The kendo lifecycle 剣道のライフサイクル

(a.k.a.Kendo and you: what it means and how you approach it at various points in your life)

I started kendo at the comparatively late age of 19 (I’m 35 now) and, with only 16 years of practise under my belt, I can say with no false humility that my experience is pretty shallow… considering that many of my sempai and sensei have over 50 years of experience. During these 16 years the way that I have approached kendo – what it is and why I do it – has changed drastically. Part of that is, of course, simply because I have gotten older, and part of it is because of my current kendo situation: I am not only surrounded by highly experienced instructors (some of whom are professional kendo teachers) but I have also become – mostly through chance, but partially through design – a (high school) kendo teacher myself. I consider myself to be very lucky.

As my aim for practising has changed, so has my approach to kendo… not just in the way I swing my shinai, but how I aim to interact with my students, my kendo friends, my sempai, and my sensei, and how I conduct myself in these relationships. I have also seen a large change in how my sensei treat me. I guess that this change in approach is something that happens to everyone.

Since this process is ongoing, I often find myself struggling to explain what it is thats happening exactly (as my friends know). Luckily, last year I just happened to read a short article entitled “kendo and age” (年代に応じた剣道). I found the article interesting for two main reasons: it provided a chart in which age stages vs kendo phases is described, and also because it mentioned the Danish-German developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst Erik Eikson, himself a very interesting character, and whos ideas I find intriguing.

Now, how much kendo actually enters/affects your life depends on the individual of-course. For the vast majority of people – despite what they may think – its a hobby. Some people are very serious about their art and some people are casual, but to break out of the realm of “hobbyist” requires something more. Development of this line of thought isn’t for this this discussion though, but it does affect the meaning/final goal of the items below. For those of us that start later in life or outside of Japan, the items below also have necessarily to be modified (I still think that many of the ideas introduced below will be of interest/applicable to you however).

Well, what is kendo “supposed” to be about? Luckily the All Japan kendo federation chose to define and publish it for us already (in response to the over sportification of post-war kendo):


The Concept of Kendo

The concept of Kendo is to discipline the human character through the application of the principles of the Katana (sword).

The Purpose of Practicing Kendo

The purpose of practicing Kendo is:

To mold the mind and body,
To cultivate a vigorous spirit,
And through correct and rigid training,
To strive for improvement in the art of Kendo,
To hold in esteem human courtesy and honor,
To associate with others with sincerity,
And to forever pursue the cultivation of oneself.

This will make one be able:

To love his/her country and society,
To contribute to the development of culture
And to promote peace and prosperity among all peoples.

– The Concept of Kendo was published by the All Japan Kendo Federation in 1975.

Also, here is a snippet of “The Mindset of Kendo Instruction” which I think adds to this discussion:

Lifelong Kendo

While providing instruction, students should be encouraged to apply the full measure of care to issues of safety and health, and to devote themselves to the development of their character throughout their lives.
 
Kendo is a “way of life” that successive generations can learn together. The prime objective of instructing Kendo is to encourage the practitioner to discover and define their way in life through training in the techniques of Kendo. Thus, the practitioner will be able to develop a rich outlook on life and be able to put the culture of Kendo into use, thereby benefiting from its value in their daily lives through increased social vigor.

– The Mindset of Kendo Instruction was published by the All Japan Kendo Federation in 2007.

(Although only published in 1975 and 2007 respectively, most if not all of the ideals presented above have – not only for kendo specifically but budo in general – existed long before then.)


Any clearer? Maybe, maybe not. I’m guessing the answer to this depends on how far down the road (naturally including your age) that you are.

