Sometimes I come across people in the dojo that have a certain sense of ‘something.’ This is nothing to do with physical ability per se, but more to do with their manner, how they naturally move, and the way that they approach keiko. Often, its hard to say what exactly makes them look (feel?) good, but for the sake of this small article I will try and verbalise – from my perspective – what some of these things may be.

This list is of course completely arbitrary, and I don’t go into full explanations exactly…. allowing you to construct your own interpretations. Feel free to add to or discuss points raised here in the comments (on the site or facebook).

1. A respectful demeanor in the dojo

This generally means not being loud, noisy, or attempting to be the center of attention, but arriving and preparing for keiko quietly and without fuss.

2. Awareness of their place in the dojo

This ‘place’ is physical position and role, as well who you are in relation to others. People with the sense I speak of above know that anything below kyoshi is still ‘student’ and – even if they are hanshi, they never put on airs.

3. Appropriate instruction

Teaching happens infrequently and without overly verbose instruction. Although kendo has a certain mainstream ‘style’ nowadays, its traditionally a no-no to instruct people that aren’t your students.

4. Learning from the person in front of you

If you are in a sensei’s line, waiting to do keiko with him/her, are you actually watching their kendo or are you looking at other sensei on the left and right?

5. Wearing the dogi/bogu correctly

Some people simple look right wearing their dogi and bogu. This has nothing to do with the value of it or how fashionable it is, but the way it fits their body.

6. Attention paid to receiving

Stress on becoming a good motodachi is something that sets some kenshi apart from run-of-the-mill people.

7. Meaningful rei (Sonkyo)

Performing bows and going into sonkyo sincerely are important parts of the kendo tradition. Any contraction (or removal) of them is to negate an important part of kendo’s culture, and is the start of kendo’s relegation to mere ‘stick fighting.’

8. The shinai as a symbolic sword

The shinai is not actually a sword, but it does (or is meant to) symbolise one. The people I mention above often (not always) pay attention to some/a combination of the following items:

a. placement of the left thumb when in taito;
b. an emphasis on the importance of shotachi;
c. show awareness of the use of hasuji and shinogi during various waza.

9. Humility

There is no shame in being struck and admission of it is not a weakness. Instead, we should be happy for our opponent. Kendo – if it can teach us only a single thing – then hopefully it will be humility.

10. Mutual respect and gratitude

Theres nothing better than having a fierce keiko with someone and coming away smiling. Why would we want it any other way?

There’s a lot more I could potentially add to this list (I have some in mind right now), but I will leave it there.

Kendo is physically and mentally hard but most people, given time, can get over the initially awkwardness and get somewhat proficient. However (and this happens more often that we’d like to admit), no matter how skilled some become, their kendo still lacks ‘something.’ So you hit me, now what? In the dojo they may be strong, but outside it their skill counts for little. What a waste of effort for nothing.

The 10 items that I listed above are what I have recognised in others, its not about what I do. I admit that I do try to act in this manner, but I’m very much a work-in-progress. I hope something in this article has some resonance with you! Cheers.