Our club practice is to accept new students whenever they arrive.
I fully appreciate how much more work this is. There is some disruption to the routine as we gather around the shomen and talk about the concept and purpose of kendo. The group breaks up so advanced students work on drills while I go off to work with the beginners. I carve out floor space for the new students and I to work on basics and to teach them waza #1 of the Bokuto Ni Yoru Kendo Kihon Waza Keiko-Ho (referred to after this as Kihon Waza).
Would it be easier if we only accepted new students at one or two times per year? Absolutely. It’s more efficient to teach all new students at the same time. However, I think there are benefits to allowing people to start at any time.
Our dojo places more emphasis on the Kihon Waza. We start all new students with these techniques. This means that after one or two classes the new students can start integrating themselves into class with more advanced students. Everyone gets to do the drills at their own level. The new students get to observe more experienced members perform the techniques with them. There’s a benefit for everyone. New students progress faster. More experienced students get to demonstrate and explain, which deepens their knowledge.
More important than this though is the gathering around the shomen and talking about the concept and purpose of kendo. We have a reproduction of a scroll one of my English students made for me in Japan many years ago. I like to remind people why we’re doing what we’re doing (fundamental goal of self-improvement) and how we do it (with control and respect to ourselves and others). Our advanced students have been through this ritual many times, and I think it reminds us all that we’re all on the same journey.
This ritual is also a shared experience that everyone in our dojo has gone through since we started. New students are always welcomed into the group in the gathering around the scroll. It bonds us in a common purpose. And, I hope it reminds us all that we were all newbies at one point and that in reality, we’re still newbies.
I’m challenging for my 6th dan grading this fall. The past year and a half have been interesting as I’ve learned so much about myself and kendo. I’m truly grateful to all the sensei who have been helping me re-shape my kendo and help me develop a proper mindset and better technique.
It’s been a humbling year and a half of training, but it reminds me that I’m still a newbie. Even after passing my 6th dan, I will have so much more to learn. Everyone who does kendo has so much to learn. Maybe not as much as the newest students, but still we have a lot to learn. I think it’s important to remind ourselves of this as we’re on our kendo journey.