Tuesday was a regular day back at school. I've been working on my study methods and it's improving well I think. I'm still learning more and more everyday and I'm enjoying it a lot. I'm learning some new grammar and it's proving to be more difficult than the grammar I was working on earlier in the year.
I think I've got the basic grammar sorted but now it's getting more in-depth and people don't tend to use it in normal conversation as much so I don't get many chances at using these new ways to talk.
I didn't go to kendo tonight because of karate which was a slight shame because we were starting the dreaded: "Hard Menu." (A week of training so hard that there is nothing to compare it to.)
I got to karate all ready to try and keep my winning spree up for another week. Fuyuki and I had our slow warm up fights before we could really have a good go at the end.
I was already hurting, I have to lend my shin pads to Emma, the other Gero exchange student who is giving karate a go, so I go it bare shinned. And it hurts.
We get to the last fight and face off. We battled hard. I remember getting a good one in the ribs, (I don't know how he always hits me in the ribs so hard.) and busting my shin on his elbow but I also got some vicious hits to his guts.
We hit each other without fear of being hit back and it was tough. We stood there, sweating and breathing heavily as we waited for the student judge to give the verdict.
He slowly and nervously raised his hand to my side. Sensei gave him a good shouting at for not being precise enough with his actions but I wasn't too worried, I was sore all over but grinning from ear to ear.
"I am getting stronger??" I thought to myself. (Writing from the future, the answer is no, Fuyuki has a comeback.)
Wednesday was a special day because it was the ball sports tournament. We gathered in the hall on the chilly morning in our sports gear, all ready to have a fun day.
The tournament was supposed to be quite some time ago but there was a tragedy at the time (I wrote about the boy who drowned.) Which caused the event to be postponed.
The principle said in his morning speech: "While his name is on the list of players, he wont be here to participate beside but he is somewhere cheering you all on."
It was quite touching. We got up and made our way to our sports fields. I was going to be playing soccer and we had quite a ways to walk to get to the field. I didn't know this at the time though so I left my lunch box in the classroom, assuming that we would come back for a feed.
The wind was strong and it was bitingly cold. I only had P.E. shorts and a T-shirt so I was feeling it. We warmed up and got to our first game. I was the goalie and we were versing some third years.
|Can't complain about the cold when I was the only one to get a singlet!|
However, throughout the day we all switched roles and we didn't score a single goal. I did manage to kick one kid in the shin and knee another kid in the thigh. Woops. It's those karate instincts.
Our day ended early so we sought shelter in the stadium beside the soccer field and watched the girls volley ball. That was pretty fun. And it wasn't windy so it was all the better.
Soon enough though we had to go back to school. When I write it like this it seems as though we were only outside for an hour or so. But we were actually there for about five. And I didn't have lunch.
But by the kindness of my friends, I got to eat one rice ball and one cracker. Can't complain when people are giving up their food for me, I was so grateful.
I got to talk to one of the kendo guys and I asked him how the first night of hard menu was. He said it was hard. I sort of didn't get an idea of how hard hard is until he said that when he got home he vomited and went straight to bed.
Oh. It's "Chuck your guts up"-hard. And the horror of hard menu week is that everyday is harder than the previous one.
I was quite nervous.
I got to the club room to grab my gear when one of my friends asked if I was actually going to do it.
"What?! Brennan, are you coming to training tonight? You know that this can't be compared to anything, aye? We're all going to die!" He said.
I said: "I'd like to give it a go!"
You might remember from ages ago, I talked about kendo and people training so hard that they would fall down on the spot and have small fits and then get straight back up for training.
Well this was that sort of training. They do two Hard Menu weeks a year and I only observed the first one, this time I was going to participate. I knew that if I showed my face in the dojo then I'd have to do it all from start to finish. There was no sitting out this time.
We started off with the regular warm up and then got straight to it.
We cheered and screamed and bellowed as we ran up and down the dojo, smashing these light bamboo swords that had suddenly become so heavy. I started off screaming as per usual but as I realised that I was about ready to kark it and we were only 20 minutes into the two hour session, I somewhat evolved.
