Eikenkai April 2015 英剣会

Eikenkai is a kenshi 24/7 led kihon-heavy keiko session that takes place usually every couple of months in central Osaka.

Due to the unavailability of our usual venue (Sumiyoshi Budokan) we used one of our member’s work dojo for this months session. Numbers were kept deliberately small in order to try a slightly different menu structure than usual and also because a couple of members were attempting 6 and 7dan this week.

Our next session will return to our usual place – Sumiyoshi Budokan – and will return to being an open session. If you are around Osaka on the 28th of June (and you’ve read and understood the “Points to note before joining a session”) then feel free to come along!

Keiko in Osaka before and after the World Kendo Championships

Recently I’ve been getting a lot of messages about keiko in Osaka on either side of the World Kendo Championships. So many requests are coming, in fact, that it’s hard to keep track anymore… so, rather than deal with them individually, I’ve created the following post detailing information about a couple of dojo in Osaka that are open to visitors from abroad: Yoseikai and Shudokan. There are of course many other dojo in the city, but these are by far the easiest to go to.

First of all, read the Kendo In Japan Cheat Sheet.


YOSEIKAI is a dojo situated in Namba in the heart of the city. I am a member of the dojo though I generally only attend on Mondays and sometimes on Saturdays (sessions that I will probably attend are indicated with an underline below). However, don’t let me attendance or non-attendance influence whether you go or not: either way feel free to go!

Yoseikai

Location: Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium (currently branded “Bodymaker Coliseum’)

Station: Osaka Subway Midosuji line, Namba station. The dojo is 5 minutes walk from exit 5.

Cost: 500 yen / session

Time: 19:00-20:15pm unless specified otherwise.

Online: http://kenshi247.net/yoseikai/

Keiko flow: suburi (5 mins) -> kihongeiko (15+ mins) -> uchikomigeiko (5 mins) -> jigeiko (remainder)

Notes: Turn up early. Write your name on the form (English ok) and put 500 yen in the box. Someone will probably come and chat to you. Change and bring all your stuff into the dojo. Follow along. If you can speak Japanese – even a little bit – go and say hello and introduce yourself to the sensei.


SHUDOKAN is the dojo situated in Osaka Castle Park. It is owned and run by Osaka city and so is a 100% open practise. Keiko is held every weekday except for national holidays. I am not a member of this dojo and rarely go (despite working 4 minutes away!).

Shudokan

Location: Osaka Castle Park (the English maps located throughout the park have the dojo displayed)

Station: Any that gets you to Osaka Castle. Depending on the station and exit you take it could take between 10-25 mins to walk to the dojo.

Cost: 300 yen / session

Time: 18:30-19:40

Online: http://syudoukan.info/ (Japanese)

Keiko flow: The session changes depending on which sensei is taking it, but generally it goes: kihongeiko (20 mins) -> jigeiko (remainder)

Notes: Turn up early and go in through the BACK of the building. You need to fill in a form (ask the receptionist to help you) and hand it with 300 yen to the receptionist. The changing rooms are in the corridor at the back of the building. Once changed go to the dojo with all your stuff and wait for the children’s class to finish before entering. Follow along. As the dojo is 100% open, you don’t have to go and introduce yourself to anyway, though someone may come and speak to you.


Yoseikai and Shudokan schedule for the 2 weeks at either side of the WKC

MAY

18 YOSEIKAI or SHUDOKAN
19 SHUDOKAN
20 YOSEIKAI or SHUDOKAN
21 SHUDOKAN
22 SHUDOKAN
23 (Sat)
24 (Sun)
25 YOSEIKAI or SHUDOKAN
26 SHUDOKAN
27 SHUDOKAN
28 SHUDOKAN
29 [ WKC day 1 ]
30 [ WKC day 2 ]
31 [ WKC day 3 ]

JUNE

1 YOSEIKAI or SHUDOKAN
2 SHUDOKAN
3 YOSEIKAI
4 SHUDOKAN
5 SHUDOKAN
6 (Sat)
7 (Sun)
8 YOSEIKAI or SHUDOKAN
9 SHUDOKAN
10 SHUDOKAN
11 SHUDOKAN
12 YOSEIKAI or SHUDOKAN
13 (Sat) YOSEIKAI (18:00-20:15) or SHUDOKAN


Further information

Q) Do I need to contact you?

Not anymore!

Q) Do I need to speak Japanese?

Nope.

Q) I am a beginner, can I join in?

If you have bogu and shinai, go ahead. If not, no.

Q) I need equipment, where do I get it?

You have 2 options:

1. Visit Tsurugi Budogu, a kendo shop next to Yoseikai (homepage / facebook)
2. Order it from All Japan Budogu (maybe they will send something to your hotel).

Q) Can you introduce me to another dojo / XYZ dojo?

Nope.

Q) Is there anywhere I can ask for more information?

I’m extremely busy and may not get back to you promptly, but you are free to message me on the kenshi 24/7 facebook page.

Kitano Butokuden 大日本武徳会京都支部武徳殿 (北野武徳殿)

Every practitioner of Japanese budo has heard about the legendary Butokuden. Completed in 1899, it served as the HQ dojo for the Dai-Nippon Butokukai from then until the end of World War 2, after which it changed hands a few times, finally coming under the safe ownership and protection of Kyoto city. Despite undergoing a slightly tumultuous ride for a number of years, it remained the venue for kendo’s most important yearly event: the Kyoto Taikai.

Prior to WW2 there were branch Butokuden’s built throughout the country (plus a dozen in Japanese occupied Taiwan and one in China), some of which not only still exist today but are even used for keiko. However, what many people – including Japanese kenshi – don’t know is that there were actually two Butokuden’s in Kyoto: the main one (nicknamed the “Okazaki Butokuden”) and a branch one (nicknamed the “Kitano Butokuden”).


