Sempai Says, “Renshū This…” (Introspection)

An esteemed sensei of a major dojo, whose book I’ve read and been an instant fan of, suggested that one should have a sensei or sempai or kenshi who knows one’s kendo and whom one can look up to, whose kendo one wants to emulate, and study them and learn from them. It would be preferable if that sensei/sempai/kenshi shares the same build as one and I completely agree with him.

However, I don’t have that. At all!  I believe I already shared these sentiments in the previous posts. I am really short and a woman to boot! My kendo club is dominated by men, all of whom are at least 5-6 inches taller than me and have greater muscle power than I do.  So the biggest question lies as to ‘who do I look up to?’ Whose kendo will I try to study and emulate?

For a time I admired a visiting kendoka‘s kendo (well, I still do). He considers himself short (he’s about 3 to 4 inches taller than I am) and does a kick-ass dō-uchi and kote-uchi. However, much as I admire his kendo, he’s a man and I don’t share his build, speed, and muscle power.

I also don’t know any women kenshi of note in the calibre of Teramoto and Uchimura, and there aren’t any videos about them (that I know of, if they exist). Just random female kenshi  during a shiai, whose kendo doesn’t really impress me (and even if they did, their identities are completely lost to me or are forgettable).

So I wrote to that esteemed sensei I mentioned earlier and shared with him my concerns; asking for his help if he can drop names of any women kendoka I can look up on Youtube and study. He hasn’t replied. Maybe he never will. It doesn’t matter anymore because lately, I found that I do have someone whose kendo I am now learning…

…my Sempai’s!!

Yes, the very same sempai who told me to “renshū.”


My sempai, my teacher


I never really realized it before but in many small ways he WAS and IS teaching me HIS kendo. This realization only hit me after sei-retsu last Sunday, while we were seated in line and he turned to me, took my shinai and his, made both tips touch, and said to me (in Japanese and broken English):

“Veejay, when you’re in shokujin-no-maai, you must test first if your opponent’s tenouchi is soft. Move the tip from left to right (and so on), and if his shinai seems easy to parry, step in to issoku-ito-no-maai, parry the shinai and hit men quickly. This is ‘ken o korosu.'”  

At that instant, it’s as if the blinds were opened before me and I finally saw the light.  It was an hallelujah moment for me. He’s teaching me something important here… he’s teaching me his style!

I now have someone to look up to (…all this bleeding time)! *confetti confetti confetti*

I may not have mentioned it before, but in many ways, I do admire his kendo too — it is very snappy and firm whilst at the same time very calm and unexcitable. However, I never really considered him a potential ‘kenshi to look up to ‘ because not only is he about 5 or 6 inches taller than me, he’s rather on the bulky side and his remarkable strength managed to knock me down from tai-atari a couple of times (by accident. He sometimes misjudges his strength). His strikes are very firm and hard and I am literally paralyzed from them every single time (from shock, that is), thereby accentuating the huge disparity between our build and height, that’s why I was looking for someone else much closer to my own physique.

Well, you know what? It doesn’t matter anymore! He knows my kendo better than anyone else, he is constantly evaluating it and critiquing it, he is teaching me various ways I can improve and overcome or correct my bad habits, and he is investing his time, wisdom, tactics, and encouragements on me. He is now my mentor!

Finally, I have one!

So although I find it terrifying that he chooses me  often for the demonstration of wazas to my fellow dojomates (because it means receiving early beatings before jigeiko), I consider it now an honor at the very same time that he thinks me capable of handling the strength of his blows and of performing the necessary attacks or counterattacks. I think I learn better that way than by just watching the demonstration itself.

For this I am very grateful indeed!

So the other day I put together all the critique I can remember him giving  me about my kendo in the last three months. I want to write them down so that I can go over them time and time again and make the necessary corrections.

“When you hit ‘men,’ remember Take’s post — Ichigeki no Bi — you have to move in a single, swift motion.”

“As your opponent lifts his shinai to hit your men, strike his kote quickly. De-gote, ne?”

“Extend your arms when you strike kote.”

“In kote-suriage-men, you have to extend your shinai as if to strike tsuki and then deflect the opponent’s sword upward in a small curve maintaining center… .”

“Walk sideways, not forward, after you hit dō.”

“Don’t turn your head away when you hit dō. Face your opponent as you move away to take zanshin.”

“Do not extend your arms when you hit tsuki. Maintain chudan-no-kamae, lift the shinai tip a bit and fumikomi forward after tsugi-ashi.”

“At home, designate a point on the wall and try to tsuki it. As you get better, take farther and farther distance from it.”

“Veejay! Be patient! Learn to see timing. Do not rush. Strike only when the opponent moves.”  

Finally, here is the most difficult advice he gives me periodically, which I struggle with constantly:

 “Veejay, don’t think too much! Just don’t think.” 


And this is why ‘Sempai Says, “Renshū This…”‘ is more apt a title than I can ever imagine. How thrilling that there’s more weight to that phrase now than ever before.

Hai, sempai! Gambarismasu!!

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