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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Local newspaper kendo article

We are very proud to share with you a clipping from Panamanian newspaper El Panama America. In this clipping there is a brief description of kendo as a martial art, a short commentary from Raul Lopez Q. Sensei and our class schedule. In the picture, Alberto Prado (left) and Lopez Q. Sensei (right). There is no newspaper link yet, as soon as we confirm link we will let you know. Have a great, safe weekend!

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Friday, July 30, 2010

Mokuso or Meditation: is it important?

Mokuso (pronounced "moh-kso") is Japanese for “meditation” and is performed before beginning a training session and following it in order to "clear one's mind of everything around you". I would add that mokuso is necessary after class to clear one’s head of aggressive thoughts following geiko.

The procedure is simple: sit in formal kneeling position or seiza, eyes closed, back straight, hands placed at navel's height and closed in the shape of a circle. Focus in circle's center because as your hands are empty so is your mind. Breathe in, hold your breath, and breathe out. Don’t force breathing and don’t hold it for too long. Relax and concentrate on your breathing. After a certain amount of time your sensei will say ‘yame’ signaling that meditation is over.

There is no easy way to explain mokuso because it’s a very intimate experience for each kendoka. Before beginning of class it helps wipe out mundane thoughts from your mind in order to focus on kendo tasks ahead. After class it gives you time to relax and collect yourself before heading out to the world.

While some may attain peaceful thoughts during this brief period of meditation others may very well be thinking about how to improve waza or if they’ll have pasta and meatballs for dinner. But, if you don't do mokuso properly chances are you will be distracted and get hit easily by others.

Meditation is commonplace to all martial arts so it is very important to develop mokuso without losing awareness of your environment. Do it right and you will reap the full benefits of mokuso: calmness, responsiveness, and the anticipated perception of your opponent’s moves.

Do you think mokuso has helped you improve your waza? What has your sensei taught you about mokuso? Please share your thoughts.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Kendo wife

You’re at the movies watching a film about a woman who just started dating a kendoka. Fast-forward ten years, same woman wakes up next to an exhausted, stinking man. She leans over his shoulder and notices men and do set over two chairs, tare on the floor. She staggers to the kitchen and before getting there she trips over shinai grouped against the corridor wall. She makes coffee and gets distracted by old kote and new himo sitting over the counter. Coffee is ready and next to coffeepot are a flowery pot holder and a soiled tenugui. She smiles and chooses tenugui to pick up the pot. And then you wake up and realize that woman is you and this is definitely not a movie.

What is a kendo wife? Simply put, the woman behind male kendoka that acts as cheerleader, filmmaker, supporter and nurse. More often than not this woman practiced kendo with her husband at some point and gave up because one kendo freak in the house is one too many. She knows her husband’s competition stories by heart. Attends most practices and pays enthusiastic attention to his Nihon Kendo No Kata. And at night, she takes care of blistered, callused, fungus-ridden feet, swollen knuckles and bruised ribcage. Ah, the good life!

Kendoka recognize that to be successful in kendo you must rely on at least one individual that believes in you. It can be your wife, son, daughter, mom or dad, even Linda that cutie that started dating you (it’s not the other way around, trust me). They are your diehard fans and they look forward to helping you succeed.

When you are alone kendo becomes really hard and moving forward is more difficult. Even lone samurai Miyamoto Musashi had Otsu, his lifelong love; although they lived separate lives due to Miyamoto’s extensive travels he was certain of Otsu’s profound devotion and conveyed his feelings to her before final, epic battle with Sasaki Kojiro.

Kendo is not only about haya-suburi, kiri-kaeshi and shiai-geiko. There is a whole other dimension to it and includes all people kendoka relies on to become the best while mastering his individual way of the sword. These people deserve recognition and I strongly believe that without them kendo would not be as breathtaking and exciting as it is for all of us now.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Improving zanshin

Zanshin in kendo can be defined in many ways. Alertness, preparedness, completion of one’s technique; the last “ingredient “needed for a point to be considered during a competitive match.

Have you ever watched high school kendo matches on TV? In those matches you will notice that young kendoka are quick, ferocious, and almost cruel and they will strike their opponent as many times as possible to weaken them and take them to the ground.  But strikes do not necessarily mean points and points are only established when zanshin is indisputably there.

