Exactly 2 years after the first Eikenkai in Scotland seminar I returned to Edinburgh and held another. In amongst the busy backdrop of the Olympic and Edinburgh festival mayhem around 30 people spent a couple of days together doing kendo, drinking beer, eating curry, and generally having a fun time.
The Saturday session ran for about five and 1/2 hours and the Sunday session was about two and 1/2. In between we went to a great Indian place and managed to spend over 500 pounds on curry and beer for 20 people!!!
Grade ranges went from ikkyu to rokudan, and we had visitors travel up from London and Manchester, as well as Belgium and Holland.
I’m looking forward to doing another in a couple of years time!!!
When people use the term HYOSHI they usually use it when they talk about something that is ‘out of rhythm’ or ‘offbeat’ and the likes, but when you try to express the term precisely its often hard to do so, even for scholars.
When I consider what HYOSHI means in kendo terms I see it as the instant where striking distance in both the physical and time dimensions, plus the relation between you and your (often moving) partner come into unison; that is to say, the exact moment when you should strike. This HYOSHI has neither colour (i.e. there is no ‘telegraphing’) nor sound. If you think ‘my opponent is attacking’ then HYOSHI has already disappeared (i.e. you are too late).
If you are serious about pursuing the discipline of kendo then even children – in their own way – must attempt to acquire understanding of this HYOSHI; if you only do kendo where you strike as you like, then even if you become older you will not be able to comprehend kendo (i.e. understanding does not necessarily come with experience).
In itto-ryu there is a saying: ‘Make your sword as a brush and draw characters as if writing in water. No trace will remain.’
It is said that mastery of the laws of swordsmanship is acquired through polishing of technique, but what this refers to in the end, I think, is the study of cutting-HYOSHI.
About the author
SAKUMA SABURO sensei was born in 1912 in Fukushima prefecture. He started kendo at around 10/11 years old in Fukushima Butokuden. After graduating from what is now Fukushima University he started teaching kendo at various high schools. In 1939 he began to work in Mitsubushi’s mining operation and taught kendo throughout the country whilst visiting various mines. After the war, he became a student of Mochida Seiji hanshi and – while running his own kendo club – began working as a director in the Tokyo Kendo Renmei amongst other things.
The following is a presentation of a couple of charts found in the book ‘Nihon kendo no rekishi’ (The History of Japanese Kendo) that I found interesting and my commentary on them (apart from the charts themselves, this is not a translation).
To read more about whats discussed here in more detail, including the background of the discussion and the the original authors comments and insights (which are far better than mine!), please read the original book.
Chart 1: The overall construction of modern kendo (The reciprocal and complementary aspects of kendo)
CONCEPT OF KENDO and SHUGYO NO KOKOROGAMAE
Technical aim (objective) 1
* The contrary nature of the 5 minutes x 3 points match
* The unclearness of yuko-datotsu criteria
(+ problem of shiai-jo size)
Technical aim (objective) 2
* Correct posture, kamae, technical ability and the unclearness of evaluating the standard for this based on age
Technical aim (subjective) 3
* applying your own subjective standards/understandings, bring your shiai keiko and shinsa keiko together as one thing. As a result of this, the means and purpose of training will become more fluid and change towards the process of ‘shugyo.’
I think that this will be the first time for most kenshi247 readers to see this chart, but I imagine that most people can understand most of whats being alluded to here: the problem that we as kendo practitioners have in combing two of the main aspects of kendo – competition and gradings – into a single process of ‘shugyo’, the expressed aim of which is set out in the Concept of Kendo (see below). ‘Shugyo’ is a term almost all budo practitioners learn quickly and refers to the pursuit of a sometimes nebulous ‘knowledge’ gained through hard physical and mental discipline.
In both the Shiai and Shinsa boxes you you see the terms ‘contrary,’ ‘unclearness,’ and ‘problem’ which need further explanation. First, let me tackle the ‘unclearness’ points as every experienced kendoka knows what the problems are.
