Talent

When I was heading to the UK last year I popped into the airport bookshop to see what reading I could pickup for the flight. I quickly selected about 4 books that seemed interesting and looked forward to reading them on the long flight. As usually happens on marathon plane journeys (I assume this isn’t just me?) I ended up watching films back-to-back and drinking beer and got almost no reading done! I finally picked up one of the books last week – Matthew Syed’sBounce: the myth of talent and the power of practise.

As someone who has no natural athletic ability whatsoever, my eyebrow was firmly raised by what the subtitle was suggesting. Talent is a myth? Interested if I could apply anything learned in the book to my study of kendo (and hoping that my lack of talent wasn’t actually a handicap after all!) I dived in.

I’m pretty sure many k247 readers will have read the book, so I won’t attempt to summarize it fully here – I will focus briefly on some aspects discussed mainly in part 1 of the book. If you want an actual review of the book, please look online.

1. Practise

‘it is practice, not talent that holds the key to success.’

In order to get better at something – according to the book – you need to practise it… a lot. The book says a good 10 years, about 10,000 hours of repeated practise is required to become excellent at something. Thats quite a startling premise, and I immediately started my own calculations.

For example, yesterday I did 3 keiko sessions: in the morning (45 minutes of kihon), at work (80 minutes of kihon), and in the evening (25 minutes of kihon and 45 of jigeiko), thats a total of 195 minutes (3 hours 25 minutes). If I did this (hard) schedule 6 days a week I’d clock up 1,170 minutes/week x 52 (# of weeks in most years) = 60,840 minutes/year = about 1,014 hours. So – in order to reach the 10,000 hours marked needed for excellence – I’d basically need to continue this schedule for the required 10 years.

Holy cow. Needless to say that the above schedule isn’t easy physically (or mentally) and I don’t (can’t!) do it every day…. in fact, as much as I love kendo I’m not even sure I’d want to.

* Out of yesterdays 195 minutes of practise 150 minutes was kihon (79%) … this begs the question ‘what am I getting good at? …. kihon or jigeiko?’

Caveat – the practise must be Purposeful / deliberate

‘in most sports, its is possible to clock up endless hours without improving at all.’

‘it is only by working at what you can’t do that you turn into the expert you want to become.’

The book states that the time put into practise has to be deliberate – you must be working to improve at all times and always switched on, otherwise the time is – if its excellence you seek – wasted.

I’m pretty sure that I spend the majority of my keiko time (especially during kihon) consciously thinking about what I’m doing, but its nowhere near 100% of the time.

If, lets just say for arguments sake, 70% of yesterdays keiko time was ‘deliberate’ then 30% was wasted – meaning that the time to reach excellence would be increased by that time lost… so rather than 10 years at the 3 keiko/day-6 days/week formula, I’d actually need something between 13 and 14 years.

2. Start young

‘prodigies are made not born.’

Some of my police friends who are the same age as me (38) are already nanadan. Their kendo is nothing short of amazing, and I often find myself watching them with envy, or facing them with frustration. Like many people who began kendo at a late age (19) I have quite a strong complex when it comes to comparing myself with serious kendoka my own age, as they are exponentially better. The excuse* is always – “Well, they started when they were six after all….”

The benefits of starting kendo, or anything for that matter, at a young age is obvious. 16 year old high school students who started when they were 6 years old often have very good at kendo (even though they may not have notched up 10,000 hours they are generally well on the way). Many if not most do not have extraordinary skill, however, so its easy to say that the difference between two students like this comes down to natural talent or innate athletic ability alone. But perhaps the difference lies not so much with these factors as to their external environment, including good teachers, facilities, and – most important of all – motivation, all of which would theoretically help increase the ‘deliberateness’ of their keiko.

I’ve taken many students from 15/16 year olds with no experience to 18 year old nidan’s (training 6 days/week over 2.5 years) but, despite them achieving a pretty good kendo shape, they simply can’t compare to those that have already wracked up 10 years of deliberate experience. The best of this bunch invariably tend to have some sort of athletic background.

