The eyes creaked open a little. It was dazzled by the sudden surge of bright gold. A drowsy arm reached for the watch beside the bed. A stream of pain emerges on top of the head all of a sudden. The drowsy arm quickly searches for the source of it. It rubbed the head to soothe and make the pain go away. I blinked and realized that the gaudy glare was from the light that I had not switched off the night before. I tried to remember what was causing this pain…
Then it filled my memory. It was all coming back.
I was really excited that morning. I woke a little bit late and got dressed as fast as I could. My heart was pounding and my mind racing as to today’s plan. I ran all the way to the bus to find that the lecturer is already waiting by the bus. Still puffing I quickly got on it. I knew that I was in for a new experience.
It was another of those planned trips for the international students. It is so that the international students get the chance to bond and experience the culture of Japan. This trip took us to Niigata, the capital city of the Niigata prefecture. It is about one-hour drive from Nagaoka. First we went to the Niigata Science Museum.
I actually was quite surprised by our visit here. (I didn’t know actually). There, a whole kind of science exhibit was on display. I was really excited when I heard that there were dinosaurs on display! Well, as usual, the hype is always better than seeing the actual thing. All there was were rubber dinosaurs that were controlled by computers and some rocks with worms on it. I continued exploring the science world. More frequent than not stopping by posing for pictures. There were amazing stuffs with walking robots and gigantic planets and complex gears and all, but the part that I enjoyed most was eating ‘udon’. Udon is a kind of Japanese mee soup. You should try it! It’s better than walking around seeing all those science stuff.
Then, in the afternoon, we went to another place. This was the thing that we’ve (maybe I’ve) all been waiting for. The chance to experience Kendo and Karate for the first time. I must admit, I still have a crush on martial arts. I joined Taekwondo in high school but quitted it after I’ve achieved my goal in Taekwondo. At first I thought Kendo was a lame sport. Don’t get me wrong, but with the slow approach and the heavy gear which make its movement looks so hard. There were two sessions for us. First we got to learn Kendo and then Karate. Karate is what I’m looking for to be honest.
There were 16 of us and only 6 of the so called Kendo’s masters. We learned how to bow at the start of class as a sign of respect to each other. We bowed so low (almost in a sujud position) with the hands forming a triangular shape with the face entering it. It was done with due humbleness and respect. I was raring to go. First we learn how to move. It was not the usual movement with the other martial arts. This was a kind of gliding movement. Where you are required to move forward without even lifting your feet from the ground! I found it hard at first as my foot doesn’t seem to want to glide. It just keeps stopping. I tried it several times and at last got the hang of it.
With the advancement of our learning we were given a bamboo sword (shinai) in reminiscent to the real katana sword used by former warriors during the Edo era where Kendo wasn’t known for a sport but rather as a deadly weapon and the art of killing. It was the most known skill/art for killing then. We were thought the right way to hold it as holding it in the right position is essential to strike with guile. At least that was what were told!
After a few sessions going back and forth perfecting the slick movement, it was time to learn the art of attacking the enemy, well in this case our partners/ friends! I learnt that there was 3 ways to attack. The first is a strike to the head. We were all nervous at first as we were told to strike hard on the head of the tutor of each group. (They said it was safe because they wore the helmet gear). I for one didn’t know how to strike it really. I mean should I hit it for real or just touch it. When striking that ‘fatal’ blow, the Kendo swordsman scream the word ‘MEN’ and move swiftly as if gliding past the opponent. Besides hitting the head, you can also strike to the hand and you refer to it as ‘KOTEI’. And the last one is the most difficult of them all, hitting the abdomen area. This is quite difficult as it requires the opposition to open up because this part is the most protected part in this sport. After each strike on the abdomen you have to shout ‘DOU’. I don’t know why they should shout after each strike? I guess it a kind of satisfaction after each move?
Then the time arrived that I dreaded the most. It was time for us to spar. I got the chance to wear the armour set called 防護 (Bōgu) set. My body was tightly strapped especially the helmet. Without long, sweat started to flow like ice in heat. It was not a sweat of warmness but sweats of excitement and anticipation! I could see through the bars inside the helmet gear. My heart thumped like drums. I was given the privilege of facing the Kendo instructor. We squatted and bowed a little and with a touch of shinai the duel began. I looked him in the eye looking for a way into his defenses. We locked eye contact as though seeing each other clearly for the first time. We circled each other faking as if to strike but I tried to counter attack him with a strike to the head while screaming ‘MEN’ but he just casually step aside and struck a blow to the head. I was stunned with the searing pain spearing from the top of the head to the tips of my hair.
“Try bluffing as if u’re trying to strike the head but instead go for the body! Mix ur moves and bluff more to confuse ur opponent” the master advised.
And then I did like he advised and with a bit of luck I managed to touch him. With a loud shout of the word ‘DOU’ I managed to get a point. I learned a lot that day. Even though I eventually lost the duel due to his superior skills and experience, but I learned an important lesson that day. A lesson not only for Kendo or Karate but a lesson in life. Through Kendo, I learnt that what is important in life is not to be too dependent and rigid on what we have learnt. But to mix it and learn as you go along. Only then you can strike that ‘fatal blow’ in facing life problems.
Unlike Kendo, karate had a more similar feeling to what I’ve learned before. It moves are fast and precise. As the moves are a little bit difficult for beginners, we mostly watched the pros execute those difficult moves. I really enjoyed the day trip. I am hopeful for another bite at the Kendo sessions. You should try it too…