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!!


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 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.


(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 !):


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.


難病の子供たちへ 尽くした命」・「病院で授業」訴え実る



「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」



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!!

Kendo photography

I started taking kendo pics back around 2003-4 with a small point and shoot camera and, after a few iterations of pretty low-end cameras, have settled on reasonably cost effective setup that allows me to take pics in a variety of situations, both for pleasure and images for use on this website. Since I get a lot more likes on pictures than articles on facebook, and because a lot of people ask me about the equipment I use, I thought I’d share my current setup as well as some sample images over the last 10 years using a variety of (mostly very) cheap cameras. Putting this post together has also allowed me to look to see how my technique has (or has not) matured over this time.

Basically, my current setup is as follows –

Digital: Sony Nex 5n (kit lenses 16mm/2.8 and 18-55/3.5-5.6; also use a nikon lens adapter)
Film: Nikon FM2n (primarily Nikkor 50mm/1.8; still experimenting with films; negatives self-scanned)
Mobile: iPhone 5 (instagram and/or KitCam for processing)

Nothing special nor professional, and nothing too expensive!

Please note that all photos are copyright yours truly. Downloading for use as desktop wallpaper is cool, but no unauthorised commercial use please. Cheers!

2003-7 Casio ExSlim-z40


2007-8 Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30

2007 February. Panasonic Lumix.


2008-11 Nikon D40





2011+ Sony Nex5n





2012+ Nikon FM2n




2012 Point-and-shoot test with a Nikon Coolpix P310 (i.e. can I pull some decent images from a point and shoot?)


In my experience…

For me, personally, a good kendo picture is about timing and location rather than the sharpness or quality of the image produced.

As you might have noticed in the above selection, all the kenshi are in kamae or are watching/waiting rather than actually striking. With the nex5, I can easily put the shooting mode on continuous and take a burst of 10 shots/second.. in fact, I had great fun doing exactly that when I got the camera at first. Wading through the hundreds of images I would produce per fight, I could easily find 1 or 2 of clear strikes. However, the whole thing became old and rather boring quickly. Not to mention the hassle involved. Looking at the pictures I produced I also realised that I preferred to see my pictures showing ‘semeai’ or to catch the kenshi in a moment of reflection (catching facial features can be hard). Of course, I do like to take the odd ‘exact strike’ shot, but when I am doing that I stand in kamae with my camera, and take the shot as if it is a debana-men… !

Location, also, I think is vitally important. For me, kendo has to be done in a dojo. There nothing worse (for me) than seeing kendo photography done on a colour-lined basketball court or something similar. I realise that this isn’t always possible to avoid (I take pics like this as well, though I don’t like to), especially for kenshi247 readers abroad without a ‘real’ dojo. My access to a variety of dojo is probably my only advantage over other camera-loving kendo friends abroad. A way to get around this of course, is to bokeh the background out.

There are a few other things I could chat about here, but nothing extraordinary – my kendo-photography philosophy is pretty simple… just like my kendo style!

Other pics from yours truly can be seen on:

my public kendo photo album on facebook

Also check out the flickr ART OF KENDO group for brilliant kendo pics from around the world.

Kendo kotoba

Kendo kotoba

I wandered into the dojo a week or so back, and overnight my sensei had written and taped some kendo-specific kanji to the wall (see picture above).

The terms are very commonly used when talking about or describing kendo, but I thought I’d use this this opportunity to go over them here. As an added bonus, his handwriting is beautiful – enjoy!

For each term I will present the ‘official’ translations available from the Japanese-English dictionary of kendo where available (italicised), then supplement my own additions after that. The final version of my additions became somewhat larger than I intended, sorry!

The descriptions of the words are written below as the appear on the picture from top-bottom and right-left (the traditional direction of Japanese writing). Pay careful attention to the order that the vocabulary are presented in, as its not random.


The act of vocalising. The act of shouting at the opponent when facing each other. The act of shouting kote, men, do, when striking.

KIAI (気合)

The state where one is fully focused on the opponents move and one’s planned moves. Also, it refers to the vocalisations one produced when in such a state of mind.

The words hassei, kiai, and (not mentioned above) kakegoe, are three – at times – overlapping and interrelated words that we in the English kendo community commonly package (mistakenly) into single word: kiai. Why is this mistaken? Basically, kiai refers to a feeling of focus and determination, an internal will or drive to do something (e.g. desire to pass an exam, determination to ask a girl you like out on a date, etc). Sometimes (though not always) this is expressed vocally as a shout. We are in the habit of calling this kiai, but its probably more correctly termed kagekoe. Hassei is the act of doing kakegoe.


The strength of spirit to face any situation. Also called ki-gai. A strong mind capable of responding properly to a pressing matter or an attacking opponent.

