Thursday, February 12, 2009

Interested in Starting Kendo? (updated 28 February 2017)

How do I find out more about kendo and the Memphis Kendo Club?
If you are interested in joining the Memphis Kendo Club or have any questions, please email the club contacts:
Rogers Gossett at:
R o g e r s G o s s e t t (at) y a h o o (dot) c o m  (don't forget to remove the spaces)
or Jodi Hilton at:
w i d o w 1 2 8 (at) g m a i l (dot) c o m

When and where does the Memphis Kendo Club meet for practice?
The Memphis Kendo Club has practice on Wednesday nights from 7pm to 9pm and on Saturdays from 10am to 12pm (unless otherwise specified) at the Singleton Community Center located at 7266 Third Road in Bartlett, TN.

Monday class from 7pm to 9pm is reserved for more experienced members (in bogu), but beginners (not in bogu) and people interested in starting kendo are welcome (and encouraged!) to come watch this practice.

What is kendo? What is it like?
Quite simply, kendo is Japanese fencing. With its foundation in traditional Japanese sword training, it has developed over many years into a modern fencing art. Kenshi (kendo players) wear protective armor, called bogu, which is very similar to traditional samurai armor, and protects the head, throat, torso, hands/wrists/forearms, and hips.

The sights and sounds of kendo practice can make kendo appear very intimidating at first. People often view kendo with a little anxiety because kendo is a full contact sport played at high speed with the purpose of striking the other player with a bamboo sword. However, kendo is practiced under a very stringent set of rules that are strictly enforced.

Having said that, Memphis Kendo Club recommends that people come and watch the pratice at least once before starting, as many people tend to have a(n incorrect) pre-conceived notion of what kendo is, or should be. To try and dispel some of the more common (mis)beliefs, kendo is NOT like what is portrayed in comic books/anime, or in movies like Star Wars, Kill Bill or The Last Samurai. It's even less like "backyard ninja" videos posted regularly on websites like YouTube, or what you may see from groups such as the Society for Creative Anachronisms (SCA). If such is the type of swordplay you hope to achieve through the study of kendo, then please do not waste our time (or yours), because that is not the type of swordplay learned through proper kendo instruction.

Is kendo dangerous?
To watch kendo, it looks very brutal and one might come to the conclusion that practitioners suffer many injuries. Surprisingly, this is rarely the case. The protective armor worn by players is very effective, and the simple mechanics of kendo tend to result in fewer injuries than are more commonly found in practitioners of karate, taekwondo, judo, etc.  The most common kendo injuries involve the feet, normally in terms of blisters which can be doctored up and heal very quickly and easily.  Other types of injuries might involve the Achilles tendon, plantar fasciitis (a straining of the tendons of the bottom of the foot), tennis/golfer's elbow, etc.  Overall, many common kendo injuries can be avoided altogether through proper warm-up and footwork.

Speaking very generally, kendo is a very safe activity, and this is perhaps most evidenced by people actively continuing to practice well into their 50s and 60s (and beyond)!

When should I start kendo? Am I too young or old?
People take up kendo at various ages, both young and old. We accept students from ages 12 and up. If you are under 16 years of age, the community center requires a parent or guardian to be present throughout the practice. Currently, we only take on new students in the first two weeks of:

What do I need to start kendo?
If you have an interest in starting, there are only two things you should have when you show up: a shinai (bamboo sword) and a bokuto (wooden sword). These items can be purchased locally in town at Dach Imports (the only martial arts supply store in Memphis) on Summer Avenue, which is owned/operated by Memphis Kendo Club's head instructor, Harry Dach. Alternatively, these items can be purchased online. For a listing of recommended online suppliers, see the LINKS section from the main Memphis Kendo Club page (Note: Memphis Kendo Club does not get kickbacks from any online supplier. Suppliers are recommended based on reputation and our direct experience in ordering from them in the past).

Prices vary widely, but generally speaking, a shinai may cost around $25 and a bokuto may run around $25-$35. THIS IS ALL YOU NEED TO START LEARNING KENDO.  (Please note that for insurance purposes, all students must join the All-US Kendo Federation prior to starting any classes.  See "How Much Does Kendo Cost?" below for more information)

As for an outfit, we recommend you dress simply and comfortably (sweats, t-shirt, etc.), but please, make it respectable as well (clean, no holes, no profane messages, etc.). Be advised, also, that shoes and socks are NOT worn in the practice of kendo. It really will not be necessary to get into the traditional kendo uniform (hakama and keikogi) for a few months.

What can I expect of kendo training at the beginning?
Kendo training at the very beginning can be extremely monotonous with a lot of repetition of only a few very simple, basic movements. These basics of kendo are vitally important to the foundation of kendo skills, which is why it is necessary for beginning students to spend so much time on them.

It is important that students do not miss any classes so that they can be properly guided by the instructors as regularly as possible, otherwise, very small or minor mistakes in prolonged self-practice can develop into horribly bad habits which may inhibit kendo progression.

In our experience, better than 80% of people who start kendo will quit before ever getting out of this beginning/pre-bogu stage, however, for the 20% that have the patience and desire to stick with it, the rewards are well worth it. Kendo doesn't really start to get fun until students reach a level of proficiency where they can wear bogu (kendo armor) and take part fully in every aspect of class.

