Experiences from a Dutchman Living in America: Year Two – by Axel Noorman

 

Last month I participated for the second time in the annual USNF seminar and championship, which was hosted by the Northern Naginata Federation in the sunny west coast area of Sonoma, California. The events lasted four days: two days of seminar, one day of competition, and one day of kyu and dan shinsa. Three sensei from Japan were also invited: Sunagawa-Sensei, Ono-Sensei, and Kumazawa-Sensei. In addition to the U.S. practitioners we had participants attend from Canada and Brazil. This year I also tested for my sandan, so there were a lot of things to look forward to and prepare for.

The seminar days were as excellent as one would expect, with a lot of guidance and encouragement to improve technique and form. The competition was exciting to watch and participate in and yielded some great results for our East Coast Naginata Federation (ECNF) delegation and myself: one of our members achieved third place in the Women’s Individuals, and I managed to place first in the Men’s Individuals. The latter was something I did not expect, yet was very happy to have accomplished.  I was grateful for the fights I had with the other participants leading up to and in the final match. The fights were tough and challenging, with different styles from everyone I faced. All of my opponents demonstrated a high level of skill, and I enjoyed fighting against all of them.

I also passed my sandan exam, for which I had to put in extra effort to study for the written (a word of advice to all: do study the theory you need to master well ahead of your exam!). Overall, the USNF event was another amazing opportunity to come together to practice and fight against people from all over the U.S. and its surrounding countries. It was exhaustive yet most satisfying and rewarding.

For me, the preparation and anticipation for the events was different from last year, not just because I was testing for sandan, but because I noticed my personal mentality and attitude had changed over the course of last year. In the months leading up to the USNF event I had a positive change in my job and living situation which gave me a lot of peace of mind. Also, I was more settled into my new life in the U.S. and was more accepting and comfortable with myself. I believe that those positive changes were key to my recent performances in shiai because for the first time I felt uninhibited and confident in myself and my own abilities.

Over the course of the year I had become aware that how you carry yourself in the dojo and how you practice is a good reflection of your overall state of being. The people you practice with are sources of inspiration and growth to help point out what you can or need to improve on. When it comes to overcoming hurdles of the mind (e.g. seme, zanshin, fudoshin, heijoshin, faith in your own abilities, strong emotions), the points that sensei, senpai and even kohai bring to your attention can indicate symptoms of larger issues one can address outside of the dojo. I was very fortunate to have people within ECNF, the Mount Holyoke Naginata Club, the Nichibukan Dojo, and others outside to help me overcome those issues either through critique of my naginata or personal advice. It was not easy and took a lot of self-reflection and self-awareness to work out my personal barriers, but I was able to succeed and grow because of the help and support I found within the naginata community here.

 

It is said that when one keeps practicing a martial art one tends to adopt a Budo mindset in daily life. As I was studying the theory for my sandan exam (and all the previous dan rank theory), I slowly started connecting the dots between what we learn in naginata and how we strive to become balanced persons who can contribute to society.

It’s been an amazing journey so far, starting as a beginner in the Netherlands to moving to the US and being accepted in the community here. Looking back, I feel a great sense of gratitude towards everyone in naginata, as well as respect and humility. We’re all in this because we enjoy it and strive to get better, and it is encouraging to see how people grow in a broad sense as a result of continued practice. May we all keep on practicing and helping each other, as we all can learn from each other to become better persons!

 

Our ECNF delegation after the competition (Photo Credit: Jessica Espinosa)