To express kihaku in your kendo you would stand up and face your opponent without wavering. A power, both mental and physical, with which you face adversary. If your kendo lacks kihaku, its empty.

KI O KOROSU (気を殺す)

An important teaching concerning three ways to overwhelm an opponent. The three ways are ‘killing the ki (spirit),’ ‘killing the sword,’ and ‘killing the waza.’ Killing the ki means that one’s ki overwhelms the opponents ki, thereby forestalling his/her attack. Killing the sword means that one controls the movement of the tip of the opponent’s sword by restraining or deflecting the sword. Killing the waza means that one anticipates the opponent, giving him/her no chance to attack.

The order of the terms in the ‘official’ description above is misleading, and the descriptions simplified. The order that my sensei wrote it shows a flow of progression to maturity. When kenshi are in an immature stage they tend to attack their opponents by hitting their sword away, pushing and/or slapping it up or down, left and right, and jumping suddenly in to attack. As they become more experienced they start luring in the opponents attack and defeating them as they attempt to strike. The final stage of this progression, of the truly mature kenshi, is when they are able to overwhelm and control their opponent through mental power alone. It sounds a little bit fantastic but, as any experienced kenshi knows, it happens.

SEME (攻め)

To take the initiative to close the distance with the opponent in full spirit. This puts the opponent off balance mentally and physically and prevents him/her from moving freely. This enables one to maintain a constant advantage over the opponent. In kendo its important to intentionally attack and strike, not to just strike by chance. The back and forth action of offense and defense involved in seme (attacks) and seme-kaesu (counterattacks) not only improves the skill of both players but also develops their minds and bodies. All of this leads to the mutual self-creation of both people and to the building of human character.

Here, my sensei has broken the act of seme into three parts. Seme-komu is the act of driving in for the attack. This can be in a physical or mental sense. Seme-kiru is the act of finalisation of the strike, and Seme-katsu refers to victory as consequence of the attack. Seme is not something singular but, rather, has its own progression. Seme without seme-kiru or seme-katsu leads to nothing.

KOKYU (呼吸)

The act of inhaling and exhaling. In kendo this term also means to predict the opponent’s movement and adjust one’s moves accordingly as part of the interaction with the opponent.

KI (気)

The basic energy which exists in all matter that is born, develops, and dies. In human beings, it is the source of the kinetic energy responsible for perception, sensation, and instinct. In kendo, it refers to the environment surrounding one’s self and one’s opponent, and it is the basic energy in making the functioning of one’s body and mind full and harmonious.

Breathing is taught little in modern kendo circles nowadays, mainly because even some of the most senior teachers aren’t schooled in the traditional breathing methods. AUN NO KOKYU is usually mentioned at this juncture. It is a method usually associated with zen meditation (and sometimes yoga) which refers to not only breathing, but a sort of mental harmony between you and your partner, with the goal being a unification with the entirety of existence.

Looking at the description of kokyu and ki above, you can see that kokyu’s function is to tap into ki. This results in gaining access to all the energy in the universe, becoming one with it. In other words, kendo is simply a physical activity (any activity would actually do) who’s purpose is to unite you with the universe. Your partner helps you with this… they are not the enemy, and winning/losing are irrelevant. Kendo’s final goal is revealed through kokyu.


Simply tapping or hitting your opponents armour is not good enough for ippon. It has to be a strong strike with good tenouchi. It should be strong enough that your opponent (and any watching shinpan or grading panel) can acknowledge the strike, but not so hard or heavy to cause injury or pain. The strike must be deliberate and definite.


The body posture and state of mind in which, even after striking, one is alert and ready to respond instantly to any counterattack by the opponent. Generally speaking, after striking one should put the proper distance between one’s self and the opponent and face him/her in the chudan posture in order to be ready for a possible counterattack. If one cannot move the proper distance from the opponent, one should put the tip of one’s shinai in the center or around the throat of the opponent to guard against a counterattack.

Zanshin is often mistakenly taken to be simply a physical state, as suggested in the description above. It also tends to be thought of something that comes after a strike. In actual fact, zanshin should exist in your kendo at all times, right from when you face your opponent and bow (ritsurei) until you finish. I might even go as far as to say that you should aim to be ‘switched on’ and aware at all times, whether that is in the dojo – you see a student looking tired and like they are about to collapse and make them sit out – or at the bar after keiko – you see your sempai is about to finish his beer and you quickly order the next one.

Minus the extra information I added in my additions, you can see that there is a logical progression from Hassei (kakegoe/kiai) through to Zanshin in the kanji shown above, from your first shout, through to pressure, attacking, and finally zanshin.

What we have described here then is, in the end, the act of hitting an ippon. I hope this extended definition of kendo terms is useful!!!