Thursday, May 11, 2006

I'm taking my shinai and going home! Waaahhh!

Yeah, it's another whiney, complain-y post for you to enjoy. I know that's all I turn out these days, but it's human nature to bitch, I think. MY nature, anyway.

So. I wanted to start a jodo/iaido club at the university. I knew that it was impossible for me to do so as a staff member, but I thought I could find some undergraduates with an interest in iaido or jodo, and they could do it, and we could all practice together and be happy, doing iaido on a craggy mountaintop overlooking the sea, etc. etc.

I made up some posters, posted them, and waited. Nothing. More nothing. I decided that I should be a little more proactive, so I sought out the kendo club on campus. At the very least, I figured, "Hell, even if I can't start an iaido group, maybe I could get off my butt and do some kendo once or twice a week." So off I went to kendo practice with a fistful of iaido/jodo pamphlets. When I got to the gym, (the enormous gym) there were some folks playing volleyball in one corner, some majorettes practicing a dance routine in another corner, and 6 or 7 kendoka bashing each other in the last corner. Meanwhile, there were about 10 folks in "civilian clothes" standing on the sidelines watching the kendo, occasionally trying to imitate what they were seeing. I asked them what they were doing; they said they were interested in kendo. No-one from the kendo club was taking the least interest in them or in me. They were just practicing with each other like we weren't even there. I thought, "That's a hell of a way to recruit new members!" This continued for half an hour. I had to leave to go back to work, so I left without speaking to anyone in the kendo club. (I did pass out a few flyers, though.)

Another week went by without anyone contacting me for iaido or jodo. On one day, having brought my sword and uniform and finding myself with a bit of extra time, I went into the gym to do iaido by myself on my lunch break. (The ENORMOUS gym.) In one corner, 3 or 4 girls were doing naginata. I came in, said hello, asked if they would mind if I used a corner of the gym, and went to the opposite side to do iaido. As I was getting ready, stretching, bowing in, etc., one of the girls left the gym. A minute later, she returned with a member of the athletic staff. I had just finished Mae and was getting ready for Ushiro when the woman came up to me.

"Um, excuse me, who are you?"
"Uh, I'm a teacher."
"Oh I see, but, dreadfully sorry, are you a member of a club?"
"Oh, well, then, dreadfully sorry, you can't use the gym. Dreadfully sorry."
"Really? There's no one in here."
"Sorry, dreadfully sorry, you have to leave. Sorry."

I took a breath, sat down, did Mae again just to spite her, and left. And I shot the Naginata girl a "Thanks a hell of a lot" look on the way out.

So it seemed that I would have to do kendo and like it. I went back again at the next scheduled kendo practice time. This time, the club leader (whose name I had seen printed in the register) was there, leading the practice. My initial impression was that he was a bit of a bully, but after practice, he immediately came up to me, introduced himself, and was very friendly and polite. He welcomed me to join in the next practice; he asked me if I had any bogu or a shinai or a uniform; I said no, no, and yes. He said that they would be able to lend me a shinai, certainly, and probably some bogu. Feeling pretty good, I thanked him, gave him some iaido/jodo flyers (just in case) and went back to work, looking forward to next week.

Third week comes around. I go to kendo, wearing my uniform and everything; unfortunately, due to my work commitments, I am about 10 minutes late. The class has already started and everybody is doing kirikaeshi. There are no spare shinai to be seen. I stand there on the sidelines for a while ... in my dogi ... Perhaps I'm supposed to sit in seiza and wait to be invited into the practice? I sit in seiza ... no dice. After about 10 minutes of his, I start thinking, "I could be planning lessons right now." I waited another 20 minutes. They have definitely SEEN me, but are taking pains to ignore me. There is even an odd number of players, so at all times one of them is standing off on the sidelines (opposite side) waiting for his turn. He could certainly come and speak to me if he wanted to. But - he ignores me too. Is this because I was late? They know that I'm a teacher, don't they? Unlike them, I actually have things to do during the day. And so I left the gym. I don't have time for this, I thought.

So I've been pretty bitter about this whole experience. I've only experienced this kind of thing from kendo people. It must be learned behaviour specific to kendo ... iaido people and jodo people are almost universally welcoming and open. Come on! Join in! We'll teach you! Done iaido before? Great! Wow! Terrific. But kendo is exactly the opposite. People swagger around in their bogu and do their best to be "stoic" and to embody the spirit of Bushido or some nonsense, all the while being as rude as possible. Don't talk to me, I'm doing kendo. I think it might have something to do with the nature of the art. Despite what everyone says, and the lip-service people pay to kendo as a "Budo", it really attracts people who want to dominate other people. People play kendo because they want to get good, and dream of becoming "unbeatable". Someday, I'll be the best kendo player in the land, and no-one will be able to stand against me! When people realize that's never going to happen to them, 90% of them quit. That's why there are millions upon millions of teenagers playing kendo in Japan, and a few tens of thousands of adults. The ten thousand adults are the small minority who are there because they think kendo can make them a better person somehow, and who have stuck with it despite the fact that they are never going to win the national championships. Humbug.


As a Postscript to this whole thing, one guy did eventually contact me about jodo. He's from Fukuoka, and practiced with Tominaga Sensei throughout highschool. He's really very good, too. He won the national level 3rd dan championship (speaking of championships!) We are going to make an informal jodo club, because the deadline for making an official club has already passed. Sigh. Maybe things work out in the end, after all.

Monday, May 08, 2006

More Grading Woes

Now it's just getting ridiculous. I mentioned to Azuma Sensei that I wanted to try my Iaido 5th dan grading at the Oita gradings; he seemed to think it would be no problem. I immediately thought, "This is too good to be true!" Of course I was right. The next day, he phoned me and said that I couldn't grade unless I was a member of the Oita Ken Kendo Renmei. Obviously!

My "Murphy's Law Sense" tells me that, most likely, the next Oita grading will be held in August or early September, which will be exactly when I am back in Canada for my holidays.

Oh, speaking of our old friend Mr. Murphy, remember how I was bitching that I had to work on Saturday (the very last day of my contract) and that it was the same day as the Jodo grading in Tokyo? I don't know if I mentioned it or not, but I asked my boss (just to double-check) and he confirmed that we would, indeed, have to work that day as it was an "official contract day" blah, blah, blah. So, I dutifully cancelled my grading. Well, as it turned out, the Friday before the grading, we had our "wrap-up" meeting at work and they casually mentioned to us, "And we have nothing scheduled tomorrow, so enjoy your day off." Nobody else in the room could understand why I was completely incensed: "What? We don't have to work tomorrow? Are you @#$%ing kidding me?"

I am destined never to grade again!