Kitamoto

It would seem that anyone who does kendo seriously and for a long enough time is bound to end up in Kitamoto. Kitamoto Gedatsukai, where the camp has been held since the second time, is actually a kind of church or monastery of a syncretic shinto- and buddhism based religious movement. Every year (with a few gaps due to different reasons) All Japan Kendo Federation invites kendoka from all over the world, about sixty people at a time for a very intensive week of kendo here. Many people actually end up coming again and again – and I know someone who has been here for six times.

I hear that in 70s and 80s the camp was actually running for two weeks and was really hard. The seminar always takes place from late July to early August, which is the hottest and most humid time of the year here in Japan – which is supposedly an intentional choice, meant to build the character as well as stamina. Apparently they used to have police sensei around to give foreigners a taste of the way how kendo is trained at the highest level in Japan, and at that time it was not unusual to have people simply collapse mid-keiko due to exhaustion. Compared to those times, nowadays they have relaxed it quite a bit. First of all, the camp only runs for a week and while there still are some moments when senseis delight in making gaijin suffer, it is nothing unbearable. In fact, today was the first time that I was outside of my comfort zone when given a full three minutes of uchikomi and kakarigeiko (an exercise where you are supposed to be constantly hitting and attacking, kind of like working a bag in boxing) by a visiting Fukumoto sensei.

The bad news is that my old shoulder injury is starting to give me a trouble again. After we did thousand suburi with Funatsu sensei during the day session, there was this familiar gnawing pain in my shoulder. It is not too bad at the moment, but I know that it will be if I keep on pushing it. It doesn’t help that we sleep on a very thin mattresses that are laid on a hard floor. I will have to see how it feels tomorrow, and if the pain persists then it will probably be wise to avoid those suburi marathons from that point forward, as I will have two more weeks to go after we finish here.

AJKF clearly puts a lot of effort into this event, and the sensei line-up here is truly impressive. The main teacher of the camp is traditionally Sato sensei, and he is assisted by three more hachidan senseis who stay with participants for the full week. In addition to that there are several visiting senseis, both 8. and 7. dan who both teach and have a ji-geiko (free practice, consisting of one on one fights) at the end of the day. This year, one of the assistant teachers is Funatsu sensei, who is famous for having won the invitational All Japan 8. dan Championship for two times. He is also very young for hachidan, which means that he is incredibly fast, sharp and explosive. When he comes for the men (i.e. head strike) it truly feels like being hit by a shinkansen. For his daily job he teaches at Osaka police, where he trains a substantial part of the Japanese national team, and we are truly privileged to have him here teaching us. Tens of thousands of Japanese kendoka would give a lot for a chance to have a keiko with him, and most of them never will. So it is kind of a big deal, really.

dojo at 5am

The daily routine here is almost military. Officially the day starts with asa-geiko at 6:30am, but diehards can go to dojo and start training already at 5am. Then there is breakfast at 8:00, after which the first main session of the day will begin at 9:30, running until 11:30am. After that there is some time to shower and have a lunch. At 2pm, the afternoon session will start that goes on for three hours, concluding with free keiko with senseis. Daily sessions are split between kata, kihon (basics, that includes a lot of kirikaeshi and oikomi), and refereeing practice (where we take turns refereeing and fighting).

After 5pm, the practice is officially over, but some people stay at the dojo to practise whatever they feel like and perhaps have some free keiko amongst themselves. At around 7pm the dinner is served and then at 10pm it is lights out.

Yesterday we were taken to Tokyo Budokan for the first part of the day, to see the All Japan kids kendo championship. It was a pretty amazing experience. First of all, Budokan is to Japanese martial arts kinds of what Mecca is for muslims. It was built for the 1964 Olympic Games as a venue for judo competition, but has been since used for all kinds of martial arts events and championships (as well as a concert hall). The kids championship was running over two subsequent days, with two thousand participants each day. The video of a warm-up session below should give an idea what was going on there (and do have a sound on when you watch this):

As the guests of the AJKF we were given the best seats in the house, directly behind the lines of officials. We were even given a shoutout during the opening proceedings, as “foreign kendo leaders” visiting the event. I had several happy meetings in Budokan, among them with Iwatate sensei, whose dojo I will be visiting the next week.