I spent sometime thinking about people around me that became good quickly without starting at 6 years old, and I could only think of one person: he started when he was 13 years old and, after being spotted for his ability, went to a high school specialising in kendo from the age of 15. By 20 he had 4dan and will attempt his 5dan this year (and probably pass) at the age of 24. Looking at him you may think that he has god given talent, but thats without realising he was in a tremendous environment to learn kendo from the start and – especially his high school years – went through hours of daily kendo sessions.

The book states that child prodigies to not simply appear out of thin air, they are shaped. It also says that starting as young as possible is a benefit. I would have to agree to these points with for the most part.

(*Note: I didn’t start drinking when I was 6, but being Scottish I started much earlier than my same-age Japanese nanadan friends … which has its own kendo benefits!)

3. Feedback

‘Feedback is, in effect, the rocket fuel that propels the acquisition of knowledge, and without it no amount of practise will get you there.’

Every year I get a new batch of 15/16 year olds join my kendo club. Some of them already have nidan and have been practising since they were 6, others have shodan and started at 13. What I’ve discovered is that these facts alone don’t tell me much about their actual kendo ability, as sometimes the nidan students have very bad habits and a messy style. Whats more revealing (without fail) is the environment that they learned kendo, specifically the teacher(s) or lack thereof.

Without a good teacher to tell us what to do, and to monitor our improvement (or lack of) its very hard to get (specific) feedback. Its this constant monitoring-explaining-fixing-trying-monitoring loop that increases development growth, says the book.

4. Are Blacks Superior Runners? i.e. Are Japanese people Superior Kendoka?

‘Why spend time and energy seeking to improve if success is only available to people with the right genes?’

Probably the best known 8dan brothers are the Miyazaki’s and the Eiga’s, but there are more. I can think of at least 3 sets of 8dan brothers in Osaka right of the bat. Combined with the fact that there are no non-Japanese hachidan (awarded in Japan by Japanese people of course), the Japanese teams record in the World Kendo Championships (male and female), the the numerous shiai wins by Japanese people in local competition throughout the world, you would be forgiven to thinking that there was somehow a genetic edge to things. Thats not how I see it at all.

The book itself destroys the myth that all black people are naturally gifted runners and we could easily use the same framework of thought to do the same for Japanese people and kendo. The reality is that Japans domination of the art is simply one of ‘cultural legacy.’ Kendo has been done for longer in Japan, is controlled by a Japanese organisation, and no other country can come close to Japans kendo infrastructure.

If you want your child to be good at kendo its simple: move to Japan, find a strong kendo area, and place your kid in the correct schools (as young as possible). If all things are equal, your child has about as much chance at becoming strong at kendo as any other Japanese child (assuming they are motivated). Translating that into a successful kendo career over here is a different story though… but this relates not to genetics, but to less savoury factors.

If Teramoto Shoji had been born in Kenya, there would have been little chance for him to start kendo at 6, enter into the international budo university, become an Osaka police tokuren member, or win the all-japan and world championships. He would have had a much higher chance of entering the olympics as a runner.

Summary / opinion

‘expert knowledge simply cannot be taught in the classroom over the course of a rainy afternoon’

I would definitely agree with the basic premises of the book – that improvement comes with continual and long-term repetition of deliberate practise. Starting young and practising in a good environment with a great teacher is also a no-brainer. Being in the correct situation/environment to do this from a young age is often down to opportunity, chance, and luck is again something I think is obvious. That anyone could seriously suggest that its the genetics of the Japanese rather than the infrastructure that gives them their kendo advantage is laughable.

But what of God-given, natural raw talent? Does it exist?

Theres no denying that there are many advantages to having a strong/athletic physique, and being tall is – unquestionably – the largest physical advantage a kendoka could hope for. But even people like this cannot simply become good at kendo instantly. They still need years of practise, the must do lots and lots of kirikaeshi and uchikomi: there is no shortcut.

