Budo World

Following the Path—Story of my Kyoto Taikai experience—

Markus Frey (Finnish Kendo Association)

If you are a person practicing kendo, have you ever dreamed of a total kendo experience?
A happening where you can practice, compete, eat, drink and breathe kendo?
I would say that attending Kyoto Embu Taikai is pretty close to all this.

During three days of early May in beautiful Kyoto you wake up at 5.00 am to take part in the asageiko. As you reach the dojo in Butokuden in Kyoto you will see around 90 8th dan senseis waiting for over 500 eager kendokas to test their skills against the masters. After the morning keiko and breakfast you spend your day by seeing the matches and demonstrations and then you have more keiko. In the evening you will have delicious ramen with your friends and kendo teachers. It’s a true kendo festival.

I have taken part in Kyoto Taikai twice. The first time to participate in this 110 year old tournament was in 2012 when I was a fresh 7th dan holder. I remember being very nervous and bit confused of the system. I was able to win my match but otherwise I was a bit confused. This year 2014 I was able to observe more carefully what was happening. With some more experience this second participation turned out to be one of the most remarkable kendo events I have taken part in my 28 years of kendo.

We grow and cultivate our skills when we step out of our comfort zone. In kendo this happens by facing new situations where you feel insecure and excited. For me having a match in Kyoto Taikai has been this kind of a place to meet my fears and expectations and to learn how to deal with them. It has been an opportunity and a necessary step to take in order to push my limits further.

However, it is not only your match, that makes Kyoto Taikai special. It is the atmosphere and the people you meet that create an unforgettable event. And of course it is the last day, the “Grande Finale” that makes the difference. This is the day when 8th dan senseis have their matches. The old Butokuden dojo is packed with spectators and the atmosphere is palpable when the hanshi holders clash against each other.

In Kyoto Taikai you are able to see how seamlessly kendo is integrated into everyday life and for a brief moment you can be part of it. You feel the connection to something bigger than yourself. While waiting for your match inside the dimly lit Butokuden, you will feel that you become part of the tradition of kendo. You are standing at the same wide planks of wood where the old masters once stood and had their tachiai.

Then suddenly they will call your name and it is your turn to enter the arena. Now it is your time to do your best and carry on the tradition of kendo forward to future generations. You are following the path.

Markus Frey is graphic designer and 7th dan kendoka living in Helsinki, Finland.

P.S. You can see my Kyoto Embu Taikai match in 2014 here: http://youtu.be/fo117QxPJQg