Support kenshi 24/7 後援

After much convincing, cajoling, and arm-twisting from friends, I’ve set-up a Patreon page for kenshi 24/7. You may have already noticed the link in the sidebar, or after each post. Apart from those two links and this post you are reading now, I won’t particularly be doing much promotion, so if you are not interested please don’t worry, I won’t interrupt the usual posts with any hardcore sales pitch!

I started kenshi 24/7 started way back in 2008 (almost 10 years ago!), and since then we’ve posted hundreds of kendo/kendo-related articles as well as a number of publications. The site itself has been run – and will continue to always be – free. Book sales have kept the site running over the past while, but I do want to spend a bit more on the site, particularly to do the following:

  1. Improve the website (e.g. better hosting, more security, etc);
  2. Allow the site to be self-sustaining;
  3. Fund research (e.g. source material, go on fact-finding excursions, etc).

If I amazingly get a million supporters then any left-over support will go to helping my expensive shinai habit… !!

Anyway, long term readers know the score with kenshi 24/7, so I don’t want to go into any long spiel here. If you are interested, please check out the Patreon page and consider supporting the site.

Cheers!

George

One should always be ready for snakes and demons 鬼が出るか蛇が出るか

“It is the certainty that they possess the truth that makes men cruel.”

– Anatole France

I can’t remember the exact year, but I think it was way back in 1995 or maybe 6 when I first created a kendo website. I was studying computer science in university and had access to the something “new” called the World Wide Web (unknowingly I’d actually been using it in its pre-browser state from computers in high school a few years earlier, though I didn’t really know what it was I was really using).

Anyway, that first website I created was for what was to become Edinburgh Kendo Club and was relatively short lived. At the time I could only find 2 other kendo websites: one in Japan and one in Canada (I think). I contacted the people that ran both sites and we emailed each other a few times. Which site was first online I have no idea, but years later I was to meet and befriend someone who claimed the title, and we have come to the conclusion that we may have emailed each other back in 1995!

My next serious effort was the renewal and running of the British Kendo Association website from 2000-2003, until I came to Japan. It was around that time (2002?) that Kendo World popped up, and I probably have the honour of asking the first question on the forums (“When were zekken first used?”). Online forums were fine in the beginning but soon disenchanted me for various reasons.

After coming to Japan I ran a small private blog from 2003-5 for friends detailing my Japan kendo experience. One thing led to another and kenshi 24/7 was finally born in 2008.

Over the years (to my shame!) I’ve been involved in the odd forum battle or harsh worded email exchange… I know better now though. Luckily this site has only ever seen a very minute amount of trolling, which I generally sort out straight away. In a community as small as kendo is it’s relatively simple to track someone down even if they post anonymously, and nowadays people are more aware of this than they were and (generally) think twice before commenting. Good times!

However, a couple of weeks ago I was subjected to a new experience, something I’ve never had to deal with in 20+ years of active internet use and 30 odd years of martial arts practise: I received multiple harshly worded messages via email and Facebook threatening legal action for something I put online. Yeah, you read that correctly. I’ve already wasted too much time on the matter so I won’t go into the details here, but after giving them a very minor concession I said “Go ahead.”

Why I gave a (very minor) concession when none was actually called for will hopefully become apparent below as I use this negative experience as the jump-off point to a larger discussion on kendo in particular and budo in general. Specifically, the whole situation made me realise one thing and reminded me of another.


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Dealing with bullies and over-aggressiveness during keiko

In our daily-lives, whether it be in the office, commuting to work on the train or by car in the morning, or perhaps online, we may find ourselves confronted with bullies or over-aggressive people. I’m sure everyone has their own ways in dealing with the situation, but I’m going to take this opportunity and look at how we perhaps should deal with people we meet like this in the dojo. To be honest, everything I’m about to write here isn’t revelatory, and probably applies to daily-life situations as well.

Heijoshin (n.)

