By Charlie Kondek
I've been working on and off on an article on my main physical activity, kendo. Working title is "Japanese Game." I haven't got a real game-plan for where I'd like to submit it. I'd really like to submit it to a men's magazine of some kind. Below is the intro.
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Describing kendo to the uninitiated, I should do so from the outside in. After all, to someone who has never seen it, it must seem bizarre. Two opponents, gauntleted, in bright, hooded chrome masks and flowing, skirt-like pants, wield with two hands long pieces of bamboo that resemble unopened umbrellas and, screaming, try to slash each other, their bodies smashing together like marionettes after the cut. I should describe this from the outside in, but maybe because I experience almost everything of kendo from behind that metal face, looking out at my surroundings through lines of steel, I feel compelled to describe it from the inside out. If you were to go inside my mind, to the heart of my kendo, what you might find is this.
I'm twelve. I have just read in the paper that one of our small movie houses is showing The Seven Samurai. I ask my mother if I can go. For whatever reason, I can't find a friend to accompany me. On a rainy Saturday afternoon, my mom drops me off alone at the matinee.
It's an old theater, since made over into an "art house." With the rain outside, the inside, carpeted, gold and dark, is warm. Besides the staff, I am the only person in the lobby. I get some popcorn and a pop. There is only one other person in the audience when the movie begins.
It's a three-hour movie. You may have seen it or, if you haven't, you should. It's about a small village in pre-industrial Japan. Every year the village is attacked and raided by brigands, and the village has no protectors. This year, unable to take it anymore, the villagers try to recruit freelance samurai to defend them. They have nothing to offer the samurai except meager food and shelter, yet they are able to obtain seven, who agree to fight for reasons of their own, including pity, altruism, adventure, impersonation and skill.
There is an intermission. I go into the lobby, play a video game and watch the rain. When I return to the theater, I am the only audience member. The samurai have become involved in the lives of the villagers. There are several skirmishes and a mud-splattered climactic battle in a rainstorm. When the movie is over, I am changed. As I said, it's a very good movie.
Skip ahead to my young adulthood. I have lead a life not always sedentary, but not particularly active, either. At the age of 26, I quit smoking. I want to get in reasonable shape and I know instantly how I want to do it: martial arts. I try my hand at mixed martial arts, learning punching, kicking, takedowns and grappling. I'm no prodigy, not particularly tough or strong, but I am passionate and disciplined. It sets the stage for what I want to do next. Ever since I was 12, I have harbored a fantasy that I might be one of The Seven Samurai. I put that fantasy with all my other notions about swords and swordsmanship. I decide I want to participate in fencing of some kind. The university in my town has both a kendo club and a western-style fencing club. It's almost a flip of a coin. Almost.