The ZNKR publishes the criteria for grading at different levels. This criteria is worded ambiguously and due to this the understanding of the criteria is highly subjective, especially as you go towards kodansha grades (6dan+). Passing 8dan is so ambiguous it almost seems mysterious at times, and I’ve even heard people hint that sometimes passes are preordained. Everybody has experienced puzzle at gradings, be it at a pass or at a fail, and knows what I am talking about.
The unclearness of the criteria of awarding yuko-datotsu (a valid ippon) is found in the wording of the rules: that strikes must be done in ‘sufficient’ spirit, with a ‘correct’ posture, and must ‘express zanshin.’ Not to mention that you must hit the right spot of your opponents bogu with the correct part of your shinai at the right angle (at top level competition this is often too fast to see). If you need evidence at the difficulty of judging valid strikes (objectively that is) all you need to is check you-tube for the mens-team final of the 2012 World Kendo Championships between Japan and Korea.
The ‘contrary nature of the 5 minutes x 3 points match’ may be new to some people (this has started to be address at top level shiai here in Japan – the 8dan invitational and from the 1/4 finals of the All-Japans). Basically, if you look at the top shiai in Japan (the males All-Japan championships) from the 1950s until today, you can see that the number of shiai decided by ippon in encho has sky rocketed (see the original evidence in the source). The number of points scored has plummeted and the average shiai time has increased. In other words the style of kendo favoured nowadays by elite competition-orientated people (in Japan) is such that getting 2 ippon in a 5 minute match is rare. Of-course, this is partially due to the yuko-datotsu problem mentioned above.
Many people might think that the ‘contrary’ problem above doesn’t really affect them, but the kendo community across the world (including, of course, Japan) looks to the All-Japans as a source of inspiration and young people aim to copy those kenshi’s style, and obviously their style of kendo has changed dramatically over the years.
(I will leave the chat about shiai-jo size for a further article)
What a minute!
‘Hey, my sensei told me to do shinsa like my shiai and shiai like my shinsa!’
Fair point. I don’t think, however, many people actually do this. When shiai-mode is on posture often goes out the door in favour of hitting your opponent in any way possible; during a grading many people are often overly-concerned with being in the correct shape that they miss opportunities to strike or stand still and unmoving. I personally know of many people on both sides of the fence – those that disfavour shiai and aim to have beautiful kendo (in reality some end up with a kind of spiritless, ’empty’ kendo) and those that think kendo is simply about hitting the other person with the shinai in anyway possible (some end up attacking randomly, like rabid monkeys!).
A good example of this subjective difficulty between shiai and shinsa kendo can be seen in 6-time All-Japan champion Miyazaki Masahiro sensei’s 8dan grading video (this also ties in nicely with the grading unclearness described above). Did he pass because his kendo was brilliant on the day, because who he was, or because he deserved it based on his shiai results?
At any rate, what we have here are 2 aspects of kendo that have their own specific problem areas, and most people tend to keep these aspects somewhat separate. Both of these aspects are objective, i.e. our performance is judged by a third person or persons. Whether we think we have made a good strike in shiai, or whether we think we have shown our best kendo in a shinsa is irrelevant.
This brings us to the box in the center: technical aim 3 (subjective).
When your sensei told you to do ‘shiai like your shinsa, and shinsa like your shiai’ he or she was of course telling you shouldn’t split your kendo into compartments. The 3rd box describes this by saying that by finally merging these aspects together and approaching ‘kendo’ as simply ‘shugyo’ then you will finally be going in the right direction. Concentration on shiai without attempting to acquire ‘correct’ kendo’ (that is, manifesting it in shiai) or emphasis on ‘correct’ kendo without actually fighting like you mean it (to much emphasis on shape) leads to an imbalance. This merging/balancing of these 2 aspects is of course purely subjective; this subjectivity is partly based on your understandings and experienced of the objective arena of the shiai-jo and the opinions of the grading panel (as well as your sensei and sempai). This subjective understanding is acquired through – and for the ultimate benefit of – the process of shugyo. At the end of the day, however, you can only do kendo for yourself and must find a balance that satisfies yourself.