Background

Originally built in 1914 in the precincts of Kyoto’s Kitano Tenmangu shrine, the the Kyoto branch Butokuden (thus the “Kitano” Butokuden) served as a dojo for Kyoto’s numerous kenshi. Luckily the building survived the war undamaged and was in continuous use (rebranded as “Heian dojo“) as a budojo until 2000 when – due to age related wear and tear – keiko was ceased. The then current owners of the building (Kyoto police department) decided the building was too old to repair and planned to knock it down.

tenmangu-butokuden02

Fight for survival

At this point interested individuals got involved and tried to somehow save the building from being destroyed. A petition was signed by over 7000 people and presented to the Kyoto prefectural office in hope that they would somehow help.

At the same time the city and prefectural kendo, aikido, judo, and sport federations were approached and asked to help, but in the end none but the aikido federation were interested in contributing. Reasons cited was that it was too costly a project, that it was too much of a hassle, and even “we already have one Butokuden in Kyoto, why do we need another?” It was at this time that they realised that trying to save the building as a budo-jo was difficult, and that a change in tack may be required.

Success was finally had when they promoted the project as one to save an historic building, one that could be used as an exceptional example of traditional Japanese wooden building technique. That is, the building itself was talked about as a “cultural” space rather than for simply budo.

Kitano Butokuden was finally bought sometime in the mid-late 2000’s by Shoren-in temple with the aim of moving the entire structure from inside Kitano Tenmangu Shrine to the top of a large hill in the north overlooking the city.

* Please note that if I am being rather vague about the details in this section it’s because I am not 100% certain of the exact motivations of the parties involved nor the actual flow of events – I have little resources to work with. I will update this article with more information when/if I discover it.

Dismantling and conservation

The entire dismantling, reconstruction, and moving took a staggering 5 years, with the new structure finally opening to the public in autumn 2014.

The specialist carpenter who did the job has pictures on his website here. He also has a blog with more info and pics but it doesn’t look like it’s up to date. The following couple of pics are taken from there.

Currently – Seiryuden (青龍殿)

The building itself was completely renewed (it looks great!), renamed (“Seiryuden”), and is set on a kind of platform looking down over Kyoto (see below). A brand new front section was added onto one side which now houses the painting of the “Blue Cetaka” (a demon-like guardian deity) national treasure. But, truth be told, I had little interest in the location or the national treasure – I was here to see the dojo.

The building has been beautifully restored and – apart from the ugly extra part tacked onto the front to house the painting above – looks fantastic! What a gorgeous building! Inside the structure is pretty much identical to the Okazaki Butokuden, only smaller and without a Gyokuza. I planted a few fumikomi’s on the floor (ignoring the surprised looks of others!) and can confirm that it feels great. On the whole I was highly impressed.

However one thing was really annoying: in the literature they hand out (and online) there is almost nothing mentioned about the history of the building. By almost nothing, I mean it says “it was a dojo in the precincts of Kitano Tenmangu” and thats it. It doesn’t mention anything else. Sure the building itself has been preserved and kept for generations to visit, but I can’t help something has been lost at the same time. At any rate, please check out these iPhone snaps:


Getting there

The current structure was moved to an a part of the Shoren-in estate completely separate from the temple itself called “Shogun-zuka.” Due to the fact that the location is at the top of a hill the easiest way to get there is by taxi. From outside Heian-Jingu it probably takes 10-15 minutes and costs around 1,500 yen or a wee bit more/less.

Another alternative route is to walk up through Yasaka-jinja and Maruyama park but it’s very difficult for me to explain here. I suggest getting a taxi up to Shogun-zuka and then – after you’ve finished visiting Seiryuden – walking down through the woods into the park. The path isn’t great so it’s not suitable for fancy shoes and might be a bit treacherous in the rain.


Conclusion

For those budoka interested in the architecture of dojo I definitely recommend a visit to Seiryuden. Most of the other people visiting the structure will be doing so to see the painting mentioned above, to see any art instillations, and to check out the view down over the city – all of which you can enjoy too. As a kendoka, however, you know the real score!

Doing kendo in Japan (cheat sheet) 日本剣道修行

Recently – perhaps because of the impending world kendo championships – I’ve been receiving an increased amount of inquires about doing kendo over here in Japan. Some questions/requests are quite easily resolved, others not so. What I’ve decided to do here is to write a quick “cheat sheet” for people who are coming to Japan and want to study kendo or, indeed, for those in Japan who wish to start.

Please note that this is a general guide only, and I’m sure many readers have had many different experiences. YMMV.


A. “I already do kendo in my home country and I’m coming to Japan and wish to practise for a bit.”

Great! The easiest thing to do here is to use a connection with someone you already have to find a place to practise. Ask your sensei/sempai first and go that route. Sorted!

Failing that, you can always reach out to (friendly!) people in Japan and ask. I’m happy to help/advise people who come to Osaka for example.

A third route is to contact the ZNKR or regional federations and ask for help – they should be more than willing to do so (it’s their job). You should be able to email them in English at least.

Other points to note:

1. Equipment – bring your own equipment. Rolling up to Japan and expecting to borrow stuff (unless it’s from a friend and you’ve worked it out beforehand) is a bit rude. It also, I think, reveals the extent of your dedication to kendo (i.e. not much).

Shinai can be tricky to take over, so consider buying 2 or 3 when you are here (they are cheap – ask your contact about a bogu shop or buy them online and deliver them to your hotel). If you must borrow something, then let it only be shinai.