A disciplined state of mind which can respond to changes in a situation in a calm, normal manner, without becoming agitated.

– Japanese-English dictionary of kendo

To be continuously in a state of heijoshin, “normal mind,” is the holy grail of not only martial arts practitioners, but people in various fields of endeavour and walks of life. Teachers, lawyers, military personnel, parents, etc. etc., all seek to remain calm no matter what difficulty faces them, whether it is suddenly thrust upon them or is something that develops over time. The loss of this state of mind is described in kendo terms as a “sickness” and simply described comprises of four elements: surprise, fear, doubt, and hesitation (Kyo-Ku-Gi-Waku).

Surprise is when the opponent does something unexpected, throwing your concentration off for an instant and leading to the inability to act. Fear may occur when faced with a physically stronger or technically superior opponent, or perhaps when you are scared to lose a bout. When facing an opponent who you can’t read or whose kendo style you are unsure about you may start to doubt your ability to deal with them, causing indecisiveness. Lastly, hesitation occurs when you are confused mentally about what to do against your opponent, causing indecision and stiffness of action. Of course, there is some overlap within these descriptions.

Obviously, when faced with bullies or over-aggressive people in the dojo, we should do our best not to fall prey to any of these sicknesses, and keep our state of heijoshin. I have a couple of methods that I’ll share today.

1. Don’t step back

When people are super aggressive or attacking randomly with intent to somehow beat you up I find that stepping back makes it worse – they think that their strategy is winning and they go for it even more. In circumstances like this I often step in to a closer distance to inhibit their strikes. If this causes them to start pushing at tsubazeria, just move around them. Relax, take your time, and choose your strikes wisely.

Actually, I often find that mean spirited over-aggressiveness comes from a lack of technical ability. Hopefully, if you bide your time and strike them at your own pace, they will eventually tire, give up, and – after a good strike – concede defeat.

Of course, I understand that this is actually very hard to do in reality, which leads me to number 2.

2. Let them “win”

As you may have guessed, I’ve found myself facing overly-aggressive people many times. Surprisingly quite a few of them have been visitors from abroad who have come to my dojo in Osaka and try to beat me up! But it’s not only aggressive visitors that I’ve had to deal with: when I take part in large godo-geiko sessions here in Osaka, Japanese high school and university students in particular quite often attempt to “have a go” at the only gaijin in the dojo.

Anyway, faced with these types of people I generally move it into “ippon-shobu” pretty quickly. What I tend to do is (of course I don’t step back or back down) go quickly for a decisive ippon. If they don’t concede I’ll do it again. Usually – because of pride and ego – these type of people find it hard to concede defeat so, in the end, after maybe 2 or 3 good strikes, I (subtly) allow them to strike me.

If it is someone I don’t know or barely know I end by saying “that was a great ippon, you are really good!” and bow. Visitors may go back to their home country and say “Yeah, I beat up that kenshi 24/7 guy good!” or students back to their school and say “I totally killed that gaijin!” but, meh, I don’t care!

3. Worst case scenario

Usually 2 will satisfy the ego of most people like this but if it doesn’t the only real option you have is to make up an excuse (“feel sick” … “shinai is broken”…), sonkyo, and end the bout.

Question 1: What if the over-aggressive bully is my sempai or sensei?

This is a tricky one. Here in Japan I can easily pick-and-choose the people that I keiko with. In places with a smaller kendo population or where people are relatively inexperienced technically (which can lead to aggressiveness and bullying to make up for their lack of ability), I think the only really thing you can do is to confront the person and have a frank discussion. If they don’t change their ways then, eventually, people will realise them for what they are and leave.

Remember the hubris of Satan: “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n.”

Question 2: What if it happens during shiai?

