Seme #2: Sakudo Masao

Already well known in Japan, Osaka sports universities Sakudo sensei is becoming more and more well known outside of the country nowadays, so I thought I’d dig out a piece of kendo literature by him to share with kenshi247 readers. Here is a translation of a short description of ‘seme’ that was originally published in a Kendo Jidai article series called “Mei senshu, renma no hibi” (originally serialised in 1983-84). The series was published in a two book format called “renma no hibi” in 1989. At the time Sakudo sensei was still only kyoshi 7dan (now he is hanshi 8dan).

See Seme #1 published in 2008.


SEME

You must face your opponent with the feeling that ‘ki’ is crystalized in and emitted from your body. Your hands must be soft. The softness of the inside of your right hand is especially important. Lightly touch the tip of your sword against your opponents sword; don’t especially strike or push their shinai in any way. During this time your body should be soft and flexible and your heart/spirit firm. To get the knack of this you must constantly think about this ‘firmness.’

While keeping this ‘fullness’ of feeling in your body you must project the feeling of ‘come and strike me!’ at your opponent, and – at the same time – while abandoning yourself to their strike, slowly close distance. Depending on your opponents movements you may sometimes close in relatively quickly and largely, but in any case the most important aspect you must keep in mind is your breathing as you move: it is essential that you unify your body movement and your breathing. That is to say, you must not move as you breathe out in a large/long blow, but execute movement as you are breathing out rhythmically in short, slow blows. This is so that your opponent cannot read your intentions easily.

While you are moving your body in this manner, the tip of your shinai should be soft and flexible. If your shinai tip is stiff then in the instant where an attacking movement occurs it will not be able to stay in the center, and all your strikes will be incomplete. Please be careful about this point.

To conclude, keeping this ‘fullness’ of feeling in your body and spirit you must begin to ‘seme’ and – whilst this is happening – you must study from where the intention of your opponent appears: is it from their shinai top? their right hand? their eyes? When your opponent doesn’t begin to move/react to your pressure but you see an opening and attack, then this is called ‘kakari no sen’ and if they move because of your pressure and you strike them this is called ‘go no sen.’ When you strike, do so straight from your kamae.

About the author

Sakudo Masao hanshi is a professor at Osaka sports university (specialising in Budo) and the leader of the kendo club. He is a graduate of Tokyo University of Education, earlier called Tokyo-shihan-gakko, the school that was home to Takano Sasaburo. There he was taught kendo by such famed sensei as Nakano Yasoji hanshi and Yuno Masanori hanshi. Upon moving to Osaka he did kendo under various sensei including Ikeda Yuji hanshi. He had competition success at university level and has taken part in the 8dan taikai. Outside of university life he holds several kendo related posts both in Japan and abroad.


Source

剣道時代の「名選手、錬磨の日々」(1983ー84)からの抜粋です。「錬磨の日々」の本は1989発行。作道正夫。

Two points for daily practise

1. By the time you are in sonkyo you should already have your strategy in place:

‘As soon as you stand up, 1 – seme, 2 – seme, 3 – seme… pressure, pressure, pressure.’

‘If you want to strike me men go ahead, do it! When you attempt to I will strike your dou.’

‘Just as your partner attempts to strike have the feeling of thrusting his left eye, this will cause a disturbance in his heart/will.’

‘Pressure the omote and strike the ura.’

etc etc. Whichever strategy you have decided on stand up silently from sonkyo and with full vigor face your opponent – if you do this and manage to take an ippon within 20 seconds it will be a mark that your kendo is improving.

Its very common for teachers to say ‘do shiai with mushin’ but this advice is for experts who have already forged their technique. If inexperienced people whose technique is far from polished try to do this they will simply be struck.

In order to stand up and take an ippon in under 20 seconds you have to concentrate on taking the ippon at shotachi (the initial strike). Shinken-shobu is often called ‘the fight for shotachi.’

2. While pressuring your opponent, or when their body-shape is in disarray after execution of an attack – when their heart/will is in a state of confusion – you should immediately attack without giving them time to breathe. If you are too late in taking the chance it will not come again.

Your mental state should be the same as an athlete who is waiting at the starting block of a 100m race: ‘ready, set, go!’ If the strike isn’t an ippon you must cultivate the practise of striking multiple times in one breath (until you hit a good strike). If you don’t do this in your daily keiko then your body won’t be able to keep up (during shiai or against other opponents).

