Shoujin Kan members, lead by Kishikawa sensei, had the privilege to join the 2016’s Oubu-kan summer camp.
Through seminars which included Reiho, relationship and importance of kendo, study and work, everyone could understand deeply the kendo culture, philosophy and it’s benefits in daily life.
The improvement in basics and techniques were beyond everyone’s expectations, thanks to the unique teachings and kendo style of Sakuragi sensei, Harumi sensei and all Oubu-kan instructors’ and members’ touching dedicated assistance and friendship.
It was truly a worthwhile and unforgettable opportunity few people can experience, even in Japan.
From 11th to 14th August 2016, a group of shoujinkan members attended a summer camp organized by Oubukan at Oita. I am not going to talk about what techniques we have learnt as I believe that other members will do so. Therefore, I am going to write on how the summer camp enhanced our understanding in terms of our dojo kun.
The 6 dojo kun are well embedded in every members’ mind. However, what are the real meanings behind them? Kishikawa sensei always remind us to think deeper into the meaning instead of repeating the dojo kun out of formalities. However, keiko time is limited, it is difficult for us to apply and understand the true meaning of our dojo kun. Through a series of seminars and practices during the summer camp, we all understand better the message behind them.
Everyone playing kendo should know the basic reiho, from the beginning till the end, everything is governed by a correct reiho. Before, the way I learned the reiho was by observing. Since I practiced kendo, I do the rei according to how the sempais did. I have never think about the why and how should be do the correct reiho.
On the first day of the summer camp, we were fortunate enough to have Harumi Sakuragi sensei teaching us the theory and origin of the reiho. Before that seminar, I did not notice that the way I was doing the rei was wrong. Doing all the reiho is to show respect to kendo itself and to senseis and others. Doing them in a right way help expressing our respect and gratitude.
We have also learned why the rei is done in such a way. It goes back to ancient samurai’s style in protecting themselves while greeting the others. Harumi sensei’s seminar allows us to rethink and recollect the reiho.
Most, if not all, people doing kendo have their own job, either as a businessman or a student. Therefore, it is important for us to develop a balanced life-style between practicing kendo and working.
The summer camp consisted of a number of groups, including Japanese primary and secondary school students. The schedule of the camp is well arranged and organized so that they have a 2 to 3 hours study time every night after keiko and dinner. In addition, they were all well prepared with papers and pens for note-taking during the seminars.
Sometimes after starting kendo, especially after a number of shiai, people may start thinking why am I that bad in kendo? Am I not suitable for this sport? Should I give up practicing? However, this is not the true meaning and heart to the practice of swordsmanship. During the summer camp, we have had the opportunity to attend a seminar conducted by Nomori sensei, who is a doctor. During his seminar, he shared with us how to do kendo with a correct heart and attitude, including how to train yourself even during unpleasant situations. We have to make ourselves stronger by not giving up.
During the camp, the schedule was arranged in a tough and demanding way. We have had 3 keiko per day and around 2.5 hours each. After the first day, most of us were suffering from severe foot and muscle pain. Especially after an extremely tough keiko on the second day, when we have done numerous suburi, waza, footwork and kirikaeshi. However, none of us have skipped a single training. We have trained ourselves to cope with the pain and the tiredness. As a result, we all improved in terms of waza and stamina.
Everyone from Japan, including all sensei and sempais are very kind and nice to us. Apart from keiko, we enjoyed the “second dojo” every night. It is a good opportunity for us to interact with the others. Outside the dojo, we have the chance to drink and talk with the others apart from kendo. We treasure the friendship we have with people from Oubukan.
Apart from new friends from Oubukan, the friendship between us, members from Shoujinkan is also deepened. During the summer camp, we stayed together as a group. We practice, eat and sleep together. Our tie would not have been that close had it not been for the camp.
Lastly, we are reminded to honour our parents. At the dojo, there were some parents of the Japanese students helping out at the dojo. They spent lots of time in taking care of all the people in the dojo. It reminds us of how important are our parents in our daily lives.