Let me top up the “Concept of kendo” and “Lifelong kendo” quotes with the chart that was found in the “kendo and age” piece that started this article:


Life stage: child (primary school age) *
Source of vitality (人間的活力): feeling of development;
Butoku (武徳) ** : Rei. Manners;
Important people in your life (重要なる他者): Friends and people in school;
Development theme (発達課題): Learning to fit into society. Judging yourself. Starting kendo. Acquiring technical skills;
Main method of keiko (主たる稽古法と修行段階): Acquiring the basics (shu***);

Life stage: youth (early half: Adolescence)
Source of vitality: Working in a group;
Butoku: Honour/Justice. Sense of justice. Sincerity;
Important people in your life: Your group of friends, people outside your group, teachers;
Development theme: Physical and mental growth. Gender based experiences. Internalising group experiences. Kendo: acquiring as many kendo techniques as possible. Developing a body strong enough to do kendo to the full;
Main method of keiko: Kakarigeiko, uchikomigeiko, aquiring shikake waza, shiai (shu);

Life stage: youth (latter half: Early 20s)
Source of vitality: Working as an individual;
Butoku: Courage. Bravery and endurance/perseverance;
Important people in your life: Models of good leadership, your kendo teacher;
Development theme: Independence from parents. Developing morals. Choosing a career;
Main method of keiko: as above (ha)

Life stage: young adult (late 20s plus)
Source of vitality: Love / compassion;
Butoku: Benevolence/Compassion/Charity. Sympathy for others. A compassionate heart;
Important people in your life: Friends, people of the opposite sex, other competitors, people who try hard, your kendo teacher;
Development theme: Marriage. Having children. Work. Family. Lifestyle. Kendo: polishing the spirit. Getting rid of the four sicknesses. Unwavering devotion to your path;
Main method of keiko: Acquiring ojiwaza through the spirit of kokenchiai (ha);

Life stage: midlife (40s+)
Source of vitality: Aiding others;
Butoku: Trust/Honesty;
Important people in your life: Spouse, family, co-workers, friends in your area, your kendo teacher;
Development theme: Work. Family. Raising children. Lifestyle. Kendo: as above;
Main method of keiko: Hikitategeiko, re-examination of kendo no kata, polishing your techniques to be beautiful (ri);

Life stage: old age (60s+)
Source of vitality: Synthesis/integration;
Butoku: Wisdom;
Important people in your life: Spouse, family, friends, humanity;
Development theme: Coping with changes due to old age. Awareness of life and death. Finding a new role for yourself in society. Seeking your own identity;
Main method of keiko: Hikitategeiko, attacking with the spirit (ri);

* Note that all age ranges written here are selected by me. The original Japanese uses umbrella terms to define lifestages. These umbrella terms have no precise definition.

** JINGIREICHISHIN (仁義礼智信) – the five Confucian virtues (benevolence, justice, courtesy, wisdom, and sincerity)

*** Each stage is also categorised in the SHU-HA-RI sequence.


Ok, so what we have here is an overriding defined objective of kendo (as created and controlled by the heads of a [non-democratic?] organisation based in Tokyo), and a more specific breakdown based on various lifecycles (using Eikson’s theories as a vague model) by Japanese kendo academics. But what does this actually mean – if anything – to the people on the ground? And how exactly does this transfer abroad, especially when the vast majority of kendo people outside Japan are not in day-to-day contact with ZNKR appointed teachers? Is there space for other, perhaps less over-reaching objectives for kendo practitioners?

Just to make us all more confused, I broke out a copy of Sumi Masatake sensei’s book “Kendo methodology breakdown by period/age” (年代別稽古法. Published 2000). Sumi sensei is probably well known to readers of kenshi247.net as he has travelled to many countries over the years to teach kendo. I won’t attempt to translate portions of his book, simply liberally paraphrase the table of contents. This should give you yet another view of the “kendo lifecycle” :


Kindergarten and younger primary school kids (4-8 years old)

Having an interest in learning – the first teachers children meet are like parents;
Playing with shinai – teachers should exert a strong influence on the children to learn correct movements;
Wearing the keikogi and hakama – learning to wear your clothes correctly is the first step in preparation for serious keiko;

Old primary school children (9-11 years old)

