Kendo Mode

December is generally a relaxed time of year for me work-wise, but kendo – as usually – continues unabated right up until the end of the year (and re-starts again only after a short break). This gives me a little bit of extra time to reflect back over the last past 12 months and see to what extent I have achieved (or not) my kendo goals for the year. Although it might not be of interest to kenshi 24/7 readers, I’ve decided to this years reflecting out loud. I have many technical things that I am working on, of course, but what I’m going to talk about below is an experiment in the deliberate change in the mode of my kendo over the past year, not of execution.


2014-asageiko

Asageiko (morning practice)

I’ve been attending weekday asageiko sessions (100% kihon) on and off for about five or so years now. Before being invited to the sessions my asageiko happened only on the weekends, and then generally (not always!) at a civilised time (starting 9am). Until 2014 I attended the weekday sessions only when I had a bit of space work-wise, i.e. during the academic holiday season or during exam time, therefore my attendance was more off than on. Starting in January this year (2014) I decided, however, to make the effort to attend every practice even if I my work started at 830am. Since the dojo and my workplace are pretty close together I reasoned I could – if I prepared the next days’ work the evening before, and showered/changed after keiko quickly – manage to be in-time for work.

With this in mind I started in January quite positively. I think I managed to attend three weekday asageiko sessions starting at 7am (I’d crawl out of bed at 5am-ish, and leave the house at 550am) maybe over 95% of the time until July and my trip to Scotland. Re-booting after this break in rhythm, however, has been very hard, but I think I managed it semi-successfully until September, when my pace slowed down (it finally rebounded back during November).

The inspiration, btw, for the decision to focus on asageiko sessions this year was one of my sempai. As he works in the evenings he spent the last 10 years or so doing very little keiko, so he, starting a couple of years ago, begun attending asageiko session (at a different dojo from mine) three times a week. I was – and am still! – not only highly impressed by his continued dedication, but was also struck by what one of the sensei told him:

It requires a special strength of will to get up early and constantly do asageiko. Those that continue it become not only technically better, but mentally tougher.

Here’s what the last nearly-12 months of asageiko has taught me.

I hate mornings. I really can’t stand getting up early. However, if I manage to get up and drag myself to keiko, I often have a very satisfying session… sometimes the best of the day.

The more keiko you do, the better. I now do about (on a genki week) 10 practices/week from Mon-Fri (then more on the weekend). To truly understand what shugyo is you need to put yourself out of your comfort zone (see the first point above!) and do loads and loads of keiko. There is no alternative.

It’s healthy, the world looks better, and breakfast is tastier! There are fewer people on the trains or roads (I often travel by bicycle to the dojo) and mornings are more relaxed. The whole exercise-in-the-morning (before breakfast) sets the mood for the whole day. After asageiko I am blatantly in a happier mood that everyone at work or on the train!

Creates bonds with like-minded people. Most people won’t get up in the morning to do keiko, especially if it’s a hard kihon session before work. Those of us that attend the session regularly have, I think, a mutual respect based on the fact that we are aiming towards the same things. The particular session I attend is very high level – I sometimes feel out of my depth – yet there is little explicit teaching per se: we are there to work, and we respect each other for sacrificing sleep (and social life the evening before) to do so.

As a side-note, there are some people that I have been doing kihon with for a few years now that I have never done jigeiko with. We don’t judge the other on how good they can fight, but on their commitment to improving their kendo through kihon (i.e. discipline/shugyo).


There are other things I could’ve mentioned, but I’ll leave it here. I guess the point is that – for me – asageiko is now an essential part of my kendo. I can’t imagine my kendo life without it. The major problem I have is getting up!!! My sempai mentioned above said about this: “the first year is hell, but you’ll get used to it” ….. I hope so.


2014-degeiko

Degeiko (travelling to other dojo for practice)

For many years here in Osaka I’ve shied away from attending random degeiko sessions generally because – being the only non-Japanese person in most occasions – I was immediately a target for wide-eyed staring or overly-pushy instruction. I don’t like to stand out or enjoy being treated like a “gaijin” (some people seem to love it … not me), and there’s nothing I dislike more than people trying to teach me without respecting the fact that I do actually have my own sensei (if I go explicitly for instruction then thats another matter). Anyway, sensing the need to step out of my comfort zone for the benefit of my wider shugyo (as noted above) I decided to be brave and go to some open degeiko sessions during the year and see what happened.