That some adult beginners advance quicker than others is obviously, at least to me, a fact. Whether this is down to ‘talent’ or simply due to their background to date is open to debate. Personally, I think those that have some sort of sporty experience (not ‘talent’) behind them do tend to fair better kendo-wise, at least in the beginning.

What I took from the book is this: reaching excellence in something is the result of deliberate hard work and repetitive practise over years. Although some of us many never master the highly polished skills that others have (for a variety of reasons), conscientious practise can’t fail to help us improve. Although this conclusion is rather obvious, I do think its worth keeping it in mind when watching those that seem to be naturally ‘talented’ – remember that almost certainly their ability didn’t suddenly spring forth suddenly from nothing, rather it is an end product of sustained experience. If you think like this and are prepared to work hard, then any envy you may feel towards others and any limits (or excuses) you artificially set yourself will be removed. All you need to do now is get back to the dojo and practise.

Selected quotes

‘the differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long persistence of deliberate effort to improve performance.’

‘Once the opportunity for practice is in place, the prospects of high achievement take if. And if practice is denied or diminished, no amount of talent is going to get you there.’

‘Why would any individual or parent spend time and energy seeking opportunities to improve if success is ultimately about talent rather than practice? Why would we make sacrifices if the gains are, at best, uncertain?’

‘The paradox of excellence is that it is built upon the foundations of necessary failure.’

Source

Bounce. Matthew Syed. Fourth Estate. Published 2010.

Don’t become a Tengu 天狗にならないように

Last Sunday after keiko, I was lining up to say thank you to one of the older 7dan sensei (lets call him S-sensei). 77 years old now, I remember going to his 70th birthday celebration the highlight of which was him doing tachigiri keiko – he fenced a shodan, a nidan, a sandan, a yondan, a godan, a rokudan, and a nanadan consecutively… not bad for someone of that age (he won!). 7 years later and he’s still going strong. As often happens, I listened in to / overheard the sensei chat to the person in front of me in the line – someone actively attempting nanadan in their 30s. The conversation was why it was worthwhile attempting hachidan even if you think you have little chance of passing.

This year, as usual, the pass rate for the test in Kyoto was low: of 1,729 people attempting it, only 16 people passed… a 0.98% pass rate. “Too tough” is how most people describe it, so tough that some don’t even bother attempting even if they qualify. As the test involves travel, hotel, and food costs for most as well as the application fee itself, and as I am poor myself, I can understand peoples reticence to pay for and attempt something they have little chance of passing.

S-sensei first attempted 8dan back in the 1970s, but after a few attempts gave up as he realised he just didn’t have that extra ‘thing’ that hachidan often have. He told me this years ago, with no disappointment in his voice – this is just how it is. What he said to the person in front of me last Sunday, however, was very interesting: he said that one of the reasons people give up attempting hachidan is due to pride. Repeated failures injure the ego and – rather than continue to be embarrassed each year – its easier to just not go than to attempt and fail. That is, their perception of their own ability versus reality is not in sync. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t skilled at kendo of course, it just means that they are not as special as they may think they are (unlike S-sensei who knows the score). I have met some nanadan people like this myself – they tend to be overbearing in the dojo, batting strikes away and hitting their opponent at will. Sometimes these type of people don’t bother going to any hachidan sensei in order to improve their kendo…. they already ‘know’ it all and they will let you know so one way or another.

S-sensei continued and said that although there were many nanadans that refused or gave up attempting hachidan because of their pride, there were many (if not most) that continued to attempt the grading in spite of the extremely low pass rate and without a realistic chance of passing. These people did so because it kept their ego in line; it reminded them that they are not the best kendo person in the world. Presumably people who take this view are more humble in their practise of kendo, and are not as driven to prove themselves as the people described above.