Anyway, now that the fourth day of the camp is over, we’re more than halfway through – and the end of the camp also marks the midway point of my own trip. On Friday, Tanaka sensei will pick me up here at Kitamoto for some more kendo in Tokyo, so I really hope that I will make it without hurting myself too much.

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Mito Tobukan

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It was raining in Mito when my train pulled into the station. I got myself an umbrella from Family Mart and set out to find the place that I had came here for.

Ten minutes later I was standing before the front porch of Tobukan. The gate was open, but there didn’t seem to be anyone around, so I just sat outside of the dojo door and waited for three hours for someone to show up. Eventually, when I was about to leave to find myself a place to stay for the night, a gentleman arrived with a definite air of kendo sensei about him. I asked if he speaks any English and he said he didn’t, so I introduced myself in Japanese and asked if I could join their evening practice. The gentleman informed me that regrettably there was no evening practice that night, but if I wanted to I was very much welcome to the asa-geiko (morning practice) that starts at 5:30am the following day. He also told me, and this was the first thing said in English, that it will be a “special practice,” leaving me to wonder whatever that may mean. With this it was obvious that our conversation had come to a close, so we exchanged some more Japanese niceties and parted our ways.

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Having been established in 1874, Tobukan is a legendary place. It is one of the two remaining famous private dojo (the other being Shubukan in Hyogo), being built thirty years before the original Noma dojo that was recently demolished to kendo community’s great dismay. In addition to kendo, Tobukan is also a hombu dojo for Hokushin itto-ryu kenjutsu, and in addition to that also naginata and iaido are practiced here. However, Tobukan is more than just a very old and traditional place. Along with those other two famous private dojos, Tobukan was the first place that opened its doors to all kenshis who wanted to come and practice. At the time, this was something rather unusual. At the times of Tokugawa period and before that, dojos had traditionally held their cards very close to their chests. In a way this is of course perfectly understandable, as different styles (ryu) had developed their own ideas and techniques that they of course thought to be superior to those of the others. However, after Tokugawa Ieyasu unified Japan, the warring ended and there was very little chance to put this conviction to a test. When Tobukan opened its doors to all comers, many strong kenshi from all of the Japan used the opportunity to come and cross swords with tough opponents – and as a consequence, the level of instruction as well as practice started to improve very fast. It became evident that the way to become strong was not secrecy, rather than being open.

And in a way, this was also the beginning of modern kendo. One of the beauties of kendo for me is precisely that there are no “schools” or “styles,” like there are in karate, aikido, iaido or ju-jitsu, where people are practising the same martial art, but as they belong to different ryu they sometimes refuse to talk to each other, not to mention actually training together or trying to learn from each other. To me, this seems a very sad and silly state of affairs, but apparently there is very little that can be done about it.

The next day I got up at 4:45am, and dressed into keikogi and hakama in my room. Stepping out of the hotel fifteen minutes later, I found Mito completely empty, apart from many children, some as young as five or six years, wearing hakama and traditional white-and-black patterned Musashi-gi and carrying shinai bags. As we stopped duly at traffic lights, our group got bigger with every street-crossing, and eventually we reached the dojo.

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It looked completely different from the last night. The sliding doors and windows were open and the building was surrounded by Japanese mothers. Inside it was teeming with children, there must have been at least fifty or sixty of them. I was quickly ushered up the stairs to the second floor, where about a dozen senseis (including my acquintance from the last night) were sitting around the table, sipping some cold barley tea and getting ready for the keiko. My arrival caused a fair amount of stir. After the initial round of introductions, among them to an old man who clearly was in charge, and mandatory exchange of business cards I quickly put my equipment on and we all went downstairs, where we took a group photo and then it was time to line up.

As a guest I was asked to give a short speech and then it was a time to get started. It was two hours of keiko, and again as a guest I was on the sensei side of the hall. First we were acting as motodachi for children, then there was free keiko for children, after that a short break during which children and some senseis left, and then we concluded with free keiko among those who remained. My first two fights were with local hachidans, after which there was time for one more fight and then someone struck the big taiko, marking the end of the asa-geiko. We then proceeded to go back upstairs to drink lots of cold tea and chat. I was asked by several people if I will be coming to keiko the next day too – to which I could honestly respond that I would very much have liked to. Tobukan is hands down the most amazing place I have ever practiced kendo in, but I had already promised to be in Tokyo that night to catch up wityh Luis and go to a keiko with Ito sensei and Atari sensei, who both hail from Keisicho (ie. Tokyo Police).