What I have attempted (badly as always!!!) to verbalise here is only for the dedicated kenshi: those that strive hard in their training over years and seek both spiritual as well as physical improvement (and grade advancement). It doesn’t apply to those that don’t care about gradings, who have no competitive interest (even among dojo-mates), nor those that do kendo as a hobby on the weekends or for their health. That isn’t to say that those people shouldn’t do kendo or aren’t real kendoka (I’d like to think kendo is large enough to accept many types of practitioner), only that the expressed purpose (and thus end point) of the more dedicated kenshi is necessarily different.
* Please note: by ‘competition’ or ‘shiai’ above, I don’t necessarily mean official competitions, it could just as much be serious ippon-shobu between dojo mates, students, etc. The competitive nature of kendo is in-built: having a weak, or even no competitive inklings at all probably doesn’t bode well for the progress of your kendo. In my own case I barely compete in official competition anymore. I don’t actually have so much interest in those, but I do go all out in the dojo with my sempai and kohai on a regular basis. When writing the above, however, I did notice that I am imbalanced in my practise of kendo.
The following chart show the general flow of what is a valid strike, from the past to the potential future, and is an adjunct to the above section.
Chart 2: The yuko-datotsu criteria axis
4 – Realistic/Combat: what we call kendo now evolved out of real fighting with weapons. Using a sword to attack someone would obviously cause injury and/or death and the results was immediate and apparent.
1 – Kata – over time, weapon practice changed into a more abstract form using wooden or blunted weaponry and techniques were practised in set forms. Original warrior skills were passed down from generation to generation, changing over time (potentially drastically), and the expression of technique became more artistic, even beautiful (e.g. iaido, koryu). Any ‘results’ are purely subjective (as far as judging is concerned, iaido/kendo-no-kata competition differs little from synchronized swimming or ice-skating).
2 – Grading/current sportive kendo – the ‘katana’ in kendo nowadays exists only abstractly, and shiai and shinsa have quite a few unclear aspects and contradictions. Due to this results are somewhat subjective and can even cause controversy.
3 – Bunka (‘cultural’)- a potential future of kendo whereby shiai and shinsa rules are revised to be concrete and unified, while respecting kendo’s long historical tradition and the Japanese culture that is embedded therein.
Summary / personal comment
This is just a short piece based on the charts above and the book they came from. Recently there has been a lot of chat about shinpan problems relating to the last World Kendo Championships. I don’t think any problem is with the judges, but with the subjectivity that is mentioned above (and perhaps some competitors lack of the kendo ‘balance’). Personally, I don’t mind subjectivity: as long as enough people are on more or less the right track then there are no problems. Its part of what makes kendo interesting.
If we occasionally lose a shiai due to (what you subjectively perceive as) a less than accurate call – who cares? You didn’t die. Any feeling of wrong-doing is surely just pride. Many people on this planet live in war zones, receive no education, or don’t have enough food to eat on a daily basis… the fact that we can afford to buy expensive equipment, pay dojo fees, and go for post-keiko beers afterwards shouldn’t be forgotten.
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 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 established by All Japan Kendo Federation in 1975.)
Gekken Saikoron – The Argument for the Revival of Gekken
The Jikishinkage-ryu swordsman Kawaji Toshiyoshi (1834-79) was a Satsuma-han samurai who lived during one of Japans most tumultuous periods. A military man, he took part in many of the battles that happened over the country as it reacted to western encroachment and fell in and out of civil war. He rose in military rank to Major-General and was sent to Europe to study the workings of various police forces (for a year between 1872-3). On his return he designed the first Japanese police system (based on a French model) and was appointed the 1st Superintendent-General of the fledgling keishicho (Tokyo Metropolitan Police) in 1874.
