What we're about
The Jacksonville Kendo club has undergone some changes. We are no longer an FSCJ club so all are welcome to attend. We meet at LA Fitness at Atlantic and Kernan. If you are not a member just give them my name (Sharon Bennett) and your ID for a two week free trial. After that it’s $35 per month with a $49 initiation fee (less per month if you pay a higher initiation fee). You also get free access to the gym. The Kendo class itself doesn’t cost anything extra. You can borrow our equipment for your first class or two, until you can get your own. So please join us! We meet Saturday and Sundays at 4:30pm.
So for those who don't know, what is kendo? It is like the Asian form of fencing. It is an intense, fast paced, thrilling martial art but it also teaches you respect, (Japanese) ritual, history and culture, and it also trains your mind, body and spirit. It is constant (contact) sparring with a bamboo sword called a "shinai". You also will wear armor called "bogu".
In kendo, in addition to regular practice, you can attend and compete in tournaments (shiai) with dozens of different dojo, as well as gain ranks. Ranks start a 6th kyu, going backwards to 1st kyu. Then they go from 1st Dan (equivalent to a black belt in other martial arts) all the way to 8th dan. Getting up to 6th, 7th, and 8th dan literally takes a lifetime, but that's ok because you can do (or start) kendo at any age, even up in your seventies. In fact, the highest rank, 8th dan, has an age requirement of 65.
For those of you who want to see what it looks like, here is a link that shows you kendo at it's finest: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jepm6rPRQPE . This link shows a video of a tournament in Japan.
What kind of person do you need to be to practice kendo? First of all, your age is not important nor is your gender. Women can compete pretty easily against men, since it is very technique based, speed based and stamina based. It's not about muscle strength as much as it is about speed, spirit, technique and mental quickness. Many older people (forties, fifities and sixties) can easily start kendo for the first time as long as you aren't completly and totally out of shape (meaning like 300 pounds).
You also need to be humble and patient. If you expect to be a superstar the first day you get into armor, you will be disappointed. Most likely you will get hit much more than you hit others as a beginner, and any strikes you make will probably be because your sempai or sensei let you (to help you learn). It is not an easy martial art, so to get good you also need patience.
What else do you need? You need to be tough to do kendo, because you will come away with bruises on occasion, especially in the beginning. You cannot be claustrophobic (or if you are you need to get over it) because you will be wearing a face mask called a "men". (It looks a little bit like a western fencing mask but is bulkier). Physically it can be a very aerobic martial art and if you train hard, you will see a tremendous increase in your stamina. But some people also take a different strategy, and conserve their energy and stamina for well placed strikes instead. It's up to you and what your body can do.
Also, do not come into this thinking it is flashy, because it is not Star Wars (though they did train in kendo for the movies, but kendo does look very different). This is nothing like in the movies, it is the real art form that developed as a training tool to aide the samurai. But believe it or not, that makes it better.
If you learn kendo, you will realize how fake sword play is in the movies. It is very impractical and ineffiecient, plus dangerous, and historically people never would have trained or fought like that. For example, you do not train or spar (do jigeicko) with real metal swords, even dull ones, no matter how skilled you are in kendo, even if you have been practing for 50 plus years. People don't realize how dangerous even a dull blade can be. Believe me, if you are foolish enough to train with this you could easily loose a hand or worse, this has happened. That is why when we fight each other (which is what kendo is about) we only use bamboo swords- shinai- and we use armor- bogu. If you want to use real metal swords, try iaido. However in iaido they do not fight each other or spar, all they do is kata (at the speed of a tai chi practioner). Not to knock iaido though, it is a very beautiful martial art in its own right.
Last thing: At first the starting equipment for kendo isn't too expensive (you just need a gi, hakama and a shinai) but it can be expensive once you get your own armor, called bogu. (Cheapest decent set is $400). But you never start wearing bogu, any sensei worth his salt will make you spend at least 3 months without it. (Another reason why you need patience). This is so you learn the basics because its harder to learn the basics in armor. But don't think training without bogu is anything like training with it, it's like night and day. That's where a lot of people get confused. Training without bogu is not as intense, thrilling, or fast paced, and depending on what you are looking for it may be boring. That's why you need patience, because believe me once you get into bogu you will love it. (And once you are in bogu then you will spend the majority of the class in bogu).
If you are new to kendo, and you are serious about it, I may let you try on my bogu outside of class (not to train in, that's at the sensei's discretion) if it fits. This is because not everyone can handle wearing bogu at all. Also, I think that one thing Japanese sensei often don't understand about Americans is that if we are going to be patient for something good (and if we are going to shell out a lot of money for it) we have to know what we are waiting for. I will help in any way I can with this.
If I haven't scared you away by now, then please join us on our next carpool to the nearest dojo. Unfortuantly the nearest dojo is in Orlando, but hopefully having to travel will only be temporary until we can get something going here in Jacksonville. Please make sure you RSVP so that I know you are coming.
Personally this martial art is worth it, there is nothing like the feel of a shinai in your hand as you face your opponent. This is the most amazing martial art, and I hope you fall in love with it too.