When it comes to shiai most people think (wrongly) that the gloves are off and decorum goes out the window. In this case you basically have to rely on the judgement of the shinpan. If the shinpan are inexperienced and can’t keep malicious aggressiveness in check, then they shouldn’t be on the floor. Nevertheless, if you do find yourself in such a situation just try to keep calm…

Of course there are many other ways you can get around bullies and overly-aggressive people, and many more questions you could ask, but these generally show how I approach the matter. I’d love to hear readers experiences and strategies when in situations like this – please comment here or on facebook!


iai

Budo as an automatic means to character development

Have a look at this quote from Alex Bennet’s excellent new publication “Kendo: Culture of the sword” (I don’t think Alex would mind if you replaced “kendo” with “budo” for the sake of this discussion):

“… although I have been a devoted kendo practitioner for over two decades and truly believe in the potential kendo has for positive personal cultivation, I am enormously wary of the common attitude that one can become a “good person” just by taking up kendo…

Kendo certainly provides a technical and philosophical framework for physical, psychological, and even moral progression. However, whether or how closely the framework is interpreted and utilised depends entirely on the individual.”

– Kendo: Culture of the Sword (p192-3). Bennet.

Reading this on the way to Tokyo last month it struck me that Alex and I have come to pretty much exactly the same conclusion on the matter. I have attempted to tackle the subject a few times from various angles here on kenshi 24/7 before (see related articles below) as well as within my publications. Basically, the quote above says it all: budo can be used as a means to character development should an individual choose to use it as such.

As the discussion on bullying and aggression suggests above, and as this entire post implies, there are plenty of people who practise martial arts who are not necessarily friendly or the nicest of people. The point is of course that budo practise only helps makes you a “good person” should you choose to use it to do so. Like Alex, we should all be “enormously wary” about assuming budo practitioners are inherently good and – this is a related key point – that high grades or impressive titles are an indication of moral authority.


2014-katsuoji

Final comments

Reading this you may think that I’m somehow often targeted by bullies and overly-aggressive people… actually, nothing can be further from the truth. 99.999% of the people I deal with in my life, inside and outside of the dojo, online and offline, are awesome people. I have a great budo life here in Japan! It’s just that – every now and again – the odd character comes along to spoil the party. Unfortunately that’s just life. However, there is one thing that I thank these people for: they help me realise how NOT to act!



Related kenshi 24/7 articles

The following articles are related (in someway or another) to the discussion here.

Don’t forget to support kenshi 24/7 by picking up one of our publications or sharing our dedicated publication website.

I hope you found something of worth in this article. Cheers!

Keiko in Osaka

This post was originally entitled “Keiko in Osaka before and after the World Kendo Championships.” Since the championships are finished I have amended it to act as a general introduction for kendo in Osaka.

Recently I’ve been getting a lot of messages about doing keiko in Osaka. So many requests are coming, in fact, that it’s hard to keep track anymore… so, rather than deal with them individually, I’ve created the following post detailing information about a couple of dojo in Osaka that are open to visitors from abroad: Yoseikai and Shudokan. There are of course many other dojo in the city, but these are by far the easiest to go to.

First of all, read the Kendo In Japan Cheat Sheet.


YOSEIKAI is a dojo situated in Namba in the heart of the city. I have been associated with this dojo for over a decade now, though I rarely attend anymore. However, don’t let me attendance or non-attendance influence whether you go or not: either way feel free to go!

Check out Yoseikai’s English information page here.

Yoseikai

Location: Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium (currently branded “Edion Arena Osaka’)

Station: Osaka Subway Midosuji line, Namba station. The dojo is 5 minutes walk from exit 5.

Cost: 500 yen / session

Time: 19:00-20:15pm unless specified otherwise.

Schedule: View it online here (in Japanese but easy to understand).

Online: http://kenshi247.net/yoseikai/

Keiko flow: suburi (5 mins) -> kihongeiko (15+ mins) -> uchikomigeiko (5 mins) -> jigeiko (remainder)

Notes: Turn up early. Write your name on the form (English ok) and put 500 yen in the box. Someone will probably come and chat to you. Change and bring all your stuff into the dojo. Follow along. If you can speak Japanese – even a little bit – go and say hello and introduce yourself to the sensei.


