Correct, enjoyable, and friendly

Last year I posted a short article introducing the artistic work of the oldest sensei I study under. Be sure and check out the post above even if you have done so before.

This year – as always – I was happy to go into the dojo and discover a beautifully painting waiting for me. Being the year of the horse, there were of course horses in the picture, and above them the words 正しく、楽しく、仲良く = correct, enjoyable, and friendly. Although a relatively simple theme for this years keiko, I think they are words to remember.

This edited iPhone snap doesn’t really give the picture credit, but I think it doesn’t hurt to share anyway. Enjoy!

2014-i-sensei

Eikenkai (2006-2013)

Happy 2014! As you may have noticed, kenshi247.net has undergone a complete renewal mainly with the aim of making things more minimal. As part of this reworking I decided to remove pretty much all of the pre-2013 articles. Don’t worry – the content hasn’t been deleted – it’s simply been archived at the moment, and I’m sure will pop up in a different format in the future.

Whilst doing this cleanup I started thinking a lot about not only what I had achieved with the site since it started back in 2008, but also about the success of the keikokai I began pretty much in tandem with the site: Eikenkai.

The history of Eikenkai is basically split into 3 periods:

1. Pre-Eikenkai period: 2006+
2. Official start of Eikenkai: 2008/2009
3. Finding a permanent base at Sumiyoshi Budokan: 2010+

Basically, the idea about starting my own kihon-based keikokai started in around 2006, when I began to be involved in a couple of friendly, non ‘official’ gatherings outside of my official dojo. These gatherings were more informal and, more-often-than-not, involved more kihon practise than I found in my dojo. However, I wanted to do something more than just a loose gathering of friends for a bash. Slowly I began to co-opt one of my sempai’s informal gatherings. It took a while, but eventually more of my friends than his were coming! Eventually I just said “I want to change the format” and went ahead and did so. The name change came a little later.

At this point we were still using public dojo on a lottery basis – we were never sure which space we could rent. After some hunting around and string pulling we were able finally to get a dojo we could pre-book on a yearly basis starting in 2010. Bar building our own dojo, this is the best situation we can hope for.

Since the initial inception already 8 years have passed!! The format of the keikokai is set, we have a proper home, have a strong core member base, and some of our members have become or are on the cusp of becoming kodansha. I can’t be sure, but I suspect that in the long term, the connections and friendships made at Eikenkai (not to mention all that kirikaeshi!) will have a deeper impact for me than the running of kenshi247.net itself.

At any rate, here’s to more Eikenkai in 2014 – happy new year!!

Eikenkai: 1-picture-per-year, 2006-2013:

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

Rule changes for the better

In 2009 I wrote a post called TSUBAZERIA RULE CHANGES IN HIGH SCHOOL KENDO that looked at new rules that were being implemented for high school kendo competitions here in Japan. Just over 4 years later and I can say without a doubt that the flow of shiai has improved drastically due to this simple change: there is less time wasting in tsubazeriai and students kendo has become a lot more positive and forward-attacking than it was before. There’s probably not been enough time since the rule implementation for a larger change in shiai flow to occur in university and adult shiai, but I’m pretty positive we are going in a good direction. So, it’s with great interest that I listened to a sempai of mine talk about a further change happening in Junior High School kendo (which I am not personally involved in).

A new rule in junior high school change states the following under the section “Strange defensive postures” (変形な構え等の防御姿勢):

“In the case of a strange defensive kamae, the following shall occur:

In the first instance: call a goki and instruct the players (of what is acceptable and what isn’t);

In the second instance: issue a hansoku.”

What is defined as a “strange defensive posture” is basically when you “lift your left hand above your eye level in order to block your men, kote, and dou” i.e. the “Sanpomamori” posture referred to by Morishima Tateo sensei. The rule change goes onto state that any waza executed out of this kamae (or something near to) will not be judged as valid.

As things stand at the moment, you can see people run into tsubazeriai using this posture a lot in shiai. I guess it’s a combination of not wanting to be hit and time wasting. Even if you look at video of the All Japan Kendo Championships – and of 3-time winner Uchimura Ryoichi – you can see that in the highest level shiai in Japan this type of movement happens a lot. It’s not just time wasting and defensiveness that’s the problem – it’s that it looks ugly.

I think that this is a great rule change. If it’s as successful as the tsubazeriai rule change in high school kendo then I think the flow of shiai will become much better in the future, and we will see students perform not only more beautiful kendo, but also less defensive, more positive kendo.

Personally, it’s my hope that this new rule in junior high school, plus the tsubazeriai rule of high school, be applied to not only adult competition here in Japan, but be spread abroad as well (the conduit for which would be the World Kendo Championships). I assume that these changes are part of the ZNKR’s long term plan, the aim of which is to eventually produce kenshi with better kendo who will in turn teach and influence others. Will it work? I guess only time will tell.