In 1877 he created a special ‘Close Combat Force’ from members of keishicho (named Battotai) and dispatched them to fight against Saigo Takamori in the Satsuma rebellion. The result of their combat experiences led Kawaji to re-consider the need for kenjutsu training for policemen and in 1879 he published his thoughts for its re-establishment. Two years later kenjutsu instructors were employed by keishicho for the first time. This event is one of the most important in the history of kendo.
Kawaji’s short essay on the need for kenjutsu training is presented here.
The following translation is the work of George McCall with heavy input by Richard Stonell. Its the first time it has been fully presented in English afaik. For Japanese readers the original is at the end. Enjoy!
1. Although the katana has been almost unused since the Meiji restoration, there is a general effectiveness that is expressed by close combat with Japanese swords. It is my humble desire to see this discipline restored and become popular. Even in enlightened nations, swordsmanship has to this day been practised devotedly. If our country now discards gekken, it will surely be impossible to resurrect. At such a time, will we just throw away this precious jewel and exchange it for a lump of broken pottery? No effort must be spared to prevent this from happening.
2. Those who would discard gekken think that people with the temperament to cultivate great skill in swordsmanship should stop clinging to useless skills and obstructing progress, and turn that same temperament towards scholarly pursuits and contribute to the enlightenment of society.
3. This is absolutely incorrect. There is a rich variety in human nature and people have different skills or leanings. For example, there is the literary type, or the martial type. There are those who have a taste for both. You absolutely cannot teach a purely academic person the military arts, nor make a pure fighter study literature. Likewise, when someone has a knack for both, they must pursue both together. Surely forcing people against their nature in this way is what will obstruct progress!
4. Gekken is beneficial to health.
5. Gekken cultivates bravery.
6. Even if you carry a stick for protection, without the skill to use it against an opponent you will not be able to defend yourself.
7. When action is needed to suppress violent gangs, a man who has not disciplined and prepared himself in the martial arts will be incapable of volunteering to take on these gangs in combat. Under the former Shogunate, law enforcers who failed to arrest vicious criminals were invariably lacking this kind of training.
8. Police officers who are commonly involved in strenuous, dynamic work at crime scenes need to be always disciplining their bodies through hard training, just like a swordsman.
9. Gekken (i.e. European fencing) is actively practised in Western countries. Our nation is somehow on the verge of discarding one of its esteemed arts. We should not let things reach the point where we have to learn gekken from foreigners. It would be like replacing a golden piece of treasure with a lump of broken pottery.
The true meaning of rei is found in the midst of seriousness
The following article was originally published in April 2011 and is by Ota Tadanori hanshi (see author bio below). I placed this article on my ‘to-do’ list a while back and picked it up randomly a few days back. With the 15th World Kendo Championships happening this weekend, I thought a timely re-visit of an aspect of modern kendo that many sensei complain about: lack of manners. Especially during shiai, this seems to be the first thing that goes out the window.
The word ‘REI’ in Japanese refers to the physical act of bowing as well as ‘good manners’ in general. The term in Japanese can have a far deeper and wider meaning that simply ‘manners’ in English and brings a kind of (at least to me) sophistication and refinement/dignity with it. Due to this I have mainly left ‘rei’ in the original text as ‘rei’ in the translation.
Keiko itself is rei
As far as good etiquette in kendo goes, you either do it or you don’t. Respect, consideration, and a feeling of gratitude for your partner is where the essence of rei lies. If this is lost then kendo is nothing but an activity where you hit each other with sticks. This short essay is about how an understanding of rei can be used to improve your kendo.
When I was learning kendo from Fukuoka Akira sensei we didn’t have a dojo, but practised in his garden. Keiko only began after I cleaned the garden with a bamboo broom. Of course there was no Kamidana (small Shinto shrines found in many dojo) but I was taught that cleaning the area itself was an act of purity and that the place was sacred. After that I performed ritsurei (standing bow) to my sensei. This was the first form of etiquette I was taught.