And the next morning it was already time to head for Kitamoto, where we will be staying for a full week of kendo in the All Japan Kendo Federation’s annual summer seminar that has been running since 1976. But more about that next time.

Divine moments

Saito sensei is a hachidan. In kendo terms this basically means a god.

In his earthly guise he is the dean of the Modern Martial Arts Department at Sendai University. He is also teaching kendo there, both as a general course as well as to students who learn it as their main subject. However, what matters is that he is a hachidan.

Kendo, like other modern martial arts (i.e. gendai budō, such as karate, judo, seitei iaido, aikido etc.), uses the so-called kyū/dan (級/段) ranking system, as opposed to menkyo ranking, used in many traditional koryū styles. A beginner starts as mudansha and works his or her way up the kyū grades in a descending order (in kendo from 6 to 1) and then enters yūdansha upon successfully passing the shodan (the lowest of dan ranks) exam. Kendo actually doesn’t use any manifest indication of a person’s rank, but in styles that do, dan ranks wear the (in)famous “black belt.” Somewhat contrary to the popular perception of a “black belt” as an expert in possession of superhuman martial skills and prowess, in most styles shodan simply means that the person in question has acquired a basic competence of the mechanics and technique of a particular style or art in question.

From there on ranks start to increase and currently go up to hachidan (i.e. 8. dan) in kendo, but this again may vary in different schools and styles of other martial arts. As could be expected, the further one progresses the harder it becomes to achieve a subsequent rank. In Japanese martial arts there is usually a strict time limit between different dan ranks – generally the same number of years of continuous practice prior to the grading attempt as the grade that is aimed for. In kendo, the grading exam itself remains exactly the same throughout dan ranks – there are two matches (with an exception of hachidan, more about that below), and kata. However, the requirements for passing get stricter with every grade – a typical pass rate for 5. dan exam that I will be shooting for later this year seems to hover around 20% recently. However, hachidan exam is the real deal. With its average pass rate of about 1%, it is the ultimate eye of the needle that only the select few are ever able to pass. And mind you, those 99% that fail are not average joes from the street, rather than people who have typically practiced for at least 30 years to have reached the 7. dan through increasingly stringent selection. Also, hachidan exam has two rounds of matches instead of the usual one – in the first one 90% of candidates get eliminated, which means that to pass the second round one has to demonstrate his best kendo against the opponents who are already best among the best. There is not a single soft spot among those who make it there, and yet nine out of ten of them will fail.

Saito sensei had cleared it to the second round five times before he finally got his hachidan, and it is not unheard of for people to go on trying the exam for decades. Given what it takes to succeed, the level of respect paid to those who have made it is hardly surprising. Every year about 10 new people pass the exam, which apparently keeps the number of hachidan more or less stable at around 500 persons. Those five hundred are there at the absolute pinnacle of the art, and each and every one of them has earned it with a lifetime of hard work and dedication.

Crossing swords with a hachidan is therefore always an honour. It can also be a pretty terrifying experience. It feels like facing a stone wall – there is nothing to do and nowhere to go. All the things that are easy when fighting against lower ranks or even your equals are suddenly incredibly difficult. There is a tangible threat and menace radiating from a hachidan sensei that will make you waver, and of course this is exactly what they dine on. As soon as you flinch, let your guard down, or simply try to catch your breath or regain your posture, they will take a step forward and strike. I once saw a video on youtube of Shoji Teramoto, a 2009 world champion and several times Japan champion, being run into wall by Ishizuka sensei (here, look at around 9:20 mark), and then realised that it will quite simply never end, no matter how good you are.

If you want to see me mowed down by Saito sensei, the video is below.

However, at the same time it is incredibly useful to practice with a hachidan. It is the ultimate test of your kendo and all your weaknesses will be mercilessly laid bare. Of course, no hachidan can alone improve your kendo – this is for you yourself to do. But they can certainly tell and show you what you need to work on. I take a long list of remarks along with me as I leave Sendai tomorrow.