SHUDOKAN is the dojo situated in Osaka Castle Park. It is owned and run by Osaka city and so is a 100% open practise. Keiko is held every weekday except for national holidays. I am not a member of this dojo and rarely go (despite working 4 minutes away!).

Shudokan

Location: Osaka Castle Park (the English maps located throughout the park have the dojo displayed)

Station: Any that gets you to Osaka Castle. Depending on the station and exit you take it could take between 10-25 mins to walk to the dojo.

Cost: 300 yen / session

Time: 18:30-19:40

Schedule: Every weekday evening except for national holidays.

Online: http://syudoukan.info/ (Japanese)

Keiko flow: The session changes depending on which sensei is taking it, but generally it goes: kihongeiko (20 mins) -> jigeiko (remainder)

Notes: Turn up early and go in through the BACK of the building. You need to fill in a form (ask the receptionist to help you) and hand it with 300 yen to the receptionist. The changing rooms are in the corridor at the back of the building. Once changed go to the dojo with all your stuff and wait for the children’s class to finish before entering. Follow along. As the dojo is 100% open, you don’t have to go and introduce yourself to anyway, though someone may come and speak to you.


Further information

Q) Do I need to contact you?

Not anymore!

Q) Do I need to speak Japanese?

Nope.

Q) I am a beginner, can I join in?

If you have bogu and shinai, go ahead. If not, no.

Q) I need equipment, where do I get it?

You have 2 options:

1. Visit Tsurugi Budogu, a kendo shop next to Yoseikai (homepage / facebook)
2. Order it from All Japan Budogu (maybe they will send something to your hotel).

Q) Can you introduce me to another dojo / XYZ dojo?

Nope.

Q) Is there anywhere I can ask for more information?

I’m extremely busy and may not get back to you promptly, but you are free to message me on the kenshi 24/7 facebook page.

Pictorial look back over 2014 振りかえる

I promised myself and kenshi 24/7 readers that I’d write at least one or maybe two new articles before the years end but, hands up, I’ve run out of time. Mainly this has been because kendo doesn’t slow down for the end of the year, it speeds up !! So for the last post of the year I’m going to be a chicken and simply re-post some of the best pictures that were used in articles this year (plus a couple of videos).

Thanks for reading kenshi 24/7 – see you next year !!!

Some naming guidelines

One of the turning points in a budoka’s lifetime is when he or she is given teaching responsibilities. This is not a sudden thing of-course, and they are expected to continue study under their sensei (and sempai) for years to come. Eventually the budoka becomes a senior teacher and may either take over their sensei’s position or even leave to start a new group. This is of-course an orthodox/ideal path. Some people are suddenly found – for no reason other than chance – that they have to become a leader of a group, or – for more personal reasons – decide to start a group earlier than expected*.

When a new group is started one of the first things to decide is what you call yourselves. Unfortunately, in the Japanese budo community today (across many martial arts) there are some strange names in use. Usually this is through no fault of their own, but simply a lack of Japanese language skills. In the internet age it should be easier to do some research into whats-good-and-whats-strange, and with more people coming to Japan to study budo (and the language) I imagine group-naming will improve.

Personally I have been involved in inheriting a group suddenly, have created my own group, and have been involved in advising people on what to call their new groups over the past few years. Although I cannot tell you what to name your own group, hopefully this small article can help you choose a name – if you choose to use something Japanese – that won’t cause potential awkwardness in the future (believe me, I’ve seen it!).

Note that I’ve used ‘group’ throughout the introduction, the reason for which will become clear below.

