Kendo, Ramadan and Sports Performance

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An area of training that has intrigued me for quite some time is whether someone can fast and still maintain a level of physical conditioning such that one can perform satisfactorily in Kendo.

I recently had the chance to test this thesis using myself as, pardon the term, “guinea pig!”

This was my first tournament since I suffered a stroke, several years ago. I also had the misfortune of almost passing out from heat exhaustion in kendo class one hot summer day. Now I always try to be well hydrated while participating in practice.

The temperature can reach as high as over 100 degrees Fahrenheit where we practice. There is very little cross ventilation in our space and the windows may be only partially opened due to possible neighbor complains about noise levels. This coupled with the Kendo armor and our bodies are probably exposed to temperatures 10 to 20 degrees above that!

My sensei (Noboru Kataoka) came up to me a few weeks earlier and asked if I would be interested in participating in the 2015 AEUSKF Tournament? I replied yes without any hesitation. While one part of me was a bit apprehensive. The other part was eager to take on the challenge. In the past, I have been active in Kendo events throughout Japan, in the Dominican Republic, in Jakarta, Indonesia and in Shenzhen, China. I believe that in Kendo, you must be able to apply yourself under any and all situations.

Some may view it as simply practicing a sport. I tend to take it a little more seriously. I perceive it as training the mind. “The path to Hei-jou-shin (calm, peaceful mind) takes you down the road of fear (odore), through the valley of doubt (utagai), across the mountain of surprise (odoroki), beyond the sea of confusion (osage)!” This was a motivational phase I created many years ago that puts all things in perspective for me. It is about enduring in spite of the obstacles, which may confront you.

Making this even more of a challenge, I had to consider that I would also be observing Ramadan. This is the month on the Muslim calendar generally highlighted by abstaining from sexual activity, food and any liquid during daylight hours! The first two are relatively easy for most people. It is the lack of water, which incidentally, makes up about 65% of the human body, which is the most difficult to endure!

Prior studies on Ramadan and sports performance have centered on individuals in the 34-year and younger age brackets, and one study focusing on fighter pilots in the 27-49 year bracket. Most concluded thatperformance during brief (e.g., squat jump, countermovement jump, maximal voluntary contraction, etc.) or very short-duration (e.g., 5-m sprint, 10-m sprint, 20-m sprint, etc.) maximal exercises is maintained during the month of Ramadan. However, single or repetitive short-term maximal efforts and long-duration exercises are generally affected by Ramadan even if some studies did not show any significant change.” I could find no studies deriving the possible effects on those 60 and above; hence I am the guinea pig!

Fortunately, I would be playing in the Senior Division at the Kendo tournament; I believe I was the only one who had prior experience with a stroke!

While I was later eliminated in my second match, my biggest concern did not occur. I did not get exhausted or feel tired or pass out. This to me was a personal achievement under the circumstances and will propel me to work even harder in the future.

This experience actually enabled me to analyze a very important element of Kendo. It is about how you engage your opponent or adversary. Your breathing should be controlled. Your mind should be in a constant state of readiness. You have to be ready to strike at will. After you strike, you must follow through into zanshin*

The beautiful thing about this is now I better understand what I now want to accomplish. It is embedded in my brain and will now become a part of me. This is part of the grace and beauty of Kendo, one of my favorite pastimes.

I belong to a good Kendo group (the New York City Kendo Club). I have one of the best Sensei’s and in my 34 years of training I know what has to be done to improve. I guess I am still on that path; it is truly a most exciting journey!

* Zanshin – is a term used in the Japanese martial arts. It refers to a state of awareness – of relaxed alertness. A literal translation of zanshin is “remaining mind”

Sources of Inspiration

“Body Water.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 07 July 2015.

http://www.esciencecentral.org/ebooks. Effects of Ramadan Fasting on Health and Athletic Performance (n.d.): n. pag. Web.

Salmon, Geoff. Kendo, Inherited Wisdom and Personal Reflections. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Aug. 2013. Web.

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Perseverance

I had just traveled about 8,000 miles on a 14 hour trip to Japan. I was to take the test for YonDan, 4th-degree black belt in Kendo, the art of Japanese fencing. As I had said earlier (http://wp.me/p2hekR-d), I had to delay my departure due to passport problems. I did not have adequate time to train in Japan prior to challenging for my YonDan shinsa (test). While everyone else had succeeded in their tests, I had failed!

There was a celebration for the group of us that had traveled from all the way from New York to take the test. As part of the festivities, the HachiDan (Nishino Sensei, 8th-degree black belt) in charge asked each of us to say a few words about our experiences. Everyone before me had happy things to say, after all, they had met their objectives.

When my turn to speak came, there was a deafening silence in the room. I began to tell the other Senseis there about how I tried to channel my frustrations into positive learning experiences. In this particular instance, I had written a poem…

I did not pass
There are always obstacles to overcome
Others may try to impede my progress
I will press on, I will never give up!
I have only failed when I start to doubt myself.

I could see some of the Senseis fighting back tears. I had touched them that night and made many friends. Nishino Sensei got up and exclaimed that I understood the true meaning of being a Samurai and he, in turn, took a napkin and wrote his own words about never giving up. I framed that napkin and look at it during times when success does not come easily, which is often.