During regular practice sensei will surely tell you to “turn around” after finishing a technique. For example, you don’t do kote-men and then prance away with your shinai down, giving your back to your partner.  Sensei must have mentioned to you that as soon as you finish your technique you must quickly turn around and face your opponent. Why? Because your opponent will take advantage of any and all opportunities to attack you and you are at your most vulnerable when you're not looking directly at your opponent.

High school kendo matches are a perfect example because to the untrained eye 90% of all hits should obviously be counted as legitimate points, but experienced kendoka know they’re not considered legitimate points due to lack of zanshin. Even people on the stands know the difference and they boo and hiss when a point is called without considering if zanshin was present or not.

Zanshin is not something that you develop overnight.  It’s like brushing your teeth every morning; you can do it even half-awake, right? But it took you awhile to get used to it. Same in kendo, once you learn to finish all techniques appropriately you’ll be able to execute zanshin effortlessly and it will become a natural part of your personal training program.

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Bogu maintenance tips

Bogu is kendoka´s biggest investment hands down. And we all want to take good care of our equipment so here are a few basic tips for bogu maintenance.

Right after practice remove men and wipe inside with a dry cloth (you may use a dry tenugui or other type of cloth). Then pack your bogu and go home. Once at home take all bogu parts out (men, kote, do, tare) and set them out to dry. This is the tricky part because if you live in a warm, humid place chances are bogu will not dry quickly. If you live in a place where sunlight is poor you have another reason to worry.

In warm, humid weather there is hardly any wind. Ventilation is key to bogu getting dry otherwise moistness will settle in and that hideous stench all kendoka know will surely emerge. If you live in an apartment with a small balcony you are in luck, but if your apartment has no balcony you will have to get a fan or two to air dry bogu properly. Sunlight is crucial for killing bacteria that thrives inside men so if possible gather all bogu parts and set them in a sunlit place. Unkind, noon-like sunlight is recommended for less than 20 minutes. Bogu should be out in soft sunlight that allows it to dry without scorching it. Here is a picture of Lopez Sensei's bogu set out over his car. It was a cloudy afternoon with little sunlight and before 6:00 pm bogu was transferred indoors where it dried out completely.

Once bogu is fully dry you should wipe men inside with a cloth and some rubbing alcohol. You can either spray men with alcohol or simply rub it in with the cloth. Alcohol will kill bacteria and keep men cage clean. One application should be enough to keep men disinfected and you should do this at least once a week if you practice every day.

We would like to receive maintenance tips from other kendoka, especially from those residing in cold places such as Europe, Japan or any other country.

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Makeshift arm protector

In my previous post I mentioned that Lopez Sensei crafted an arm protector out of old shinai parts. And, as promised I present a picture of the protector which was made with an old, worn-out kote, heavy duty plastic blue string and three bamboo sticks cut out from the old shinai.

Sensei are encouraged to use arm protectors because during class they will practice with all their students. In getting acquainted with shinai newbies will hit sensei's unprotected arm instead of kote many times, ouch! We do not recommend beginners use additional arm protector for a number of reasons, one of them being that kote itself provides enough protection for arm and wrist. Another reason is that students would get too confortable with additional cushioning. And, its easy to forget to block kote or do from your opponent if you are not feeling pain. Yes, sometimes pain in your hand, wrist and arm are a constant reminder to block your opponents attack and protect yourself.

Do you use arm protectors? Do you feel protectors harm your technique? Share with us your experience and pics!

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Shinai and oil, do they mix?

All kendoka know that shinai need regular maintenance and care. Most kendoka know how to disarm shinai and replace all leather parts that wear out fast. And when you are all done changing sakigawa, tsuru, nakayui, and tsuka comes the burdening question: should I apply oil to shinai? And the answer is: it depends.

Bamboo, one of the hardest woods on Earth, is also one of the most flexible. It is a grass and it thrives mainly in hot tropical regions and in some cold places as well. If you live in a hot, humid region like Panama you don't need to oil shinai due to country's high level of humidity (the rainy season lasts from May to November and rainfall is twice as heavy on the Pacific coast as it is on the lowlands of the Caribbean coast). If you reside in the template European regions you will most likely need to oil shinai. Why? Because in cold weather bamboo goes dry. Too dry. If bamboo is too dry it will quickly loose flexibility reaching point of breakage.

How many times? It depends on your country of residence and local weather. In hot and humid regions almost never, in cold regions once a month or twice.

