Shinai grip 竹刀の握り

Yesterday I popped into my sempai’s kendo shop in central Osaka to buy a shinai. Almost all my shinai have round handles, but sometimes I do use koban (oval-handled) shinai, so I picked one up. I took a snap and posted it on facebook to quickly see if kenshi247 readers also try koban shinai. Of course the answer was in the affermative.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am really picky about shinai. This has led me, over the years, to experiment with different types of shinai, be that lengths, weights, brands, balance, handle length, and even handle shapes. I think only the last one will raise an experienced kenshi’s eyebrows. Even then, for most people a change in handle shape means the decision to use a normal round handled shinai, or the oval, more sword-like, koban handled shinai. Thats it. But the reality is that there are various types of shinai handle shapes out there. Although rare, I’ve tried SQUARE and OCTAGONAL handles, and I’ve heard of triangular and hexagonal.

As a quick comparison, please take a look at these snaps of square, octagonal, and oval handles on these shinai that I own:

But why bother with using a non-round handled shinai anyway? Here are a selection of comments from the original image I posted on facebook:

“I use one pretty regularly. What I like about it (aside from how it fits in the hands) is that it is a more realistic representation of how an actual sword would feel when gripping.”
– Scott

“I use koban only. I feel my grip is more over the top of the Shinai. It helps my seme, tenuchi and feels more like a katana.”
– Simon

“My definitive preference is koban shinais. Considering the shape of a half-closed human hand is that of an oval, I would consider koban to be more anatomically correct, comfortable, and a better representation of a katana grip.”
– Leo

“I did for a while when I had a lot of trouble keeping my hasuji accurate. It also helped strengthen my tenouchi.”
– David

“It helps me with Do(u).”
– Israel

“I love the oval grip. I do notice it tends to make me lazy when using a normal shinai and tend to let the shinai drift from left to right in my grip.”
– Wes

“I prefer koban… I think they’re easier to use than the round grips.”
– Joe

“I started Iaido and Kendo at the same time it only felt natural to have a koban styled shinai.”
– Lance

“After many years of battodo, iaido and taijutsu I couldn’t get used to a standard tsuka, koban gata feels more natural for me and helps with correct hasuji.”
– Graeme

“I started kendo after several years of iaido practice. Koban tsuka was a natural choice.”
– Raymond

I don’t really have too much to add on top of what everyone wrote, but if I try to summarise everything it would go something like this: basically, koban are easier to use because they fit into the hand better, they promote a better awareness of the ‘blade’ part of the shinai (thus leading to better, more correct hasuji), and they fit more into the shinai-as-a-sword part of kendo’s culture. I think the other handle shapes also promote the same things to a degree (though the square shaped handle can bite into the hands a bit).

What I do want to add is this: I think its worth exploring different handle shapes in order to explore how you use your hands, not only in the action of striking, but how the shinai sits in your hands in static kamae, and how this changes during the actions of osae, harai, etc. For me personally it took a long time (over 15 years?) to begin to become aware the subtleties of finger use and to wake up to the fact that my grip was constantly changing during an encounter (and that this is normal). Also – and this is an important point for me in particular – deeper understanding of shinogi use and concomitant change in how the wrists work – is very hard if not impossible to come by while using only a round handle.

At any rate, although you can do all this with a normal, round-handled shinai anyway, I do think its a good exercise to use an oval (or whatever) handled shinai now and then in order to explore what your hands and fingers are doing during keiko. Try it!

I’m super busy at the moment, so this article was a little bit rushed… I hope it actually makes sense! Feel free to comment on facebook or below. Cheers!

Bunburyodo 文武両道

Bunburyodo is a term that I’m sure many if not all budo practitioners are familiar with. It’s a term used to describe someone who has become or is trying their best to become ‘accomplished in the both military and literary arts’ (martial arts and arts/sciences). The first recorded use of a similar term (「文事ある者は必ず武備あり」) is found in the ‘Records of the Grand Historian’ (史記), written in Han-era China around about BCE 109-91. When the Records came to Japan and how and when the term was was changed to ‘bunburyodo’ seems to be unknown, but various other synonymous kanji combinations have been used for a very long time.

During the classical, feudal, and Tokugawa periods of Japanese history, the term is said to have referred to the importance of understanding both academic and warrior arts in order to be able to govern effectively. That is, an effective ruler (and subordinates) would ideally have a balance of both. The need for this balance was promoted by Tokugawa Ieyasu, and became increasingly looked at as an ideal situation for the ruling class in general by the 19th century. However, nowadays in Japan (a country with a far less hierarchical class system that existed before), this ideal has been reworked to simply refer to those that try hard in both their study and some sort of physical activity (e.g. baseball), and it seems to be used almost exclusively in reference to students.