* You cannot open a new group under the auspice of the Osaka kendo federation unless you are nanadan


Before we even start to talk about what to call your group, the easiest thing to determine is which SUFFIX you should use. Budo groups in Japan follow some pretty standard rules, so lets have a look at some good examples to explain what I mean:

Mid 19th century-pre-war schools:

tobuKAN (Ozawa Torakichi. Built 1874.)
shumpuKAN (Yamaoka Tesshu. Built 1882.)
museiDO (dai-yon kotogakko bujutsu dojo. Built 1887)
meishinKAN (Takano Sasaburo. Built 1890.)
Waseda daigaku gekkikenBU (Naito Takaharu. Founded 1897)
butokuDEN (Butokukai. Built 1899.)
shudogakuIN (Takano Sasaburo. Built 1918.)
Noma DOJO (Noma Seiji. Built 1925.)

Modern kendo/iaido/etc schools and spaces (I’ve used those that I am involved in):

yoseiKAI (Osaka)
eikenKAI (Osaka)
sumiyoshi budoKAN (Osaka)
nippon budoKAN (Tokyo)
edinburgh kendo CLUB (Edinburgh)

Suffixes are split into two types, depending on your relationship to your physical structure/keiko space:

    1. Physical structures

KAN

The kanji 館 (kan) refers to a hall or building, usually of large size. Originally it referred to a guesthouse/eatery. KAN is used in everyday Japanese in words like bujitsuKAN/hakubutsuKAN (art/history museum), toshoKAN (library), bunkaKAN (cultural centre), etc etc.

Budo-wise, if you are using KAN then you should be referring to a solid, unmoving building, probably – but not necessarily – large. Inside this structure you could have a single keiko space, or many; multiple groups (with different names) could be using it.

IN

The kanji 院 originally designated a larged fenced structure but has over time come to means something that is connected with the state (including schools and hospitals), and includes religion. In everyday Japanese you can see this in byoIN (hospital), daigakuIN (graduate university), and the names of scores of temples, e.g. byodoIN in Kyoto.

Budo-wise its similar to KAN above but has a more spiritual or educational sounding quality to it. Perhaps it is connected to a religious facility or/and also offers education classes of some sort.

DEN / TO

Den 殿 and TO(DO) 堂 also refer to specific halls or structures, but nowhere as large as KAN or IN above. TO has basically no other meaning than “hall” but DEN can refer to military barracks.

Budo-wise these suffixes are the least used, especially nowadays.

DOJO

The meaning of dojo 道場 has a few connotations in the English language now and has its own usage that is different from Japanese, which makes explanation here difficult. Let me try and explain it from an ex-pat living in Japans view.

The original term is said to have come from Buddhist terminology (translated from Sanskrit to Chinese), and refers to the location where Shakyamuni reached enlightenment. After that it was used in China for a period to refer to temples and from there eventually came into Japan via Buddhism.

The use of the term in the budo community is said to have started only in the Meiji period (1868+), before then places to keiko were simply called keiko-BA (場) or keiko-location/spot. There was no mysterious or psychological connotations in the BA usage, so whomever decided to first use the term DOJO probably had a more esoteric goal in sight. Its important to note that the JO in doJO and the BA in keiko-BA are the same kanji.

In Japan nowadays, a dojo is used to refer to a place where some sort of study is taking part. Like using the verb KEIKO (稽古 practise of something that requires a ‘more’ ascetic training) instead of RENSHU (練習 physical or mental practise of something), saying your are going to do “yoga KEIKO at the DOJO” sounds more esoteric and cool… almost like you are putting in more effort. There are even English conversation dojo’s nowadays.

So, budo-wise, a dojo has come to mean a physical location where you practise (keiko) your art (or follow your “way”). However, almost no group calls themselves “X-DOJO” unless its a physically location privately owned by an individual or a family, e.g. Noma Dojo or the nickname for Chiba Shusaku’s Genbukan, Chiba dojo.

