Almost a month has passed since the 27th European Kendo Championships (EKC) in Skopje, Macedonia and soon, I will be heading off to London, UK to take part in the 9th London Cup, a goodwill tournament that will bring together kendoka from different nations around the world to enjoy a weekend of kendo shiai!
Although I have been to two other EKC’s in the past (Helsinki, Finland in 2008; and Debrechen, Hungary in 2010), as well as three World Kendo Championships (Sao Paulo, Brazil, 2009; Novara, Italy 2012; Tokyo, Japan, 2015), this year was the first year in the 26-year history of the SAKF, that the SA Men’s team was able to progress through to the knock-out rounds! Furthermore, this was my career-best performance – winning 2 of my 3 fights! Needless to say, the shiai-bug has bit me again, and suddenly, I find myself debating whether to come out of “kendo Shiai retirement” and put it all in for another 2 years; or sit back and let the kendo youth carry our green and gold torch high for the years to come.
Both options are very appealing – By retiring, I can finally focus on making my kendo big, straight, precise, and really focus on the deeper teachings of Kendo and how it can enhance my life through the elusive “spiritual” side of the martial art.
Alternatively, I can continue to compete for the next 2 years and really push my body and mind beyond what any soon-to-be 40 year old should logically be doing at that age!
But here came the epiphany – why not do both? Why not continue to both compete on a local and international arena, and pursue those deeper layers of kendo through the preparation to accomplish that? By doing so, I strive to incorporate body, mind and spirit into my kendo and ultimately express my kendo through its unity. In my opinion, that is the “do” of “Ken-do”.
However, the purpose of this treatise is not only about my kendo situation – after all, it is entitled, “The Future of SA Kendo”. But, it’s important to note that I had to first understand my kendo and the future of my own kendo, before I could make some decisions for the organisation I was elected to lead. In my definition of a leader: it is that individual who is put in that position, either through mutual agreement by the greater masses, or via certain emergency circumstances; who is expected, as a leader, to lead by example through their actions; inspire and motivate through their vision and optimism; and understand and stabilise through their practicality and diplomacy.
These 3 points are discussed in greater detail below:
Lead by example through action – Earlier in the year at the SAKF AGM, I made the announcement that our focus for the next few years are to be on 3 objectives: 1) Improve the shiai skills of all those members who wish to compete; 2) Improve the shimpan (referee) skills of both those who wish to compete, as well as those non-competitors (the logic is because kendo skills and shimpan skills go hand-in-hand); and lastly 3) To optimise the administrative processes of the SAKF.
With my decision to compete for another 2 year, I took our first objective quite literally and committed myself to train at least 3 times a week, with an optional 4th time over the weekends during competition times. I will also start supplementing my kendo training with other exercises during the days I don’t do kendo.
Furthermore, I intend to go to Brussels, Belgium next year to take part in the EKF Shimpan seminar, so as to enhance my shimpan skills.
This for me is leading by example.
Inspire and motivate through vision and optimism – I have high hopes for the future of SA Kendo. Again, looking at our last performance at the EKC, I cannot but feel that we are on the verge of a major breakthrough. Our kendo, besides the obvious lack of more international experience and perhaps some regular training with more shiai-focused opponents, is on par with every other Kendo nation out there. To counter some of these challenges, we have started to have regular shiai-focused training. Brendan Dateling, our SAKF Technical Director and SA’s current No. 1 fighter, has been doing a sterling job trying to get people to join him on Saturday morning for this much needed Shiai-practise. Furthermore, the seminars we have organised, such as the recent Kumpf Sensei Seminar In March, and our upcoming seminar in October again with Kumpf sensei who will be joined by Frey Sensei from Finland, and Brunel De Bonneville Sensei from France; is a testament that we are committed to the objectives mentioned previously. With this shiai-focus, we hope to unlock and showcase the dynamisms of Kendo to attract more people to kendo. This does not mean that there will be no growth for our “non-shiai members”. On the contrary – As our kendo numbers increase, we need our non-shiai members to be their sempei and their mentors. Big, straight and precise Kendo is still after all, the bread-and-butter of our kendo, and we must never lose sight of this. As I prepare for my 5th dan grading later in the year, I am going back to basics to show good, straight kendo. I can still recall my first few months of starting Kendo and having Buster Sefor sensei and Tony Hughes sensei drill “big, straight cuts”, quite literally, in and on my head! As much as we have a vision of the future going forward, we must always look back to see where we have come from, and acknowledge the solid foundation that was established by our “Kendo Elders” over the past 26+ years.
Lastly, “understand and stabilise through practicality and diplomacy”. We live in a busy world and people are leading busier and fuller lives. Our members are no different. In the past, we were adamant about member’s attendance rates and if it was less than a certain level, they should seriously consider whether they would want to continue doing kendo or not. That thinking is still very much the same; however, I’d like to think that now we take into account people’s busy lives too and make provisions for such so that they can lead a healthy balanced life. Keep in mind that the cornerstone of our federation is that we practise good kendo. We are a sporting organisation and hence, the basic requirement for ALL members is that they train on a regular basis. What we have done is increased the number of kendo initiatives that is NOT only limited to regular training. Initiatives such as more shiai’s, more seminars and more social events. Not only are they more, but also wider spread throughout the country. Through these initiatives we hope to ignite that “kendo-flame” in each individual so that they can find that bit within themselves that will keep them motivated to train continuously. Put in a different way, we hope to ignite that bit that will be self-sustaining with the occasional varied initiative. The bottom line is that we want everyone who starts kendo to find their WHY and WHAT of kendo it is that will keep them doing it. I have been criticized in the past for “forcing” members to take part in “initiatives they just don’t want to do”. Asking for applications to the Foreign Kendo Leaders Camp in Kitamoto, Japan (known simply as “Kitamoto”) was one of those initiatives. As an attendee of two previous Kitamoto’s, I can definitely say both experiences have been the highlights of my kendo-career and in my life in general. Not only was I submersed in kendo and Japanese culture for a week each time, but I also made some life-long, like-minded friends who are on the same journey of self-development through kendo as I am. Those experiences were irreplaceable that further reinforced my fortitude to continue on my kendo journey. It’s not that I was forcing anyone, but rather hoping to expose them to a different side of kendo so that they too could reach some revelations of kendo (and themselves) through that experience. Again, I stress to each member that they MUST find their WHY and WHAT of kendo that will keep them doing it. If they don’t, then really, it is a waste of a few valuable hours of their lives each week.
To conclude, I have made a decision to continue competing for the next 2 years at least. I will continue study and train hard, with the hopes to one day reach that upper echelon of becoming a wholly integrated human being who contributes positively to society. Through my kendo practise, I hope it will give me the insight and strength to lead this organisation to new heights. And lastly, I hope that through my actions and vision, I can inspire a new generation of kendoka who will come to enjoy and love this dynamic martial art and allow it to lead and direct their lives in a profound manner.
Written by Warren Ho, current President of the SAKF, on 24 April 2016.