Let me share a bit about my personal story in order to illustrate what I have learnt in Japan better. It’s lucky that no longer after I know I hate sitting in office and replying emails, I got to know my best friend’s brother and started a tutorial center together. I felt anxious but at the same time excited to start my own business. I have lots of vision at the beginning. It started quite well, with my experienced partner’s guidance, I can earn my living right at the beginning. This industry has steady income compare to those selling products. It was so steady that I gradually became lazy and not stepping forward to making more professional notes or to take advance study, to develop the business. It just feel that there’s some problem but I couldn’t point it out before the trip.
Every night, we had a drinking party, in which everyone from Japan and Hong Kong had a lot of fun talking, eating, and drinking. (Of course, as a minor, I didn’t drink…). Everyone was able to have a lot of fun, and I think many new friendships were made during these few nights. It was very enjoyable, and I felt extremely welcomed by everyone. It was a very good example of the strong bonds that Kendo (and beer) can bring.
On 11-14 August, Kishikawa-sensei took us to a Kendo summer camp in Oita, organized by his sensei in Japan, Sakuragi-sensei. I did not even want to go in the first place, because for me, Kendo in summer in Japan = heat and tiredness. But then the 4-day experience has been so enjoyable that we are all longing to go back. There are so many great memories to share, but I will try to sum up this camp with some words said by the wonderful senseis we met there.
“Whenever you are in the middle of a junction, always choose the harder path.”
Throughout the whole camp, Sakuragi-sensei always says, try hard if you want to achieve something; if you still can’t achieve it, it means you’re not trying hard enough.
This sounded so cruel at the beginning that the words kept ringing around my ears. I AM trying hard already. Compared to one or two years ago, I am taking Kendo more seriously and I am definitely trying (relatively) harder, but improvement just doesn’t come as easily as the way I wanted. Sometimes I feel so frustrated that I can’t help thinking, maybe I’m just not suitable for Kendo.
But then Sakuragi-sensei reassured us, you just need to try hard. Trying hard does not merely means practising recklessly, it is about understanding what practices are needed in order to achieve your goal. There is simply no short-cut to success. I want to believe that, after making all the hard turns and detours, there will be some beautiful views waiting for me.
One of the most precious gifts I got from this summer camp was all the ecouragement from the senseis. So I’m reminding myself now – whenever it is too hard to continue, just remember Sakuragi-sensei saying “you CAN do it” and “just believe in yourself” with a smiling face, I should be able to go so much further.
Receiving guidance from senseis
“What are you going to do when you’re scared? Are you going to simply take off your men and go?”
The keiko on the first two days of the camp was comparatively light, and sometimes even relaxed. The real challenge came on the third day. We did 350 kirikaeshi in the morning, had shiai and ji-keiko in the afternoon, at which I really felt that I have tried my very best. So when Kishikawa-sensei asked whether we wanted a soft or tough keiko, I actually thought I deserved a soft one. But I just couldn’t pull up the courage to say so, so I could only be worried, anxious and even annoyed about the frightening keiko awaiting us.
Before we began, Sakuragi-sensei asked us how we felt. Scared, one of us answered. That was when sensei asked – So what are you going to do when you’re scared? Are you going to simply take off your men and go? No, I told myself, I might have run away in other occasion, but not now, not when I’ve tried so hard in the past three days.
Kirikaeshi was, as expected, tough. But actually it wasn’t so hard when your motodachi was rooting for you, everyone was supporting each other, and most importantly, you told yourself to smile and keep fighting.
All the hard but fruitful practices
The 4-day experience has truly been unforgettable, just as the senseis wished for us. But the unforgettable part is not the number of kirikaeshi we did, or the near-tear tough keiko we experienced. What will forever leave in my mind are the encouragement, motivation and courage we received from all the loving senseis and sempais.
Once again, I would like to thank all the wonderful people we met from Oubukan and Kishikawa-sensei for taking us to such a meaningful trip.