Maybe it’s because having lived in Osaka for 10 years now people have become used to seeing me, or perhaps it’s because I’ve improved technically over the past few years – or more likely some sort of combination – it wasn’t as bad as I feared. And anyway, the kendo community being as small as it is, I soon realised that in any gathering there will always be somebody I know. It’s possible that maybe I just had some sort of complex!!!

At any rate, I attended some random keiko-kai’s over the past year and immediately the benefits were obvious:

A sense of nervousness/tension. Having attended the same dojo’s for years, it’s pretty easy to become used to the environment and the people. At a degeiko session however you may or may not know some or all of the people, so you have to not only be on your best behaviour but be ready to do your best kendo… all the while remembering your will be watched and judged.

Also, I found that I put more time into pre-planning when I attended sessions like these, for example checking shinai and cleaning my dogi, which can only be a good thing.

Degeiko as shiai. The kanji for shiai is 試合, the SHI (試) meaning to test, try, or experiment, and the AI (合) meaning to meet. Thus a “shiai” is simply a mutual trial of skill. In a degeiko situation you will face people who you have never done keiko with before. Not only that, you may have no idea who they are at all: their age, their grade, their background, etc. Thus, with the nervous tension described above, you meet them fair-and-squarely to see if your kendo works on them or not. You have to read people and their kendo style quickly and adapt strategy if you have to.

Unlike competition, this type of situation has no particular winner or loser, and you and your partner judge yourselves, so it’s a far freer, and perhaps more honest experience than competition (assuming, of course, that you are the type to admit defeat when struck and refuse to accept an ippon if you are not happy with it).

Meeting like-minded people. Again, like the point I mentioned above, I found that during open degeiko sessions it was possible to meet people who were there for the same reasons as I was. They believed that degeiko was essential to their development as kenshi, and weren’t scared about putting themselves out there.

Luckily I’ve even met one or two people who I immediately clicked with and whom I want to seriously study from. This was an unexpected, but greatly appreciated, bonus.


As in the above asageiko section, I could probably write more here, but I think I’ve covered the main bases.

Degeiko-wise, I think 2014 was a good year for me. I visited some new dojo, made some new friends, and managed to widen my kendo community considerably in a short time. Also, as I discovered, once you are connected to the right people then invites to other keiko-kai’s increase dramatically. Next year I intend to broaden even further, perhaps to other prefectures. I’m looking forward to it!


2014-eikenkai-02

This post has been more of a personal type explaining a deliberate change in the mode of my kendo shugyo through 2014. Of course, the core of my kendo training still lies in kihon-heavy sessions at work, jigeiko with my sempai and sensei in the evenings, and constant study (reading) of kendo books, but after years of doing this I decided that I needed something new to stimulate technical improvement as well as deepen my shugyo. I hope the addition of constant asageiko with a sprinkling of degeiko can act as the catalyst for these changes.

A slightly different kind of post from my normal ones, I hope kenshi 24/7 readers can find something useful in this article or perhaps it will serve as some sort of mini-inspiration for a change in your own kendo mode next year… let me know!

Eikenkai November 2014 英剣会

We held the 6th and last Eikenkai session of 2014 yesterday at our usual dojo at Sumiyoshi Budokan. 27 people participated with kenshi coming from as far afield as Kumamoto (Andy from All Japan Budogu), Nagoya, and Okayama, as well as from around the Kansai region (Osaka, Nara, Hyogo, Kyoto). We did our trademark 45-30-45 format (45mins kihon, 30mins waza, and 45mins jigeiko) followed by our traditional okonomiyaki and beer session at a local restaurant.

There was some mixed feelings today as one of our members – Iwasa Chika – is moving to Australia (Sydney) next year so it’s her last session. I hope she will have a great time down under and wish her luck in her new life. Maybe thats an excuse for me to go down to Sydney and do an Eikenkai weekend in the future!!!

Pictures

Note that the reeeeaaaaalllly good pictures in the gallery above were taken by Aussie ex-pat Andy Rogers who is based in Nagoya. For more of his exceptional work check out his website and facebook page.


2015 Schedule

Next years schedule has been finalised and is as follows:
Feb 22nd / April 26th (private, invite only session) / June 28th / Sept 13th / Nov 29th

If you are interested in attending any of our sessions, please read the information on this page.

To keep up with the latest information about Eikenkai please keep an eye out for posts on the kenshi 24/7 facebook page.

Kendo Taikai (kendo playing cards) 剣道大会

Last August I was lucky enough to receive a set of the brand new Kendo Taikai (kendo playing cards) from it’s creator, Ákos Vachter from Hungary. Having never seen or even heard of anything like this, I was quite exited to see what it was like.