One place where many people make easy mistakes is with their zekken:

– Absolutely do not turn up without a zekken.

– Make sure the zekken is legible (i.e. unless you are Asian or of Asian descent do not use kanji but have your name printed in roman script or katakana – otherwise people will not know how to read your name, and you risk looking foolish). If people can’t read your zekken then it’s pointless to even wear one.

– Consider making a zekken with your country or city name (assuming it’s a large place like London or Paris) rather than your dojo name. This is simply so people can place you. You may think your dojo has a cool name or is well known, but it’s probably not. btw, when I go to degeiko in other prefectures I simply use an “Osaka” zekken for the same reason.

2. Gifts. If you are going to be at a single dojo and you know the teacher then sure, bring a gift if you want to (something cheap). If you are moving around dojo and perhaps don’t know the teachers, then I suggest NOT to bring any gifts at all – nobody expects presents from random people.

3. In Japan people freely hand out business cards to each other even in non-business situations. Pleasantries like “We must go out for a drink soon” or “Get in touch if you come to my prefecture” etc are common. However they are just that: pleasantries. Kendo teachers naturally do this abroad and may say “Come and visit me when you are in Japan” however, they sometimes don’t imagine you will actually get in touch. This seems to have been more trouble in the past than it is now, but calls/emails from random people abroad (whom they can’t remember) saying “I’m coming to Japan!” do happen. You may want to think about this before emailing every Japanese kendo person whose business card you happen to have.

4. Be polite. This is a no-brainer… or should be. You’d be amazed how many people (often unintentionally) end up doing something silly that is easily avoidable:

– Reply to emails. You’d be surprised how many people don’t send a reply (even saying “thanks”) when you answer their questions.

– Don’t be late. If keiko starts at 7pm, don’t turn up at 6:50pm. Be at the dojo (at least for your first time) about 30 minutes before class starts.

– Research the route before you go. Large cities especially can be confusing for first time visitors. An easy example of a screw up is when multiple train lines from different companies have similar names: e.g. there are 4 “Namba” stations here in central Osaka: Namba, Nankai Namba, Osaka Namba, JR Namba.

– Introduce yourself to the main teacher(s) before class, and be sure to practise with at least 1 or 2 of them first during keiko.

– No matter what your grade is, sit at the bottom of the line unless moved by members of the dojo.

– Don’t randomly tsuki people you don’t know, and be carefully when doing keiko with older people and children.

B. “I live in Japan and wish to start kendo.”

Good for you! The easiest thing to do here is ask a Japanese friend to help you find a dojo (if you speak/read Japanese you can do it yourself of course). The quickest route to success is to ask your local prefectural kendo association directly. After that, it should be plain sailing.

Note that depending on where you are they may not be used to teaching adult beginners, and you may be taught with children at least initially. Just be patient.

Personally, I ask that adults who wish to start from scratch at my dojo here in Osaka to be willing to commit for at least 2 years. If you plan to leave Japan in 6 months time please consider that someone else has to sacrifice their time to teach you (possibly man-to-man).

C. “I love kendo and want to seriously study it in Japan.”

Well, you sound like me all those years ago! First of all, most people say they want to seriously study kendo, but few are willing to give up much to do so. When I hear “seriously study” I imagine 10 years plus or maybe, minimally, 5 years. Pretty much nobody is willing to sacrifice the time but if you are, please consider the following:

1. You need a job. Unless you are independently wealthy, you will need to work. First, find a job in Japan and then work on kendo from there.

2. Unless you are extremely lucky, most working people don’t practise more than 3 or 4 times/week… often less. i.e. you’ll be at work more than you will be the dojo. This might not be the fantastic-life-of-kendo you imagine. Combining work and kendo is possible, but rare.

3. Kendo is hard and takes a long time. 5 years is not enough for your average person to get good, neither is 10. You may find yourself getting physically and mentally beaten down a lot. You will almost also certainly be at the very bottom of the pile with little or no chance to make it to the top. You may think you can handle all this, but can you really? Also, the kendo social scene is not as friendly as it is in many places abroad, so it’s easy for people to feel lonely and isolated at times.

4. One serious option is the International Budo University’s special one year course for non-Japanese students (they do both a kendo and judo course). I’ve heard more horror stories than good about the place and was actually talked out of going myself by a graduate a few years ago. However it does – to those with the Japanese skills – offer something rare to non-Japanese people: the potential to move onto the full-time course after the one-year course is completed. In reality, almost nobody does this, but if you want to study sport or budo at a Japanese university, this is basically your only option. Note that Japanese university system is different from many countries, including the method of entrance and the qualification received.

A note here for people trying to get cultural visa’s to study kendo: it almost certainly won’t happen. Especially if you have very little kendo experience. Get a job.

D. “I’m visiting Japan and would like to try kendo (individual or group).”

Get in touch with the All Japan Kendo Federation or your own country’s federation.

E. “I’m going to do a school exchange / study in Japan and I’d love to start kendo.”

I’m jealous!! I’ve heard of many many (high school and university aged) students who started kendo on a school exchange or study-year, so you are in a great situation.

If you are going to attend a Japanese high school then (assuming the kendo teacher is good) it’s like hitting the kendo lottery: get in there! It may be physically intense and you may have little time left for other pursuits, but it will be a year worth spent. In fact, I’ve personally taught 4 high school exchange students before (3 from China, 1 from Europe).

University clubs tend to be a lot different and – I hear – can be very unfriendly at times. You should realise that most universities have a “main” club and a less-formal “kendo circle” club. The latter is often less strict and less competition orientated, so it might be better for the adult beginner or those with less experience. Good luck!


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Comment

Like I said at the top of this piece: the advice here is general. For the most part it’s also self-explanatory… or you would think so!!!