Sources

平成25年度 (公財)日本中学校体育連盟剣道競技部申し合わせ事項

The Sword of the Samurai in the Hands of Americans

“Another new fad has come to New York – Japanese fencing. If you hear the clash of armor and clang of steel as you saunter through the brown stone districts uptown it’s wealthy young men taking lessons in palace stables and studios where the famous two handed swords to the samurai are at work. The weapon always has been described as formidable in the hands of an expert. The word “samurai” means knight, and for three thousand years he has been the ideal swordsman of Japan – always using the terrible two handed blade of his fathers.”

I get an awful lot of correspondence from readers, most of it asking me about this and that, but occasional people volunteer ideas or information. This was one such case: a Canadian gentleman by the name of Maxime Chouinard who practises koryu/iai over in Quebec, got in touch and passed me the following newspaper clippings about early kendo practise in America. Wow, I thought, this is reeeeeeeally fascinating information, specifically as an important look into a) how the general America society viewed the art and b) as an insight into some Japanese ex-pats thinking.

At the end of the Edo period when Japan finally opened up there was a large influx of people from various nationalities that went to seek their fortune in the yet undeveloped country. It’s uncertain exactly how many non-Japanese people were working in Japan, but the government hired hundreds and we can assume there were probably thousands more working in private enterprises. Through historical records we know that some of these people did study kendo (gekken/gekkiken/kenjutsu as it was variously called at that time) while there were there. In fact, some of the men that went over were charged with re-developing the Japanese military, swordsmanship included. Around about the same time – and I admit that my knowledge is a bit vague on this matter – many Japanese people also started to go abroad, whether it was to study, on business, or indeed to make a new life.

It’s probably at around this point that kendo first travelled abroad: either taken back by the non-Japanese people who had been in Japan or transported by Japanese people themselves. Maybe a bit of both.

This interesting topic is large and deserves some serious attention… unfortunately not something I have the time or resources to do so at the moment. The purpose of this article is simply to introduce the subject and hope that it creates more interest. I’m sure there are hundreds of more newspaper articles out there on this topic, probably spanning quite a few countries as well. If you have any links, please post them on facebook or comment here.

Maxime and I talked back and forth about what to do with the information here and we decided to leave writing a more in-depth, fuller article on these clippings and this subject to him. Make sure and check out Maxime’s own fascinating blog which has covered and I’m sure will cover some of the issues raised above.

For starters, please check out the quotes and corresponding articles below:

A fencing and kendo demonstration with Mark Twain in attendance, New York, 1893:

“Dueling swords were now in order… the bouts ended with a side-splitting scrimmage with Japanese singlesticks between Mr. Charles Tatham and the samurai Shilo Sacaze (sic) of Nagasaki. This epic combat showed the samurai extremely quick and clever with the peculiar bamboo stick of his native land. His odd movements and loud shouts delighted the audience with screams of laughter and applause when the samurai closed with Mr. Tatham and began to wrestle with him on the stage.”

– The New York Times, November 21, 1893 (full article)

The Japanese fencing club “Sunrise” in Honolulu, 1896:

“By way of introduction the combatants removed their kimonos and donned loose skirts and a helmet with strong iron bars across the face. Then they sheathed their bodies with stiff bamboo breastplates. Heavily padded gloves with gauntlets finished the costume. The “short sticks” are about five feet long, and are made of several pieces of bamboo fastened together. There seemed to be no call of “time” by a referee. The men stepped to the center of the room and saluted each other by a motion of the arm, and then one uttered a guttural sound signifying his unwillingness to begin the fray and they crossed sticks, the point of each being held on a level with the neck and the handle grasped with both hands. Yajimai led, and throughout the bought was acting on the offensive, while Karikawa braced himself so as to resist and ward off any blow that might be directed toward him. Once he was thoughtless. Yajimai gave him a crack on the helmet that resounded throughout the room. All the time the men were fencing they were shouting as if warning each other to look out for what might be coming.”

– Kentucky new era, 1896 (full article)

A Japanese fencing club for ex-pats (the picture at the top of this article is from this piece) from 1897:

“Everywhere in Japan since the late war they are teaching this fencing. The clubs are formed throughout Japan and they teach it in all boys’ schools. It is not merely for sport. During the late war with China the government found that it would be necessary for the people to understand how to use a sword. Japan cannot keep a standing army of any size, so her subjects have to be trained.”

– San Francisco 1897 (full article)

Annapolis 1906:

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The quote at the start of the article matches the pictures here.

– Omaha Daily Bee, 1906 (full article).

Eikenkai December 2013

Yesterday the last Eikenkai session of the year was held in the usual place: Sumiyoshi Budokan. Although it was a little bit chilly, the weather was fantastic, so spirits were high and the practise was dynamic! In attendance were 17 kenshi, mostly from around the Kansai area but we were visited by two friends from Nagoya as well.

Keiko was the usual pattern: 45 minutes of kihon, 30 minutes of waza practise, and about 45 minutes of jigeiko. After keiko we changed and retired to the local okonimyaki restaurant for food, beers, and chat.

The next session will be on the 23rd of February 2014. If you are in town, please consider getting in touch and joining us.

Check out this link for more information about Eikenkai, what you need to know before joining us, and to see next years schedule. Cheers!!