Instead of just yelling, I was roaring. It felt amazing to be honest. In hindsight I can say that it was fun in a twisted way.
But at the time, I wasn't even thinking. I was just roaring and swinging this stick. After every exercise everyone would bump fists and cheer each other on.
We did this death syndicate twice and I thought my arms were actually going to fall off. It was as much an emotional journey as it was a physical exercise.
I found myself at breaking point with two clear options in my head. I thought I could drop here, just lay down and pass out or I can just keep conjuring this energy out of nowhere and keep on fighting.
Obviously the former is not an option. I was in a room full of people thinking the same thing. All of us wanted to stop and rest but no one would because we were fighting together. I thought the team spirit was beautiful and with that, I kept on roaring.
We finished the menu and heard sensei shouting at us so we ran to him and fell to our knees to listen to what he had to say.
We weren't trying hard enough and we finished a little early so we were going to do some more. We ended up going 15 minutes overtime but finally we finished and got to rest.
Sensei yelled at us because we weren't trying hard enough. He said he would hope that we aren't so weak tomorrow.
(I'm pretty sure he was just trying to work us up and make us do even better but he must be an awesome actor because his disgust was pretty sincere.)
We patted each other on the back and everyone said that I was some kind of monster. They didn't know where my voice came from and they couldn't believe that I didn't drop on my first ever hard training.
I told them that everyone else was trying just as hard but they insisted that I was doing something good. They said that it was pretty amazing that even though I had only done kendo for about nine months I was able to do this.
It made me feel pretty good and made the near death experience all worth it. The next day would of course, be harder than this was.
School was neither here nor there on Thursday. I was in two minds about training tonight. I had to go to karate and kendo and kendo was looking pretty daunting, especially since I was having trouble moving my fingers, arms and legs. Fingers from gripping the sword, arms from swinging it and legs from all the running and stomping around,
My voice was also a bit deeper than usual, I thought.
School past in a flash and I knew that I had better get to training. My sword last night had to be repaired and today it was supposed to be fine but I was a bit dubious about it. It had a mighty big crack through one of the shafts.
Should be right.
We started again. This time the two syndicates had been upped a bit and they had some new exercises added to them.
No one knows about the schedule until we get to training and it is written on a white board.
Sensei was there watching from the start, with his woolly socks and big jacket. He looked pretty comfortable.
But I was once again a robot. Just a screaming, arm swinging robot.
I managed to get a few normal yells in before I changed again and the roaring started again. Sometimes people would just scream for the hell of it. I did too, I don't remember why.
We all bumped fists again after every exercise and it felt great. People were cheering me on and saying my name as we stomped about. It was uplifting and helped me work my way through everything.
But I hit that wall again, I was barely thinking at all but I remembered something my karate sensei from back in NZ said to me about getting over these barriers and fighting on and that helped me a lot.
Halfway through training, I noticed that my sword was about ready to splinter so I requested a swap and I got an old one from the cupboard. It'll have to do!
|It was absolutely wrecked on the inside, it was about ready to snap|
(This photo is in the club room after training.)
I was sweating like never before and my heart was beating so hard that it could have been the metronome to keep everyone stomping in time.
We made it to the end once again, almost dead. Sensei this time said:
"Today was better than yesterday."
And then he said my name and rattled of some words that I didn't understand. I was a little worried.
Once again everyone called me a monster but they also congratulated me on something. I was quite confused.
I asked my mate, Tenpei what was up and he said that Sensei had praised me.
I didn't believe it! I got Tenpei to explain what he said to me and this is apparently what he had to say.
"You can't shy away when your body is tired. It becomes a matter of spirit of body when you've got no energy to keep going but you've got to keep going. Everyone should look at Brennan, he's done karate for most of his life so he has that warrior spirit. He was screaming even when he was breaking, It doesn't matter how good or not he is at kendo, he was giving his best and that's what you all need to do too."
I was quite moved by that. Sensei doesn't normally have anything nice to say at all.
Tenpei couldn't believe that I still hadn't dropped. Once again, I was proud to have finished the session and it made it all worth it again.
Just one more day!!
