In the past, when we went to kendo tournaments, driving at 5:30 am through the dark town on the way to catch the first ferry to Vancouver, we used to joke that it takes some kind of especially weird people to willingly get up that early and go somewhere to get hit by bamboo sticks, while having others scrutinize every inch of our movements. I think somewhere along the way I myself bought into this story and lost track of why we actually like doing this. I stopped noticing the best part of tournaments that makes all these things worth it.
It took me physically going to a tournament yesterday (lack of enthusiasm being no match to the force of habit) to recall what the best part of the competition was. For me personally, it is not winning matches (I wish it was one of the reasons, but unfortunately I mostly lose my matches), but the experience as a whole. I realized that I like meeting up early to carpool to the ferry, talking about kendo over ferry food, noticing the sunrise over the islands through the window and running to the upper deck with the camera to take some shots of it. And then, at the tournament, searching for my name in the lineup (it is fun to realize that I recognize many names after the years), feeling how adrenaline pushes away sleepiness right before my match, taking photos, watching matches, trying to see if I follow, and agree with, the shinpan’s decisions. On the way back, more kendo talk – what went wrong (inevitably), how things are not like they used to be, what we need to work on.
Overall, I am glad that we can to it every now and then. The actual best part? It’s hard to put a finger on. If pressed, I would have to say, it’s hanging out with others, who, for some weird reason, also find value in being hit with bamboo sticks.