First of, have a look at the video rundown of the full game play:

Next, check out the visual gameplay guide:

Gameplay

(To see an easier version of the game – called Musashi’s Challenge – check out this video here.)


Impressions

The first thing that I noticed about the game when I got it was the professional quality of the presentation. The design is attractive, the cards stiff and long lasting, and – in general – the whole package was great. My only real disappointment in this respect was that the game board is not included in the package, you have to (if you want to use it that is) download it separately.

The cards are split into three colour-coded types – shikake-waza (brown), oji-waza (red), and special cards (green) – and you play these, individually or in combination, to attempt to score an ippon on your opponent.

I couldn’t wrap my head around the instructions at first but – after the instructional videos came out – things became clearer much quicker. Rules and an instructional video for an easier version of the game (called Musashi’s challenge) also came out as well, which makes gameplay a lot less complex, so if you prefer you can start of with the easier version (btw, as I was playing the full game with my friends we came up with our own versions of the meanings of some of the special cards, which made it even easier to understand for us).

The game is something that you have to play quite a few times with friends in order to ‘get it’ but once you get to that stage it is quite fun. I think it’s the type of game that – because it’s so mobile (you can play with one set of cards and no board) – you whip out at kendo parties once a few beers have been had and challenge your sempai and sensei. I’m sure university students could make a drinking game out of it as well !!

As we are coming up to xmas, perhaps – at a fraction under 16 Euros for a set – this would make a nice gift for a kendo friend or activity at a dojo party. Try it!!


Links with more information

kendocards.com (ordering info and downloads)
Facebook page
YouTube Channel

Asagawa Haruo hanshi 浅川春男範士

This years All Japan Championships were won by 21 year old Takenouchi Yuya, a 3rd year student at Tsukuba university, one of the top kendo universities in the country (not to mention the direct descendant of one of the most famous kendo establishments that ever existed: Tokyo Shihan Gakko). It’s only the 2nd time in the competitions 60+ year history that a student has taken the title (it’s important to remember here that there were grade restrictions for part of that time) and the first time since 1988 (and before that 1980) that it hasn’t been won by a policeman. His road to success in the shiai – though a lot faster than most – follows a familiar pattern (YMMV):

1. Start kendo very young.
2. Attend a good kids (shonen) kendo club.
3. Achieve (some) junior high school kendo success.
4. Go to a well known kendo high school (possibly scouted).
5. Achieve (some) high school kendo shiai success.
6. Go to a well known kendo university (possibly scouted).
7. Achieve (some) university kendo shiai success.
8. Join a regional police dept. or Keishicho (recruited).
9. Spend a few years training very hard and competing in police competition, perhaps even making it to the All Japan Champs themselves.
10. Win the All Japan Championships (possibly after multiple attempts).

This is pretty much the usual route of most if not all modern All Japan Championship winners (male) for as long as I can remember (again, YMMV). Even if a particular competitor gets to step 9 success in the All Japans itself doesn’t come to everybody, especially when there is a some dominant competitors around making things awkward (e.g. Miyazaki Masahiro and Uchimura Ryohei). Note that shiai success as a policeman is one of the most important keys to a possible professional kendo teaching position post-tokuren (mid 30s).

Takenouchi is in the unique position of achieving number 10 while still being on step 7. What this means for him personally I have no idea, but I can guess that recruitment offers will increase (which is awesome for him as most Japanese university students struggle to find a job after graduating).

But anyway, discussion of the All Japan championships is not really the point of this article and, honestly, I’m not too interested in who wins or who doesn’t anymore. Personally, I’m far more interested in the process that people went through to achieve “success” in their kendo lives, whether this be in shiai or what not. As such – and to serve as a counter to Takenouchi and the pattern described above – I’d like to introduce kenshi 24/7 readers to the story of Asagawa Haruo sensei, winner of the 4th All Japan Kendo Championships way back in 1956.


The following is a highly abridged and freely adapted version of an interview from the very late 70s (published in 1981, I’m not sure of the exact interview date).

Asagawa Haruo, kendo hanshi 8dan, iaido kyoshi 8dan

“My family were descendants of Heike warriors who fled defeat in the wars. Originally they worked the land selling many types of products. Eventually, however, the business collapsed and the family moved onto other work.

My father was a barber and had 5 kids. From 8-14yrs I learned kendo from a very unique school teacher called Taika sensei. Although we only had 12 kids in the kendo club he was a really good teacher and he helped me develop quickly.