There were rumors going about school that this was going to be so hard that it was dismissed as a joke. No one can do the "extra exercise syndicate THREE times!" Hahaha, that's stupid.
We got to training believing that we were doing a slightly harder version of the previous day.
But shock horror! The rumors were true! People were asking if it was a joke but it was on the board so it was the truth.
Back to it then!
I was going fine up until the final exercise of the final syndicate. I was roaring my heart out but I found that my legs weren't responding the way I wanted them. So I decided to kick it up a gear and get back to normal speed.
As I screamed, I found myself face first on the ground. I don't know how I got there but I can remember being furious at the fact that I was down. I jumped up and went back to smashing with a new vigour.
"Ah shit." I thought. I finally dropped.
But I made it to the end and I was happy for it. It was finally over. Hard Menu week had finished and I couldn't be more ecstatic.
|We did it!|
(Not everyone is here because some went of to get changed and die in piece, I would soon follow.)
|Tired but stoked|
|Tenpei, I think I talked about him in the last blog.|
He's one of my best friends and is so strong it's unbelievable.
|"Do a cool pose" I said.|
|Genya here helped me a lot too, he's little but moves like lightening.|
|Akiho is a higher grade and would run laps around me but she said she was really proud of me for doing the hard week.|
|This is what I was seeing all week.|
Can't see anything bar whats in front of you.
|My weapon of choice|
|This was my new old sword.|
|I can remember there being one small hole in my glove just a week ago.|
|Speech to be memorised!|
I said it three times in my room before I went to sleep, just to make sure.
I woke up on Saturday and did my speech one last time before leaving the house. I always challenge myself to memorise my speeches and do them without paper or cards and do the speech off by heart.
That way I can look at the crowd and look confident. I used to get incredibly nervous before my speeches to the point where I would be shaking and couldn't eat. But I've gotten pretty used to it now and I have no problems with them. I think they are quite fun sometimes.
But this time there was a crowd of over a thousand people.
I ran into that old eating problem at lunch time but forced myself to eat, mainly to try and shut down those nerves.
|Curry and fried chicken. The curry was quite nice and it did help me calm down once I ate it.|
We walked down the corridors to where we would be having the meeting and it turns out we were late. So we gate crashed in the coolest fashion. As I walked at the front of the exchange student line, people would look back and see a wall of badges but when I walked past them, they saw the hello kitty on my back and that got quite a few comments too.
|Jake and I, ready for a long day of sitting and not doing much.|
|Most of these guys fell asleep for a decent portion of the meeting.|
|These guys too.|
But there were a fair few people there.
But there was this really cool guy directing everyone around and he got me all pumped up and ready to go.
My name was called (and they didn't even mispronounce it!) and I walked out onto the stage as confident as I could. I bowed to the flag and made my way up to the lectern.
There was a spotlight and it actually blinded me. I couldn't even see the crowd!!
I knew that because most of the Rotarians were asleep. I would have to be extra loud. So I gave a strong: "Konnichiwa!" to everyone and they replied back.
And then it all went to plan, with only one stutter and one backwards word. I was damn pleased.
I mentioned my karate tournament results from a while ago in Japan and they all clapped for me which stumped me. I didn't know how to react so I just waited and kept on speaking.
I really should of said thanks and then carried on but I was pretty confused.
They all clapped for me and it might just be because I was on stage, but it sounded like they clapped louder than before. I even heard that one guy from my Rotary club gave me a standing ovation which made me feel real good.
I stepped back from the lectern and shook one of the governor's hands. It was cool as.
|I love talking but I never thought I get to be here,|
waffling on stage.
|And now I'm grinning like an idiot, just standing there.|
I sat back down in the crowd when one of the Rotarians from the exchange group came up to us and hurried us all away for some "tea."
It turns out he just wanted to escape the meeting and he took us with him.
This hotel is also a wedding venue so we got to look around at the traditional Japanese wedding rooms and one thing led to another and woops, some of us got married.
|I was the reverend hahaha|
|The 'new' group.|
Emma and I left with some of the Gero Rotarians to go out for dinner. We were dropped off in a cafe somewhere with the orders to have a coffee and wait.
