Take a look at the video below. This is the winning point of this years Zen nippon senshuken taikai (All Japan championships), held in the Tokyo Budokan on the 3rd of November 2010.
This is the shiai that determines/determined who is the strongest competitor (young/male) in the country (and by extension, the world), and is the most prestigious of all kendo competitions. At such a high level you would expect the shinpan to be able to discriminate between a hit that’s on and one that’s not. But – as you can see – the men-strike does not actually connect.
Watching it in full speed (9 minutes in) you must admit its hard to tell if it hasn’t hit, if not impossible. Adding to that, the three shinpan are all hanshi level… so are really beyond criticism from wet-behind-the-ears-kenshi like you and I. So can we say this is simply “human error” and leave it as is, or do we demand that some action is taken to “remedy” the situation? Are we – like Michel Platini warns about in reference to goal line technology – ready to enter the realm of “Playstation kendo” or do we accept that kendo is – like humans – not perfect?
Whether you’ve checked it out already or not, please look at my earlier article on Yuko Datotsu. It might be a little controversial, I don’t know, but I would suggest that actually striking the target is only part of what makes a yuko datotsu and, if everything but that is counted for, well, maybe its enough.
In my personal experience I would say that by the time it comes to judging very good high school students, most shinpan have a tough job on their hands. Mistakes are made and graciously accepting defeat – despite not being struck sometimes – is part of the culture of kendo. For lower age/level competitions there is sometimes no actual chance of a true yuko-datotsu being made, so decisions are arrived based more on the other criteria anyway… timing, kiai, taking advantage of an opening etc. Shinpan tire over the course of the day, and sometimes encho last for a very long time…. but, finally, a decision has to be made.
In answer to my initial question, I would say that for top level competitors (including high school and university level kenshi) I think the answer is: sometimes. However, I think that actually hitting the target is more important for lower level and lower aged kenshi than it is for those with a vast amount of experience and those that are at high level. For those people “defeat” is something more than simply being hit.
In my personal opinion, I think there is value in accepting defeat even if you haven’t been struck… and this is what sets kendo apart – and above – mere sport.
For more slow-mo vids of high level competition check out the Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei’s youtube channel.