Wax on, wax off

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When it comes to martial arts, I am very much of the Karate Kid generation. At the time when I started with karate, my idea of sensei was shaped after the enigmatic words of Mr. Miyagi: “Man who catch fly with chopsticks accomplish anything.” This was the time when Chuck Norris was a bona fide action star, rather than an internet meme.

By the time I met Takeda sensei, my very first kendo teacher, I knew a little better. However, after many years I have come to realise that despite of all the silliness and cliche, The Karate Kid actually does capture something important about Japanese sensei. Many, if not most of them do tend to speak a little like yoda masters and just like Mr. Miyagi, they are genuinely warm, friendly and often funny. But there is something deeper and more interesting that The Karate Kid touches upon – and that has to do with the ideas of “learning” and “teaching” in Japanese martial arts (and probably in Japanese culture in general).

Many Japanese sensei that I have met seem to be struggling when teaching westerners – they are quite clearly out of their element. Which struck me as strange initially, as I knew them to be professionals in Japan, having taught kendo at the highest level for a long time, often for decades. Surely by that time they must have came across all kinds of different students and situatuons. And they certainly had, but the point was in something else.

When we “learn” something in the West, in general we have the idea that before we can actually do something we need to first understand it. For the western mind, understanding tends to be an abstract way of conceiving how something works. Why this is so is an interesting topic in and of itself that I have no time to go into here and now. However, at least traditionally, Japanese martial arts are not taught like that – and indeed, one could ask if they are “taught” at all, in the western sense of the word. In some ways it would be much more precise to say that they are learnt rather than taught, and learnt in a very particular way.

As everyone who has practiced any eastern martial arts knows, it is a very repetitive affair – especially in the beginning. This is something that tends to put many peiople off, as instead of learning all the cool and flashy stuff they’ve seen from TV or imagined in their minds, the actual training turns out to be something very similiar to polishing the car or painting a wall. Be it in karate, aikido, kendo, iaido or any other Japanese martial art that I know, in the first couple of months a beginner is doing very little else than repeating the most basic movements – practising ukemi, doing suburi, moving across the dojo with gyaku-tsuki. It gets boring pretty fast, yet you’re told to repeat the same thing over and over again. There seems to be no progress in all that for most of the beginners, and this is why they yearn to move on to new and interesting stuff.

But there is progress, a lot of it. And this is what brings us back to Mr. Miyagi. Mr. Miyagi’s method of teaching karate to Daniel Larusso was, despite of all the Hollywood cheesiness, fundamentally a very zen way to go about it. I cannot possibly do justice to zen in this post, but I might take a stab at it some other time. However, the basic idea is quite simple – you don’t learn something by being explained, you learn it by doing. And once you have done it enough times, you will know. Or, perhaps more precisely, you will know that the questions you had at the outset were not meant to be answered, as eventually they will simply go away. Answering them would not help you to get any closer to what you wanted to know – as martial arts cannot be taught like you can teach someone how to solve a Rubik’s cube. It is not a realm of abstract knowledge, rather than that of practical experience. Knowledge, if you want to call it this, will follow the experience – it is not a prerequisite of doing something, rather than vice versa.

This, it would seem to me, is the reason why some many great senseis struggle with westerners. They try to adopt and “teach” martial arts the way they know how westerners “learn” things. But it is very difficult, if not impossible. To be sure, some senseis are doing great work at it, but in the end I still think that there is only so much that they can do, no matter how hard they try or how good their intentions. The way I see it, teaching martial arts is not really about explaining or telling how something is ought to be done, it is about inspiring and guiding, about cutting short the wrong ways and encouraging to follow the right ones. But in the end it is you who has to do the walking.

Today we left Yamagata and Takeda sensei after three days of keiko. It has been, in a way fully expected, rude awakening. The first two days we were practising with Yamagata University students, and both Luis and me were getting ground to powder. Of course, I know that they are not simply students, they are studying kendo and are set to go on to become professionals (and on top of that Yamagata is apparently the reigning champion of university level kendo in the whole Tohoku region) – but still, it feels utterly humiliating to be so completely and hopelessly dominated and overwhelmed. When we finally finished the first keiko at Yamagata, the first words Luis said after taking off his men and being able to speak were “how can they be so €%&# fast?!” Anyway, luckily today we had a keiko at Nishikawa with some civilians – and this was great for recovering some of the self-confidence before we will face Sendai students tomorrow, who are apparently even tougher than Yamagata ones.

