First off, a reminder: This Saturday, the 10th, will be Kikuta-sensei’s last class with our group. He will be moving to another country because of his work. Please join us at the potluck meal, to thank him and give him your best wishes and to celebrate the opening of the new year.
Last Sunday I was invited by Arjan of Kochokai in Haarlem for a hatsukeiko to celebrate the new year, where we struck the number of years while being encouraged by an ensemble of taiko drums. And as this year is the year 2015 we were going to make 2015 strikes with our bokken. Afterwards there would also be a little lunch but I didn’t attend that because I went to Leiden to see the Geisha exhibit with my dad (which is highly recommended by the way).
Many different disciplines come together
The especially nice thing about Kochokai is that it’s a kobudojo, which means they train a certain type of martial art there as it has been handed down from master to pupil for many generations, all the way back to medieval times and in some cases even earlier. Kochokai sometimes organizes these special events to celebrate something or to simply exchange martial arts with each other. And in this case it was no different, there were aikidoka, iaidoka, kendoka (me and one other, Tijs Dingerdis, coincidentally), mugai ryu practitioners, katori shinto ryu practitoners and probably many more that I don’t know of. So while we were doing the actual suburi you could see many different ways of doing it. Some strike over their shoulder, others from above their heads etc. It’s good to realize there never is 1 perfect or 1 proper way to do something. This thought obviously extends to life in general.
So after mingling among the guests and participants for a while the counting of the strikes was explained, with 2015 strikes to go it’s evident there should be some kind of system to keep track. The method of counting proved simple enough, there were 10 people in the front row who would each count to 10 and Arjan would then pull down a paper tab from the 20 that were hung over the kamiza after the last of those 10 people had counted their strikes. All the people who wanted to count along were told to stand on the right side, probably so Arjan could hear the last people he was supposed to keep track of better. Motivation for completing the 2015 strikes was provided in the form of an ensemble of taiko drummers who would strike the rhythm that would always be constant but varied, as there were different types of drums.
During warm up for kendo there’s always a lot of suburi going on. But the number of strikes is usually limited to a few hundred in total, and after the entire training a practitioner would probably have made fewer than 300 strikes. So striking over 2000 times in less than half the time of one kendo training, let alone a whole week’s worth of training, becomes a whole different matter. At first I was striking like I did in kendo, which is actually quite intensive, as it’s meant to warm you up for the training to come. After a couple hundred this became too hard so I changed my strike to kote height instead of men height to make stopping my bokken easier on my arms. I also chose to use my bokken instead of my shinai because the center of weight is slightly closer to my hand and it’s slightly more aerodynamic which would also relieve some of the stresses on my arms.
After about 400 to 500 strikes I started to feel my muscles burning up. And it basically got worse after every 100 strikes or so. But the strangest thing is that sometimes the pain would go away for a while. I don’t understand why this happened, but after those first couple hundred strikes the pain would sort of oscillate up and down. Sometimes I would try to do a regular kendo type suburi in between my strikes where I stop the strike with my arms outstretched as far as proper, but that was completely impossible, the pain was too intense if I would try that. I also quickly stopped giving kakigoe the entire time because it was dry and too strenuous on my throat, although I did count along towards the end of every set of 100 strikes. The lack of kakigoe was made up for by the taiko drummers, as I could literally feel the sound of the drums vibrate throughout my body. I think this also helped me cope with the pain because it seems the drums combined with the endless rhythm of striking released a whole load of adrenaline to put me in a sort of trance. Afterwards my arms would prove to be all but dead, and they would remain this way for 3 days to come.
Once all the paper tabs were pulled by Arjan we started the last 15 strikes. I did these strikes as best I could in the normal kendo warmup suburi way, and also gave my loudest kiai. The drums also intensified, and all the people around me started to shout louder and they started to make bigger strikes. By this time I had also developed a couple blisters in my hands, which I haven’t had since I began kendo more than 5 years ago. And then right after the last strike everybody froze and there was no sound. It was incredible.
I would like to express my gratitude to Arjan Tervoort for inviting me to this special hatsukeiko. And I would also like to thank him and all the others of Kochokai for their hospitality.
And again, don’t forget to attend the potluck party after Saturday’s training!