Over the last 10 years or so I’ve had people roll up here in Osaka wanting to borrow a hakama, without a zekken (or with illegible kanji), people obviously not reading the explicit directions I’ve given them and going to the wrong station, turn up late, turn up on time but fence only the shodans and 2dans, etc etc etc. I’ve also seen an increase in the number of adult beginners who wish to start (although no non-Japanese person has ever stayed more than a year or so…) and – surprisingly – random requests like “My son and I study karate and will be in Osaka for a day, can we try kendo?” or “I’ve done kendo for 4 months and love it. I need your help getting a cultural visa to study kendo. Can you ask your sensei to be my teacher and sign the immigration form for me?”… [ bury face into kote ] … etc etc.

At any rate, this was a light-hearted advice article – feel free to add any more advice or personal anecdotes you have in the comments below. Cheers!

Towards true internationalisation of kendo (1989) 剣道国際化

After the popularity of the last post I’ve decided to translate something else along the same theme. It comes from around the same time frame and is the work of another academic, though this time a sort of – whats the right word? – maverick of the Japanese kendo community: Baba Kinji sensei (kyoshi nanadan, Kokushikan university professor and kendo teacher of the Tsurugawa campus kendo club). I don’t mean “maverick” in a bad sense, rather, he’s someone who likes to speak his mind even if his opinion is different from others, and isn’t afraid to openly criticise. Needless to say these traits are not the norm in Japanese kendo circles and it makes for some interesting reading. At any rate, today’s translation is more inwardly looking, one that looks hard at kendo in Japan and finds fault.

Like the last translation this is a highly abridged and loosely translated section of a larger book (if you can read Japanese I’d urge you to read the original) and I believe that it can help act as a sort of barometer to see if and what has changed since the time of publication (26 years ago), both inside Japan and out.

Please remember that the book was published in 1989 and relies on experiences and anecdotes from the 80s. It also reflects a strong feeling of the difference and uniqueness of Japanese people, which might make reading it awkward for Europeans, north Americans, etc but is, for better or worse, still a strong trait within Japanese society in general even today.

2008-01


Introduction

Recently I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about the “internationalisation” of kendo. However, as I was watching the video of the 7th World Kendo Championships (WKC) in Seoul I was struck with the thought that the true “way” of kendo has deviated off onto a side road, as if it was somehow walking away by itself. Like fighting cocks, the Japanese team members themselves displayed a noisy and scrappy style of kendo, something completely distant from the traditional Japanese arts. This, I conjecture, is something you (i.e. Japanese readers) should probably know.

Japanese people are liars !?

It’s obviously not very easy to correctly explain and transmit an intangible cultural activity such as kendo to those from different cultures. Therefore let’s think about the problem from another angle: what do non-Japanese people seek from the pursuit of kendo?

Well, first of all, we Japanese are apt to say “kendo is great, if you try it out then you will understand” which is a kind of one-way, abbreviated non-explanation. Of course there are things that cannot be explained by words alone. A good example of this is the term “shitei-no-michi” (aka “shitei-doko” : the teacher and student follow the same path) which is something you have to comprehend perfectly, otherwise continuing kendo becomes a futile activity. Basically, if we look at this particular teaching from the perspective of internationalisation, we are saying that having a teacher is indispensable, otherwise what you are doing will be half-baked. Outside of Japan, however, they have one sensei last year, a different sensei this year (i.e. different teachers coming to do seminars or being dispatched by the ZNKR) …. which just ends up in their kendo being a mess. If you really think about this you will realise that this situation is of Japanese making.

In this way we should send Japanese kendoka abroad to listen and learn what and how other cultures think. Not understanding the local language, just teaching in one-direction in Japanese, or – for example when a student asks “Isn’t what you are teaching this year different from what the sensei taught last year?” – answering queries flippantly with “I don’t care who said what when. What I am teaching is correct, got it?” then returning back to Japan is unproductive. This is what Japanese people call “internationalisation.” Somehow this just seems like a normal Japanese training course (i.e. the writer doesn’t find those too impressive either).

So, dispatched Japanese teachers change back and forth over time. In the beginning the non-Japanese kenshi think “These Japanese teachers say different things” but in time that changes to “These Japanese teachers are liars.” In other words when a new teacher comes along he teaches something different to the one that came before, then he leaves and another comes who teaches something different again, etc, so eventually doubt arises in the non-Japanese kenshi’s mind: “What we were taught last year and have spent our time studying this past year was wrong?”

What is going on here is not that the teachers are liars, it’s that they are teaching to the kenshi’s level. What they should say is: “Compared to the last time I came your skill has naturally increased, so I am now teaching you something in line with your increase in ability, it’s just that you don’t realise this.” Misunderstandings happen both due to lack of mutual communication and understanding between dispatched teachers (past and present) and because they don’t explicitly explain things to the non-Japanese kenshi. The root cause of this is that many (Japanese) kendoka are self-conceited, overly competitive, and obstinate. This is why they try to force their kendo on others. However, when all is said and done, it is true that they do actually attempt to correct mistaken teachings.

Thinking back to the “shitei-no-michi” term mentioned above I want to relate an anecdote I have concerning my visits to Belgium and France over the last couple of years. One teacher over there was teaching this to the local kenshi: “Strike hard from above your head, so much so to dent the opponents head!” Another teacher said to me: “Don’t deliberately let these local kenshi hit you. If you do then they’ll think they have won.” Obviously the way that we Japanese learned kendo from our sempai and sensei, that is, to pull our students level up through allowing them to strike you (hikitate-geiko), is impossible in such a situation. Naturally, “shitei-no-michi” cannot occur.