Our waitress turned out to be an old exchange student who went to Australia (Dunno if Rotary or not.) But that was pretty cool. I guess you never know who you'll meet wherever you go.
We got picked up and taken out to this amazing yaki-niku restaurant. Yussss!
|I have pretty much found my love in life.|
And I'm drinking tea, just by the way
I don't like eggs and I have a huge problem eating them but while I'm in Japan I want to experienve everything I can.
So when someone ordered the beef sashimi with raw egg and soy sauce I was pretty apprehensive. I gave into the peer pressure at the table and ate a piece of raw beef that was coated in raw egg.
And it was delicious! I loved it!
But I definitely over ate at the dinner. After some weighing and disbelief, it turns out that I ate 2 kg's of meet that night. I felt a little guilty but it tasted so good!
We drove back to Gero and Emma and I had some pretty cool conversations all the way back. Our poor driver wouldn't of had a clue as to what the two white kids were talking about in the back of his car.
I got home and told my host Mum about my speech. I was pretty happy and excited but I was also really tired.
I went to bed because the next day was going to be a big day of karate!
I got up at 4:30 am and went downstairs for breakfast.
But I found that I didn't have any energy and what's more, my voice was gone. I asked my host Mum about what I should do and we decide to call off the practice.
I felt guilty for not turning up when everyone else did but I was shattered.
I slept all day and then got up for dinner. We were going out for Chinese!
It was a fun night because most of the extended host family came along too so there were heaps of us!
|Sweet and sour pork and then this fried chicken that was divine.|
|An interesting salad, dunno if it's Chinese or not|
|Can't go wrong with fried rice!|
We got home and decided it would be better to go to sleep early. You know, school the next day and all that.
There was a local Rotary meeting that Emma and I were supposed to go to so of course we had to prepare speeches.
I had it sorted though, I was going to recycle the speech from Saturday!
But to my absolute horror, I got to the meeting and the boss was going to play a video of my speech.
I asked "What should I do? I was going to give that speech!"
He told me to make a new one. Oh dear.
He did say some really nice things about the talk though. Apparently on the second day of the meeting (that I didn't attend.) Some Rotarians gave speeches and praised my talk from the day before. I was quite touched. Hard work pays off, it seems!
But yet, here I was, being praised about my speaking abilities when I was about to go up with nothing to say.
I got up, and started off by saying that I had nothing to say and talked some rubbish about the school trip just earlier.
I "Ummmmed" and "Aaaaaahhhed" my way through a full minute of cringe-worthy awkward silence. It was horrible.
I felt so bad about it, I couldn't believe it.
But the boss said not to worry about even though it was an awkward talk because I did alright on the weekend.
I was still pretty disappointed.
Kendo was great because Sensei wasn't there! We had some awesome fun.
One of my friends and I put a play on words as we screamed about.
Normally you yell: "Men!"
Which is the name for the helmet we wear. It also means noodles.
So we ran about smacking each other and yelling the names of different noodles. It was a good laugh.
Training finished and it was nice. We didn't feel like dying and it was just great.
Tuesday was karate of course and this time the winning spree would come to an end. A painful end.
It started off with just a normal fight where I had forgotten to wear a cup and true to Murphey's law, I got kicked straight in the nuts. It put me out for a wee while.
Then Fuyuki smashed me this way and that all throughout the night but when we got to the last fight, he really dealt it to me.
I was cowering away for some reason, I'm going to blame it on fatigue but that's irrelevant.
His kicks landed hard, his punches hit true and he even kicked me in the head.
Oh god it hurt. It definitely put me back in my place though.
Wednesday was a cool day. My host Aunty made me a "Kyara-ben." Which is a character bento.
My lunch box was the coolest thing at school!
You don't see many Kyara-Bens in high school so it was quite the sight apparently. I thoroughly enjoyed it! It even tasted great!
|I showed all 40 kids in my class this lunch box and they were all pretty jealous!|
We all thought it a waste to eat but whilst it was cute, I couldn't go hungry
My old host brother, Nobu, had me translating some letters he had to send to Rotary for his exchange next year so I was quite busy.
