Womens kendo in Japan: a survey

The following is a very brief synopsis of questionnaire results that were featured in an article by Kendo Nippon (Dec 2008) entitled “女性剣士の現状と「これから」” (The present condition of womens kendo and its future). I will list the questions and there results but will leave you to draw your own conclusions from there or to discuss in the comments. If you want to find out more then please buy the magazine!


Q1. Do you feel its necessary to have a “female quality” in kendo? (剣道において、「女性らしさ」の必要性を感じるか?)

Feel that it is: 66%
Feel that it isn’t: 22%
Other: 12%

Q2. Are there times when you feel that practising kendo as a woman is inconvenient? (女性は剣道を行なう上で、どのような時に不便を感じるか?)

12 respondents – Family doesn’t support me
9 respondents – Can’t ensure the Keiko time/place
7 respondents – No or few keiko partners
6 respondents – In the evening/holidays I can’t go to keiko
6 respondents – Its incompatible with my job
5 respondents – Feel a difference between the level of the mens keiko
4 respondents – Easily get sick
4 respondents – Period / period pains
3 respondents – Can’t take part in a shiai (can’t make a team)
2 respondents – I have other things that are more important
8 respondents – Others

Continue reading Womens kendo in Japan: a survey

Lose and cut

Recently I’ve had a few people telling me the same thing: I take it easy in ippon shoubu, and need to attack more. For most people who know me and how much I thoroughly hate losing, this might raise a chuckle. After all, how can I have produced the results I have to date by being lazy in ippon shoubu of all things? And one thing I love doing is the old barrage attack that overwhelms people into making mistakes.

So this got me thinking, what am I supposed to think about or do with advice like this? Inevitably, it’s when I am practicing with older people. Since coming to Japan I’ve heard it or it’s equivalent four times, and all from people who are either considerably older than me (ie a good twenty years) or from people watching my keiko with higher grades. Upon thinking about it I remember one consistent point between each keiko. I knew that if I moved, I was going to get hit, so instead of simply using my reach and speed (I’m always being encouraged to think past reach and speed), I tried to think around it and create a better or proper opportunity to allow me to attack freely. Weather I managed it or not is a different question, but the comments that came afterwards, from either the person I was practicing with or the busy body watching was that I should attack more against older people, or much higher grades.

Continue reading Lose and cut

Jodan Renaissance?

This year Kanagawa-kenkei’s (Kanagawa prefecture police force) Shodai Kenji won the 56th All Japan Championships. As a young policeman on his prefectural A-team, a 4th time entrant to the competition, and an extremely serious contender for being in the Japan national side for next years World Championships there is nothing surprising here. What might be surprising, however, is that he is a JODAN kenshi, and is the first to win the title using this kamae since 1983. Thats 25 years.

Some of my friends have said “if he wins, it will be the start of a new jodan boom” and the such like, but as someone on the ground here in Japan who goes to many shiai, i’d say we are well into a boom as we speak. For the last few years I have been noting that in shiai here – from high school level up – there are increasing numbers of jodan people, both male and female. Shodai’s win might help to accentuate things (or to validate peoples selection of the kamae) but I suggest that he is not the reason for it.

So what is? And why have I chosen to call it a “renaissance” rather than an “emergence?” Well, the second question is much easier to answer than the first, so let me start with that.

Continue reading Jodan Renaissance?

Kendo Places #1: Reigando 霊巌洞

I’d like to start the first in a series of short articles entitled “Kendo Places” by writing about a place that all kendo enthusiasts should visit at least once in their life and that is connected with one of the most famous swordsmen in Japanese history: REIGANDO.

Reigando (霊巌洞) is basically a small cave in the mountains close to Kumamoto city. It is on the grounds of the very old Unganzenji temple (雲巌禅寺), and it was here, in this cave, where Miyamoto Musashi was said to have written his treatise the Go Rin no Sho (五輪書) in the early 1640’s.

Myself, my friend, and my sempai and his family travelled there by car early one morning back in 2004. It was a cold morning and we were a bit hungover. I revisited the cave in 2013 and have added some pics from that visit here.

After a good 30 mins or so drive from Kumamoto we arrived at the area, only to be greeted by a big white Musashi statue. The year-long NHG Samurai-drama had been “Musashi” in 2003 and during that year there had been a Musashi-boom. Anywhere even remotely associated with Musashi got an overhaul and loads of new products flooded the market. This gleaming statue was evidence of that.

2007-reigando-05

Heading down from the carpark we arrived at Unganzenji temple. Its very small and had a tiny showcase area of Musashi-related treasure, such as clothes and bokuto said to be used by him.