In other words, teaching there does not conform to the principles of kendo and the true “way” that they are seeking is not being transmitted. We Japanese, I think, have completely misunderstood the non-Japanese kenshi.

We Japanese tend to pay respect to European and American people but look down on those from SE Asia and Africa. In the university lectures I give (180 people) the exchange students (20 people) monopolise the front rows of the lecture theatre and are earnest in their studies. When I asked them what they thought of Japanese people the Europeans and Americans said “Japanese people are shy” whereas the SE Asians said “Japanese people are arrogant and unkind.” I think this captures precisely the polar attributes of the Japanese people, and is cause for deep consideration. During classes the Asian exchange students took to the lessons with enthusiasm – as if having the room to themselves – and I felt anxious for the future of the Japanese youths.

In other words, if we are to popularise the good points of Japan we must understand the good points of others. If you don’t understand the culture or the characteristics of the non-Japanese people you teach then instruction will likely become a one-way affair.

Samurai: the attraction of Japan

Above and beyond what we have just discussed, what is it that non-Japanese people seek through kendo? The fact is that most people became interested in Japanese culture before they discovered kendo. When I asked people about the question when I was teaching in Belgium and France they replied that they were interested in the fact that essence of the European ideal of mediaeval chivalry (long dead in Europe) was still alive in Japan in the form of Bushido. This is why a German kendoka acquaintance of mine believed “sports kendo” to be silly, and why it is very common for non-Japanese to think that the inclusion of kendo in the olympics is nonsense. Thinking from their perspective we might say: “Sorry, but when it comes to sport we are far ahead of you Japanese. The spirit of chivalry, however, died out a long time ago here, but in Japan you still have Bushido.”

The most important vehicle for transmitting this culture in Japanese history were the samurai. In the distant past the samurai started out as bodyguards but rose to the top of the social ladder by the Edo period. Nowadays, Japanese people have a romantic image/ideal of the samurai, and many non-Japanese people have fallen in love with this romanticised image. I hear even that sometimes non-Japanese people even ask “Is there still people walking about with swords in Japan?” Before we talk about internationalisation surely we must first teach the correct history.

Simply increasing the number of kendo practitioners abroad is half-baked internationalisation, and if we continue changing /dispatching teachers in-and-out, then this internationalisation process will remain half-baked.

What’s the true meaning of “internationalisation” ?

The first thing we must do if we want to measure the internationalisation process is to plant a young teacher abroad, probably for more than 10 years. However, most people that are sent abroad are people who have just graduated and have free time, someone who is jobless (perhaps retired?), someone who’s family kindly let’s them go abroad for a year, etc, this type of person. I think that this “side job” attitude is rude to non-Japanese people. If someone wants to go abroad they should do so because they believe strongly that it’s something they wish to do. They should graduate from a specialist school with this international mission in mind. I believe that we should create a route like this, and it’s the International Kendo Federations job to ensure that it happens.

One university teacher said this to me: “The All Japan Kendo Federation (ZNKR) selected me to teach abroad and dispatched me to country X to teach. It was a horrible experience.” What happened was that he was selected and sent to the country without any background information about the kendo situation there at all. He was sent there for 2 months and received absolutely no backup from the ZNKR (i.e. he was stranded in a foreign country with no help). As it was a ZNKR dispatch he initially took up the job with enthusiasm but once there he was given only a small stipend and survived barely on it and free gifts (i.e. from the local kenshi). I’ll say it plainly – as he was a university teacher (and thus would still receive salary through the 2 month break) the ZNKR treated the dispatch as simply something ‘extra’ and assumed he’d get by fine without being reimbursed with much. In other words, the dispatch system runs cheaply because it uses people it can send abroad as part of their job (i.e. police and teachers) in an effort to cut down costs. This is how the dispatch system runs. Obviously – if we remove those teachers that treat the dispatch as simply a holiday (i.e. who don’t care anyway) – it’s impossible for kendo to take root proper in this circumstance. The actual state of affairs is actually worse: the dispatched pay for their own travel and the foreign kendo federation pays for accommodation.

In the end the dispatch system is simply one in name only. It’s something to add to your kendo resume and bring up in conversation, to say you worked in this and that country over x period of time – it adds to the value of your name. The content of the system is indeed poor.

(Comment: the underlying message of this part suggests to me that the writer believes that pretty much all dispatched teachers went in holiday mode and were not serious about teaching abroad. Those that were serious, however, found many barriers in their paths, including – but not limited to – financial ones.)

The kendo community cries out a chorus of “internationalisation, internationalisation” but in the end the conversation simply comes down to the increase in kendo population abroad and how this is great. Internationalisation is not as simple as this: judging that an increase in population equals success/progress is dangerous. Unless we teach kendo as a part of the larger culture of Japan we cannot meet the enthusiasm of non-Japanese kendoka. Therefore, we Japanese should take it upon ourselves to revise and study our understanding of our own culture, then teach kendo as a part of that culture when we go abroad.

If we want to measure the internationalisation process of kendo we should re-think seriously the teacher dispatch system, and be create a system that allows us to send teachers over to foreign countries for at least 10 years at a time. The ZNKR (IKF) should be the central organisation for making this financially viable by setting up a foundation and eliciting contributions.

On the other side, we Japanese should work to understand what it is that non-Japanese kendoka are seeking. It’s not just “We Japanese kenshi are strong so we’ll teach you some techniques” that is, we shouldn’t only teach technical ability. Rather, our teaching must first begin by instruction on Japanese culture.