A large structure (i.e. a KAN or an IN) may have multiple dojo inside it with different names. Large sports centres in Japan (and many schools/universities) often have 1 or 2 dojo built in, usually called “Number 1 dojo” and “Number 2 dojo” (or “big” and “small”) or sometimes “kendo-JO,” “judo-JO,” or “budo-JO” (the only difference usually being if tatami is down or not).

As you can see here, there are 2 things happening here: a) a ‘dojo’ as a physical unmoving space, and b) a ‘dojo’ as some sort of conceptual place to practise a ‘way.’ Its my believe that the latter is a very modern construct, perhaps born out of the fact that many groups no longer own their own space now.

Anyway, even if you don’t own your practise space, its still common to call it a dojo but you wouldn’t call your group that.

    2. Groups

Unless you practise kendo in a privately owned physically location then you fall into this category.

KAI (club)

Almost every group who practices a martial art in Japan but that doesn’t own their practise space calls their group x-KAI (会). Its by far and away the most common suffix in use for not only budo clubs, but many many other types of association or even one-of assemblies (e.g. taiKAI). Its also relatively common in Japan to use the term クラブ (club) to refer to a group. There is absolutely no difference in the terms KAI and CLUB.

KAI’s often practise in physical keiko spaces as described above, but also school or sport centre kendo-JO’s, gymnasiums etc.

Popular variations on KAI are x-KEN-YU-KAI (x剣友会) and x-KEIKO-KAI (x稽古会). KEN is obviously, the YU portion is the kanji for friend. Keikokai have a more friendly, relaxed feel to it… like a group of friends who get together without for a bash (with no instruction).

If you have a group (KAI/CLUB) that teaches, for example, both kendo and iaido then you may have an umbrella KAI-name for your group, and then a kendo-BU and iaido-BU under that (see below).

BU

The kanji 部 simply means “department” or “club/team” and is almost always used to refer to groups in schools, universities, and business. e.g. Panasonic kendo-BU or Tokyo University kendo-BU. They may or may not practise in a fixed physical location. e.g. The Imperial guards kendo-BU in Tokyo practise in SaineiKAN, but the Sogo-keibi-kendo-BU (a well known security guards team) in Osaka rotate around different sports centres, some dojo called “Number 1” and others with names.

KYOSHITSU / JUKU

Kyoshitsu (教室) is a basic term that means “class(room).” Although not as popular as KAI you do see x-kendo-kyoshitsu now and then, and it usual infers teaching children.

Juku (塾) is another seldom used term that insinuates some sort of coaching going on. In daily Japanese it simply refers to the cram schools that students commonly go to after school.


Suffix done, what about the rest?

Ok, so thats the easy bit done: you’ve decided on x-KAI or whatever, but what do you put before that? When thinking of a name, many groups naturally want to use Japanese. Thats great but it can be fraught with difficulties. The best bet is to ask an experienced Japanese teacher for some naming possibilities or ask someone who is fluent in Japanese to do some research. Remember individual kanji can have multiple meanings as well as readings, and its always best to check that the meaning in Japanese AND Chinese is ok, as they don’t always match. What you pick is ultimately your decision, so choose wisely.

The first situation where I was involved in name-choosing was when I (suddenly and unexpectedly) inherited what was to become Edinburgh Kendo Club. The current name of the club was a nice Japanese one, but after searching on the internet I found quite a few places (across different martial arts) with the same name. So – after some research and chatting to my Japanese kendo friends – I renamed the club simply to “Edinburgh Kendo Club.” In Japanese I simply changed the CLUB to KAI… which I probably didn’t need to! The club name now did exactly what it says on the tin. Another group I named is Eikenkai (the 英 taking the double meaning of me being British and also that many members speak English). Over the years I’ve helped in the naming of a few groups, and I almost always suggest something plain, easily understandable, and vetted for accuracy.


Please note that these are guidelines – what you choose to call your group is up to you, but if you use Japanese please take some time to research the ‘correctness’ of it. There are also exceptions to these guidelines even in Japan itself. Anyway, I hope this article was of use!