I am often asked ‘how does training in Japan differ from training overseas?’, to which my answer is generally ‘not very much’. In essence, the practice methods are the same, though in many cases the amount of practice is somewhat different - though for the adult population, many people practice just once or twice per week. But in any case, I am a believer that practice volume is not in complete correlation with improvement. In other words, doing lots of practice does not always result in maximum improvement.
Of course - doing as much physical practice as possible is a crucial part to improving in Kendo - but that alone is not enough. Many of us have heard the phrase ‘practice makes perfect’, or it’s perhaps more accurate sibling ‘perfect practice makes perfect’, and this certainly holds true for the one’s progression in Kendo. The problem - I feel - is encountered with achieving ‘perfect’ practice. Certainly, we can do our very best physically, expending all of our energy on each Keiko - but unless we have a correct mental idea of what we are actually trying to achieve, then we could be exhausting ourselves in vain. Let’s imagine for a moment that a builder may work day and night, exhausting all of their energy building a beautiful house - however, without a set of plans, or a ‘blueprint’, perhaps the completed house may turn out to be not so beautiful after all.
We need our own Kendo ‘blueprint’ - a mental guide or image of what the Kendo we are trying to do should ‘look like’, before we try and put it into physical practice. I believe that the key to this is Mitorigeiko - or ‘watching’ practice. This is especially important for those of us outside of Japan, who want to get the maximum out of our training, despite potentially having fewer resources.
Going back to the original question about training in Japan, and how it differs from practice overseas, one of the biggest differences is not as obvious as we might think. Most Japanese Kendo clubs or Dojo have a much larger number of people practicing in them than their overseas counterparts. More importantly, there are generally a larger number high graded Sensei or successful competitors. This means that when someone starts Kendo in Japan (usually as a small child), they are constantly surrounded by high-level examples. Further, many of the highest level clubs attend Shiai pretty much every week. Thus, by default, they have high-level examples in front of their eyes almost all of the time. They therefore naturally develop a strong mental image of what the Kendo they are aiming for looks like. In other words, they naturally form a ‘blueprint’ in their mind, which they can use to carry out ‘perfect practice’ - at least in theory. Not everyone does that of course - hence there are still competitors, even in Japan, of varying ability.
So how can we overcome this obstacle, whilst not having the same every-day access to these surroundings? You guessed it - Mitorigeiko.
As I said above, Mitorigeiko means ‘watching’ practice. Basically, this means that you also have to use your eyes (and your brain), to aid you in your Kendo progression. The great thing about Mitorigeiko is that you can do it anywhere, at any time. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, you can pull up YouTube on your mobile device, and in an instant, load up a generous plethora of Kendo videos, featuring the world’s very best.
But we must do more than just ‘watch’. In fact, we have to do more even, than analyze. If we really want to maximize our improvement, we have to imprint on our minds, a mental image of exactly what the Kendo we want to do looks like. We need to form that ‘blueprint’, using the resources we have available, so that we have a reference point in our minds of what exactly it is that we are trying to emulate whilst in the Dojo. Videos are just the start too! Whenever we are at a tournament, or a seminar, we have the opportunity to watch the top competitors or teachers, and ‘add’ them to your blueprint. Even better - how about when you are waiting in line for your turn to practice with Sensei? Do we wait and think about what we will do when practice is over? Perhaps we chat with our friends who are waiting in line with us? Or do we take the chance to watch Sensei, how they move, interact with their opponent - and use it as a chance, once again, to ‘add’ to our blueprint?
I truly believe that this is actually one of the largest gaps between progression in Japan, and progression overseas - but if we are committed, and passionate, this gap can be narrowed. I must stress that forming, and adding to our blueprint is still not enough - after all, what good is a blueprint, that is not put to use. Every time we pick up the Shinai, or don the Kendogu, must diligently apply our blueprint to EVERY aspect of our practice. Every time we take Kamae - we must compare it to our blueprint. Every time we swing the Shinai, or strike the opponent, we must ask ‘how does this compare to my blueprint?’. Once we are doing so, and only then, will we start to see an acceleration in our improvement. We can even boost the effects of this by giving ourselves a visual point of reference - we can use mirrors, or video to check our own progress, and see how we are doing in comparison to our blueprint.
Finally, I encourage all Kendoka, wherever they are, to use all the tools at their disposal, to effectively practice Mitorigeiko. To form, to add to, and most importantly, to implement their own Kendo blueprint.
I really do hope that this article has been enjoyable, and useful, and I hope you get something out of it. If you do enjoy these posts, and/or enjoy the videos I put out on The Kendo Show, then please remember that it is only made possible thanks to the success of KendoStar. By shopping at KendoStar, are not only supporting my articles and videos, but you are assured of quality and service that I personally attest to. All products are personally selected and/or designed by myself, and are the perfect fusion of the same quality that is respected in Japan, with the design and specifications tailored to the needs of Kendoka around the world.
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