After I came home after teaching abroad some non-Japanese kenshi – travelling a far distance and at their own expense – came to my dojo. When in Japan they study not only kendo, but iaido, sumo wrestling, noh, kabuki, etc. Depending on their zeal for Japanese culture I sometimes took them to Nara, Kamakura, etc, and show them the culture that kendo was created from. My own university students whom I teach kendo to also study the same things, for if they don’t their kendo will just fall into “sports kendo.” Many of my students sometimes go to keiko at keishicho, various prefectural police departments, other universities, etc that is, they have a chance to compare kendo in various situations. They come back from these places and tell me various things, sometimes asking difficult questions: “x dojo’s kendo is simply about power and speed” , “y dojo doesn’t have a kamidana, why not?” , “z dojo has a kamidana but they don’t bow to it, why is that? What’s the purpose of practising kendo in that dojo then?” etc etc. These students collect various experiences and then, within themselves, evaluate what is right and wrong. They become sensitive to the varied ways kendo exists, and never act in an careless manner. I think we too (i.e. Japanese kenshi as a whole when travelling abroad) should be careful to be observant and thoughtful of others (i.e. non Japanese).

Rejecting sport kendo

Many non-Japanese people who – after waking up to Japanese culture and choosing, from within all the myriad traditional arts, kendo as a path – state that their experience/image of kendo after beginning it is different to what they thought before starting. They feel frustrated because they are limited by age and power and, in that way, kendo becomes to be the same as other sports. For example, many non-Japanese state that European fencing decides bouts by electricity and the traditional aspect has been completely removed. Many are therefore naturally disappointed with sports where the crowd cheers and shouts to encourage participants. People have said to me that they chose to study kendo because it wasn’t simply a sport concerned with winning and losing.

Kendo doesn’t equal culture, kendo equals sport (i.e. this is what many non-Japanese kenshi end up thinking after beginning to practise it). We Japanese should wake up to our own culture and make a proper study of it: many non-Japanese people can be said to already have done this and thus have a high ideal of what kendo should be. However, most Japanese teach half-heartedly and often speak ambiguously or evasively when the topic of culture comes up. Basically, Japanese people lack understanding of their own culture, so it doesn’t matter how times a Japanese person says “kendo is budo” the non-Japanese kenshi is not fooled. As many of them study more about Japan than Japanese people I’m tempted to say that there may be a fraction of those non-Japanese kenshi that could actually teach us about our own culture (including kendo).

Based on my experience, looking at those non-Japanese people that study kendo in various countries today – and apologies if this seems rude – many people start kendo during middle-age and don’t really have the (physical) qualities that would suggest future mastery. In amongst them I haven’t seen anyone who was an elite sportsman in the past. Therefore, up until now, Japanese teachers have taught casually and at a leisurely pace.

An example of this casual approach to foreign kendo was seen at the recent world kendo championships in Seoul. Korean kendo has (unexpectedly) increased in ability so much that Japan was caught unprepared. Their kendo has improved so much the top kendo teacher in Japan stated: “We will loose to Korea very soon, watch and see!”

Against this threat it seems as the association is gathering together the best Japanese competitors and teaching them how to win at shiai. If foreign countries gathered together elite sportsmen and did the same thing then kendo would move one step closer to something that relies solely on speed and power, and Japanese kendo would fear for it’s future. If this happens then kendo will end up going the same way as judo: class divisions, rules spelled out minutely, etc and kendo might even become “KENDO” and not “剣道” (in Korea they call kendo “kumdo”).

In the end, we could say that modern kendo has completely lost the feeling of being an art. In other words, it has become sport-like, with renowned kenshi being those endowed with youth and strength. Older people cannot compete – in shiai or keiko – with healthy bodied young people. It is this reliance on physique, endurance, and power that led me to start questioning the state of kendo. I think we must try to set kendo free of this state.

Kendo presents itself as something that can be studied whether you are young or old, male or female. In spite of this you sometimes get some mother come along who asks the question: “Am I too old to start kendo?” Some often then qualify this with: “In other sports you run around a lot so that’s impossible for me, but kendo seems like no problem! Onegaishimasu!” …….

On the other hand if you were to watch what could be said to be called the top level shiai on the world (of course, it’s not) – Japan vs Korea – what do you think the spectator who started kendo later in life thinks? They probably see kendo that is nothing but speed, power, youth, and force, and consider that this is not the type of kendo they could physically do. At the end of the day we teach the exact same kendo to everybody, whether they are young or old, beginner or experienced, male or female. However (i.e. looking at shiai) you would imagine it’s not an activity that can be carried out into old age. I believe this state of affairs is contrary to what is spelled out in the Concept of Kendo and one of the primary causes of disappointment of kendoka throughout the world.

Sympathetic teaching across spheres

I heard that there were some Germans that came to Japan to study kendo. They practised very hard – attacking and striking, taiatari, uchikomi, etc – but soon enough people started to get injured here and there. The German kenshi said nothing themselves, but obviously this was the result of how they had been taught. Age, ability, individual manner, enthusiasm, etc these are all things you have to take into account when teaching people. btw those German kenshi were doing the same type of keiko as sports-university students, so it was no wonder that injuries occurred.

It’s obvious that kendo should be taught in stages depending upon the students. If you try to teach the old and young, male and female in exactly the same way then there will be problems. For example when it comes to universities with kendo clubs in the Kanto area there are about 100 clubs. However, some clubs have no instructors and others are studying sports science. Someone teaching kendo at a sports-science university club shouldn’t turn around and say of the club with no instructors “their kendo is awful.” Teachers must learn to develop the ability to recognise the level of the students in front of them and instruct them based on that. They should never use the excuse that students are beginners and thus teach them casually or with a leisurely attitude. The reality is that this is a chronic problem. Learning how to teach based on level is of course difficult, but it is also interesting and challenging.