However, my family were so poor at the time that I shouldn’t really have been spending my time doing kendo. When I got home I had to look after my younger brother. If I said I had been doing kendo my father would scold me.

There were times when I’d carry my baby brother on my back and take my other kindergarden-aged brother by the hand and lead them to school. Taika sensei would tell the girl students ‘Asagawa is going to do kendo, so look after the kids’ and off I would go to practise. When I returned home my father would scream at me.

I continued to practise secretly like this during my youth and was berated countless times by my father.

After doing this for about a year or so our school won a prefectural level school competition. News of it appeared in the newspaper, and the bicycle shop owner – whose shop was next to my fathers – walked round with the paper and showed my father: ‘Look, Haruo is in the paper!’ My father react as a pigeon does when hit by a peashooter, he was shocked: ‘When did this happen? Where?’

After winning this competition my father started to understand a little bit more and he allowed me to practice kendo as well as relieving me of having to look after my younger brothers. I went on to win many competitions at this time and my nickname became shobu-Asagawa.”

After graduating from elementary school (at 14) various junior high schools tried to recruit him.

“My family was too poor to think of continuing education even though I was being recruited. My father wanted me to continue the family business but I was dead-set against doing that.

There was a kendo/jukendo teacher called Yoshida (a military school instructor) at one of the schools who basically demanded that I attend his school. ‘You don’t need to pay a school entrance fee, you don’t need to pay tuition fees… in fact, we will give you some pocket money’ he said. Taika sensei went to my father and beseeched him ‘It’s such a waste for his kendo career to end before it started’ he said. Eventually my father relented and allowed me to go to junior high school. This was the start of my real kendo shugyo.

Yoshida sensei was a strong teacher and training was hard. I attended practice those 3 years whether it rained or shined, travelling 40 minutes by bicycle to school. We trained everyday until the sun set, even the long summer days. As he was from a military school, the training was regimental. Over the 3 years he gradually increased our skill so that we were able to win many tournaments including the prefectural tournament and becoming 2nd in All Japan Junior High School championship (editor: at this time the shiai were kachinuki style, Asagawa was the sempo and beat 4 teams – 20 people – himself).

After Yoshida sensei finished his 3 year position at the junior high school he became a kendo/jukendo teacher for the navy and eventually died during the war in Shanghai.”

At the age of 18, Asagawa graduated from the junior high school in 1937 and became a substitute primary school teacher, despite not having any qualifications nor knowing how to teach.

“I had no dream of becoming a teacher, all I wanted to do was earn money (because my family was poor) and, as such, I studied to get a proper teacher license and would take on extra kendo instruction duties here and there for money. Eventually I realised that being a teacher was never going to make me rich, so I started to think about quitting and going to Manchuria or something. Eventually, in 1939, I joined the army. I was 20 years old.

During army training I did really well and I aimed at becoming an Company Commander. My superiors saw that I had enough ability and were keen that I get promoted to that status. However when they looked at my school record they found that I didn’t study enough and had bad scores. Because of this I couldn’t receive a recommendation and so could not be promoted. This shocked me and I decided to re-think my attitude, which was to change the direction of my life completely.

Upon completion of my training I worked for a year as a leader of an army education division, after which I was ordered to take a teaching position at a newly created army reserve officer training school. This was around the time of the start of the pacific war. Here I taught military drills, jukenjutsu, and kendo. At the time I had the highest available rank of 5dan in both arts (editor: note that he was issued his 5dan both by Toyama Gakko and the Butokukai).

When the pacific war started I asked to be sent to the front lines but was denied the chance. Eventually, however, I was ordered to go to Singapore in February 1944. At that time it was said that something like 80-90% of the boats heading that way were sunk. Luckily I reached my destination safely and upon arrival I was attached to a special group that gathered people with special skills together. My job was to teach kendo and jukenjutsu to officers from various battalions. I was 25 at the time.

People who practised with me then came from Busen, or had graduated university, however, I never lost to any of them. The time I spent in this job was highly beneficial to my kendo shugyo.

As things worsened we built caves and stayed in them until the end of the war (editor: as you can imagine, there is little discussion about combat or anything in the interview). “

Asagawa returned to his hometown in 1946. It was a time of great hardship throughout Japan.

“After being demobilised I returned a different man to a country where the fields were burned, kendo was banned, and living an ordinary life was difficult. Even though life has become better since then, the mental scars of living through such a tough period are still with me today.