Eventually, someone in the locality volunteered their storehouse and we remodeled it into a dojo. The finished structure had a kamidana and I learned the correct etiquette to perform in this type of environment. I feel that in a child’s mind, when you have a kamidana, understands that the place is different to others, that it is sacred.
When I first became a member of Keishicho (Tokyo metropolitan police force) we used to practise in the Keishicho gym, which didn’t have a kamidana. Instead there hung a large, solemn, picture of Mt. Fuji by the painter Yokoyama.
When I was a member of the physical-education division I was lucky to be taught by Masuda Shinsuke sensei for a year. During this time the kendo members were doing their warmup stretches in the dojo and Masuda sensei got angry and taught is a valuable lesson: ‘Do your warmup outside of the dojo. Don’t come to the dojo until you are ready for keiko!’ Also, when I entered the Tokuren (special kendo training division) we were told: ‘When you enter the dojo you mustn’t laugh nor smile.’ We were taught that a dojo was a place for serious and strict training (shugyo).
When top sensei like Ono Jusei and Horiguchi sensei stepped into the dojo immediately the atmosphere would change and without thinking your resolve would harden. It was such a powerful feeling that those people that came for degeiko (i.e. visitors) would often feel oppressed by this atmosphere. It was my good fortune that my day to day training happened in such an environment.
The sensei didn’t teach through words, but by demonstration – you had to watch how they acted and copy it. These sensei trained like their lives depended on it, so there were many many points that had to be studied. Individually we thought ‘I want to be like X-sensei’ and proceeded to practise with that sensei in mind, trying somehow to catch their kendo essence. Of course, this included all their mannerisms, including their etiquette.
‘Rei ni hajimari, rei ni owari’ (keiko begins and ends with rei) – I was taught that it was very important what happens in the time between those first and last bows. First you should bow with the feeling of ‘onegaishimasu’ (please, thank you, a sincere feeling), then keiko with all your energy, finally finishing with the feeling of ‘thank you.’ That is to say: ‘everything in keiko is rei.’ If you practise daily with this feeling, and go to your teacher for instruction, then in the midst of your strict training you will naturally pick up the correct etiquette manner. My experience tells me that its BECAUSE of the severe nature of training that real etiquette can be learned.
If you can’t express yourself physically, then your true intentions cannot be read
I think that the ‘shape’ (kata) of etiquette is very important. Its because it helps express the correct essence of your feeling (the feeling of ‘thanks’) to your partner.
Of course, simply going through the motions without the feeling behind them is unbelievable but, looking at many competitions nowadays, I see many many cases where indeed participants are bowing at their own pace without taking into account their partner (i.e. they are doing the shape only). This gives me a chill.
One of the things that changed kendo from a ‘method of taking life’ to a ‘method for the perfection of the character’ is, I believe, this ‘rei.’ Without this kendo can only be an activity where you simply hit each other with sticks, just another sport. If we support something where people just jump around smacking each other randomly then kendo will change into something that resembles (some) other sports, where there is no sympathy nor feelings of thanks between you and your partner. I think that this rei is the difference between Budo and Sport.
So, teachers must reduce telling their students that ‘shiai is a part of kendo’ and place more emphasis on the ‘everything in keiko is about rei’ aspect. It is essential that teachers themselves ensure that they have the correct etiquette ‘shape’ and show (display) that they understand the feeling behind the movements.
The correct feeling is important, then the shape of expressing it. Kendo no kata is an important tool for this. Everything needed to understand rei is embodied in it. Starting from your bow to the flag (depends on the dojo), how you bow to your partner, how you walk, how you stand, how you sit, how you use your hands… all this must be done in unison with your partner and with the feeling of ‘onegaishimasu’ at the start and ‘arigato gozaimashita’ at the end. We tend to concentrate on how to do the kata themselves (i.e. what we are doing with bokuto, how many steps we take in and out, etc) but in reality its the rei that is permeated throughout that is important.
