“To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.” -Kurt Vonnegut
Since the beginning of March, one of the elders at the Hannam University church has been teaching us 검도 (geomdo) once a week, a martial art that is derived from the Japanese sword fighting sport called Kendo. It involves using a bamboo sword to hit your opponent and score points.
검도 is a lot of fun, though it’s very difficult. For me, the difficulty starts from the moment I arrive for practice because I have a lot of trouble putting on the uniform. As some of you may know, I am terrible at tying knots and still have trouble tying my shoes. So putting on a uniform that involves tying multiple knots, including behind my back is very complicated and tiresome. I usually end up needing someone else to help me put the darn thing on. The guy that sometimes helps me said that I am “very thin” because no uniform seems to fit snugly. I don’t think that is accurate because I’m not any smaller than some of the other guys. Regardless, the uniform is a little big, and the belt section of the uniform has to be wrapped around my midriff multiple times to be tight. When someone is helping me put the uniform on, I feel like a bride being helped into her wedding dress. Except, my issue isn’t that the outfit is too tight. It is that the outfit may slide down during practice.
Anyways, once I finally am dressed, we meet and do some warm-ups and stretching. Then I join the elder from the church, who instructs us in the basic form and footwork. There are a lot of things to keep track of. Your back foot is always on the ground. Grip the sword closer to the bottom of the handle. When you swing, you shouldn’t have lots of body movement. It should be smooth. Simple, right?
During one of our last weeks, my teacher let me join the other students to practice hitting against a rack of tires. Each tire was positioned to be where the wrist and head of your opponent would be. We lined up to practice our swings and rotated one by one. After a couple hits, we would rest and then do another round. Each round was faster and faster. By the last few rounds, people were sweating and beginning to lose breath. But me being the rookie, I was having too much fun hitting stuff. I wonder if the others thought I was weird because I was smiling the whole time.
At our last practice, our teacher let us try on the full keomdo uniform, complete with pads and face mask. Even though we hadn’t practiced enough to “earn” the right to wear the uniform, he wanted us to have the experience of wearing it. He even let me wear his uniform. Of course, I needed a lot of help and supervision to get the whole outfit on. However, once it was on, it was pretty awesome. And hot. After doing a few practice hits with a partner, I was sweating.
I mention all of this to say, that we don’t know what opportunities we encounter. Sometimes we look for them. And sometimes they find us. Our teacher didn’t have to offer to teach us about this wonderful sport. He certainly didn’t have to let us try on a full uniform. But he did it out of kindness and a desire to share the sport he loves with us.