Ashisabaki – learning the first step of acquiring kendo-like movements, and using fumikomi with this;
Kamae – building the feeling of concentration and connection with and on your opponent;
Suburi – reinforcing the idea that swinging the shinai is the same as swinging a katana;
Kendo-gu -learning to look after your equipment is something that cannot be left out of your shugyo;

Junior high school (12-14 years old)

Mid-air striking – this method can help your body to acquire correct cutting movements;
Kirikaeshi – learn to cut large, correctly, and with full concentration, strike by strike;
School club – is a place not to learn the specifics of kendo, but a place to learn your own autonomy;

High school (15-18 years old)

Uchikomigeiko – correctly acquiring body movements and shinai control;
Acquiring technique – moving from learning simply the shape of techniques to polishing them and making them your own;
Shiai – improving your kendo through the experience of winning and losing;

Female-specific considerations

Girls kendo – pulling out girls deep interest/study of kendo and creating a forward style of kendo;
Adolescence / young adults – rather than relying on power, acquire kendo that has an understanding of distance and timing;
Becoming a woman – making kendo a part of your life, and being healthy mentally;

University (18+ years old)

The study of kendo – the first step on your independent path to kendo;
The makeup of the club – a deeper investigation into the pursuit of kendo;
How to keiko – working to pursue the deeper aspects of kendo methodology. A re-examining of your basics;

20s

Entering society – how to take what you have learned in kendo and apply it to real life;
Re-examining your method of keiko – the real start of your kendo shugyo as an individual begins;
Promotion – the beginning of aiming at higher levels;

30s

Re-starting kendo – for those that have a had a break due to work, how to restart your kendo life;
Strengthening your kendo – the start of executing your waza with power and intensity;
Study of kendo no kata – how do you use kata to make your shinai kendo better?;

40s

Research on seme – learning the principles of kendo, acquiring your own kendo style;
Becoming a shinpan – when you learn to devalue your own kendo;
Book study – when you find countless things you didn’t know from books;

50s

Injury prevention – balance between activity and rest. Doing keiko in tune with your age and health;
Leading the next generation – the success of your kendo life to date is shown in how you use your experience to lead those younger than you;
Interaction with foreigners – the importance of considering how to integrate Japans physical and mental cultural into kendo;

Note that the translations here are liberal paraphrased on occasion! If you are a Japanese reader then please check out the book itself.


Conclusion?

So now we have the well known defined goal of kendo as well as two theoretical kendo lifecycle examples. I posit that the ZNKR defined goal of kendo is a wide, far reaching aim for the wider kendo community, not simply Japan. The kendo lifecycles may not be obviously relevant to most readers (as they presuppose living in Japan, which has a strong kendo culture and infrastructure) but they do provide a window into the way senior kendo teachers and academics view this thing we call “kendo” and what it means to the individual over the span of their lives. It also shows how kendo integrates within an individuals life and makes them a better person… leading us back to the original ZNKR defined goal of kendo.

So where you fit into this cycle? And what does kendo mean to you? Do you even care? Well, that’s up to you do decide. I could attempt some sort of conclusion, but as I’m sure my thoughts on the matter will change again at some point in the future, I will just leave the article open ended. I hope you can find something to stimulate discussion on or offline within!

p.s. Note that all these concepts and lifecycles are AGE and not RANK based… in fact, gradings are mentioned only once in passing. I personally think this point needs deep consideration.


Sources

剣道を知る事典。日本武道学会、剣道専門分科会。2009年発行。
剣道年代別稽古法。角正武。2000年発行。


Note

Please remember I am not a professional translator, nor have studied Japanese at university nor in an institution. Any errors in fact, misunderstandings in the reading of the text, errors in translations, etc, are all my own. I can but apologise in advance.

Published by

George

I'm the founder and chief editor of kenshi247.net. Amongst other things I am a high school kendo club coach, an avid practitioner of classical swordsmanship, a history student, and a vegetarian.