Ono sensei, who currently (at the time of the interview) is a director of the ZNKR and in the past was the director of both the imperial guards and national police, used to bring people together and secretly practice kendo in the local Butokuden. His (brave!) excuse was that even though it was banned in schools, there was nothing stopping people from privately practicing.

When shinai-kyogi came around I also practised that, and won the National Athletic Meet, after which my nickname became ‘shinai kyogi Asagawa.’ I didn’t like this at all so I decided to work hard at practising iaido (I already knew Toyama Gakko battojutsu). Although I started serious practise of iaido in order to clear my name, I kept going at it and am currently kyoshi 8dan. I believe that kendo and iaido are two sides of the same coin, and I know that Kamimoto Eiichi sensei (iaido hanshi 9dan, kendo hanshi 8dan) thought the same way. Whenever we did an iaido seminar we told everyone to bring their bogu, and we’d practise kendo no kata as well.

After this I was commissioned by Gifu city police dept. to teach kendo, but as I couldn’t earn enough to live, I also started a commercial industry side job as well. However, doing 2 jobs at once wasn’t working well, so I decided then to concentrate solely on kendo. I was working at police dept and teaching at a high school, but it still wasn’t enough. My wife then helped out by finding work in a traditional dance troupe. From the ages of 26-29 all I did was kendo and, my father getting sick of it, kicked me out. I ended up living in a primary school gym’s night guard station. There were only 2 rooms there, and it was when my son was about 6 or 7 years old.

Despite working multiple jobs (police kendo teacher, high school kendo teacher, and as the attendant at the primary school gym I was living in) plus my wife’s dancing, we still didn’t have enough money to live. At the time the police system was under reform and I wondered if I couldn’t get a proper full time job as a police kendo shihan. At this time the idea came to me that if I won the (recently begun) All Japan Kendo Championships then I’d get offered a full time position somewhere. With this in mind I took the money we had saved for my son’s school tuition, and embarked, in 1955 at the age of 36, on a musha-shugyo.

The first place I went to was Keishicho in Tokyo and after that I walked around Kanto for a month doing kendo here and there. The last place I arrived at was Mito Tobukan. I spent a week in the dojo practising multiple times a day. Kowaza sensei would ask me ‘Don’t you miss your wife?’ ‘Of course I do’ I said, ‘I am fighting hard to continue this hard shugyo.’ Kozawa sensei said ‘What you are doing is admirable, but you must look after body more carefully. It’s about time you went home.’ The next day, after a warm friendly handshake from Kozawa sensei, I headed home. I was resolved to use this experience in challenging the following years All Japan Championships.”

The following year Asagawa sensei qualified as the Gifu prefecture representative to the 4th All Japan Kendo Championships.

“When someone secured their position as a prefectural representative there would usually be gifts and celebratory parties. However, I refused all of these things and set off towards Tokyo secretly in a late night train one week before the shiai. Nobody saw me of at the station but my wife. I got off the train in Kanagawa and practised with the police department. I was in amazing form, as if the ‘shobu-Asagawa’ of old had come back! However, even though I was in great form I couldn’t relax. I played some pachinko and I couldn’t relax. I visited Hachimangu shrine in Kamakura and still couldn’t relax. Lastly I visited the Kamakura Daibutsu. There I sat facing him until the sun came up.

What I realised during that night was that I desired to win to much; I was trying too hard. I decided then to just give up, to stop thinking only of winning. Then, finally, I felt clear.

So I had thrown all thoughts of victory out. It was my first time in the competition after all, and there were famous competitors such as Nakakura Kiyoshi and Iho Kyotsugu taking part. Probably because of being known as ‘Shinai-kyogi Asugawa’ nobody thought I had a chance. At the party before the event when all the competitors were in attendance, one of the top sensei stood up and said ‘Good luck Nakakura, good luck Nakamura (Nakamura Taro was the previous years winner. He won the title twice and was runnier up a further twice)!’ but nothing to me. ‘What about me?’ I asked, to which he replied smoothly, half in jest ‘Oh yeah, good luck Asagawa!’ Thoughts of ‘I’m going to beat you all tomorrow’ started to swim in my head but I tried not to think about it and jinx my chances.

The next day I met last years winner Nakamura and his friends travelling to the venue. ‘Hey Asagawa’ said Nakamura ‘Please carry the winners flag for me’ he demanded in jest. I carried if for him from the station to the venue. Little did I think I’d meet him in the final of the competition later that same day.