Its important for teachers to study this aspect, feel it for themselves, and finally for them to show it to those around them.
Train children though correct etiquette
Especially nowadays, people act as if they are blind to children’s discourteous behavior. Its because they are not disciplined properly at home I guess. But surely the essence of childhood isn’t different nowadays than what it was in the past? If you teach children properly, then any child can learn to be polite.
I help to teach the children’s kendo class at Nippon Budokan and nowadays I see that many kids can’t act as part of a group: they suddenly disappear from where they are meant to be, and don’t bother saying hello or goodbye to the teachers or their friends, etc. Of-course, its part of the teachers job to persevere and try to teach the children these things properly. At this time you must not think “how do I teach this kid?” but “how can I communicate my feelings towards this kid?” This is whats important. Thats is to say, whats important is to consider how can you build up a feeling of trust between yourself and that child.
When I am teaching children, sometimes I lightly tap them on the behind with a shinai. Do you call this punishment or teaching? Which side of the border line you lie on depends on whether you are attempting to build up the trust I mentioned earlier. If you honestly desire to ‘teach’ the child something then – if you manage to communicate your feelings to them – trust will be born and the child will begin to change.
Rei is the basis of your daily life in society. ‘Rei = the bonds forged between individuals.’ The base of of this rei is discipline. If you don’t have discipline then rei cannot be learned and will fade. I want people (children) to be disciplined in manners in their homes first, then above and beyond this through kendo.
Of course, that children are becoming ill-mannered is a symptom of Japanese society in general. A while back an American person said this shocking thing to me: “Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Taiwanese all look kind of similar but its the Japanese that are the most discourteous.” The reason for this is that the modern society has taken to referring to any selfish action as “freedom” thus forgiving it.
The only way to fix this is through rei taught in budo! Our chance to enact this is when budo begins to be taught as part of the national curriculum in junior high schools around the country (this started April 2012).
The best place to teach rei is in the dojo
Its sad to say, but recently many local dojo have been closing and more and more kendo clubs are doing their keiko in public sports gyms. In the ‘All Japan (ken) dojo renmei’ (a group set up for the promotion of kendo for primary and junior high school ages) actually only 1/4 of groups have their own dojo. The rest are probably training in sports gyms or maybe even – like me when I was a child – in gardens. But, obviously, a place that is sacred and pure has a special meaning to it (i.e. a dojo with a kamidana).
First, make sure your appearance is tidy and neat, line up your footwear correctly, then enter the dojo. As you enter collect your thoughts and bow towards the kamidana. The kamidana is not a religious thing, but embodies the spirit of budo. ‘Today I hope to do keiko without being injured’ or ‘I want to do keiko with a pure heart’ etc etc its perfectly fine for people to decide their own individual goal for the days keiko. This is what Fukuoka sensei taught me.
You can only perform such initial salutations in a dojo environment. Why? Because a dojo is a space where everyone from children to adults are under the same roof and – as adults are teaching the children – they are training themselves at the same time. While adults are teaching children they themselves must always heed their own manners, all the while studying from their own sensei. This type of ‘living teaching environment’ is the best attraction of a dojo. Thus I believe dojo are the optimum environment for learning manners.
At any rate, you can’t do kendo without a partner. If you keiko with compassion and gratitude at all times then once keiko is finished you will natural say ‘thank you.’ I believe that this type of satisfaction is kind of ‘beautiful.’ So, everyone, won’t you consider reevaluating your manners again, even just one more time?
This article was published in the April 2011 edition of Kendo Jidai.
About the author
Ota Tadanori, kendo hanshi 8dan. Born in 1941, Chiba prefecture. After graduating high school he entered Keishicho directly. He has won the all japan police championships and taken part in the tozai-taiko, Meiji-mura taikai, etc. He taught as the top kendo teacher at keishicho until his retirement in 2000. He currently has posts in the ZNKR and teaches kendo at various locations.