Spring is beginning to emerge. The days are lengthening and the birds are singing. What better way to celebrate than to replace the gentle chirping of our avian companions with mildly-to-moderately embarrassing yells of ‘DO!’ and ‘MENNNNNN!’ (an exclamation particularly painful to the ear of one with a singing background. Lengthened consonants are never a pretty sight/sound) at my reasonably local kendo dojo? I type this but a few hours after my first attempt, my right arm still limp and feeble.
Beginning this practice feels rather odd, particularly as my preliminary research told me that it’s actually reasonably rare for people to begin as adults. Indeed, there were many, many children in full bogu (armour) going at it with practiced ease while my party fumbled about with sticks.
Although the group of beginners are split very definitely by height and age, through careful observation of their mannerisms and particular attention paid to their shouts and state of dress I have been able to construct an entirely fanciful and likely thoroughly contradictable classmate classification during the hour I spent thwacking things and self-consciously yelling.
Given away by his brand-new shinai and almost-as-feeble-as-mine proto-facial hair, The Otaku has a battle cry not dissimilar to that of Link’s cry of woe as he falls from a great height, which is particularly fortuitous as it makes even mine appear manly as the roar of the tiger. His glasses are stashed in a bag which seems improbably large considering he isn’t changing his clothes and has yet to purchase any kit other than the eponymous sword. His technique is, naturally, almost perfect, but bears marks of having been practiced in front of a mirror rather than against a solid object. He is fiercely motivated, and dreams of becoming a master swordsman the likes of which have not been seen since the great Miamoto Musashi, and who can blame him? That’s why we all join up in the first place.
The eldest of the children (not counting yours truly — if I am to write in English I shall conform to our legal system within the confines of this blog) and the one with the greatest carefree abandon. He has little need for stale technique or targeted cries. His style, described as wild by some, is loose and free. As far as we can tell, he’s just here for the hitting.
Resplendent in two-tone robes and flowing headband, this tiny ball of rage is distinctly characterised by his ability to make apparently full-force strikes without breaking step. This comes at the expense of a straight back, sound foot stamp or any real indication that Sensei’s teaching has gotten through to him, but should he face a myriad of foes in a dramatic rooftop chase in Kyoto he’ll likely survive much longer than the rest of us.
Of a similar size and decoration to his sibling, he is the most learned of all. Indeed, it’s not entirely clear why he was relegated from the group above. All too often, his role is one of slightly bemused guinea pig. His visage is marred by the memory of conflicts past, and of the realisation that he must once more suffer trials with his mortal enemy by his side.
Slightly wizened but (un)fortunately not nearly as stereotypically bearded or unforgiving as his reputation and title may suggest, The Sensei bears more than a passing resemblance to Peter Capaldi, although likely without quite the same creativity when it comes to language. He shall be a worthy opponent when my journey draws to a close.