I had to first understand these big, difficult letters and then translate them into English. But not just simple English, they had to be top tier stuff so that he could actually go on exchange.
There was a bit of pressure so I was up until late hours of the night everyday and at school all I was looking at was Japanese letters.
I was relieved to go to kendo where I could scream a bit.
We had some practice fights this time, because of a tournament on Sunday that I was going to entering!
I lost my first fight in a matter of seconds and got a talking to from sensei.
He asked me where my voice from the hard week went. He asked where all that power and energy went. He told me to pick my game up and really get into it.
So I did. And I ended up knocking my opponent over three times, roaring the whole time.
I still lost but it didn't matter, I had a great time. I got some tips on blocking and countering so I would do better next time.
Kendo finished and I decided to go and hit the gym.
I was lifting some weights while watching some boxing on the TV when someone came up to me and asked if I was staying with the Mukaino family. "Yes, I am." I said.
Then another stranger said: "You're Brennan, right?"
"Yes, I am." I said, in slight confusion.
Then another says: "You went to the Takayama festival a while ago, didn't you! Aren't you going to Kyoto next month?"
"Yes, I am?" How did these people know my schedule better than I did?!
It turns out that my host Grandma had clued everyone in about me and the man who knew my name was the father of a girl in my class.
We were all instant friends and it was great.
I got home at 10 and had dinner and then got back to Nobu's letters. It was tough.
We finished the letters on Thursday and I decided to read some comics. I've been reading Japanese comics and it's really improved my reading speed. And it's fun study!
Kendo went awesome tonight.
I scored my first ever point. And my opponent wasn't even going easy!! I was so happy and everyone congratulated me, even though I didn't win the round.
Sensei told me to be stronger and louder, of course.
I stumbled to karate and had a good time busting up my already busted shin. I'm gonna have to take it easy on that one. It was a good session though, I'm trying to work on my blocking so I don't take as many hits.
It's not that they hurt, but more that if they slip my block it will start to go in their favour if the fight comes down to a judge's decision.
The all Japan tournament is on the 16th of November and it's getting real close. I'm a bit nervous.
I got home and had dinner and got to bed early. I need sleep. I've realised that whilst I'd like to stay up late and just muck about on the computer, I can't. If I don't sleep then the next morning really kills me.
On Friday I got some more good study done and I was pleased to be learning some new things. Learning a language seems to get easier as you study. The more you know, the more you can learn and I think it's great fun.
I had no luck in kendo tonight but I did drop my opponent a couple of times again, that was fun.
Tenpei had bought me a new sword for the tournament and he insisted that it was a gift even though I was practically throwing money at him. He said it was a gift from his Mum which was really nice.
He has a 13 year old brother who always want's to talk to me and it's too cute. Tenpei has done a few skype calls via his phone from school to his brother after kendo practice and we've had a few conversations and even practiced some English. It's pretty cool.
I went back to the gym tonight and got home at around 10 again. I really want to win this tournament coming up so I'm going to do my absolute best in both the event and training.
You can only fight as hard as you practice.
I was looking forward to a sleep in on Saturday but kendo thwarted that plan.
I got up earlier than a regular school day in order to get my head smacked in at school. Not my ideal Saturday morning but it was still pretty cool. A bunch of junior high school students came along to practice with us.
They were pretty cute when they were all geared up and still only shoulder height to me.
It was a pretty chilled session but I had to demonstrate one of the exercises and sensei introduced me as the exchange student here at school and said that even though I've only done kendo for a short time, I can do all of the exercises just like everyone else.
I was feeling pretty humbled because sensei doesn't normally say nice things ever. And here I was, praised twice in a couple of weeks!!
After kendo, I went home and then met up with Nobu to go buy some comics from the local shop. We walked there and back an it was fun!
I then came home and slept for a good while.
Once again I had to get up earlier than usual, even earlier than Saturday!
I got into my kendo gear and host Mum gave me a ride to school. We loaded up into that tiny bus and off we went. I slept in the bus because it was pretty much still night time for me.
We arrived in Takayama and set up for the tournament.
I have videos but I'll have to put them up later, I couldn't take any photos during the day because I was a competitor.