When I went to Belgium and France to teach one local said this to me: “I thought that the pain felt when struck during keiko was something to be endured. However, when I did keiko with you I enjoyed sparring and it even felt satisfying to be struck.” In other words, they had been taught that it was natural to feel pain when struck….

Asking for everyone’s thoughts afterwards the consensus was: “It seems that we have somehow misunderstood what we have been taught. We have mistaken the meaning of ‘strike firmly and strongly.’ Everyone struck by you today said it not only felt satisfying but there was a pleasant sting to the strike. More than this though, we really felt as if we had truly been struck. It was quite a strange experience: normally in a sporty activity you feel disappointment at losing, however this time, instead, we felt admiration. Keiko was a relaxing experience and we found ourselves copying your kendo.”

If we just teach simple things then people will not only get bored quickly, but they will hit a dead end. In this case it’s just like doing an aerobics class for a while then quitting because you didn’t loose weight. This (simple, technique only only kendo) is not what non-Japanese people are after: they are interested in learning the deepest depths of the mysteries of Japanese culture though the study of kendo. I believe this is what Japanese kenshi should also be seeking but, as described before, they have (due to lack of study) lost sight of the true essence of kendo, as if they were a frog stuck in a well. Japanese kendo teachers now no longer talk about things like “elegance,” “refinement,” “mystique,” and “grace” when they teach, and isn’t the fact that they are often surprised – and a little bit sad – when they listen to the (educated) words of the European or American kendo student indicative of a problem?

Towards true “internationalisation” of kendo

I believe that “shitei-no-michi” is something that can work abroad as well as in Japan. However, since this is already almost lost in Japan how can those in other countries realistically seek this? In this way I feel that that we have betrayed the expectations of people from other countries.

A few years ago I went with another teacher abroad to teach. However, on the very first day we arrived he simply left everything up to me. Not only were the students in trouble, but so was I – because I was just one Japanese teacher replacing another. Eventually, when I was leaving to return to Japan, I was approached by the students. They asked me to become their sensei. However this wasn’t something I could easily say yes to as I felt as if I’d be stealing another teachers students… In the end, of course, I refused. Well, it’s not exactly as if I refused, but how could I accept if they had numerous teachers before me? The first person to teach someone is their teacher. I acknowledge and accept this responsibility when I teach someone for the first time. In the traditional arts the first thing you must to is to choose a teacher and build a relationship with him or her. Unfortunately, I’m afraid to say, those students didn’t have the chance to do this.

If a teacher accepts this responsibility then they should realise that this responsibility doesn’t only apply when in the dojo. It’s the teachers responsibility to look after them if they come to Japan. This is part of the “way.” When abroad some teachers say “When you come to Japan please get in touch!” but when the non-Japanese people actually do turn up (i.e. they didn’t actually think they would) they simply say “Um, ok… I’ll introduce you to a place I know” (i.e. which might not necessarily be anything to do with them). This not only causes potential problems for the dojo they are handed off too, but it often ends up with the non-Japanese kenshi being shuttled around multiple dojo, like a gypsy, with no main base dojo, and their trip doesn’t quite go as good as it could have. In the worst case scenario some people may think: “Why the hell did I come to Japan anyway…?!” before finally returning home without learning anything. It’s also not uncommon for people to end up being taken under the wing and run around by some random koryu teacher from the countryside.

There was one French woman who wanted to come to Japan and study kendo under me. After making sure she understood what the “way” was I allowed her to come over. However, respecting the fact that she was not only a career woman but older, I knew that it was not appropriate for her to try and live with the students in the dormitory and so I booked her a hotel. For the same reason I knew that it would be pushing things to do the same volume of kendo as the students so I reduced that and, emphasising the “kendo as culture” aspect, sent her to view some traditional arts.

As a teacher, shouldn’t you be prepared to do things like this? Going abroad to teach with a leisurely manner is surely bad. Where going may be easy, if non-Japanese students come it can cause problems. Therefore, many teachers go abroad with a holiday spirit, and teach kendo only casually (i.e. they don’t want to make real student-teacher relationships). Don’t you think that this is awful?

If the people who go abroad don’t have a strong desire to spread kendo then true internationalisation cannot occur. We must also not overlook the problems caused due to the language barrier as well, namely that it raises walls, means that teaching goes in one direction, and finally allows instruction to become casual. Translators who understand kendo are vital (note that he doesn’t suggest that the dispatched teachers learn other languages!). For the sake of true internationalisation we need to develop people with these skills. For this, I believe, those teaching the Japanese youth today are vitally important.

I want to see impressive competitors in the World Kendo Championships that make people think: “Wow, I want to be able to do kendo like that!” At the moment, however, we see people randomly tsuki-ing each other, trying to push each other over, not saying thank-you to your opponent after the match, and even saying things like: “That guy didn’t really win, he was awarded an ippon only because of the bad shinpan.” Obviously, in a situation like this, how can the spirit of international develop? I believe it is important to immediately attempt to fix the current win-at-all-costs state of the world kendo championships.

Watching the overwhelming defeat of Japanese judo at the Seoul Olympics (1988, Japan won only one gold medal) I couldn’t help imagining the future of Japanese kendo. In less than one year (between the World Championships in 1987 where Japan won 4 gold medals) non-Japanese judoka refined their skills so much that they easily defeated Japanese players.

In the past I had a friend who was studying in America. During a shiai he faced a muscle-bound black man who overcame him with his speed. Later he discovered that the man was only shodan. My friend said: “He body slammed me like an American football player… there was nothing that I (and by implication, or any other Japanese person) could do. We’d best be careful.”

