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Title [Martial Arts Globe] Having Martial Arts as a Companion Hobby
(C) Lee So
While I was writing an essay on the subject of hobbies, I got an email from an editor at a publishing company. The email contained the blurb of my upcoming book. In the blurb, the editor described my hobby, which was the topic of the essay, as a “companion hobby.” Not a companion pet or plant, but a companion hobby? Was it possible to describe something intangible as a companion? I reflected on this unusual and curious description.
So what exactly is my companion hobby, you ask?
It’s kendo, a martial art where you wear protective gear from head to toe and swing a bamboo sword. I’m not a professional athlete by any means, nor did I spend my childhood playing about with wooden swords, so I’m not sure how I got into this sport… Maybe it was because of the manga Rurouni Kenshin that I read back then, or because I was impressed by a senior student at my high school, who carried around a bamboo sword for club activities. In any case, I started training kendo around the age of 20 and still train to this day, at the age of 36. Every evening, after I finish work and any errands, my footsteps naturally lead me to the dojang, if I don’t have any other plans.
Since I started training, days, months, years, and finally over a decade have passed. During that time, I steadily climbed the ranks and now I’m a fourth dan with my fifth soon to come. Out of all the hobbies in the world, such as embroidery, painting and piano, this is the one hobby that I’ve consistently kept up, even while working for a number of different companies. Even though I’m naturally a quiet person, I eventually came to be quite chatty when it comes to my hobby.
I began writing a training journal, then I started writing and drawing stories based on my stories. Although the journal was initially for my eyes only, it inspired drawings and essays that I could share with other people as well. As I gathered experience in creating content alongside my continued kendo training, I soon began to encounter unexpected events and opportunities. I received an offer to publish my essays, so I signed a contract. A women’s magazine called Marie Claire published my interview and photographs. (At first, I thought the interview proposal was a spam mail.) The process of showing the whole world a hobby that I had been keeping to myself is a fun journey, but it’s also been full of ups and downs.
I sometimes questioned myself as to why I continued dedicating so much time and energy to a martial art that doesn’t make me any money. Is it because it’s cool to show off on social media? Or because this is something that I’m good at? It didn’t really seem to mesh well with the rest of my life outside of kendo (writing, reading, etc.), which really doesn’t have much to do with sports otherwise. I took some photos of myself training kendo, but I didn’t really feel that they were worth posting on Instagram.
In that case, was it because there were lots of people around me who loved kendo and influenced me to train? Not at all. Other people who posted martial arts photos to their Instagram feeds mostly posted arts like jiujitsu or judo. I feel that, within the broader martial arts community, kendo is a small and niche sport. It’s rare to meet someone in everyday life who also trains kendo, and women like me who train kendo are even rarer. So, the more I wonder why I came to train kendo for so long, the less clear the answer becomes.
But I also feel that a hobby that I’ve kept up for such a long time is worthy of being called my “companion,” like the aforementioned editor described. Indeed, I gained so much by training kendo. The techniques I learned by training, the gym friends that I train with, and memories of achievements from overcoming hurdles like competitions and promotion tests, which served as milestones in my growth. I’m not sure if the experience of training made me into a better person, but I wonder if it helped me to jump into new endeavors with a little less hesitation and make positive changes in my everyday life as a result of trying new things. That’s how I’m looking back at the time that I’ve spent training.
As a timid and introverted person, kendo might not be the best fit for me naturally. But maybe the time that I’ve dedicated has molded me into a better fit for kendo, or maybe even kendo itself has become a tailor-made fit for me over time. I also realized that the beauty I saw in reading a good book or watching a good film could also be found within martial arts. Disciplined forms and precise strikes enabled through bodily movements. These things convey something to the hearts of those who train, as well as others who watch the fruits of strenuous training. This might be a little abstract for people who don’t train, but there is a certain kind of fun that people who do train knowingly and unknowingly share with each other.
Having reflected on my years of training, it occurs to me that training a martial art is actually a pretty good companion hobby to have. Would you look at the time? It’s evening already; time to go and train again!