Sensei told me to get in with my power and drop them. He then said to go score a point to which I said I'd score two.
I lost my first fight but it went for the full four minutes which isn't bad.
In kendo, if someone scores two points then the fight will finish and that person wins.
I managed to go for the whole four minutes in all of my matches.
I dropped my next opponent but he scored a clutch point near the end of the round which made me lose.
I drew the next fight which had me pretty happy! I apparently landed some hits but we had some very questionable judges. (They were students from the school hosting the tournament which was also a very rich private school.)
I lost my next one and that was the end of the team division. (You go up as a team, fight individually and then finish as a team.)
I had another fight in the individual section. My opponent looked pretty scared and quite small so I was feeling confident.
It went into a draw and I lost by foul. I accidentally left the court boundaries twice and that was that. He didn't even score a point on me which was a bit of a shame.
But I had an awesome time during the tournament. The best bit was screaming in the opponents faces. I liked to stare them straight in the eyes and stick my tongue out, 'pukana', from the haka!
It was quite fun to watch their surprise. It's a bit unfortunate that I couldn't win but I managed to draw a round which was great.
Sensei was pretty mad at us though for some reason. True to character, he scolded us for not trying harder in front of all the parents who came to support. This man confuses me.
I said thanks to all of the supporting parents and they said that I tried really hard and that they were all impressed. I tried to use really nice Japanese when I thanked them and they noticed and complimented me on how much better I've gotten. It was a heart warming moment to have all of these people that, in all honesty, I didn't even know very well yet they said such nice things to me.
I met Tenpei's Mum and thanked her for the sword and she said it was absolutely no problem. I think I've made a life long friend and that's the best.
One of my exchange student friends came to watch and support me at the tournament so we hung out after in Takayama.
We went and got burgers.
While this looks like a very small, average burger, it is actually a very small hida beef burger so you pay through the nose to get it. To be honest, the patty was delicious. But I tried to eat it slowly and enjoy it because if I really tried, I reckon I could have put the whole thing in my mouth.
The weather was good all day and I had a pretty great time chilling in Takayama.
I had some time to think to myself on the train ride home and I decided I wanted to try and sort out my thoughts and emotions regarding going home.
I don't really know how to word them so you'll have to bear with me as I try and type this out.
When I think of going home, I have two separate thoughts. The first is obviously sad to be leaving.
I think of my families here and all of my friends. I don't know how I'm going to deal with being away from them. I really love my families here. I enjoy looking over the mountains that surround my town and I enjoy eating all the delicious Japanese food.
I think it's the best thing everyday to be able to hear Japanese and understand it. I have an amazing time simply talking to people in Japanese. I can't express the joy of being able to think in a different language, it really is something mind blowing.
I cry sometimes, at the thought of leaving all of this even though I know that I'll come back some day. I don't want the exchange experience to end at all.
But then I am also excited in a way. I felt guilty for a while to be feeling excited about going home because I thought I wasn't fully immersed in the exchange if I was wanting to go home.
But I don't want to go home. I don't even know what home is but I know that I'm excited to see my friends and family again.
I can't wait to talk to Mum about everything I've been up to and I can't wait to tell Dad about how my karate has been. I'm gonna beat the crap out of my little brother (who should be a black belt by the time I get home and also, should be looking me in the eyes because apparently he got big.)
I can't wait to eat New Zealand's various foods again and I'm pretty excited to be able to buy my own beer. I'll have to buy Dad a lot because I used to "steal" his.
I'm excited in a way to be surrounded by English again, it's going to be something like a reverse culture shock.
I'm looking forward to being able to drive a car again and laugh with my friends as we hang out and just muck around like we used to.
When I think of these things, I can't help but smile and feel excited.
It's so conflicting. It is a feeling that's really working me up. I know I shouldn't be getting worked up and I tell myself not to think about these things but of course I do.
That's all I've got for now.
I'm still shattered, I might need to sleep for a whole week to get back to my regular state but for now I'm going to be a zombie.
Sorry this is late, I'm really pushing it with the sports now and it's taking a toll on my body and lifestyle. I want to win the tournament more than anything right now, I'm investing my entirety into it.