The shiai

My first round fight was a no-show, but in the 2nd round I faced difficulty versus Takano from Kanagawa. This was the only difficulty I was to face that day until the final. After this fight I sailed smoothly through the rounds until I faced last years winner Nakamura in the finally.

Actually, a few days early when I practised at Kanagawa police dept. Nakamura was there. I asked him for a fight and – because I was on excellent form that day and he saw that – he refused. This decision of Nakamura’s, I believe, changed my life. Had he accepted that challenge that day and we keiko-ed together then perhaps there would have been no strange feeling during the final that day. Perhaps I might even have lost. However, he had refused due to fear, and now he must face it. He had too much pride and was scared to lose to someone such as me.

When the shiai started I thought I’d attempt a kote-dou, hoping that my kote strike would take the mind of his dou just enough so I could strike it. However, when I went for kote I raised my hands too much and he struck my dou immediately. Ippon. Nihon-me. I changed my tactic and started aggressively attacking his kote. His movement was fast so every time I’d attempt to get debanagote we’d do ai-uchi and end up in tsubazeria. This happened a number of times. However, when he tried kote-men I was able to strike his kote successfully. Ippon. Shobu. Nakamura was strong in shiai and would strike me the minute he saw any sort of opening. However I was ready for him and struck his dou. Shobu-ari. Everyone on the venue was clapping and so were the shinpan.

When I returned to Gifu there was a big reception awaiting me at the train station: my wife’s dancing students, policemen, members of the public, and even an open roofed car. I tried to avoid all the fuss by getting off at the other side of the train, but I was soon discovered and pointed towards the celebrations. At 37 years old, it was the first time I had ridden such a fancy car in my life.

However, even though I trained hard, devoted myself to getting a full time police kendo teaching post, and won the All Japan Championships, I wasn’t given such a job. ‘There is no quota for such a position in Gifu police department’ they said.

Although my economic situation didn’t change because of the win, I started to become known amongst the general public. Due to this some nefarious people would drop my name when trying to make deals to build gyms and such like. Tiring of all this, at 39 years old I decided to rid myself of kendo once and for all. I planned to rip up my All Japan Kendo Championships winners certificate and go into some sort of business to make money.

Just at that time a city council member said he had some land near where I live. He offered to rent it to me and suggested that I should build and run a dojo on it. However, I had no money at all. My friends and my wife’s students got together and worked out the details: ‘lets get together and build a dojo’ they said. The ‘Asagawa dojo support group was founded with 60 starting members. It was settled then, my destiny, my life, was to be kendo. We built a dojo called ‘SORYUKAN’ (雙柳館) to teach kendo and traditional Japanese dancing.”


Asagawa sensei would go onto run multiple dojo’s and be one of the starting members and serve on the executive committee of the All Japan Kendo Dojo Renmei (an association of childrens dojo that exists beneath the ZNKR). He was awarded 8dan in 1969 and hanshi in 1974. In 1979 he attained iaido 8dan.

Note that Soryukan still exists in Gifu today. It looks like it’s run by Asagawa sensei’s son and maybe grandson. It seems – at least to me – then that his kendo life was extremely successful.

I’ll end this article with a last quote from Asagawa sensei:

「私の教育の目標は、日本一になってもめしは食えない。剣道は駄目。剣道の精神で人間形成をして、社会生活に勝つための剣道を教えるとおいうこと。」

“The educational objective of kendo for me is this. Even if you become the best in Japan it won’t allow you to eat. Kendo itself is useless. The point is that the kendo spirit is the means to forging the self, and it’s through this that you can lead you to become successful in todays society.”


Sources

私の剣道の修行 (第2巻)。「剣道時代」編集部。
Pictures from 雙柳舘 淺川道場.

Ichiban Yari 一番槍

One of my primary reasons for coming to Japan (other than kendo) was to learn the language. I’m nor sure why, but I’ve loved listening to Japanese for as long as I remember, at least since primary school when I was first exposed to it via the 80s television drama Shogun (based on the James Clavells novel). Even now, after more than a decade in Japan, I still find joy in learning new phrases or interesting (sometimes surprising) combination of words.

Pretty much everything I read, and a large percentage of conversations I have, are about kendo or budo related matters and because of this I’ve found myself learning anachronistic uses of words/terms, and not an insignificant amount of budo jargon. Recently, reading a book published over 30 years ago, I came across quite a cool usage that I’d like to share with kenshi 24/7 readers. Using this as an excuse I’d like to explain some other terms as well, which you may or may not know (and which may or may not be of interest!!).