… which brings me neatly round to the point of this article – the reason for the slow down of written content over the last while (or, at least, why I’m not writing as much as I want to!). Basically, the study for my 2nd degree is literally taking up all my free time, which I didn’t have enough of anyway! Between an agressive keiko schedule (8 times on a slow week), a full time job, and my private life, its been hard to fit in time for translations and article writing. I also had to suspend work on the next kenshi247 publication… which is about 65% done as we speak.

Not to fear, however, as I intend to start work on the above publication in May with hopefully a summer release, and will be back to work with some kendo articles around the same time. In the meantime, I will continue to post updates on facebook, and I also seem to be addicted to instagram at the moment (#kenshi247)… so check out both those channels for continual kendo-related updates and pictures. Cheers!!!!!

* In case you are interested, I’m currently studying History. My first degree was in the completely unrelated area of Computer Science…

Mazeru – mix it up 交ぜる

Recently a long-time kendo friend living in the U.K. messaged me on facebook to tell me he was bored with kendo (again). The problem – as I put it to him – was that he has probably “little variation in his keiko” and that he is “constantly stuck with the same partners, doing the same thing.” He readily agreed to my analysis. When you combine this with the lack of a large kodansha base (whereby there are few senior people to learn under nor aim towards), then you can see where his boredom comes from and can easily understand the root of his frustration.

My suggestion was for him to get out of his usual comfortable keiko-zones and go and visit other places. A 2-week kendo trip to Japan would be optimal of course, but is far from realistic for most people most of the time. Simply visiting another dojo now and then can make a world of difference. Being based in Europe gives him the added ease of making a weekend kendo trip to another country, say France, Germany, or Italy.

I am in a very lucky situation here in Osaka, but I still make the effort every now and then to practise in places that I haven’t been (or barely go) to. At the same time, I try to do the same thing with my high school students (when you practise 6-times a week with friends its easy to become over comfortable with them), but in the following 3 ways (and in this order):

  1. Renshu-jiai

    Where we go to another school (or visa versa) and spend the day doing as many practise shiai as possible. Scores are kept but there is no league or competition per-se. At the end we may do a little bit of jigeiko. Students generally don’t know each other.

  2. Godo-renshu

    Again, were we go to another school (or visa versa) and take part in their keiko (or them ours) menu. The aim here is to practise polishing our kendo. Again, theres usually a little bit of jigeiko at the end and students may not know each other.

  3. Degeiko

    When I take a number of students (not all of them as there are too many!) to an adult dojo for some instruction/practise with my sempai and sensei.

Of course, sometimes 1 and 2 are done in combination.

The aim in all this is basically to change mood, but there are also added pluses such as exposure to different teachers or training methods; sometimes something as simple as a change in venue helps a lot. If you find yourself bored or frustrated with your kendo practise, get out of your normal dojo and go somewhere else or even call a friend at another dojo and tell them to bring their friends along to training next week.

A term used in kendo circles that everyone knows is 交剣知愛 (ko-ken-chi-ai). The KO portion is the kanji 交 which means to MIX or CROSS. Kendo-wise, that refers to the crossing of shinai, and can be taken to infer – in our term above – the making of friendships.

In other words, If you get out of your normal dojo and do kendo with different people, I’ll guarantee that you’ll not only make new or perhaps deepen older friendships, but your boredom and frustration will also disappear!!

Suzunosuke

I’d like to introduce kenshi247 readers to someone who has played a large part in my kendo life over the last three years: Kubota Suzunosuke. He was a key member of my high school kendo club, eventually becomng the club captain and passing his 3 dan when he was still just 17. Unfortuanately, on January 30th 2013, he passed away, so you will never be able to meet or do kendo with him. However, like I have done, I believe there is something you can learn from him by knowing a little bit about how he lived his life.

In a post that is completely different from my normal content, I would like to tell you something of his story here today, but rather than use my words, I’ll do so by translating a couple of pieces that were published in the Sankei Shinbun on February 18th 2013, adding in a couple of comments for clarification here and there (I will also add a personal section at the end). The article also reached the top of yahoo.jp news topics on that day. Of course, because I want to respect the privacy of his family, I wont go into too many extra details.

Please note that I did get his parents permission to publish this English translation online.

I hope you can find something inspiring in his story.

Newspaper

(Front page of the Sankei Shinbun, February 18th 2013)

A life dedicated to children with terminal illness: School lessons while hospitalised

The high school boy who fought to establish a system to allow hospitalised children take normal school classes while himself battling ill health passed away – Osaka prefectural Otemae high school 3rd year student, Kubota Suzunosuke (18).

