Friday, January 30, 2009

Shinkendo Update

This week I have been thinking a lot about my very brief trek into swordsmanship. I've only been at this for about a year and a half, and in a couple weeks I take my test for yet another Shinkendo level, along with Toyama Ryu and Aikido. Slowly I have been kneeling more to the right of the dojo when we bow in and out of classes, and the more junior shinkendoka have begun calling me Sempai (title given to the advanced students in the dojo).

Sempai. I don't feel like one. Sempai. That is real pressure. That means people are watching me and doing what I do. I shiver to think of all those bad habits being learned behind my back as we practice. Those poor unwitting naive fools thinking they can advance by watching me!

Well, I guess it's not that bad. This Fall I tested for and received my first teaching certification which essentially allows me to train the first three levels in Shinkendo (Shinkendo doesn't use the dan ranking system that other martial arts use; i.e. no "black belt"; teaching certs are a seperate ranking path). Althought this hasn't happened yet, if I am asked to teach a class, when bowing in and out I will be referred to as Sensei.

Sensei. Okay, Sempai is enough pressure, but Sensei? This is going a little fast. But I have earned it and I really do enjoy teaching. I have a ways to go before I feel I truly deserve that title, even if I am only the lowest ranking Sensei possible. Sensei literally means licensed instructor.

This December I was told that it was time for me to purchase a shinken (a real "sharp" katana). This is something of an honor. If all goes well, I should have one next month. They are very expensive as we aren't allowed to do Tamashigiri (test cutting of soaked tatami-omote mats) with cheap blades; cheap blades have been known to break and send the razor-sharp shards flying. We do a lot of demonstrations (and we pride ourselves on not killing our audience), so Kaiso tests all the swords and we use only the best. By best this means a very good quality sword that is in the price range of mere working-class mortals like us.

A sempai described the swords we use as "Ford Trucks" not "Ferraris." A good metaphor as some hand-made swords in Japan can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. My shinken will have "Shinkendo" on the tang and will have been tested by Kaiso personally. I can't wait to use my own shinken for Tamashigiri. Maybe this year I'll be asked to do real cutting at one of our demonstrations. Wow, that will take some time to sink in.

So Shinkendo is working out well for me, as is Aikido. We have even started studying the bo staff, though I am only a few lessons into that path. And to top it all off, next month I am sitting in on a class in Van Nuys that studies western martial arts: German Longsword. If all goes well I'll start there soon. I think I have found my art form. A long sharp shard of metal is my medium, and I look forward to every session.

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