Going through that there is what is the most impressive thing to be seen at the area: the Gohyakurakan (五百羅漢). This is a small hillside with 500 small jizo statues sitting in various postures (and in various states). Its quite eerie to look at, and it must be quite scary in the evenings!

Passing through there and you reach the steps to the cave itself. We all went up there and we hung around seeing if we could get some inspiration… perhaps our kendo would become better due to visiting the place? The flyer (pictured above) had an image of Musashi sitting on the big rock outside the cave contemplating… so we promptly did the same thing!!!!

2004-reigando-03

The popularity of Musashi inside and outside of Japan is undisputed. What we concretely know about his life is very little and subject to academic study and close scrutiny. Did Musashi even write the Gorinnosho is a question that cannot be answered. That he lived, and that parts of his tale did actually happen (though probably not the way they are said to have… the fight with Sasaki Kojiro at Ganryujima is an example of that) seem to be enough to fascinate people in this man. if you are interested in him and wish to tread in his steps, then I recommend that you pay a visit to Reigando. Its off the normal tourist routes and its a bit hard to get to, but if you are even slightly interested in studying a bit more about the history of kendo, I strongly recommend that you take the time out to visit this place.

After soaking in the atmosphere for a bit longer we headed back into Kumamoto and finished our Musashi-day with a trip to Kumamoto castle. All in all, a good day was had.


Gallery

Some snaps from my first visit in 2004 and another in 2013.


Information

Yahoo Map: here (Japanese)
Address: Kumamoto-ken, Kumamoto-shi, Matsuo-cho, Iwato 589
Phone number: 096-329-8854.
Access: There is very limited bus access, so please go by car (call for directions).
Times: 8am-5pm.
Cost: Parking is free, but it costs adult 200 yen, and children 100 yen to get in.

Links
* Flickr “reigando” tagged photos.
* Unganzenji and Reigando (Japanese)


Other places in the series will include Ganryujima, Yagyuzato, Kashima Jingu, etc etc. Watch this space. Contributions accepted.

How to pass hachidan

Here is the advice that was given to my favourite teacher just prior to him passing his hachidan on this 4th attempt at the age of 49 a few years ago. The advice was given to him by the shihan of my dojo, a kendo hanshi who was in the last class of 5 people to graduate Busen (the legendary Budo Senmon Gakko in Kyoto). He was told to:

気勢・剣勢・体勢をもって正しく打ち切る。気攻めで、相手の気と機をつかむ。それを自然と身体が覚える。

  • With a vigorous spirit and sword, and a good posture, be decisive (in your actions and cutting).
  • Apply pressure to your opponent by reading their intent and seizing his openings with a strong and confident spirit.
  • Do this until your body can react and move naturally.

Luckily he goes on to expand it point by point:

気勢:立合は、必死も大きな声を出し、懸かる気持ちをみせる。
剣勢:左手、右手の使用で剣先がおちる打ち。
体勢:右足の攻めと、左足の引き付け、打突後のさばき。
正しく打ち切る:色を掛けないで、打ち間から、捨て切る打ち。
気攻め:留めて留めて丹田から前に押し出し攻め。
気と機をつかむ:その攻めにより、相手の気剣体の動きと、心の動きを観、初太刀の攻防。

  • vigorous spirit: with a big kiai do your utmost to project your feeling of attack on your opponent;
  • vigorous sword: using both hands correctly cut decisively and strongly with the kensaki.;
  • posture: use your right foot to pressure the opponent, don’t forget to pull up your left foot always, and be careful of your movement after you strike;
  • cut decisively: without showing your intention to strike and from uchima, throw your whole body (sutemi) into the cut;
  • attacking with your spirit: hold the attack in your tanden until breaking point, whilst pressuring forwards;
  • Apply pressure to your opponent by reading their intent and seizing his openings: using your seme, study your opponents movements, both his kikentai and his heart. Pay particular attention to the attack/defence of the opening cut (shotachi).

On top of the advice he received, he then adds his own points:

基礎体力の充実:走り込み・腹筋・背筋・腕立て。
切り返し・打ち込み稽古:朝稽古での切り返し、打ち込み稽古の継続。地稽古の後、面の打ち込み稽古。
基本技の継続:機を熟しての打ち切る技の反復。

  • Train your body to become stronger: run, do sit-ups, back stretches, and pushups;
  • Kirikaeshi / Uchikomigeiko: continually practise kirikaeshi and uchimomigeiko. After jigeiko, practise basic men cutting;
  • Continuation of kihon-waza practise: repeatedly execute decisive strikes at opportune moments.

This is a lot to digest, but just reading it has taken us all one step closer to hachidan!