Here is a confession for you: I think I might be a psychopath. Well, with heavy emphasis on the “might” part for a long time, I find it hard connecting with people and things in general. So yes, think of that stereotypical “quiet kid” who sits at the back of the class and barely speaks with anyone then you would have seen me in the past. However, to my surprise, going to college and trying to improve myself, I have finally found something that inspires me: kendo. In this article, I would like to share with you the story of how I found a home in the kendo community of Hanoi and maybe from such, you will be inspired to find your own as well.
OUR LITTLE PARADISE
The story begins roughly a year and a half ago. I was actually quite interested in joining a martial arts club to both get some exercise done while also learning some new practical defensive techniques. Then, I came across a post by a Korean student I have never met before. We call him Park, and he was a year younger than me but he was passionate about kendo, something he has practiced for approximately 12 years. So much so that he decided to establish the VinUni Kendo Club all on his own just so he can have a community of fellow kendo practitioners to practice with. My knowledge of kendo at that point was only limited to some glimpses of it on the anime and manga I was indulging in. Regardless, since it was the only option around for martial arts and I was fascinated by the idea of using a sword, I signed up. To be completely frank, the initial impression was quite underwhelming. As mentioned above, Park ran the entire operation almost by himself so he was stretched pretty thin. As a result, the lessons he could give were quite limited and the retention rate between the members were not particularly great. By the end, there were only four, Park included, who stay on and practice regularly.
Yet, the time we had was precious. We had fun learning from Park and in turn, we formed a bond as teammates and friends. We made fun of one another like any friend would, we talk about life and other stuffs during practice. We even share some snacks with each other. For once, I feel like I belong to a friend’s group (not that I don’t have friends beforehand). It is a feeling hard to describe but I suppose you cannot describe normal friendship that easily either. However, at some point, the club has to be put under hiatus after Park left to study elsewhere. My clubmates and I were left without a home. Yet, in our mutual love for it, we found a way.
“THE YUEI” ARC
In search of a home, we wandered to different kendo clubs in Hanoi, many of which traced their history back to the first days of kendo in Vietnam. Ultimately, we ended up at Yuei Kendo Club, a young club run by Mr. Hung, once a member of the national kendo team competing in international tournaments. Mr. Hung is still around the age of a young adult and yet, he exhibits an aura and manner of a respectable gentleman twice his age. He is what one may call “a torchbearer” who can pass down the flame of passion to others through his presence alone. Yet, he was not a man who distanced himself from others. The kendo club he leads is similar to a family. We laugh at the silliest of jokes and talk about the most pointless of topics. Nevertheless, the feeling of harmony and openness was clear, that is what I was seeking for all along.
With such an impression, I came down to a decision: I would join Yuei as an official member and practice so that I can reach a level that would be safe to teach others back and hopefully rebuild the VinUni Kendo Club. That was 5 months ago and I must say, it is one of the best judgment calls I have made in the past few years. The fun I had there the first time was not a facade but a feeling that persisted throughout my days practicing there. I learned a lot and got officially promoted to the “bogu” (Japanese term for kendo armor) section, which means I would be practicing advanced techniques and be able to compete in tournaments. Obviously, at such a new height, I was able to learn a whole lot more if I had instead stayed down with the basics forever.
THE JOY OF KENDO
In a way, I can call a lot of people at Yuei Club as my friends for how we speak and retort to one another. Maybe it is the open-mindedness that led us to kendo or maybe it is the similarity in age and experience that I could speak to everyone and have fun with them. We usually have these “ice tea chats” after practice, during which everyone talks about anything and everything that seems fun to all. One could also learn a lot more after practice by talking to the “senpais” (Japanese term for upperclassmen) and asking them about different techniques and assessment of your performance. Our bond increased further when recently, we all put our hands together to organize a small exhibition booth and workshop for kendo at a small local Japanese festival in Hanoi. Though the organization of the event itself was busy and a bit hectic, we managed to pull through. Everyone worked so well together because we understood one another, from our strengths to our weaknesses.
Practicing at Yuei gives me a confidence I did not think I could have. This is most evident by the fact Mr. Hung encouraged everyone, even the “newbies”, to participate in summer tournaments.
“Even in failures, you can learn something.”
As a result, I have participated in a lot of kendo tournaments this summer. All of which I did not come out with great results but regardless, I had fun and learned a lot from my opponents who I made a habit of coming to greet afterward and asked for advice on my techniques. My opponents were all long-time practitioners of the arts (estimating around 7-10 years of experience) so I wasn’t even close to even match up their skills. Yet, they were very friendly and dignified in their victory. Upon my request, they readily provide tips and advice on improvements I can make. This friendliness, I feel, creates a sense of comradery rarely seen in other sports. This kind of mentality has humbled me a lot and really emphasizes that aspect of “learning” that I have always been fascinated with.
All in all, even in failures, I can have fun and learn a whole lot more. What is even more important is the friends I have made during this time. Inside and outside of Yuei Club, everyone in the kendo community is so friendly and fun to hang out with. Young or old, we all have a certain respect for one another which I find essential in any relationship. In a way, kendo brought us together and the friendship we made helped us continue on our kendo path. It is a two-way relationship and it makes me glad to have taken up the arts.
At the end, I just want to simply end this article with a small bit of wisdom I have garnered throughout this experience: “Don’t be afraid to take up new things and be persistent with it”. My curiosity and persistence were probably most instrumental to my eventual connection to kendo. It was a fun time and through it, I met many amazing people. It was also an opportunity to improve myself, both physically and socially. Being in a community that welcomes you really changes one’s perspective on their role in society. Now, I don’t say everyone will like kendo, it is a personal choice. What I am saying, though, is that if you are finding yourself lost and without a purpose like I once was, I would tell you to be brave and stand up. There are a mirage of new and interesting things out there, and as unorthodox as some can be, do not be afraid and give it a try. You just might be good at it or for my case, love it due to its principles.
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