Practically speaking, what beginners can expect to do is to join the group in basic warm-ups, and then immediately thereafter, one of the instructors will normally take the new folks off to one side for more focused instruction on the basics. Separating the class this way allows everyone -- more experienced kenshi and newbies -- to work on those things specific to their need. For newbies, that means working on proper kendo stance, shinai grip, swinging the shinai, foot movement, and eventually, movement while swinging the shinai. It sounds very simple, but to do it properly can actually be challenging!

When can I expect to participate in full practice? Should I go ahead and buy bogu right away?

New students are scheduled to be in a 'beginner status' for a minimum of 4 months.
In a best-case scenario:
-- Your first 2 months will be spent off to the side with an instructor.
-- At the end of 2 months, you will be eligible to test for the rank of 8.kyu.
-- If you do NOT pass 8.kyu, you will spend an additional 2 months off to the side with an instructor and have an opportunity to test again for 8.kyu at the end of that period.
-- If you pass 8.kyu, you will NOT be permitted to wear bogu (kendo armor), but you'll be allowed to wear normal hakama and keikogi, and you will join the regular practice group, continuing to work on very basic kendo (kirikaeshi, basic striking, basic movement).
-- After 2 months at the 8.kyu stage, you will be eligible to test for the rank of 7.kyu
-- If you do NOT pass 7.kyu, you will spend an additional 2 months at the 8.kyu stage
-- If you pass 7.kyu, you will be permitted to wear bogu (kendo armor) and fully participate in every aspect of normal practice.

All in all, it is anticipated (and hoped) that you will be fully participating in class after 4 months, but there is no maximum time limit for staying in the beginner stage.  YOU will essentially set the pace of your own progression. If you attend class regularly and work on what you learn at home, you should progress normally, and you should be able to test (and pass) 8.kyu and 7.kyu "on time".

As for bogu (kendo armor)....

We highly recommend beginners NOT purchase any bogu on their own for a while, even after they have achieved 7.kyu and are approved to go into bogu for class. We do not prohibit your purchasing bogu (hey, it's your money), but bogu is a financial investment that can be pricey and as mentioned previously, MANY students quit kendo in the early stages for various reasons. Memphis Kendo Club offers club bogu for rent ($10 per month) so that you do not risk wasting your money on bogu that you may never wind up using. We expect and encourage students who have been practicing in club bogu for several months to go out and purchase their own. By then, students should have a very good idea whether kendo is something they want to continue to pursue, and surrendering club bogu will allow another beginner the opportunity to use the club gear.

Before purchasing your own bogu, we recommend you ask the instructors and senior students for advice because buying bogu can be like buying a car. There are many options from which to choose, and simply buying armor without knowing what is good, bad, or decent can lead to a negative experience for future practice!

What about rank in kendo?
For those of you who may have a background in another martial art (several Memphis Kendo Club members also fall into that category), you may be accustomed to seeing people with some kind of rank designator (e.g., a belt). There is no external sign of rank worn by kendo players, so no one can know for sure who has what rank. For this reason, it is important that everyone treat everyone else as if they are of a higher rank. Etiquette is a very, very large and important part of kendo. Please keep this in mind.

How much does kendo cost?
Compared to just about every martial art school out there, kendo is VERY affordable. Memphis Kendo Club's instructors volunteer their time to teach kendo. We do not require students to sign contracts like other martial arts clubs.  The Singleton Community Center charges each club member $25 per person per month and this fee is payable at the front office by the first class of each month. We're on the honor system here (and the Community Center is as well), so if you don't pay, do the honorable thing and don't show up. If you show up and you haven't paid, then go pay the Community Center. If you would like to pay for several months in advance, the Community Center will allow you to do so (they keep records of paying members).

For legal and insurance purposes, as well as for eligibility to test for rank and to participate in national- and regional-sponsored events (seminars, tournaments, etc.), all Memphis club members are required to join the All-U.S. Kendo Federation (AUSKF) and Southeast U.S. Kendo Federation (SEUSKF) every year.  New students will have to join and pay the yearly registration fee prior to starting classes, otherwise, the yearly fee is always due towards the end of February. Normally, the fee is around $70 for ages 18+; $50 for ages 17 and under.

That said, compare the costs of kendo to the typical taekwondo or karate school.

$25/mo. x 12 mos. = $300/year in dues (paid to the Community Center)
$100/yr (for adults 18+ .... $60/yr youth 17 and under) to join the All-U.S. and Southeast U.S. Kendo Federations
(Note:  For first-time members, the AUSKF/SEUSKF yearly fee is $110 for adults and $70 for youth).
Equipment costs (1 bokuto, approx. 4 shinai/yr) = [approx.] $150
Bogu costs vary widely, but a decent beginner set will run approx. $450-650 -- this set will last you several years (several club members have been using the same set for 15+ years)

Total average yearly cost -- about $550-600 per year

TYPICAL MARTIAL ARTS SCHOOL: no less than $75/mo. x 12 mos. = $900/yr (not including additional expenses for multiple uniforms, gear, weapons, or fees to join national/regional federations or in-dojo "groups" like 'Little Dragons', 'Tiny Tigers', competition teams, etc., all of which would send your yearly expenses well beyond the $1000 mark)

For $900, you could easily buy all the kendo equipment you would need (that would last for several YEARS!), including all dues/fees!  You could easily buy a brand new set of bogu every year!

Hopefully, this will answer any basic questions you may have about the Memphis Kendo Club.

If you have more questions, please don't hesitate to write to our club contact.

See you in the dojo!