The fourth instalment of my March book project will look at a handful of books that are primarily for children. I guess many kenshi 24/7 readers aren’t too interested in kids kendo books and, honestly, neither am I very much. However, when flicking though the books I realised one area that they can be of great benefit: as a Japanese learning tool.
In a (now archived) article I wrote back in October 2008 I discussed the benefits of studying Japanese for the serious kendoka. Let me resurrect the body of that post for you now:
I live here so I need to use Japanese in my daily business (work, kendo, buying beer, etc), but for those of you that live outside Japan and practise kendo, what’s your take on whether learning Japanese for budo (kendo et al): is it a good or a bad thing? Actually, lets go one step further: is it a necessity or or is not?
Are there any benefits to your study, either physically or mentally, by learning Japanese? Can you learn kendo (for example) without Japanese and still “get” kendo? If you don’t fully understand the more intricate nuances of budo terminology does it even matter? etc etc.
If you have a look at the (very modern) definitions of both BUDO (1987) and KENDO (1975), it would suggest that the study of things like kendo go above and beyond mere “Japaneseness” and are separate from – not only Japanese culture (including language) – but any culture (historical references withstanding).
My personal viewpoint is this: by not understanding or, much more importantly, by not making an effort to understand the Japanese terminology that is used within our everyday practise, then I suggest that you will be forever underexposed to the full breadth of the thing that we call “kendo” (and “budo”).
I believe that kendo (and perhaps “budo” in general) cannot be separated from its “Japaneseness” without making it something else (for better or worse). This includes, of-course, our day-to-day in-the-dojo vocabulary set.
This might sound like me saying “learn Japanese and understand the truth” but please don’t misconstrue what I mean. I think there is a new definition shaping outside of Japan as to what KENDO/BUDO means and what its aims are. This is a natural thing and something that comes from people having a long exposure to the art. Surely a localisation of meaning is not only natural, but something to be celebrated? Hand in hand with this localisation you have, of course, less emphasis on Japanese language as a core transmission vehicle for the art(s), and new definitions of words being written (if Japanese is even being used).
However, there is a danger: I was taught many Japanese words throughout the years of my training only to find out much later that many of the words/concepts explained to me were in fact conveyed inaccurately. This was not deliberate of-course, just a by product of studying something as “Japanese” as kendo, but without Japanese language proficiency on the side of the teacher (and the student).
At any rate, I don’t think anyone would deny that knowledge of Japanese won’t help you to understand some of the more physical and (more pointedly) metaphysical concepts that underpin everyday budo practise, and that people can reach the highest levels of budo ability without speaking Japanese; I will always reserve a little bit more respect, however, for those that do go out of the way and add – to the already hard task of learning budo – the study of Japanese as part of their shugyo. If you haven’t already, why don’t you give it a go?
I think that even if you disagree with what I tried to say back in 2008 I think you might concede the general gist: that knowledge of Japanese increases the breadth of kendo/budo knowledge available to you (whether thats verbal or written), and that this can only be an aid in your study. It is with this in mind that I look at todays handful of books.
All the books shown today are completely in Japanese but they are all written simply and, more importantly for those wishing to use them as study tools, with furigana.
Parents and kids kendo classroom / Kids kendo primer
By complete coincidence, both of these children kendo books were written by the same gentleman – Tsukuba university professor Tsuboi Saburo – and both were released in 1980.
Although the funny drawings in the inside of both make them without a doubt kids books both, surprisingly, cover a large breadth of information. From the history of kendo dating back hundreds of years (including details of famous kenshi and ryuha) up to the more mundane things such as explanations of different keikogi patterns and how to tie all the knots on the shinai, these books have it all. Also included are keiko plans, waza explanations, kata, shiai rules, shinpan movement, etc etc etc., probably anything you care to mention. And all in very easy to understand Japanese.
I think either book can be picked up second hand for a handful of yen and can, in my opinion, serve as a great way to study Japanese via a topic you like.
Kendo manga textbook series 1-7
You’ve probably seen one or two of these books before. This is a series of textbooks in manga style that goes through the ins-and-outs of kendo. The series of 7 books I have deal with basics, techniques, shiai, kata, shiai rules, kendo knowledge, and gradings. They are aimed at primary school kids and as such as super easy to understand. If you are learning Japanese and are looking for easy kendo material to help you do so, you can’t go wrong with these books.
The top two books are by the same author and the bottom picture shows the manga series.