19 thoughts on “The kendo lifecycle 剣道のライフサイクル

  1. Great post. I started Kendo in my 20’s, and now that I’m in my 30’s I feel I’ve entered a new stage of my training. There wasn’t so much a conscious choice to alter how I approached practice, but my mentality has developed, matured as my skill increases. I practice Kendo less as a competitive sport, and more as an expression of my spirit.

    I’d love to repost this on my blog (www.swordclass.blogspot.com) with your permission.

  2. You know, I started kendo in my early teens and came back to it in my early thirties. I can actually relate with all of the stages that are mentioned in our article up to the 40’s. Given that a lot of the people who start kendo in the West start in their 20’s and 30’s, I think that there is a compression of the phases due to the fact that people are conceptually ready to work on things much more quickly. Unfortunately, you also have the downside that the body isn’t really able to do the same things as someone who started as young child. We then get the many who can talk the talk but can’t really walk it… I include myself in this, btw, as I spent too much time breaking various bones in my body doing judo rather than doing something constructive with kendo…

  3. I´m starting my way to kendo in an age when many people have at least some years training. But I find exciting and marvelous this way of life. Kendo is given to me the chance to “relearn” martial arts, but now with a diferent, more mature point of view.

  4. Great article! Ever since I hit the big 30 my focus on what I wish to achieve through Kendo has definitely changed. Especially after visiting Japan for the first time and experiencing what “real” Kendo training is like. I started Kendo only five years ago when I was 25. It might not seem long but I’ve learned quite a lot since that time. But what excites me the most is how much I still have to learn. I’m approaching Sandan level very soon and my focus now is to strengthen my Kendo and solidify my basics. Furthermore I wish to apply more of my advanced techniques in training and shiai. What I feel holds all these things together is having confidence in my abilities and being acutely aware of any problems I may face. Lately I seem to relish any friendly advice and criticisms I receive from my seniors, sempais and senseis. Must improve, improve and improve!

  5. Nice one, as always, thanks!

    Do you have a link to the Japanese text of the Concept and the Purpose? I’ve been unable to find it on the ZNKR website, in Wikipedia and anywhere else.

  6. Great article, although I do think that the cycles are to some extent heavily influenced by when you start kendo.
    (I believe we had a discussion a few years back about your ‘kendo age’).
    I know that personally, I’m at a crossroad with my kendo right now and I’m finding it mighty hard to get over to the other side. This is not technically nor physically, but mentally & spiritually.
    Due to my late start in kendo (late 20’s), I probably cross into 3 of the age groups above, but it was certainly interesting to see them written out like this.

  7. Bit busy (doing keiko) to reply to everyones comments now, but I will get back to you all.

    In the meantime for arefiev here is the original Japanese from the items quote above (the translations are official ZNKR ones):

    The “Concept of kendo”

    剣道の理念:
    剣道は剣の理法の修錬による人間形成の道である

    剣道修錬の心構え:
    剣道を正しく真剣に学び
    心身を錬磨して旺盛なる気力を養い
    剣道の特性を通じて礼節をとうとび
    信義を重んじ誠を尽くして
    常に自己の修養に努め
    以って国家社会を愛して
    広く人類の平和繁栄に
    寄与せんとするものである

    (財)全日本剣道連盟 昭和50年3月20日制定

    “Lifelong Kendo” excerpt from “The Mindset of Kendo Instruction”

    剣道指導の心構え:

    (生涯剣道)
    ともに剣道を学び、安全・健康に留意しつつ、生涯にわたる人間形成の道を見出す指導に努める。

    剣道は、世代を超えて学び合う道である。「技」を通じて「道」を求め、社会の活力を高めながら、豊かな生命観を育み、文化としての剣道を実践していくことを指導の目標とする。

    (財)全日本剣道連盟 平成19年3月14日制定

    Full original text in Japanese can be seen here:
    http://www.kendo.or.jp/news/kendo-rinen.html

    Official ZNKR English translations of the “Concept” and the “Mindset” are available here:
    http://www.kendo-fik.org/english-page/english-page2/concept-of-Kendo.htm

  8. Thanks George!

    I understand that the translations are official ones (I think, though, that the English wording of the “Concept” was slightly different some 13 years ago when I read it for the first time), but I’ve had requests for a Russian translation as well, and I thought it’d be best to at least consult the original text.