1. Ichiban yari (一番槍) – the first spear

09

During the sengoku-jidai (the warring states period) here in Japan warrior-retainers used to be rewarded by their lords for their brave deeds in battle. Rewards would be money and/or land, but with bravery also came fame and prestige (infamy even?), something possibly more valuable than material resources. Armies would line up and face each other, often impatient to get things going. Waiting for the lords order to commence battle (or sometimes not!) the warriors would dash forward and engage the other side. The first warrior who breached the enemy line was termed “ichiban yari” (the first spear). Their courage in the face of mortal danger would be recognised post-battle… if they survived!!

(Remember of course that the sword was an auxiliary weapon at this time, the brunt of the fighting would be done with bows, guns, spears, and – in very close contact – daggers, hands, and feet.)

The book mentioned above was written by a now deceased kendo hanshi. He attended and graduated from Busen (Budo senmon gakko) in the 1920s-30s, and it was during the description of his time there that where I discovered a kendo-use of “ichiban yari” :

“One more characteristic of Busen was the competition to be named ichiban-yari, that is, the competition to get your men on the quickest and get to the best sensei. In the Butokuden, after the opening etiquette – “Shinzen ni rei! Sensei ni rei!” – everyone would rush to put their men on and go to the sensei they want to practice with. I think I took about 15 seconds to get my men on then.” (Bunbufuki, Kozawa Takeshi)

I think this is a pretty neat term: get your men on first, run to the top sensei (in Busen at that time that would’ve been Ogawa Kinnosuke), and be rewarded with the title ichiban yari!!!

Thinking about it, if you ran a kids class there is no reason you couldn’t keep record of who gets their men on first every class and (say, after a set number of weeks or so) award one of of the students that title: perhaps it comes with benefits for the following month, the student gets some sort of prize, or they get to wear a special dou, etc etc, I’m sure there are any number of creative ways where you could use this in a kids class.

btw, a related term is “shichi-hon yari” or “the seven spears” which was a title awarded to the strongest warriors in a battle. For example, Ono Tadaaki (founder of Ono-ha itto-ryu), was known as one of the 7 spears at the siege of Ueda. Kamiizumi ise-no-kami (founder of shinkage-ryu and major figure in the history of Japanese swordsmanship) was known as “Kozuke-no-kuni ippon-yari” or “the number one spearman in the Kozuke domain.”


2. Soheki (双璧) – the matchless pair

takanonaito2

This refers to the 2 greatest authorities or masters of something who live or lived contemporary to one another. Kendo-wise, this could be used to refer to Naito Takaharu and Takano Sasaburo.


3. Sanba-karasu (三羽烏) – the 3 crows

This is a term that refers to the 3 most powerful individuals in a particular (specialist) field. It’s difficult to know the exact origin for the term but we can surmise it was because crows are seen as particularly intelligent animals, which may be why they are sometimes seen as messengers of the gods.

In Nakayama Hakudo’s Yushinkan, the 3 strongest kenshi – Nakakura Kiyoshi, Haga Junichi, and Nakajima Gorozo were known as “The 3 crows of Yushinkan.”

btw, sword-wise, it’s also interesting to note the connection between crows and tengu.

(in the video above, Nakajima Gorozo is on the left hand side)


4. Shi-tenno (四天王) – the 4 heavenly kings

4heavenlykings

This Buddhist term refers to “the Four Heavenly Kings” who “are four gods, each of whom watches over one cardinal direction of the world.” Figuratively it refers to the four best people at something, the “big four” if you like. It can be used to refer to the 4 strongest kendoka in your kendo club, region, or even country if you like.


This most recent article is a little bit different from the usual posts on kenshi 24/7, I hope you found it interesting nevertheless!!

Quality of assessment

Partly by design – but mostly due to the correct alignment of the stars – I’m one of the few lucky people who does kendo as part of their job. Depending on the time of year it can pretty much be non-stop. Believe me, it’s neither as easy or exciting as it sounds and, of course, there are times when all of it gets too much (both physically and mentally/emotionally)… but in general I’d say that because of this strong kendo element within my job I mostly enjoy my working life.

Sometimes, the non-kendo things are a real pain though, and one such thing rolled around last week: an annual “training” seminar. This year a professor was invited from a prestigious private university in Tokyo to lecture on the topic of “classroom assessments” …. brilliant.