And I am only about 10% done with my trip. Wish me luck.

The Narrow Road

In the late spring of 1689, the most famous of Japanese poets, Matsuo Bashō, set off from Edo to an arduous journey to the wild and dangerous parts of northern Japan. As he had done in his previous trips, he kept a diary. Here is the opening passage:

The days and months are travellers of eternity, just like the years that come and go. For those who pass their lives afloat on boats, or face old age leading horses tight by the bridle, their journeying is life, their journeying is home. And many are the men of old who met their end upon the road.

How long ago, I wonder, did I see a drift of cloud borne away upon the wind, and ceaseless dreams of wandering become aroused? Only last year, I had been wandering along the coasts and bays; and in the autumn I swept away the cobwebs from my tumbledown hut on the banks of the Sumida and soon afterwards saw the old year out. But when the spring mists rose up into the sky, the gods of desire possessed me, and burned my mind with the longing to go beyond the barrier at Shirakawa. The spirits of the road beckoned me, and I could not concentrate on anything. So I patched up my trousers, put new cords in my straw hat, and strengthened my knees with moxa. A vision of the moon at Matsushima was already in my mind. I sold my hut and wrote this just before moving to a cottage owned by Sampū:

kusa no to mo
sumikawaru yo zo
hina no ie

This was the first of an eight verse sequence, which I left hanging on a post inside the hut.

Thus begins The Narrow Road into the Deep North (Oku no Hosomichi), that is nowadays heralded as one of the most celebrated pieces of the Japanese literature.

Travel has always been a hugely important part of the Japanese culture. As anyone who has been to Japan at the peak of the cherry-blossom season in late April to early May can readily attest, Japanese take their travel very seriously to this day – and a casual observer can only see the tip of the proverbial iceberg of the Japanese tabi no bunka. In addition to wading around in huge groups and taking a seemingly impossible amount of photos, Japanese idea of travel also includes customs such as senbetsu (farewell money) and omiyage (return gift), there are famous places (meisho) that have to be visited in proper time and in a proper way, with many people writing short travel waka to record and reflect upon their experiences.

The European (and more broadly, western) concept of tourism – and indeed, the very word itself – comes from the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century custom of young British aristocrats going to the Continent for the year-long Grand Tour. It was supposed to be a character-defining experience, a rite of passage, whereby young noblemen were to have an exposure to arts, culture and refined manners of the European civilisation. While the route was more or less standard, leading from Dover to Rome or perhaps Naples, the journey itself was a deeply personal one. This tradition formed the basis of how travel is seen and understood in the West to this day.

All this bears several similarities to the way how travel is understood also in Japan. In Japan too tabi is an experience of self-discovery. However, there is one crucial difference. The western tourist, more often than not, is after the experience that is “unique,” looking for an “unbeaten path,” a road less traveled. Sallie Tisdale has put it in a wonderfully acerbic way, noting that what matters for us is “not to be the first to see remote lands but to be the last to see the land remote,” and the knowledge (or indeed, any hints thereof) of any westerners having been in the same spot before is clearly detrimental to such an aspiration.

Not so for Japanese. In its classical form tabi meant not going out into unknown, rather than closely following in someone’s footsteps. When Bashō was traveling, he tried to visit the very same places that Saigyō, his great model and inspiration, had written about more than five hundred years before. Oku no Hosomichi is full of allusions and references to earlier texts and poems. For example, the very opening lines allude to the famous poem by 8th century Chinese poet Lǐ Bó (who was also an avid traveler):

Heaven and earth are the inn for all things, the light and shadow, the traveler of a hundred generations. Accordingly, this floating life is just like a dream.

