FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS re: BEGINNERS
Q: What are the personal benefits of practicing kendo?
A: We want to become more healthy, more clear, more calm, more powerful, more beautiful, more compassionate human beings. We truly believe that steady, long-term practice of kendo is an excellent way to creatively apply all aspects of our being - physical, intellectual, and spiritual - towards the pursuit of these goals. Some people also find this kind of journey interesting and fun.
Q: I don't know what kendo looks like. What does it look like?
A: We need to take some photos and make a picture gallery for this website! Until then, here's a nice photo from Wikipedia Commons of two women kendoists at the European Championships in 2005. (Photo taken by Harald Hofer.) [ 2015/02 Update: a few kendo videos have been added to the photos/videos area. ]
Q: If I want to become a student at Meikyokan, how do I do that?
A: Individuals officially become students of Meikyokan dojo when an agreement is made between the chief instructor and the student. This can be discussed after about a month of training has been completed and consists of statements of intent and responsibilities for both the student as well as the teachers. We're happy to show you a sample agreement if you're interested in becoming a student at Meikyokan dojo.
Q: Does it cost a lot of money to start learning kendo?
A: No. The first month of training is considered a trail period. During this trial period there are no fees or tuition of any kind. A shinai (bamboo sword) may be borrowed for practices and traditional "kendo clothes" aren't necessary at this point - any kind of comfy "exercise clothes" are fine. So, there is no monetary commitment required to start learning kendo, only the more important commitments of time and effort.
Q: What about after the trial period? How much does it cost to practice kendo?
A: The monthly membership fee is $40 a month. There are no "registration fees".
Other costs: Students are required to own their own shinai (bamboo sword), bokuto (wooden swords), and kendo practice clothes if they continue beyond the trial period. (Meikyokan sensei will help students find these things if they need help with this.) Shinai for everyday practice typically cost around $30-$50, a set of long and short bokuto around $50, and a set of keiko-gi and hakama (practice shirt and skirt) runs between $100-$200, depending on the quality level. Good quality clothes are sturdy and tend to last for several years even when worn every day.
Beginners don't wear bogu (protective armor) for the first year or so, but it's still good to know how much it costs - even as a beginner - because it's pretty expensive! Decent quality bogu can be pricey - around $400-$600 - and for reasons of practicality we don't recommend that students buy 'cheap' armor even as a first ("beginner") set. If cared for properly, good quality bogu can be used for a long time, thus spreading the initial investment over many years. Of course, finding a used set of bogu that fits is even better!
Q: How long does it take before I can wear the complete set of bogu (protective armor)?
A: It depends on the rate of the student's progress (everyone is different), but usually beginners can start wearing bogu after about a year or year-and-a-half of training.
Q: Does it hurt when someone hits me with a shinai?
Q: What's a typical practice session like?
A: We approach kendo as a form of energy work. Although the elements of our practice program changes daily, the basic format remains fairly consistent.
• stretching and warm-up
• opening and brief meditation
• footwork, lower-body movement, and stance
• hand and sword movement
• theory and techniques of attacking and counter-attacking
• tactics and strategy
• brief meditation, and closing
Whenever possible, we also like to share and discuss the historical development of kendo, philosophies of kendo, and the many complex relationships that exist between practicing the descendant of a traditional warring art from Japan and how we experience contemporary modes of everyday life, here and now.
Q: How is Meikyokan dojo different from other places that practice kendo?
A: Compared to other kendo dojo / clubs / school programs / etc., Meikyokan dojo probably has more similarities than differences. That said, the following are a few things that may be different:
• We do our practices in the morning, every weekday, so that we can set the energy we want for our whole day!
• Our practices are designed primarily for adult beginners, especially women.
• We approach kendo as an internal system, with significant time devoted to energetic, spiritual, and conceptual aspects.
• The sporting aspect of contemporary kendo is de-emphasized.
• Developing students' analytical abilities is emphasized.
• Meikyokan dojo is an experimental institution; not a conservative one.
• We do open review & planning. (All Meikyokan students are welcome to attend dojo review/planning meetings.)
Q: Why does Meikyokan dojo focus on kendo for women?
A: Women and men are not the same. And while most aspects of how women and men do kendo are essentially the same, there are also differences (physical, social, cultural, psychic) that affect how women experience and practice kendo. If we deny these differences or do not seriously contemplate their significance, women often end up being expected to do "men's kendo" (also known simply as "kendo") and function within a kendo culture dominated by male individuals and patriarchal values.
Q: Can men also become students at Meikyokan dojo?
A: Yes. But since women kendoists are the primary focus at Meikyokan dojo, only men who understand their primary responsibility - that is, to support the women - will be accepted as students.
Q: Why are there no young children at Meikyokan dojo?
A: We love children! But until we have enough teachers to properly teach a separate children's class, we will only have adult students.
Q: Is there a ranking system in kendo?
A: Yes, kendo uses the dan system, which has much in common with grading in other Japanese martial arts:
6 kyu (The lowest rank in kendo; it is generally awarded within the dojo at the discretion of the instructor.)
5 kyu (Awarded within the dojo at the discretion of the instructor.)
4 kyu (Awarded within the dojo at the discretion of the instructor.)
3 kyu (Awarded within the dojo at the discretion of the instructor.)
2 kyu (Awarded within the dojo at the discretion of the instructor.)
1 kyu (This is the first rank that must be earned via examination by a panel of judges.)
1 dan (Sometimes referred to as "1st degree black belt" even though there are no "belts" worn in kendo.)
2 dan (May be taken as soon as 1 year after passing 1 dan exam.)
3 dan (May be taken as soon as 2 years after passing 2 dan exam.)
4 dan (May be taken as soon as 3 years after passing 3 dan exam.)
5 dan (The highest rank awarded by examination outside Japan. Subsequent exams must be taken in Japan.)
6 dan (May be taken as soon as 5 years after passing 5 dan exam.)
7 dan (May be taken as soon as 6 years after passing 6 dan exam.)
8 dan (Currently the highest rank awarded in kendo. This exam generally has < 1% pass rate.)
Here is a documentary about kendo and the testing system it uses. I know that sounds boring, but it's actually very interesting! [ video ]
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