Type of oil? Linseed seems to be the most popular. But kendoka experiment with all sorts of oils: mineral oil, cooking oil, WD-40. Use what you think works for you in accordance with your type of shinai and your budget. I cannot provide an informed opinion on waxing as I have never waxed shinai. However, Lopez Sensei does recommend waxing to prevent frequent splintering. Wax between bamboo junctures is specially helpful, allowing them to rub smoothly against each other. If you are out of commercial wax you can use candle wax.

Shinai don't break easily as many kendoka believe. You can test this yourself: put on a forearm protector before putting on kote and ask sensei or one of the strongest kendoka to do their most powerful kote. Chances are the protector will bend, crack, even break in little chunks but shinai will remain unsplintered.

It's hard to let go of a faithful shinai. Lopez Sensei had one for nearly 30 years and after all those years of devoted service the wood could no longer tolerate standard practice. Sadly, shinai was disarmed by Sensei and now parts are used for crafting other artifacts such as a makeshift arm protector. You can catch a glimpse of the protector in our YouTube channel, I promise I will post a picture for you.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

About practicing at home

Kendo is a way of life for all kendoka. That being said, you must practice at home when you're not at dojo facing sensei and fellow students. Practice time depends on kendoka's skill level: at least an hour for beginners and up to four hours for advanced. You can also do the math in terms of repetitions: 100 up to 1000 and beyond.

Many people agree that the most important move to do at home is suburi. Suburi is a repetitive cutting exercise used in Kendo and in other martial arts. In Kendo there are many variations to suburi like joge-suburi, katate-suburi, haya-suburi and sayu-men-suburi. You should start with joge-suburi and do at least a 100 moving up to 300, 500 and so forth. Your personal mark is yours so try not to compare yourself to or envy other students. Soreness, numbness while practicing is inevitable so pay close attention to your body. The point of suburi is to loosen up the wrists and develop speed, endurance. Loose wrists are critical to proper technique as speed is crucial for, let's say, tsuki (we will devote an entire post to tsuki later).

Stay focused at all times as you might hit yourself, something or someone around you. People tend to damage ceilings, lamps and anything crossing their path. If you have low ceilings at home it is best to practice outside (lawn, yard, park, beach, forest) or in any place where you can raise sword properly without hurting technique. Time of practice depends on your personal mood and weather if doing it outside. However, be mindful about daily practice and choose same time of day for that.

The sword you use for suburi must be the heaviest one you have around the house. Between a 38 and 39 shinai please use the 39. If you have bokken or bokuto use them instead of shinai. If you can get a super heavy suburito, even better; alternate between bokken or bokuto and suburito. Many people don't buy, own suburito because of their sheer size and massiveness but believe me it is the best tool you can use to improve upper body strength. Save lighter carbon shinai for competition, it is not meant for standard home practice.

Finally, don't get discouraged easily, Kendo is hard and you know it! You should do your utmost to prepare “by the book” and demonstrate that you are worthy of Kendo. See you!

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Beginners' kendo

If you are interested in joining PAKA's kendo group, please contact Raul Lopez Q. Sensei at +507 6731 4502 or drop by the University of Panama gym during one of the regular practices to speak with him. Also, if you are an experienced kendoka and your bogu, shinai needs repair please bring them to Sensei for examination. Cheers!

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Have a kendo question? Ask Sensei

Raul Lopez Q. Sensei has been receiving many questions related to common kendo injuries and how to successfully recover from them. Feel free to drop Sensei a line and we will get back to you asap. (Hum, should we have this segment on Youtube as well?)

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Monday, July 19, 2010

Welcome new students

We are very excited to welcome newbies Ivan Chial, Rosemarie Read and Delia Sanchez. Rosemary (sho-dan) and Delia have previous kendo experience thus we are certain their experiences and individual styles will enrich our training. In this photo, from left to right, Rosemary Read, Delia Sanchez, Arnoldo Cohen, Alberto Prado, Javier Moreno and Ivan Chial.

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Friday, July 16, 2010

Tune in to YouTube

Kendo Panama, Panama Kendo Association's (PAKA) official video channel, is now active. We look forward to receiving many visitors and comments from kendoka all over the world. We also welcome comments from non-kendoka as our mission is to enrich kendo with different, unique points of view. Through this site we will profile all students and you'll be able to follow their progress. New bonds and friendships will be forged so tune in and don't miss any of our posts.

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