I got beat pretty handily during my second match in Cleveland Saturday. My opponent was a nidan from Battle Creek, whose father (or possibly grandfather) is a hashidan (the program listed a hashidan with the same last name from the Battle Creek dojo, so I assume there is a relationship). I don't know whether this gave my opponent any real advantage, but man, he was good. I could not exploit those few openings I did see (and I'm sure I missed quite a few), and he was quite aggressive. He got me with a pair of very crisp, strong men strikes. The second men in particular--the kill shot, so to speak--was just textbook perfect. I had no answer, and I just had to bow and acknowledge what was a superior demonstration of kendo skill (and a very gracious kenshi, as well, as I discovered when I congratulated him following our match).
"You must begin to think about how to do nidan kendo," Hiro told me at Mudokwan last week. If my Cleveland opponent's kendo is indicative of the level to which I must aspire--well, I have a lot of work to do.
But there is more to it than that. I saw a lot of excellent, high-end kendo at Cleveland this weekend. I saw the sort of kendo I want to do. And after a lot of thinking (believe me, driving home through the barren expanse of northern Ohio and Indiana, one has a great deal of thinking time) I've come to the conclusion that, if I continue doing what I am doing now, I will never get where I want to go with my kendo.
To be sure, I've progressed over the last year or so--very, very slowly, in fits and starts, and a two-steps-forward-and-one-back sort of way. The arrow is still generally pointing up, but not by much. I worry that the slowly moving wheels on my personal little kendo-mobile are turning so slow, in fact, that they may well one day grind to halt and I'll find myself stuck and unable to progress. What I've been doing with my kendo, in other words, is adequate, but nothing more.
So changes need to be made. And those changes, I've come to believe, while centered on my kendo need to start with my running, oddly enough.
Over the past couple of years I've tried several times to train for and run this or that ultramarathon, always coming up short due to injuries, scheduling problems, etc. I kept trying, because I don't like to fail, and because I greatly admire ultrarunners and what they do. And then, of course, there is also R.I.P., the Run Indiana Project, my very big ultra-running goal of running a 300 mile route from southern to northern Indiana to raise money for the fight against childhood obesity. It is my ultimate ultra-goal, a capstone achievement, a big dream to chase and think about while I'm out logging my daily miles.
I could run ultras, and I could run R.I.P. But it is becoming increasingly clear to me that, if I choose to pursue these goals, I will need to accept mediocrity and stagnation in my kendo. I simply cannot pursue both these running goals and serious improvement in my kendo.
Part of this is practical. I just don't have the time to do both ultra-type running and excellent kendo: simple as that. Not with a family, a writing and a teaching career. But more than a scheduling matter, I think I need to get things right mentally. In fact, this is by far the more important matter. I need to get my head fully into my kendo, fully focused and zeroed in on what I need to do. And I just don't think that's possible while I'm also trying to conquer ultras, R.I.P. and the many miles (not to mention planning) this would involve.
I'm not ditching my running, of course--far from it. It is the foundation of my fitness life. But I need to fnally and fully accept the fact that I'm a marathon runner, no more and no less. Trying to do anything more upsets the balance between my running and my kendo. So for the foreseeable future I'm shelving any plans for an ultramarathon, or R.I.P. I may return to these goals at some point, but only after I achieve what I wish in kendo.
Next step (or steps) 1) articulating some realistic goals for my kendo, short and long term, and 2) refocusing my running on a program that still keeps me doing 26.2 miles, but is compatible with my kendo and my life generally.