Although still very sick with a Ewing’s sarcoma (a type of bone cancer) he managed to sit the (very tough) national university exams.

Right up until he took his last breathe on January 30th (2013) he would give the thumbs up to the people around his bed (friends, family, hospital staff) and say “ganbaru” (“Ill do my best”). Right until the end he never gave up on his dream of going to university.
(text by Takahashi Mayuko)

A maignant Ewing’s sarcoma tumour is said to affect 4 people in every million. His cancer symptoms first appeared when he was a 2nd year junior high school student (about 14yrs old). After repeatedly undergoing painful medical treatment, even to the extent of having some bones removed, he even managed to defeat two relapses (all in all, he spent 10 months in hospital).

Kubota said that the science classes he took while hopitalised at that time were “something I will never forget” (i.e. the classes were indespinsible to him). This type of system (taking school lessons while hospitalised) didn’t exist for high school students, so he – based on his experience at junior high school and worrying about falling behind in his study – sent a request in January 2012 to Osaka City to establish such a system. The reply from Osaka major Hashimoto Toru was “If the government cant even assist you alone, then what’s the government for anyway?”

In April of the same year (3 months after the original email) Osaka prefecture created a new system where they would dispatch temp-teachers to teach hospitalised high school students. Including Kubota, about 8 students have thus far used the service.

The following month, in May 2012, another malignant tumour was found, and he was given between 3 months and 1/2 a year to live.

In November he said “I want to do something for people that are going to be hospitalised in the future, or for people who will undero even more painful experiences than me” and he started petitioning for medical aid/help for children who are afflicted with unknown illnesses (in Japan, if you have an unknown disease, or something not thought of as important by the country, you will recieve no governmental aid).

Even while his condition became severe, and with his strong desire to go to university, on January 19th and 20th (2013) he sat the national university examinations. After this his condition suddenly changed for the worse, and the door on his short life closed.

(Page 23 of the Sankei Shinbun, February 18th 2013)

“Chasing his dream”
“School lessons while hospitalised”
“Earnestly sitting national university exams depsite relapse”

3rd year Osaka prefectural Otemae high school student Kubota Suzunosuke (18) from Asahi-ku passed away on the 30th of January 2013 from cancer.

“Even if you have a good idea about something, if you dont act then nothing will come of it” – this is what he said regarding his desire to improve the situation of terminally ill high school students who, while hospitalised, are denied study help from the government. His desire to help students like this arose from his own personal experience. While working towards this he continued to do his own school study. Although he passed away too early, he managed to pass on this “dream” and “desire” to many people.

“You gave me power” – Hashimoto Toru, Osaka city mayor

Last January (2012), during a temporary lull in his illness where he was allowed to leave the hospital, he sent an email to Osaka City petitioning for change in the study situation of hospitalised high school students. After this he would go into hospital about once a week while continuing to attend school. Because he didnt want to leave school during class to go to the hospital (i.e. he strongly desired to study), he would go at lunch time or after school. Despite his mother saying “You dont have to push yourself so hard!” he would say “Im going back” and return to school to help the kendo club (he was the captain). But on the evening of the 20th of May he experienced pain in his chest: the cancer was back. The verdict was 3-6 months to live.

He never gave up on his dream or neglected his learning. The teachers that visited him in school would proactively ask “What subjects do you want to study?” and when he sat tests at school he was attached to two small mobile medical devices that would adminster pain killers.

When his parents were told that he had only a short time left, they never told him. His mother said “I think he knew himself. He started to consider what he could do to help other patients around the world.”

At the end of the year his condition started to take a turn for the worse. Even though he was unable to stand or ingest food anymore, he (just before he passed away) sat the national university enterance exams on the 19th and 20th of January 2013. A special room was prepared for him and he did the exams in a special wheelchair. After each exam was finished he was able to lie down; using all the power that he had, he completed all of the tests.

At this time, it became difficult for him to say anything. The friends that visited him were anxious about his situation and spoke kindly to him. His classmates said “lets graduate together!” which enabled him to fight harder. He was looking forward to the graduation ceremony on the 1st of March. Even the day before he passed away he mustered up all his remaining strength, stuck one thumb up, and said “ganbaru” (“I’ll do my best“).

At the wake held on the 3rd of February, over 1000 people attended. At the funeral service, a message from Osaka mayor Hashimoto Toru was read: “Your proposal to start a special teaching system for hospitalised high school students has become reality. This is a ray of hope for them. When I think of how much you tried your best, I feel energised.”

