I recently witnessed something quite astonishing. The demeanor of a young child, who had been learning kendo for at least several years, changed remarkably during a practice. Until that practice, he seemed more on the complacent side and naturally more child-like – practicing perhaps with half-hearted interest except when it came to games and having fun (though he does seem to enjoy helping instructors and leading fellow kids in drills and games). For example, he would, at times, perform drills in a ho-hum manner, could be readily distracted and, once in a while, would appear downcast and sad if reprimanded by his parents for misbehavior.
On this day, for the first time I believe, I witnessed him practicing with 100% of his effort, while completely in the moment, with deep intensity, concentration and energy. He was going all out during repetition drills of men-uchi, kote-uchi, do-uchi and kiri-kaeshi. His kiai seemed unleashed – full and free. His face was red – his eyes and facial expression displaying complete focus. And his strikes and footwork were quick and forceful. I cannot recall ever seeing him like this before. Same with his parents perhaps because afterwards they asked me “What happened?”
To be honest, I don’t know what happened or what caused the transformation. Here’s some potential reasons including comments from one of his parents. It may have simply been waiting to happen and tied to his growing maturity as he will become a sixth grader this fall. It may have been influenced by the presence of a friend of his who joined the beginners’ class for the first time that day – run in parallel. Behavior can be significantly affected by the presence of peers. It may have been the new kids-centric classes we had started two-months earlier or the greater attention he received or perceived to receive from the instructors and others that day – as the intermediate-level class size was unusually small (with three kids). Or, it may have been the “kiai” practice that we had just completed beforehand that helped tip the scales:
I had motioned the three children to huddle with me and asked them how long they thought they could “kiai” together with full intensity to drown out the adults practicing adjacent to us. They answered 15 secs and 20 secs. We yelled “yah” (as in “mama”) as loud as we could for 15 secs initially. They were really into it. We took a brief rest and then challenged ourselves to 20 seconds. They were loving it. Then a younger kid suggested we do it again with a “funny” word (which I wish I could remember). We did kiai with that word for another 20 seconds. They were beaming and seemed so happy afterwards. We then proceeded to the aforementioned repetition drills.
Whatever the reason for the transformation, I believe that the child had (re-)tasted the joy of being completely in the moment and of giving one’s all in an endeavor. I believe that this is an aspect that many in kendo love about kendo. May we all continue to experience this in kendo and in life.
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