Actually, the content of the lecture wasn’t actually that bad, it was just mostly irrelevant to my actual day-to-day work. Cue my brain to – as it generally does in situations like this – switch into kendo mode (I think this is actually the default setting). One topic in particular during the lecture caught my attention: “quality of assessment.”

Gradings (i.e. assessments) are something that we all go through, and I’m betting that all of us have experienced failure as well as success. This seems to be the normal way of the world and it’s probably healthy that we face a mix of each. Anyway, one thing that I’ve noted repeatedly over the past few years is that – despite my increased knowledge about and experience in kendo – I seem to have difficulty predicting if someone will pass or fail with accuracy. Either this is because I simply am not yet experienced enough (or smart enough) to understand the intricacies of the grading procedure, or it’s because of some sort of strong element of subjectiveness (even randomness?) within the procedure itself.

Last week at the seminar a couple of thoughts struck me (all though I am of course considering kendo in Japan here, I’m pretty sure the same questions can be applied to any national organisation):

– The ZNKR is quite consistent in the percentage of people who pass grades, how is this done?

– At gradings emphasis is always on the examinee, not the examiner. Are examiners trained and are their choices judged? Are “bad” examiners removed or re-trained?

Hmmmmm, I see the potential for some worms and a can.

Anyway, here are some points regarding the “quality of assessment” from last weeks lecture (in bold), with a few brainstormed questions from yours truly. Please feel free to consider, argue, or add in your own ideas in the comments.


Points to consider when looking at the quality of an assessment

1. Validity

The degree to which an assessment taps into what one intends to measure.

Do gradings really reflect what kendo practitioners really do during their keiko and in shiai, or do they have to show some something else (an idealised version of what they are supposed to do)?

Does the required content of gradings actually progress through levels, or does it remain somewhat the same between them?

Is there any bias? This could be age or gender bias, or perhaps questions about impartiality (especially pertinent in smaller organisations, or in arts where examinees are not anonymous).

Are participants being judged on what they can do or are they being compared to their opponents? If the latter is true, is it fair to match people who have wildly different ages or to mix genders?

etc.

2. Reliability

The degree to which assessment results are consistent no matter when and where a student takes an assessment or who scores the student’s response.

Is judging consistent across all examiners?

Is judging consistent across grading locations?

Is the content and task difficultly consistent across all parts of the grading process (shiai, kata, written)?

etc.

3. Practicality

The degree to which an assessment can be administered and maintained with available resources.

Does the organisation have enough people with the required experience (and training) to host a grading?

etc.

(True story: I remember being asked to read, then pass or fail the grading questions for 4dan in London years and years ago… I was 3dan at the time)

4. Impact

The degree to which an assessment gives positive and/or negative effects on test takers, teachers, students, and society.

Are participants simply “failed” or are they given useful feedback to promote future improvement?

Do the overall results provide useful information for kendo teachers to aid in the development of kendo for the future?

Are examiners fully aware of the ramifications for the future of kendo should people of sub-par ability be promoted?

etc.


I guess what I am sort of addressing here is the very obvious difficulty in ensuring that the grading process is done accurately/fairly. The current system seems to be highly subjective and seems to have – at least here in Japan (where grading times are extremely short and examinees are somewhat anonymous) – an element of randomness within it. After much thought on the matter, I’ve come to the tentative conclusion that the grading system is probably the weakest area (most open to problems) in modern kendo.

Anyway, these are just some thoughts that I’ve had for a while but which re-surfaced and became re-packaged based on the content of the lecture I listened to last week. If you have any ideas/thoughts/opinions on the matter please feel free to discuss in the comments, either here or on facebook. Cheers.

Eikenkai September 2014 英剣会

Yesterday we held this years 5th Eikenkai session at our usual place, Sumiyoshi Budokan next to Sumiyoshi Taisha in central Osaka. Sessions at this time of year are generally quite cool but since we’ve been having some unseasonably warm weather over the last couple of weeks the dojo ended up being boiling!!

This of course didn’t stop us: we did our usual 45-30-45 (45 mins kihon, 30 mins waza keiko, 45 minutes jigeiko) format, followed by another 3 hours or so of post-practice drinking and eating. Great fun!

The last session of 2014 will be held on November 30th. If you are interested in joining us, please keep an eye out on the kenshi 24/7 facebook page for information.

2015 Schedule

Next years schedule has been finalised and is as follows:
Feb 22nd / April 26th (private, invite only session) / June 28th / Sept 13th / Nov 29th

If you are interested in attending any of our sessions, please read the information on this page.