His kendo club friends said “The image of you taking part in shiai while still fighting such a serious illness will always remain in our hearts.” (The picture used at the top of the article is Suzunosuke competing in his last ever shiai before retiring. This was in June 2012.)

The school is preparing a high school graduation certificate to be given out during the graduation ceremony. Also, (through Suzunosukes effort) Otemae high school will be one of the areas holding this years charity event Relay for Life.

His father Kazuo said that he was looking forward to when his son would become 20 so that they could go out and have a beer together (the legal age for drinking alcohol is 20 in Japan). His father said peacefully: “As a high school student I think he did his best in everything he tried, no matter what the conditions were. It didn’t matter what it was he never ran away from it; he lived an honest and earnest life.”

George’s comment

After Suzunosuke passed away I found myself re-reading some of the email and facebook conversations that we’d had. He liked English and was even selected to go and study abroad in the U.K. for a short stay during 2nd year (he probably new about his relapse when he went), so we often communicated in English, even on kendo club matters. An example of both his humour and his strong desire to do kendo can be seen in this facebook conversation snippet (I think the ? was meant to be an !):

IMG_1854

More than anything else, Suzunosuke loved kendo. Not only that, he was very talented at it as well. When he was selected by the other students to become the captain of the club I was delighted. When he was selected to be sent by the school to the U.K. I was delighted. When he passed his 3dan I was delighted. When he relapsed it was a hard time for him, but he came to the dojo as often as he could, watching and helping to teach for the most part. After a few months he eventually got back into bogu, even leading the practise again sometimes.. and again I was delighted. Even though it was obvious that things weren’t going smoothly and after a lot of deep thinking on my part, I selected him to take part in the last shiai of his high-school kendo career and, it turned out to be, his life. Watching him take part in shiai again and lead his team into the 2nd round of competition was difficult emotionally for me (and his parents also I believe) and – now that I look back on it – I’m pretty sure he felt it was his last as well. 30 minutes after we were put out of the competition the entire kendo club gathered (at nearly 40 members, one of the largest clubs in the prefecture) and a smiling Suzunosuke gave a energetic, thoughtful, and positive retirement speech.

This English translation was done originally for the benefit of the friends that he made when he was in the UK, and also for the non-Japanese kenshi that visited me at work and did keiko with him. After speaking with his parents, they were happy for me to publish it here and to have kenshi from all over the world learn about – and learn from – his fighting spirit. A fellow kenshi, I think we all have something to learn from him.

This article was published on the 1st of March 2013, the day of Suzunosuke’s high school graduation ceremony.

(産經新聞2013年2月18日)
(原文まま)

難病の子供たちへ 尽くした命」・「病院で授業」訴え実る

闘病生活を送る高校生が病院でも授業が受けられる制度創設のきっかけをつくり、自身も病魔と闘いながら難病に苦しむ子供たちの環境改善を願い、行動してきた1人の男子高校生が亡くなった。大阪府立大手前高校3年、久保田鈴之さん(18)=大阪市旭区。
いったんは克服した小児がんの一種「ユーイング肉腫」が再発する中、1月の大学入試センター試験にも挑戦した。同30日に息を引き取るまで、心配する周囲に親指を立て「頑張る」と気丈に振舞い、最後まで進学の夢をあきらめなかった。(高橋真由子)

ユーイング肉腫は、年間100万人に4人程度の発症頻度と推定され原発性悪性骨腫瘍の一つ。
久保田さんは中学2年で発症。骨を切除するなどの強い痛みを伴う治療を繰り返し、2度の再発にも耐えていた。
中学生のときに院内学級で受けた理科の実験が「一生の思い出になった」という久保田さんだったが、
高校生には院内学級がなく、勉強の遅れを不安に思った経験から、昨年1月、高校生向けの院内学習支援制度の創設を大阪市に要望。
橋下徹市長が「久保田君一人を救えないなら政治なんて要りません」と応じ、大阪府が同4月、入院中の高校生に非常勤講師を派遣する契機になった。久保田さんを含め、これまで8人がこの制度を利用したという。同5月に再発し、余命3ヶ月から半年とされたが、同11月には「これから入院する人、自分よりつらい思いをしている人のために役に立ちたい」と、子供の特定疾患の医療費給付制度の改善を求め国に要望書を提出するなどの活動も行っていた。病状は悪化していたものの進学を強く願い今年1月19日、20日のセンター試験も受験。その後、容体が急変し短い生涯を閉じた。