Nowadays, the hachidan test occurs twice a year – in Kyoto (May) and Tokyo (October) – but it wasn’t always this way. For a long time the test occurred once a year in Kyoto around the time of the Kyoto-Taikai. One of the original purposes of the Kyoto taikai was to gather senior kendo people from around the country and to give them the opportunity to face each other. From year to year you could use your performance here as a barometer – are you improving? It wasn’t long before the then kendo authorities (Butokukai) started to issue awards/grades based on performance – starting with the precursor to renshi: SEIRENSHO. In other words, Kyoto was where senior people were promoted. Although nowadays you can attempt senior grades all over the country, hachidan is limited to only twice a year. The Kyoto taikai, however, is still regarded as the place to check if you have improved over the year. But I digress.

S-sensei’s words started the usual pondering mechanism in my head. One of the great things about living and practising in Japan is that until you get nanadan, you are basically just a nobody like everyone else. Even achieving nanadan, like I said above, is not the end of many peoples kendo shugyo – they continue to learn from hachidan(s), eventually attempting it themselves. Almost everyone that passes nanadan will not progress to hachidan, yet most continue to strive to improve. When I think about the purpose of gradings it seems apparent – to me – that its this recursive testing process that is one of the key factors in the process of shugyo in modern day kendo. I may even go as far as to say that repeatedly aiming for hachidan is the pinnacle of the kendo shugyo, not necessarily the passing of it.

I think it was 2001 or 2002, I’m not sure, but as I was having a beer with a British kendo nanadan, he told me stories of kendo in the good old days. One of the stories was the first time he attempted hachidan. Not only was he the first non-Japanese (non-Asian?) person do to so, but he tried it in nito. Very brave. I paraphrase, but he basically said that he knew there was no question of his passing, but he thought it important to try – not only because it was an integral part of his shugyo (so he had a obligation to attempt it) but also because of what he symbolised.

So, maybe reading the above you can get a feeling about my opinion regarding the purpose of grades and their relative importance (or non-importance). This is probably why I often find myself perplexed at the overblown value of grades I often see expressed abroad: people opening their own dojo at nidan, facebook status updates boasting about grading success (despite the grade being low), and rumours about people passing grades then making their own t-shirt stating as much (or buying themselves a new hakama with boastful embroidery of their choosing), etc. Things like these, in my (considered) opinion, show a deep misunderstanding of the role/value of the grading process, the process of shugyo, and an overblown sense of the particular individuals place in the larger kendo community. Their perspective is skewed.

As I said above, its great over here in Japan because you get to be a small fish in very big pond for the majority, if not the entirety, of your kendo career – the reverse of the examples above (big fish/small pond status acquired relatively rapidly). Any ideas of greatness I’ve had are pretty much squashed on a regular basis by my sensei and sempai.

Going back to S-sensei. Although he never became hachidan and gave up attempting it early on, he has continued to practise kendo (focused on teaching children nowadays) for over 30 years. For his birthday keiko this year almost 100 people were in attendance, including a few hachidan. At the end of the day, the respect that people obviously have for him is nothing to do with this grade, but his perseverance and humility. That I have the chance to learn a sense of perspective from people like him is something that I am indeed thankful for.

The long-nosed goblin image at the top of this article is a picture of a TENGU. These mythical creatures are often said to be expert in swordsmanship, but the flip side is their often vain and conceited attitude. Get good at kendo by all means, but don’t become a Tengu.

London Cup 2013

This year saw Tora Dojo host the 6th London Cup. Once again we were lucky enough to be joined by kenshi from all over Europe, including various current and former national team members. Countries taking part included France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Spain, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Over the years we’ve been amazed and touched by the support and interest in the competition. This year was no exception, the taikai had 175 registered participants. 33 teams in the team championship, 32 ladies, and 125 men registered. We also received the continued support of John Howell Sensei 7th Dan Kyoshi, Geoff Salmon Sensei 7th Dan Kyoshi, and Terry Holt Sensei, 7th Dan Kyoshi. As well as the matches themselves, which ran on Saturday and Sunday, there was ji-geiko on Friday evening and each day of the Taikai after the matches. Many competitors also joined the regular Tora Dojo practice on Thursday evening, where we had 45 people taking part in the keiko.

