Practise may ingrain bad habits

From “Living with ambiguity” by Sydney J. Harris. Published by Nan’Un-Do

You probably know the chestnut about the stranger in New York, carrying a violin case, who stops an old lady on the street, and asks, “Can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?” With a glance at his violin case, she replies, “Practise, practise, practise!”

One of the oldest maxims in the world is that “Practise makes perfect.” This, however, is a dangerous half-truth that has betrayed many novices in many fields of accomplishimnent.

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Sinister Swordsmanship

Tensetsu-ransetsuIt’s a not uncommon sight on sword-related forums these days. An aspiring student of the Japanese sword arts, left-handed, joins the forum and asks about studying ken (be it kendo, iaido, or aiki-ken) with a left-handed grip. He is quickly informed that no, Japanese swordsmanship is a right-handed affair, that all Japanese swordsman were right-handed, saya were worn on the right and saya-ate avoided at all costs, and trying to learn it left-handed would be weird at best, uncouth and disrespectful at worst. Veteran lefties give him “Ganbare! I’ve been there, too!” encouragement. Righties tell him about all the things he’ll find easier because he’s lefty. Sometimes the lefty responds with resignation, and sometimes he rages against the system. The left-handed grip is natural for them! This adherence to right-handed grip only is outmoded, discriminatory, and stupid! This, predictably, turns just about everyone against him, lefty and righty alike. Continue reading Sinister Swordsmanship

Tsubazeria rule changes in high school kendo

The following rule changes will probably not impact your kendo training any time soon nor in the near future. However, implementation of them in competition for young Japanese kenshi ensures that there will be a stylistic change in the kendo leaders of the future and it is also strongly hints at what the kendo leaders of today see as bad style.

The changes have been in discussion and trial over quite a while here in Japan (implementation was decided in May 2009, and I have personally seen the rules been applied in shiai), but it is only from this month (October 2009) where competitors will get a hansoku rather than a warning, i.e. the rules go into full implementation.

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Daily Readings for Kendo Growth and Development

“Motomereba Mugendai” (求めれば無限大) is my favorite Kendo book.  It is a small, easily readable book composed of 100 short essays on Kendo training and leadership topics.  One of the things I like about it (in addition to the uncomplicated, straightforward word choice and sentence structure) is the way the author has divided the book in to chapters based on the themes of the essays.  The first two chapters are devoted to the practitioner’s personal technical and spiritual development.  The third chapter is focused on advice for the kenshi as an instructor.  The last chapter is for parents, both those with children already practicing Kendo, and those considering encouraging their children to start.

Some of the advice is highly Japan-centric (such as one vignette in which the author posits that people with dyed hair shouldn’t be put in leadership positions).  But anyone doing Kendo should enjoy this book.  I re-read a page or two every few days.  The book is beneficial to me because I am wrestling with my own challenges as a student and junior instructor, and hope soon to be a Kendo parent as well.  I don’t believe that a translation exists yet, so I have included some of my own translations of my favorite passages below.

From chapter 1, which is entitled “When you start practicing Kendo, so that your efforts will yield results”

Essay 5:  If you want to become strong, develop two rivals

One’s approach to keiko is very different depending one whether or not one has a rival.  This is particularly true if there is a person to whom one does not want to lose.  When your rival is from your own dojo, and is always in sight, you never let you can’t get lax.  When your rival is in another dojo, since you can’t see what he is up to, you can’t get lax because you are always concerned that he or she might be working harder than you.  So it makes sense to have a rival both inside and outside of your dojo.

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Kendo places #8 and #9: Kashima and Katori jingu

As part of my summer Musha Shugyo this year I visited the spiritual and historical center of budo in Japan: Kashima and Katori shrines, located in Ibaragi and Chiba prefectures respectively.

Their proximity to each other is very close, about 15 mins by train. Although 400 years ago there were no trains nor cars and travel was done by foot or horse, I can easily imagine kenshi of yore walking between these shrines as part of their musha shugyo.

From the aptly titled article “A bit of Background” please refer to this quote from Meik Skoss to understand the relationship between these shrines and budo culture:

The areas most famous for the development of the classical martial traditions (koryu) are located, as the saying goes, in the Kanto region, “Heiho wa Togoku kara”: heiho comes from the East, referring to the Kanto area surrounding Tokyo (heiho means martial or military arts; strategy). The Kashima and Katori Shrines lie on opposite sides of the Tone River in Ibaraki and Chiba Prefectures.

There are enshrined two of the most important Shinto martial deities: Takemikazuchi no Mikoto (Kashima Jingu) and Futsunushi no Kami (Katori Jingu). They, along with the Buddhist goddess, Marishiten, serve as the patron and protective deices for many of the martial traditions. Historical records show very clearly that young warriors gathered, or were sent by their masters, for advanced training at these shrines, which became centers for the martial arts after the end of the Heian era. Eventually this led to the foundation of the oldest known formal traditions in the martial arts, the Kashima Shinto-ryu and the Katori Shinto-ryu.

As this quote states, these shrines did not only serve as centers for religious and psychological development of warriors, but were also places they could study the more physical aspects as well. Kashima in particular was noted for its training of swordsmen.

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