By Emily Jackman
At the August seminar in Yokosuka I was fortunate enough to meet a number of lovely people from all around the world who had come together to help bring jukendo and tankendo back to their own countries. Among them were Kelly and Edwin from the Hamachidori Dojo in Malaysia who planted the seed in my mind that I should come to their upcoming seminar in Kuala Lumpur in October.
I admit that while I found the prospect tempting I was worried that I had too much to juggle with having two seminars of my own to plan for in November/December to be able to fly over there. However, a seed once planted has a habit of growing slowly and insistently until you have to sit down and look at the idea seriously.
Con: I had two seminars of my own to plan for. Pro: Most of the planning was done already.
Con: I’d have to take more time off work. Pro: It’d only be two days because Malaysia is a lot closer than say, flying to Poland, and I still had some annual leave stocked up.
Con: I wouldn’t be around to instruct my naginata group. Pro: I’ve got some amazing senior students who were happy to step up and run class over that weekend.
Con: It would cost money. Pro: Flights to Malaysia from Melbourne are relatively cheap and expenses were low due to the exchange rate.
It really wasn’t hard to see which way my heart was leaning! Within a 24 hour period I’d gone from ‘I’m not going’ to ‘I’ve just booked flights and accommodation and oh wow I’m really going to Malaysia’. Kelly was incredibly helpful in the planning once I’d let her know I was intending to come and she made sure to keep us all updated in the intervening period. I was interested to find they’d changed from booking a hotel to utilising a number of Airbnb’s near to the training venue; it was extremely cost-effective and in many ways I think much nicer than a hotel. I ended up booking a beautiful studio apartment for only $174 over 3 nights and I couldn’t have been happier. My host even helped me to arrange a pickup and drop-off to/from the airport so I knew how much I was paying in advance and the drivers name and car before I arrived.
The Friday evening, the Malaysia contingent kindly arranged to have those of us at the Airbnb’s picked up and brought to dinner where we met the sensei’s when they arrived – Sato-sensei, Ogawa-sensei, Chiba-sensei, Kurabe-sensei and Baptiste-sensei. It was a very pleasant reunion as they’d all been at the Yokosuka seminar and we enjoyed a light meal in a warm KL evening. However, after all having just flown in it was an early night for us all knowing that we’d need to be sharp and full of energy for the next two days.
Saturday morning I woke early to the sound of the Fajr prayers drifting in the wind – it was a beautiful song to wake to as it drifted through the silence. Several of us joined the sensei’s for breakfast at a small restaurant near the rooms; I’ve never had yum cha for breakfast before so it was a very unusual and very filling experience. Amongst the more familiar dumplings and dishes was something I’d not eaten before – chicken feet! It’s not an item I’d have ordered by choice but what’s the point in travelling if you don’t try something new. They’ll never be my first snack of choice but maybe all the collagen in them will do wonders for my skin!
We then collected our gear and headed to the training venue at PAUM which was a beautiful building with the added bonus of air-conditioning to combat the heat/humidity. There were about 20 participants from Malaysia, Taiwan, Brunei and in my case, Australia. We began with the opening ceremony, introductions and warm-ups and then went straight in tankendo basics. As there was only a small number who were already familiar we went right back to the fundamentals which I always find very useful seeing as I’m starting to instruct back in Melbourne. There’s always the worry that I’ve missed something important when trying to teach others so it was good to work through it all again. We spent the morning focused mainly on kata – the beginners in one group and those who already had experience working the other side of the room. It was a great opportunity to sharpen up the techniques and details of the tankendo kata under the guidance of the sensei’s.
After lunch we took up our tanshinai and worked on the other tankendo techniques in basic bogu. One of the flaws that we had to work hard on was getting our footwork faster and sharper – it’s so easy to let the back foot drag behind you but for tanken/juken you really need to snap it in as quickly as possible so that your movements are balanced, your distances are correct and everything moves together. The ache in my calves later told me that even if I wasn’t getting it quite right I was at least getting a lot of practice at it!
It was also good to have Sato-sensei correcting some of our basic kamae – particularly chudan irimi. Many of us had to fix a tendency to keep the arm too close in; as sensei explained the arm should be extended out long enough to match the length of a mokuju.
When practicing kote strikes we were told that it shouldn’t be as hard as a kendo kote strike – with the shorter tanshinai the bamboo is stiffer and thus hits harder than the longer kendo shinai which is a little springier. The light bruising around my wrist after two days was a colourful reminder of needing to be careful to control the power when hitting kote!
With only an hour or so left in the day we switched to jukendo – again as many were unfamiliar with the form we returned to basics. I was happy I was able to assist with some of the beginning practitioners in the form of being a mobile stabbing target – it ingrains into my muscle memory how to best open up and provide a clean target as motodachi.
We finished up around 5pm and took a short drive back to our accommodation where we had an hour to refresh and relax before heading out to the welcome dinner. It was a large open-air Chinese restaurant where much good food and drink was consumed in a post-training haze. At some point there were drinking games to which I can only say, do not sit yourself in the position where if Kurabe-sensei wins the round you are the person who has to drink!
For those who had practiced jukendo previously there was the option of an early Sunday morning training session from 7am-9pm after which everyone would start tankendo. The previous nights sake was sweated out in the early hours through some good intense training. Because our footwork must have been getting too high, Sato-sensei had us place our tanshinai/kodachi on the floor just in front of our left feet and we had to perform our strikes while only just letting our feet come up over them. My advice, if you do this, use your kodachi as you’ll otherwise be extra paranoid about the tanshinai rolling about as you’re moving over it.
Two hours went very quickly and then moved straight back into tankendo as the other arrived. This time, it was on with full bogu to go through kihon and then most of the morning was building technique in through constant repetition before doing jigeiko and kakarigeiko. Then just before lunch there was an opportunity to watch/participate in some isshujiai – mokuju vs shinai, tanken vs shinai, naginata vs mokuju. It’s always interesting to see the strengths and techniques when pitted against a different weapon.
Post-lunch it was time to focus on the gradings. For the few of us who were not grading it was an opportunity to try to assist those beginners who were going for their kyu levels. It was great to see how everyone had achieved since the prior morning and to know that there were now more enthusiastic practitioners of the form.
The end of a seminar is always a bittersweet time – you spend a few very intense days with new and old friends, learning, laughing and then in a blink of an eye you all part ways and return to your everyday reality. I am extremely grateful to Kelly, Edwin, the Hamachidori Dojo, the All Japan Jukendo Federation and their representative sensei’s for this amazing opportunity and I very much hope to train with them all again soon.