It was great to see so many people not only enjoying the shiai, but also the ji-geiko together. As a goodwill taikai the most important thing to us as organisers is letting people come together and enjoy kendo together. Making new friends, seeing great matches, and experiencing kendo that they might otherwise had not had the chance to.

In the team event this year, a mixed team from France, and Sweden took the gold, after a close fought final against Tora Dojo’s A team. The final saw fights between German, Swedish, British, and New Zealand national team members, as well as a former French national team member and rival club level fighters. The were also Nito and Jodan fighters! So it proved to be a very varied showcase of kendo at a great level. Bronze medals went to North West a mixed team from England, and Scotland another mixed team. Both teams were made up of British team members and their dojo mates.

Regardless of the finals, the event saw some great players all throughout the rounds. Especially a mixed team from Switzerland that consisted of national team members from Switzerland and Germany, and Mumeishi 1, a very strong team made up of high level Japanese competitors 4th Dan to 6th Dan.

The individual events also offered some great matches, with some very close fights all day. This year saw Sabrina Kumpf from Arrau take gold in the ladies event, and for the first time a non Japanese fighter took gold in the mens individual, Dominik Christ of Tora Dojo.

Once again we would like to thank everyone who came to London and made the Taikai so special. Without the competitors, who also helped as Shinpan, the event would be nothing. Thanks also to our Sponsor Sankei International who have supported us with fantastic medals and trophies over the years.

We very much look forward to another exciting event next year, and hope to welcome many more of you to London in 2014!

Results

Team event

1st Place – Sweden/France combination team (MMM)
2nd Place – Tora A
3rd Place – North West 1
3rd Place – Scotland

Fighting Spirit – Sarfraz Aziz, Mumeishi Dojo London

Ladies Individual

1st Place – Sabrina Kumpf, TenDoKan Aarau Switzerland
2nd Place – Yukie Williams, Oxford
3rd Place – Melissa Keranovic, TenDoKan Aarau Switzerland
3rd Place – Masumi Owa, Wakaba Dojo London

Fighting Spirit – Laure Bellivier, Shung Do Kwan Geneva, Switzerland

Mens Individual

1st Place – Dominik Christ, Tora Dojo London
2nd Place – Mathieu Schoch, Tshiku Sei Kan Basel, Switzerland
3rd Place – Jon Fitzgerald, Tora Dojo London
3rd Place – Hirohito Tanaka, Mumeishi Dojo London

Fighting Spirit – David Bryce, Scotland

Photos courtesy Debbie Bevan and Chris Seto.

Eikenkai April 2013

Yesterday morning around 25 kenshi gathered at Sumiyoshi Budokan (in central Osaka) for our usual fast-paced kihon keiko session. As always, the format was 45 minutes of basics, 30 minutes of waza practise, and 45 minutes of jigeiko. On top of that, we did some tachiai-geiko for members that are taking 6 and 7dan gradings this week.

After keiko we walked through the beautiful Sumiyoshi-Taisha, spotting a traditional wedding ceremony en-route, before going to our usual restaurant for beer/food.

Big congrats to one of our members, Akiko, who announced her engagement, and a big thanks to Rhett who – after a couple of years with us – is returning to Idaho this month.

Our next session is Sunday the 30th of June. If you are in town, please pop along!

Kendo Books

UPDATE: I’ve decided to renew this particular article every so often when new and interesting books become available. The original post was published in April 2013. Most recent updated January 2017.

As I write this post at work, I have dozens of kendo books standing in the shelf on my desk: ones about learning the basics, others about how to get better at winning shiai, some general kendo history books, the occasional philosophical treatise, and even a couple of kendo-specific conditioning and training manuals. At home I have out-of-print books that were published in the 20s and 30s, and loads of digital versions of books that were published in the 19th century are on my hard drive. These are all in Japanese of course.

As far as English language publications go, the amount, type, and quality of available books is far from optimal. I know, because I own or have read them all (at least, to my knowledge). I think the main reasons for this has been the writers lack of long term exposure to kendo in Japan, plus the reliance on hearsay and 3rd hand information when relaying anecdotes/facts. For the English speaking kendoka that hungers for kendo information this is a frustrating situation.