「夢へ全力 思い継ぐ」・「病院で授業」久保田さん・「センター試験 再発負けず懸命に」

「思っていても、行動に移さないと何も変わらない」。小児がんの一種「ユーイング肉腫」で1月30日に亡くなった大阪府大手前高校3年、久保田鈴之介さん(18)=大阪市旭区=は難病患者の学習環境の改善に向けて取り組む理由をこう語っていた。自らの経験から難病患者を救う仕事に就きたいという夢を持ち、勉強に励み続けた。その死は早すぎたが、久保田さんが抱いた「夢」や「志」は多くの人に受け継がれた。

橋下市長「僕もエネルギーをもらった」
久保田さんは高校生対象の院内学級設置を求めるメールを市に送った昨年1月、病気をいったん克服し退院した。その後は、週一回の通院を続けながら勉学にいそしんでいた。できるだけ授業に穴をあけずに通院しようと、昼休みと放課後を使って病院に通った。母の美鈴さん(49)が「無理せんでもええやん」と言っても「戻るわ」と言って急いで学校に戻り、剣道部では主将も努め部員をまとめていた。しかし、昨年5月20日の夜、胸に痛みを感じ再発が分かった。余命は3ヶ月から半年と宣告されていたが、将来の希望を捨てず勉強を怠ることはなかった。見舞いに訪れた教師には「どんな課題をやればいいですか」と積極的に尋ね、学校でのテストは痛み止めの薬が入った携帯用の医療機器を2つ持ち、投薬しながら受けた。家族は余命宣告のことは久保田さんに伝えていなかったが、美鈴さんは「自分の体のようすは分かっていたと思う。それでも世界中に患者はいるから、その人のために何かできないかなって考えていた」。昨年末にはさらに体調が悪化。立つことも、食事をとることもできない状態になったが、亡くなる直前に行われた1月19日、20日のセンター試験には車いすで向い特別室で受験した。1科目終了するごとに横になりながら、必死の思いで全教科の試験をこなした。その頃には言葉を一言発するのも難しくなっていたが、見舞いに来た友人たちにも気遣う言葉をかけ続けていたといい、同級生らに「一緒に卒業しような」と励まされ、3月1日の卒業式を楽しみにしていた。亡くなる前日も、親指をあげて「頑張る」と力を振り絞っていたという。2月3日に営まれた通夜には、千人以上が参列した。葬儀には橋下徹市長も「提案してくれた院内高校は制度化され、入院する高校生の希望の光になった。鈴之介君の頑張りを思い出すたび、僕もエネルギーをもらった」とメッセージを寄せた。
剣道部の仲間たちも「闘病中でも最後まで試合に出続けた姿はみんなの心に残り続ける」と遺影に語りかけた。卒業式では学校が久保田さんのための卒業証書を用意する予定だ。また、がん患者の支援を目的とするチャリティーイベント「リレー・フォー・ライフ」の大阪での開催地の一つが今年は大手前高校に決まった。父の一男さん(51)は息子が20歳になって一緒に酒を飲むことを楽しみにしていたという。一男さんは「高校生として、自分に与えられた使命はどんな状況でもやり尽くす気持ちがあったと思う。何に対しても逃げない正々堂々とした生き方を貫いていた」と静に語った。

Eikenkai February 2013

We had our first keiko of the year on a sunny Sunday morning on February 24th… and it was a good one! Jam-packed, we had nearly 30 kenshi in the dojo representing 11 countries, 8 prefectures, and almost every continent (Africa and Antarctica were absent). We had university students, a high school teacher, a science researcher, past-current-and-soon-to-be national team members, a director of international business of a large kendo equipment company, and a restaurant owner amongst other things.

The university students came from: Osaka City University, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific university, and the International Budo University. The last one is a private university that specialises in turning out P.E. teachers, policemen and women, and professional sportspeople. The have a one-year budo course aimed at non-Japanese people. The students on this course choose either kendo or judo to specialise in. This current year has 8 people on the kendo course, 5 of which attended todays Eikenkai session.

Keiko consisted of the usual 45-30-45 format: 45 minutes of kihon, 30 minutes of waza practise, and about 45 minutes of jigeiko. By the end everyone was tired but happy!!

After keiko we took a short stroll through the beautiful Sumiyoshi Taisha before sitting down to eat okonomiyaki at our usual place. After eating, we continued drinking and chatting into the evening.

The term 交剣知愛 (kokenchiai) is commonly used in kendo circles; we, however, have our own word that describes what we do here at Eikenkai: 英剣知愛 (eikenchiai)!!

The next session will be help on Sunday April 28th 2013. The following day is a national holiday and the Todofuken-Taikai (All Japan prefectural teams championships) will be held in Osaka. If you are in town, please come for keiko!!