  9. I thought it was interesting that for the 40’s, you are suppose to “acquire your own kendo style” while you “learn to devalue your own kendo”.

    Can you elaborate on that a little more?

    Thanks!

  10. Probably a translation error on my part so I will check again when I manage to make some free time (keiko 830-1230pm, 130-430pm, and 7-830pm for the next three days in a row, plus my adsl box is broken, so no internet at home for a bit)…

  11. Very nice and interesting article George.
    I wonder how all this can be defined in one individual like myself who started Kendo very far after (53)your notion of “late age”, and not comparatively speaking (56 now.) Maybe the fundamental difference in my case is that where Kendo experience is lacking life experiences abound but still I now must struggle with physical limitations of aging and allowing youngsters to feel they are my elders in knowledge. To be my guide, my mentors, my sensei.
    All those stages defined one way or another I already lived in other arenas, but kendo-wise speaking I had (and still have) to condense them into some sort of crashing course. Rest assured that not that many of us reading this article can use age or late start in kendo as an excuse for not achieving their goals. I am aware of that and that rank-wise/experience speaking I may probably never have the opportunity to get as far as many youngsters will get. But I will remain intending to get there up to the very last breath coming out of my soul. There is no second chance for me because any opportunity is a golden one.
    You guys, I beg, do not waist yours.

  12. Nice post Mr/Ms Stejada1. Makes me think of the different situation of being an adult beginner in Japan compared with here in Aus (in Japan they seem to get beaten like the proverbial red-headed stepchild). And a good point about the difficulty of allowing those younger to be your seniors in kendo. I like to fancy that I’m getting less concerned with grade as I get older… It is a good thing to think more in terms of ‘development’ rather than ‘grade’.

    One thing I would add to that list is “learning about internal power”. As the body ages and life commitments make regular training difficult, finding other ways to keep one’s kendo sharp aside from training the body. b

  13. Back online after a week of no internet at home… its been hell!!

    @stejada1 – nice and thought-provoking comment. Unfortunately, I have no answers as I am still a kid (35) and have comparatively little experience in kendo.

    One of the reasons I chose to do this article is it shows you how (at least some) kendo leaders/academics in Japan view “kendo.” I think that your average kendoka over here doesn’t actively ponder these issues until later in life (if at all). In fact, the exercise itself might literally be academic.

  14. This was an extremely interesting article and gave purpose and provoked thought to my current position and that of new students who enter the dojo and those future kendoka and enabling their development not only as kendoka but as people, through the practice of kendo.

    Outside of Japan these categories of age obviously vary due to when one takes up kendo, but self analysis is essential in teenage and adult kendo. But if following these patterns where do we draw the line on holding back the advanced techniques that without them may force those kendoka who take up the art during adulthood to lose interest?

    This article has given me a lot to think about. Thanks for this article George and all of the comments.

  15. Thanks for your comments!

    What exactly do you mean by “advanced” techniques? I would personally teach everything to everybody irrespective of current ability, rank, age, etc. How long it takes for their technique to mature and whether you are confident in teaching “advanced” techniques to beginners is another matter.

    Whats impotant to instill is the fact that kendo proficiency takes a looooong time and prepare them for it.

    I could write a lot more on this topic but I will leave it there. Again, cheers!

  16. This article is in fact a very good explanation, for those who have been doing Kendo for “some” years. I would like to translate it to Spanish if you don’t mind because I consider it will be helpful for my senpai and kouhai.

    In other thoughts your site is beautiful.

  17. Thanks for your nice comments!

    Sure, you can translate it as long as you put the authors name, quote the sources, and place a prominent link back to kenshi247.net main site. Cheers!

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