Presented below is a handful of small reviews of great kendo books that I recommend. If you find a book online and it’s not listed here, you should probably avoid it ….


Kendo: Culture of the Sword – Alex Bennett

University of California Press, July 2015.

Quote from a different article by myself:

I devoured Alex’s book pretty quickly because a lot of the information I knew and many of the conclusions reached were similar to mine, so it was a sort of affirmation in a way for me if you will. There were, however, parts of the book that tackled areas that I’m only very vaguely familiar with (in particular the workings of and connections between the government and the Butokukai during the war and the machinations of SCAP in regards to budo after the war) which was an eye-opener.

The best part of this book for me is that Alex puts kendo in its wider cultural context, something that is missing in most people’s comprehension of how modern kendo formed, what it is today, and where it might possibly go. A close second is that he dares to condemn (although gently) the accepted idea that kendo is some sort of ancient tradition that is possessed – and can only be understood by – Japanese people. This thorny subject is something I’ve touched on lightly here before (and in my publications) and everyone who lives and practises in Japan for a long time realises. Needless to say the book is highly recommended, so please check it out.

Available in both print and digital.


Teikoku Kendo Kyohon (The Kendo Textbook of Imperial Japan) – Ogawa Kinnosuke

Self published, July 2015. Available print and digital.
Specified aim: Introducing an important historical kendo texbook to the modern English speaking kendo community.

Witten by one of the foremost kenshi of the 20th century Ogawa Kinnosuke sensei, the Teikoku Kendo Kyohon (The Kendo Textbook of Imperial Japan) was originally published in 1932, then revised and re-published in 1937. Here, for the first time in any language other than Japanese, we are proud to present a complete translation of the revised version.

This is an amazing book…. the only kendo book that comes anywhere near it is the Kendo Tokuhon listed below. Get it!

Recommended for: Experienced kendo practitioners and those who wish to dig deeper into the culture of kendo.

AVAILABLE ONLINE IN BOTH PRINT AND DIGITAL EDITIONS.
FOR MORE INFORMATION VISIT THIS SITE.


Kendo Tokukon (The Kendo Reader) – Noma Hisashi

Self published, October 2013. Available print and digital.
Specified aim: Introducing a kendo classic to the modern English speaking kendo community.

Witten by the celebrated kenshi Noma Hisashi and published posthumously in 1939, The Kendo Reader is a true kendo classic. Although the shape of kendo has evolved in the 75 years since the initial publication, the book’s content has barely aged and is still highly relevant to kendo practitioners today. Not only kendoka, however, the book will prove interesting to martial arts practitioners across various disciplines and to those interested in Japanese martial arts history and theory.

Recommended for: Experienced kendo practitioners and those who wish to dig deeper into the culture of kendo.

AVAILABLE ONLINE IN BOTH PRINT AND DIGITAL EDITIONS.
FOR MORE INFORMATION VISIT THIS SITE.

Kendo: a comprehensive guide to Japanese swordsmanship – Geoff Salmon

Tuttle, April 2013. Available print and kindle.
Specified aim: “written expressly with the objective of helping you make your kendo training more effective.”

The cover of the book is a heavily edited picture of Geoff that I took at the Kyoto Taikai a few years back, so obviously I like it! The book itself is designed and printed by an established publisher, so its easy to read and it’s layout is nice. The substance of the book itself is basically a brief run down of the A-Z of physical kendo training, including such varied content as warmup routines, shinai styles, kamae, refereeing, and gradings, as well as descriptions of all the basic cuts, thrusts, and a handful of techniques. Descriptions are to the point and work well with the illustrations.

Pros: Excellent illustrations; easy to understand.
Cons: Lacks any historical background; it’s not really comprehensive.
Recommended for: People who have just started kendo.

Available on Amazon in print or kindle edition.

