This past Monday was our last practice at our dojo. The owners are tearing down the entire building soon. Fortunately, we have a new spot already lined up, and we start practices up again on our normal schedule of Monday, Wednesday, Saturday, but it will take a little time to adjust to the new location. Not just because it's a farther drive for me, but the whole feeling of the dojo will be different for a while. We'll have to get used to an entirely new floor, new space, where to park, where to change, etc. Anyone that has gone through a change in locations knows this.
This will be the fourth location we've trained in since I started in 2009. We started out at a small church gym just down the road from the location we were at recently. I remember the floor wasn't the greatest for kendo, and we ended up having to patch it up several times because the boards would break. It got so bad that the church had to come in and re-do the floor , and even after that we ended up putting a few more holes in it. But it's where I worked my way through the beginning classes and into bogu, and where my passion for kendo first started.
Our next stop was at a place way north, at a school gym. Honestly I don't remember much about this location except that it was a lot larger space than the church gym we used, and we had to change in the band room. The only notable memories I have from this spot were pulling a muscle in my leg right before my very first UW Taikai (I still ended up taking third place that year in the 1-3 kyu division, even with the limited range of motion), and Billy smashing my toe and bending my big toenail in half right before our summer camp. It was pretty bad, blood everywhere, but after a couple days I was able to move on it fairly well and still attended the camp and did my best.
In the fall of 2011, I believe, is when we moved to the spot that we'd occupy for almost seven years. I had just made 1-kyu and was working on testing for 1-dan in February. When we first got there it was glorious, but a little messy. We had so much room! The floor, however, was like an ice rink and many times people would lunge forward to strike and end up sliding across the floor afterward. It was great having our own space, though, and we worked hard to improve it. We ended up re-finishing the floor over the course of a couple weeks, with crews of people working almost 24/7 during that time to get everything done and finished. The names of the volunteers of that project are still autographed on the floor.
One of my favorite memories is from 2012. Shortly after we re-finished the floors we hosted a group from Japan, the junior national champions. They included both the boys and girls individual champions, as well as the boys team champions, and a special guest that won an essay contest and came with the group to train with us. The boy's coach, Enomoto Sensei (7-dan at the time, not sure now) accompanied them, as well as a couple of "chaperones." Toyomura Sensei (Kyoshi 8-dan) and Ota Sensei (Hanshi 8-dan) were the chaperones. I know that a lot of people have trained with 8-dan holders before, but this was my first time and I was beyond excited. I fully expected to get beat up by the kids, as they were super fast and moved at a rate that I couldn't really comprehend yet, but to be beat up by the sensei that had been training most of their lives was another thing entirely. They didn't move very fast at all, physically speaking, but they were spot on when they read me and forced me to do exactly what they wanted, when they wanted. I remember Ota Sensei stopping me after an exchange in which I struck his kote. He turned around and grabbed me and said "Good kote!" while pointing to his kote. I said thank you and thought he was just being nice. He shook his head and said again, "No. Good kote!" I was elated! I still think it's one of the best compliments I've received in kendo.
Since that time I've progressed from shodan (1-dan) to yondan (4-dan), all while training in the same space, three to four times a week. The years in between held many memories, and a lot of blood, sweat and tears from all of us that have trained together and become more of a family than just dojo mates. It was really bittersweet to have taken part in the very first and very last practice at that location, but I'm glad that so many people came out. We had a few people that haven't been around in a LONG time that came out for one final training session, as well as those of us that have been there on a regular basis since we got there. Wendy ran the training and put us through our paces, as she's good at doing. We started slow, with kata, going over some of the kihon and traditional kata before suiting up for the rest of practice. We went through a couple different versions of kirikaeshi, then into general drills before ending with a load of jigeiko. I was able to go with almost everyone that showed up, including the people I hadn't seen or trained with for a while. It was a lot of fun, and I just enjoyed the time on the floor, not thinking about or trying to improve anything in particular.
As all good things do, though, our training finally came to an end. One last kirikaeshi, followed by the best men strike we could muster to send it off on a high note. As we lined up, removed our men and kote and called mokuso, the room fell silent. Where moments before there was a mixture of yelling, sword classhes and feet sweeping across the ground, now there was nothing. Nothing but the quiet buzzing of the lights overhead, that is. Our voices might not be heard in that space again, but I'm looking forward to making new memories, and friendships, in our new space, and eventually finding another permanent spot to call our own. Until then, though, I'll continue training hard to improve myself and our dojo!