Today I passed my Kendo Sandan Shinsa in Mito City. YATA! Sandan is the Third Dan rank in kendo. It requires you to train for at least 2 years after your second Dan.

I drove to Mito this morning and met Suzuki Sensei and a few others from my Dojo, as well as a few others from Kamisu. I stuck with Tanigichi San for the day as we would be grading together.

The event started at 9 with Shodan (1st) followed by Nidan (2nd). I spent that time getting warmed up and setting my head right!

There were more than 100 candidates for both Shodan (1) and Nidan (2) up to nearly 120. With just under 70 for Sandan (3), and more than 60 for both Yon (4) and Godan (5). Thats around 400!

We lined up in rows of 10 before the jigeiko (non competitive fight) part of the Shinsa, we waited about 30 mins before our turn, and I was in the last group. I noticed alot of the people were visibly tense, and not kiai-ing very loud, so I set that in my mind, kiai like a banshee and relax my shoulders!
I had to do one keiko, and wait while two others did theirs for my second. The first went ok, I was quite nervous but I made sure to go go go for Men (attack to the head) after we started, we both stood kiai-ed inched in and bang, ai-men, and we absolutly smashed into each other, after that it was tit for tat, I got kote, men and kote men, and he got the same. My second Keiko was a little better as I had a chance to let the adrenaline settle and bring myself back upder control. This time I managed to get the first men in! After that it was the same again, we both got plenty of opportunities to attack, and I got a nice enough kaeshi do (catching and deflecting his strike to the head, and returning the strike across the his body) towards the end, I made him come for men, but maybe the do wasnt the prettiest!

After that there was roughly a 30 min wait for Kata to begin. Kata means form in Japanese, and in kendo it is an exercise for two people using wooden swords called bokken, the kata have two roles with one person striking first and the other making counter attacks. We don't wear protective equipment, and you must stop your cuts before they hit the target! There are 7 with a long sword and 3 using a short sword, for my test I had to perform the 7 long sword kata.

Again we lined up and had to wait maybe 30-40 mins while the shodan and nidan did theirs. I was in a set of 5 pairs, me being in the 4th pair, thus far away from the sensei! but then it changed!!
The three pairs in frount of us went first and another 3 pairs were added behind us! SO I was right in front of the Sensei.

To be honest, I really enjoy Kata, I find it much easier to relax and yet at the same time completely focus myself on every movement. Ive learned alot about the subtlties of Kata this year, so I wanted to show that in my shinsa. My aite was a little bit more nervous being in front of the Sensei, but after the 1st kata he calmed down alot and we performed pretty well. We were the only pair not to have to redo no 3!

As a side note, the level of kata was extremely poor in my opinion. ALOT of sandan candidates made some silly mistakes and had to stop and restart, whether it was pressure or just a lack of practice, I dont know....

After that was the written exam, which was simple, "Explain the benefits of Kiai" (the screaming and shouting in kendo) and "Write about the 3 Maai in Kendo" (the 3 distances). Pretty basic in my opinion. I also noted that Shodan did not have to take a written test. The test was done sitting on the floor, and afterwards you had to take it to be corrected by a Sensei, they could ask you to re do it, or write more of they thought you had to!

When handing in my paper there was a lady Sensei there who had good English, She translated what I had written, (as well as the other Foreigner who was there) and the Sensei gave me the ok.

At this time, there were a lot of people around the Sensei, and he took a moment to say "John-san, jibun no kata ha ichiban kirei, subarashkata" "Mr John, your Kata was the most beautiful, splendid"

He actually said the word splendid! Amazing, thanks to Kobayashi Sensei at Jikishinkan for helping me with my Kata!!

So that was it, all over, quicker than I thought! The jigeiko were over in a flash, the kata was quick and painless, the written test didnt take long at all, and I was back in Kamisu and all by 5.

Anyway thats enough about me.

Id like to thank YOU, who ever you maybe for helping me along this path to this stage. Either directly or indirectly, by instruction or inspiration, by friendship or rivalry, thank you for your help! I have been practicing Kendo for 4 years now, and it has truly become part of my life, I have met some wonderful people who have helped me to reach this goal with their patience teaching and friendship, and I hope that we can continue to motivate and inspire each other on to great achievements.
A big thank you to my "Family" at Dublin Kendo Kobukai, and to all involved in Irish Kendo. All of the Sensei who have helped me or bullied me into doing things right, and a special mention to the members of Takasaki City University of Economics Kendo Club.

Though they may not know it, and might not ever read this blog, the week I spent training there a year and a half ago helped me to reach the point I am at today. Their spirit and aggression in training was and unbelievable inspiration for me, they gave everything for every single cut and every single movement, being completely exhausted after training. Amazing, I really tried to emulate it, pushing themselves to the end, kiaiing with everything they had for every cut and never stopping for a break, It was a constand source of inspiration for me it helped my kendo to improve alot.

My advice for what its worth, to anyone who is at my level. Give absoltely everything you have in training, every cut, every kiai, every exercise, and every keiko, its hard, and it hurts, and afterwards you will be exhausted, but it will help you to reach a new level in your kendo.

Anyway, thats enough out of me, Thank you again for helping me, and for reading my nonsense.

Thanks guys!

EDIT, Id like to also mention that the difference in level between 3rd and 4th/5th dan was HUGE, those guys were really really strong, and while the 3dan was a good level, the step up required for yondan looks to be really really big. You could feel the pressure and seme from across the room, the level of Kiai, Zanshin, and the power behind attacks was much greater. There were alot more waza used (suriage men/kote, kaeshi do etc) which is to be expected, but I didnt see much waza in the Sandan section at all (with most people simply going for debana men/kote, or ai-kote men)