Kendo: approaches for all levels – Honda Sotaro

Bunkasha International, August 2012. Available print and kindle.
Specified aim: to discuss and offer advice on how to practise kendo in a non-Japanese setting

This book starts with a completely different premise that any other kendo book I have read and is based on Honda’s sensei’s many years of training abroad (mainly in the UK). It covers a wide-range of topics but in a technically brief manner, meaning that the book is not meant for beginners or people with only a few years of experience. For the more advanced practitioner this is in no way a negative point, but allows them to concentrate on the more academic points that Honda sensei is putting across. I found myself highlighting not a few sections as I read the book. Different from Geoff’s book above, Honda sensei’s book is basically completely text based with few diagrams.

Pros: Covers a wide range of topics.
Cons: No illustrations at all; brief descriptions.
Recommended for: mainly those with a mid-level experience level who are actually involved in teaching or coaching of some sort, and for experienced practitioners looking for some advanced perspective.

Note: although I’ve picked up and flicked through the print version, this review is based mainly on reading the digital version.

Available on Amazon in print or kindle edition.

Kendo Coaching Tips and Drills – George McCall

Self published, September 2012. Available print and digital.
Specified aim: a coaching manual for new/mid-level instructors and guide of what to aim for those with less experience

Pros: The only kendo coaching book written in English by an experienced coach.
Cons: None!
Recommended for: new/mid-level instructors and those with less experience that want to learn more.

AVAILABLE ONLINE IN BOTH PRINT AND DIGITAL EDITIONS.
FOR MORE INFORMATION VISIT THIS SITE.

Kendo, Inherited Wisdom and Personal Reflections – Geoff Salmon

Self published, August 2013. Available print and digital.
Specified aim: a collection of blog posts from kendoinfo.net

Geoff sent me a pdf review copy 179 pages in length and was – as he said in his email to me – “following in your footsteps” in reference to the fact that the books contents are mainly based on blog posts, like my Kenshi247: selected articles 2008-2011 book which came out 2 years ago. Anyway, back to Geoff’s book.

The introduction states what is contained in the book very well, so I’ll just reproduce it here:

“This collection of the most popular posts from www.kendoinfo.net contains 52 articles on various aspects of kendo technique and attitude…. This is not an instruction manual. It is offered with the intention of entertaining and stimulating those interested in the art of kendo.”

The book is basically a collection of mainly bite-sized (around 2 pages in length) personal kendo-related anecdotes. Geoff writes in a friendly, easily understood manner often with comedy, which makes for light reading.

Available on Amazon in print or kindle edition.

Pros: Easy to read.
Cons: Slightly haphazard.
Recommended for: The general kendo practitioner.


Other books

I stated in the opening section that there are few book in the English language that are actually any good. Along with the books reviewed above, the following listed books are widely available and I do personally recommended.

The first list are those that I highly suggest you buy/steal/borrow:

Japanese-English Dictionary of Kendo (revised 2011): everyone should own this.
Kendo Kata: essence and application – Inoue (2003): the only kata book you’ll ever need.
This is kendo – Sasamori/Warner (1968): dated but still relevant.

If you have some spare cash and are looking to expand your kendo library, then the following may make some relaxed Sunday afternoon reading:

A Bilingual Guide to the History of Kendo – Sakai (2010) : a very brief/easy synopsis of the history of kendo aimed at foreign kenshi.
Kendo: The Definitive Guide – Ozawa (1997) : a good book, but only for complete beginners.

Note that the All Japan Kendo Federation publish books that are technically accurate, but they are so dry, boring to read, and don’t say very much, so that if I had to mention them, then i’d probably put them into this category.

Thats it. Not many eh?

If a book is not mentioned above, its not probably because I haven’t read/seen it*, but that I don’t endorse it for whatever reason. Don’t let that stop you from leafing through the various books out there and deciding yourself of-course.

*The only exception to this would be ‘Kendo: Elements, Rules, and Philosophy’ (Tokeshi, 2003) which I’ve only ever briefly looked at so cannot fairly comment on. It did seem to be pretty comprehensive though.