive, they are not always the benchmarks. A person can be skilled and popular and desired by everyone and yet be unspeakably madamot in sharing skills, or is astonishingly selective in sharing tips and advice to friends and charming men; you would not exactly want to be that or to compare yourself to that. Or, a person can be a super-favourite and get away with noise and breaking rules and seem to breeze through things so easily; you would not want to compare yourself to that either. Or, a person wins matches left and right but shakes his fist in the air after the final win - you surely do not even want to be associated. 

Or perhaps you have a batch mate who seems to catch on quite quickly while you feel you are left behind and crawling in pain; perhaps your batch mate just naturally has the skill for it, so, good for him or her. But you must never feel bad because you do not have it; your kendo is your own. You learn it and improve it and master it at your own pace as best as you can. Sometimes, you feel like you are the worst player of all, but in reality, there are moments when someone  in the crowd actually notices and admires your determination, while you are in the midst of exerting your effort and practically just trying to stay alive. 

I must admit it took me a long time to stop comparing myself with others; and the whole time I was at it, all I could see was how horribly I am doing. 

Eventually, someone reminded me to just enjoy kendo and to just give it my best, and to not be afraid. And I would always feel that in the midst of dying in training, or being shouted at, or almost falling over so many times, that person always looked after me. I was made to forget, a lot of times at least, how favourites get all the attention and special lessons. I felt supported in a quiet way. I was reminded of what things I was doing right, and what I have yet to determine in my mind that makes me unable to do those I cannot do yet. I was and is reminded how my kendo is my own and that I must simply do all I can to get better at it. Not in comparison to anyone, but in comparison to how I was before. 

6. Being your own constant is the way to work with inconsistency. 

Inconsistency can be an enemy. Again, not just in kendo, but in other situations as well. In relationships, in the rules, in the sequence of events, in the content of anything handed out. In what you are told. In how you are treated. Among many others. 

However, this can be something we cannot always control. It can be because things are dependent on someone's mood or perhaps everyone is too busy to really look and see, or maybe each person's concern is really just his or herself. In which case, being your own constant is what will help get you through. Practise what you know. Remember what you can and apply them. Find your flow and you can flow around things. If there is a lack of this and that, find a way to fill up the space it should occupy. If things go awry, find yourself and you can find your way. Because you are your own constant. You are not just part of the fickle mob. Different things may come or may be passed on to you, but you try to learn all of them and use them as needed. With you being your own steady anchor. 

7. Skill and determination are more important than how impressive your things are and how you look in them.

This is just basically being aware that the content and substance of something is more important than its packaging. Of course we mostly judge books by their covers or people by their clothes or self-centeredness-level by Facebook posts, but while it is always nice to look good and wear and have the best things and the coolest brands and the most unique items, what counts more is what we use them for. We can wear the most faded of gi and execute a perfect strike, just as we can wear the shiniest darkest gear and have all four diseases of kendo manifest in one go. 

Go and get the things you want, not in comparison to what others have but based on what your dan tien is telling you. At the end of the day, what you actually do matters more than how prestigious your things and your gear are. 

8. Never let bullies and bullying break you. 

Bullies are everywhere. In kendo, in the office, at home, in school, at the gym, or even in the streets. In kendo I have had my share of being bullied and of witnessing how others were bullied. We do not like them and we wish they'd just disappear or get their karma in full view of everyone, but in reality, they just pop out of nowhere, or out of a bad mood, and we can only deal. It is naturally even more difficult if they are our seniors of various levels. Of course you cannot just snap back or anything. But try to speak up - politely yet firmly - if the occasion allows it. If. 

Otherwise, see # 1 again and take it as fuel for you to be even more determined to get better, even if it is a stinky murky kind of fuel that you would rather throw away. 

True Path (2013). As long as you are clear, generous, determined, and you believe in your own capabilities, you will find your way.

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