In Japanese culture, leaving one’s house and home – shukke – is a start of the journey that leads one to experience the impermanence of earthly things (諸行無常). It has a Buddhist meaning of leaving behind all of one’s loves and hates, and embarking on a journey to attain an enlightenment through ascetic training (shugyō). It is a path to detachment. Every stop along the way enables us to reflect upon this impermanence, to consider those who have walked the same path before, and who are no more – while at the same time trodding the way for those who will eventually follow us. Interestingly, the very same staged or step-wise approach of enlightenment and detachment can be found also in traditional Japanese music, martial arts, poetry, tea ceremony and so on.

As it happens, I will be following Bashō’s trail to North myself. I will arrive in Tokyo on Thursday, only to leave towards Yamagata the next day along with my Portuguese friend Luis, with whom we will be traveling together for the first week. From there on I will head to Sendai, which is a stone’s throw away from Matsushima that beckoned Bashō 324 years ago. I will pack his book along, to read the passage when I look at the very same pine-clad islands over the bay.

Musha Shugyō

I grew up in a quiet suburb of Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. In a house next to us lived Kristjan Palusalu – the only wrestler in history to win Olympic gold in the same event both in the Greco-Roman and freestyle. By early 1980s his health was already ailing, but his fame and reputation were strong as ever. Every spring, at the time of his birthday, many stocky men with thick necks and cauliflower ears gathered to his house, to pay their respects and talk about bygone times. One of those perennial guests was Andres Lutsar, a kind of Estonian version of Jigoro Kano, who never missed the opportunity to talk to us boys (Palusalu had two grandsons about my age whom Lutsar clearly regarded as heirs apparent to the grand man) about judo.

And this is how I got into martial arts. Although my career in judo ended pretty much as soon as it got started, I was hooked, and for the better part of the next thirty years I have been practising some kind of fighting sport or martial art. For the last dozen it has been kendo.

It is strange, but I honestly cannot recall when and how I first heard about kendo. It may have been Sean Connery’s movie Rising Sun, but I cannot be sure. In any case, when I moved back to Tallinn after graduation I remember asking around if anyone is teaching it in Estonia. As it turned out, no-one was. But then in 2001, when I was practising aikido and regularly went to Finland for training camps, I once googled “kendo camp finland,” and found out that there is indeed a seminar coming up in Helsinki, led by someone called Takeda-sensei. I sent organisers an e-mail, asking if they would welcome a few  beginners from Estonia, and the reply was “come on over.” I invited some of my aikido-buddies along and so we did.

It was a bewildering experience. For most of the people, when they first see it, kendo appears nothing like what they have imagined the Japanese sword-fighting to be. To put it shortly: it is incredibly loud and aggressive, looking like a bunch of Darth Vaders yelling at the top of their voices while randomly whacking away at each other with bamboo sticks. Strangely though, there was a kind of serene dignity in all this, something quite unlike that I had seen or experienced in any other martial art so far. It was also unmistakably real, a true fight between opponents going at each other full throttle – something that I had missed when doing aikido back then.

So we decided to give it a go. Back in Tallinn we rented a hall and started practising suburi (a basic exercise of swinging the sword without an opponent), trying to carefully follow the instructions that we were given in Helsinki. Since we did not have swords, we used simple wooden sticks at first. It was only after a month or so that we ordered first batch of shinai (bamboo swords) from Japan over the internet. It was a hard going, to learn something without anyone around who could actually teach you – but in a strange way this slow start seems to have paid off in some rather unexpected ways.

Along with ikebana, origami, manga, haiku and sushi, martial arts must be among Japan’s most successful cultural exports – in fact it is probably the most well-known aspect of Japanese culture for outsiders. Interestingly, the Western world discovered them only about sixty years ago, after the American occupation of Japan post WW2. Since these early days, a lot has changed. Martial arts are ubiquitous throughout the West, and indeed the whole world. Judo has been an Olympic sport since 1964, karate is being practiced and taught everywhere, and in recent years, jiu-jitsu (in its new, Brazilian guise) has been all the craze thanks to the success of MMA. Unlike in the early days when properly studying a martial art meant finding a master willing to teach it (and often this was a difficult proposition outside Japan), today it is relatively easy to come across highly competent teachers as well as fighters of the main Japanese martial arts everywhere in the world.