A friend who has a senior position in the Korean kendo federation said to me: “If kendo became an olympic event then Korea would soon win. Not only is the budget here completely different to that in Japan (i.e. they have a lot more), but the country aids us in selecting and training those with the most potential. However, it’s my wish that we (Japanese and Korean) who understand the true spirit of kendo teach the young kendoka of this country.” This gentlemen really has a tremendous attitude.

Like this, the sports world is one of victory, nationalism, and money. Not only this but in the effort for victory people are turning to sports science and even taking life-threatening drugs. The original merits of the olympic spirit are gone, that is the idea of competing for the glory of your country rather than personal honour, and the ideal of amateurism. You can guess what would happen to kendo if placed in amongst all this. Some people are even saying out loud perhaps the only way for Japanese kendo to survive is if we split it into two: one that places emphasis on technical ability, and another that is more spiritual in nature.

What is the best direction for kendo in the future? I think top sensei should quickly consolidate their opinions point the direction to us. They should explain the Concept of Kendo in an easier to understand manner, without fine complicated words, so that everyone can comprehend it. But is the current Japanese kendo community even working towards what was written in the Concept of Kendo? It seems that maybe discussion of the subject has become taboo. We Japanese are happy that we weren’t mistaken about choosing to study kendo and that it has enriched our lives. It’s my desire that non-Japanese kenshi can feel this way too.

2011-08


Comments

Before I start making comments please remember that the piece above was originally published in 1989 and was based on experiences from (what seems like) the mid/late-80s. I suspect that much has changed since then, but I’d like to address at couple of the core issues raised within the article, specifically the teacher-dispatch system and Japanese kenshi’s lack of study (tackled in reverse order).

First of all, how much about their own culture do Japanese person actually know? Well, in my experience, I’d say that the answer for your average person is: “as much as the average British person knows about British culture” … that is, they know a lot about the whole culture in general, but probably not much about the actual specifics. When it comes to kendo, the average Japanese kenshi will know more than your average Japanese non-kenshi, but not – you may be surprised to hear – to a deep level. This is something I’ve actually had (drunken!) arguments with hachidan sensei about. The fact of the matter is that your average Japanese kenshi doesn’t seem too much interested in learning more than the surface history of kendo, nor do they attempt to study older kenjutsu or even iaido (dare I mention kendo no kata?!). Of course, I’m talking about an average kenshi here – some people are indeed highly knowledgeable.

Therefore, Baba sensei’s conjecture in this piece that Japanese kenshi don’t know their own culture is – generally – a fairly accurate statement I believe, and still stands today. He obviously believes that an instructor sent abroad to teach kendo must teach kendo as something that is part of Japanese culture, therefore, they must be fluent in that culture as a whole (i.e. not limited to kendo knowledge). If Japanese kenshi don’t bother studying deeply even about kendo (a situation that in general still exists today) how can they then go and teach abroad? The answer is, of course, they can only teach the technical side of kendo, which Baba sensei believes is not enough.

The second theme that Baba sensei tackles repeatedly throughout this piece is the teacher-dispatch system (something set-up specifically to spread “Japanese kendo” abroad). Now, I assume things have changed since the 80s, but is this actually so? Not so long ago I was personally drinking with a recently retired hachidan sensei who was sent abroad for a couple of months to teach. What he told me was this: “I was excited to go and serious about teaching kendo abroad but as soon as the plane took off I realised that the other sensei were acting as if they were going on holiday. They spent those two months drinking, eating, sightseeing, and casually teaching kendo. During jigeiko they didn’t make much effort, after which they then heaped praise on the students… because if they didn’t praise them they wouldn’t get invited back again.” That sensei was visibly disappointed when he told me the story.

Perhaps this is not everyone’s experience nowadays, but it does seem to still happen. I know of at least one kendo seminar where the accompanying grading is seen as an “easy pass” (i.e. the invited sensei seem to pass people because they know if they don’t then they won’t get invited back) and I’ve had friends contact me from two different continents (they don’t know each other) to complain about a particular teacher who was blatantly (according to their perception) uninterested in running a teaching seminar and who just did kaeshi-dou to everyone during jigeiko (i.e. he was lazy in jigeiko).

Baba-sensei mentions “shitei-no-michi” a couple of times – the idea that teachers and students are bound together and follow the same path (one of the more traditional Japanese teaching methods). In Japan this means that you learn under the teacher (traditionally to the exclusion of others) daily over years in an effort to acquire their kendo. Obviously, meeting a sensei now and again (whether they be dispatched or are running an annual seminar) and doing keiko with them for a few minutes here and there does not constitute a teacher-student relationship, no matter what the student may wish. Both the casual manner of the sensei’s holiday-mode demeanour, and the fobbing off of non-Japanese kenshi that (surprisingly!) do roll-up to Japan to other dojo, is proof of this in Baba sensei’s eyes. And yes, fobbing off still happens today.

So, what do you think? Should kendo be taught as cultural thing, or can (should) it survive on it’s own, stripped of any cultural baggage? If that’s the case, what happens to the “internationalisation” aspect? Has the teacher-dispatch system improved over the last nearly 30 years? Has the lack of traditional teacher-student relationships caused problems in the transmission of kendo and thus hurt or damaged the “internationalisation” process? etc etc etc etc etc….. opinions/experiences please!

In my eyes, at least, Baba sensei is suggesting that any faults in the internationalisation process lie squarely with Japanese kenshi themselves. I believe he brings up some good points.

Final note (caveat)

As with any translation work this piece (and all the others on kenshi247.net) is naturally interpretative in nature. Any mistake in nuance or error in translation is unintentional. Apologies.


Source

剣道芸術論。馬場欽次。体育とスポーツ出版社。1989発行。