Tonight’s practice at Oakland was the last for this year, so they had a special surprise for beginners.

We began as normal, except practice was led by a young woman, who, with her brother, dominated the US Nationals when they were teenagers. She led keiko with an emphasis on doing everything with proper spirit – that of combat. Even when practicing and receiving strikes, you should be looking for openings to strike, rather than just standing and letting yourself be hit.

After that, we went into a hugantic sparring rotation, which quickly exhausted me. There’s a few kids in the class, who’ve been doing kendo for years, have earned several ranks, and they are fast!!

Anyway, at 15 minutes before ending time, they pulled all the kids and beginners to one side of the room. The beginners who didn’t have bogu were loaned a set from sensei, and suited up. Then, they tied balloons to the top of the helmet, right wrist, and right side of the waist.

They were split into two groups by color of balloon, red vs white, about 7 people on each team. They were then set free on each other, with the objective of being the last one with balloons unpopped!

Mass chaos ensued, as they went at it. As I said, some of the kids were quite skilled, while the beginners were not. And those balloons were really hard to pop!

Ivon kept chasing around another kid about two years older, and 6″ taller than him, and they kept bopping and pushing each other. In the mass of chaos, kids just wandered around, bopping balloons, yelling kiai, and chasing each other around. Someone would wander in and help Ivon double-team his opponent, then wander away.

Ivon’s helmet balloon slowly deflated, until it hung limply in front of his face, blocking his view, and still he kept fighting. What a kid!

After about 15 minutes, sensei called it to an end, and everyone laughed heartily. We all did one last kirikaishi, bowed out, and concluded practice.

What a fun year! My technique has improved, I have one level of rank, and half-decent technique!

Hope I can remember some of it next year!

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