The kendo lifecycle 剣道のライフサイクル

(a.k.a.Kendo and you: what it means and how you approach it at various points in your life)

I started kendo at the comparatively late age of 19 (I’m 35 now) and, with only 16 years of practise under my belt, I can say with no false humility that my experience is pretty shallow… considering that many of my sempai and sensei have over 50 years of experience. During these 16 years the way that I have approached kendo – what it is and why I do it – has changed drastically. Part of that is, of course, simply because I have gotten older, and part of it is because of my current kendo situation: I am not only surrounded by highly experienced instructors (some of whom are professional kendo teachers) but I have also become – mostly through chance, but partially through design – a (high school) kendo teacher myself. I consider myself to be very lucky.

As my aim for practising has changed, so has my approach to kendo… not just in the way I swing my shinai, but how I aim to interact with my students, my kendo friends, my sempai, and my sensei, and how I conduct myself in these relationships. I have also seen a large change in how my sensei treat me. I guess that this change in approach is something that happens to everyone.

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The Swordsman and the Cat

The tale “Neko no Myojutsu” is from an old budo fable written by the samurai Niwa Jurozaemon Tadaaki (pen name Issai Chozanshi, 1659-1741) in 1727. To quote William Scott Wilson: “Little is known about the man.. but he was clearly acquainted with swordsmanship, philosophy, and art, and had made an extensive study of Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Shinto, and seems to have been familiar with the works of Musashi and the priest Takuan” (see references).

The story is a staple for those that study kendo/kenjutsu, or budo in general for that matter. I am sure most readers would have read Yagyu Munenori’s “Heiho Kadensho” and Miyamoto Musashi’s “Go rin no sho,” but I’m not sure if many have studied this.

The narrative features a swordsman called Shōken who is beset by a pesky rat. After the neighborhood cats fail to chase the rat away, the swordsman himself tries his hand at getting rid of the rat. Failing miserably himself, he calls on the help of a cat “widely known for her mysterious virtue as the most able rat-catcher.” This cat catches the rat with ease, and that evening all the cats get together to discuss the days events and the art of fighting rats.

It is not for me to attempt to spell out what the the short narrative seeks to illustrate, nor what lessons lie therein, I simple present it here as is, leaving the reader to make their own mind up. Grab yourself a cup of coffee/tea and enjoy!

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The reality of seme

The following is the translation of some notes written by Furuya Fukunosuke hanshi during a kendo lecture at a Yoseikai gasshuku in Nara, 2001*. Furuya hanshi sadly passed away in 2008 but his teachings have been recorded by one of his top students – Uegaki sensei – and published in book format. The book is not on sale to the public but I hope to post other items from it in the future.

I’ll stress that I didn’t attend these lectures. Whats presented here are translations of notes found in the book. As such, I can’t impart any of the verbal teachings behind the words. Apologies in advance.

* 95% of the following is from a gasshuku in 2001, the other 5% are additions from a different gasshuku in 1999 using notes of with a very similar theme.

The reality of seme

* The main components of seme:

  1. Capture the initiative with your spirit (気)… by doing this you can create openings (隙) allowing you to execute various waza;
  2. Control the center (中心)… forcing your opponents sword tip from the your center line, break his center and strike;
  3. Develop your understanding of advantageous spatial distance (Maai 間合い)… by this I mean understanding the spatial distance between you and your opponent and using it to your advantage.

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Kendo is…

Sawaki Kodo (沢木興道, 1880-1965) is considered by some to be the most important Japanese Zen master of the 20th century. His parents died early and he grew up being adopted by a gambler and an ex-prostitute. When he was 16, he ran away from home to become a monk at Eiheiji, one of the two main temples of Soto Zen. At first unsuccessful, he was finally ordained as a monk and began his Zen studies.

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The concept of kendo in action

The following is a translation of an extremely interesting hand written note given to Jim Gucciardo (NYC kendo club) by Nishino Goro hanshi in 1998.

Nishino Goro hanshi was born in 1923 in Kochi prefecture. After graduating from Tokyo Normal Higher School he became a school teacher in Hokkaido. After the war he returned to his home prefecture and worked as a high school teacher. He has taken part in the Senshuken Taikai (“All Japans”), the kyoshokuin taikai (All Japan teachers championshop), kokutai, etc. He is the honourary kendo teacher of Kochi Prefectures Medical University.

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