However, as far as kendo goes, Japan is still the definite place to go – it is there that you will find the toughest opposition as well as the highest quality instruction by far. And this is exactly what I intend to do – in a week from now I pack my bogu and board the flight to Tokyo, to spend the next four weeks in Japan, traveling from dojo to dojo, trying to get as many hours of kendo under my obi as I can. Right now it seems that there will be a lot of it. In addition to Kitamoto seminar (an annual week-long international kendo camp, organised by All Japan Kendo Federation) I will be going to Tokyo, Yamagata, Sendai, Chiba, Shizuoka, Osaka, Kyoto, Kagawa and probably a few other places, and everywhere there are people waiting for me to show up for some keiko. It is going to be no walk in a park.

Apart from all that keiko I intend to use this trip as an excuse to reflect upon some things that I have wanted to write about already for a long while. So I will be keeping a diary, and although there is certainly going to be a lot of kendo-talk, I aim to branch out into many different topics, some of which will not necessarily be related with kendo or martial arts at all. I will also try my best to keep the inevitable kendo-talk general enough, so that everything can in principle be followed also by those who have not elected to dedicate a big part of their lives to something as strange and obscure as fighting other people with bamboo swords.

Julm kuu

Homme õhtul saab punkti üks minu jaoks üsna hullumeelne september.

Tegelikult on kogu lugu muidugi palju pikem – see algas millalgi aasta tagasi, kui peale üle ootuste hästi läinud Gilgameši küsis Peeter Jalakas minult, et kas ma oleks nõus aitama kaasa tema järgmise projekti juures, mis esialgsete plaanide järgi pidi olema tantsulavastus meheks-olemise teemadel. “Tantsulavastuse dramatug” kostis minu kõrvale toona millegi…. ütleme, et mitte väga kontimurdvana, ja nii olin ilma pikemata nõus.

Vahepeal muidugi juhtus nii mõndagi, millest mul hetkel ei ole jaksu pikalt kirjutada – ja mis kokkuvõttes vast ei olegi väga oluline. Augustis Gilgameši soojendus-proovides istudes tuli teema aga taas ja uue teravusega päevakorda ning kui Jalakas leidis, et asja taustaks võiks olla mingid “poeetilised tekstikatked”, siis tuli mulle Kultuurikatla pimedas saalis istudes pähe üks hullumeelne mõte.

Mis oleks kui… võtaks nendeks taustal olevateks tekstikatketeks T. S. Elioti “The Waste Landi”?

Jalakas helistas sealtsamast proovisaalist Paul-Eerik Rummole ning samaks õhtuks olid meil Elioti eesikeelsed tõlked tekstifailidena postkastis. Ja sellest hetkest peale läks käima üks esialgu üsna märkamatu protsess, mille käigus sai esialgsest ideest “teeme meeste tantsulavastuse, mille taamal on paar lõiku T. S. Elioti” midagi, mis on väga lähedal üritusele lavastada “Ahermaad”.

Igaüks kes on “Ahermaad” lugenud, suudab ilmselt ilma pikemata hinnata selle ettevõtmise hullumeelsust – vähemalt olin ma ise igal hetkel teadlik, millega me teksti osas vastamisi oleme. Paar päeva tagasi tegi Rada7 intervjuu Ismo Alankoga, kes laval laivis muusikat teeb, ning seal tabas fs (olles ise luuletaja) ühe oma küsimusega muidugi naelapead:

Kui ma kuulsin esimest korda, et näidend baseerub T.S. Elioti “Ahermaal” ja “Õõnsatel meestel”, tabasin end mõttelt, kuidas on võimalik neid tekste lavale tuua… Võrdlemisi ebaharilik mõte.

“Ebaharilik” on siin ilmne viisakus. Ja praegu, vähem kui 20 tundi esikast, on mul endal selle avantüüri osas suured kahtlused. Ma usun, et me leidsime lahenduse kuidas seda asja teha, aga ma ei tea, kas meil õnnestub see asi ära teha. Homme hommikul on veel üks läbimäng, kus ilmselt tuleb hulk asju muutmisele – aga vaatamata sellele on vähemalt minu mõttes oht ebaõnnestuda täiesti olemas.

Aga ma võin lubada, et see oli parim üritus, mida me selle ajaga suutsime. Ja kui juhtubki nii, et ei õnnestu, siis jääda alla “The Waste Land”-ile ei ole vast häbiasi.