This isn’t about striking with your head. Your legs should move of their own volition. Only when you have reached this state can it be said that you have mastered technique.


About the author

SAKUMA SABURO sensei was born in 1912 in Fukushima prefecture. He started kendo at around 10/11 years old in Fukushima Butokuden. After graduating from what is now Fukushima University he started teaching kendo at various high schools. In 1939 he began to work in Mitsubushi’s mining operation and taught kendo throughout the country whilst visiting various mines. After the war, he became a student of Mochida Seiji hanshi and – while running his own kendo club – began working as a director in the Tokyo Kendo Renmei amongst other things. He died at 84 in 1997. He was hanshi hachidan.


Source

平成・剣道 地木水火風空 読本(下)。佐久間三郎。平成9年発行。

kendo places #12: Ganryu-jima

400 years ago today, on April the 13th 1612, the most famous duel in the history of Japanese swordsmanship took place between Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro*. Its so well-known that there is no point in adding any information here, as every single kendo, iaido, or probably practitioner of any Japanese budo knows the story! If you need a recap click here.

The duel took place on a very small deserted island in between Shimonoseki in Yamaguchi prefecture, and Kyushu called Funashima, later renamed to ‘Ganryu-jima’ allegedly in honour of the slain Sasaki Kojiro (his sword style was called ‘gan-ryu’).

*Allegedly. This is the current ‘official’ date but – as with almost every aspect of Musashi’s life – there are many theories. Discrepancies range as much as 10 years.

What is there to see?

Well, not much! There is a statue of the swordsmen fighting, and a couple of plinths in the area. There is also a man-made beach with a boat placed strategically on it, as if Musashi himself had just jumped out of it waiving a newly carved oar/bokuto.

Why go?

The value of going there is not to see the tourist-aimed statues, or to buy the trinkets on sale, but more to celebrate a piece of Japanese swordsmanship history. Its cool to just sit down and relax, pondering your own kendo/iaido/etc journey.

Getting there

I’ve visited the island twice. Once when I first visited Fukuoka in 2004, and another time I took some kendo friend there in 2008. Although out of the way, its not so difficult to get to if you are heading down to Kyushu from the mainland and you have 3 or 4 hours to spare.

Assuming that you are taking a train there get off at JR Shimonoseki station (this is a regular train stop and a Shinkansen stop). From there you can walk to the pier or take a bus. Its not really obvious which way you should go, so its best to ask someone at the station ‘Ganryu-jima?’ and they will point you in the right direction.

At the pier there are two companies that run boats to and from the island with return tickets being 800 yen. You can buy tickets and check times in the small cabins by the pier. The boats run pretty frequently. Make sure you can get on the last boat back to the mainland otherwise you will need to swim.

Gallery

Click on the image to see it bigger.

Being struck

During keiko, when you are struck by your teacher or a friend its really them giving you kind, wordless, advice: “Be careful, this is a weak point.” If you are resentful and think “damn it, I’ve been hit!” then – when you have reached the status of being able to take part in the Kyoto Taikai* – you may become someone who doesn’t bother going up to thank someone after a losing match (i.e. you hold a grudge against them because you lost). Isn’t this type of thinking incorrect?

If you get hit and do something like raise your eyes/head up (i.e. look annoyed after being struck), it may help you dissipate your anger a little, but it would be much better if you just accepted the fact that you were struck, thought on what happened, and studied how to fix this weak point.

“KO-KEN-CHI-AI” : to understand ‘compassion’ through the clashing of shinai**. Reading the AI portion as simply ‘love’ has no meaning. You must do kendo so that your opponent thinks: “I’d love to have the chance to keiko with this person again.”

Becoming more proficient whilst being struck is kendo.
In the beginning, everybody is struck.

* The Kyoto Taikai (held Mat 2-5th every year) is the pinnacle of the kendo community. With a history of over 100 years, you have to be at renshi level to take part (non-Japanese living abroad can take part at only 6dan). Although this example using the Kyoto Taikai, you could extend it to shiai and to keiko in general.
** 愛はおしむ(情)。大切にして手離さない。物情しみする。

About the author

SAKUMA SABURO sensei was born in 1912 in Fukushima prefecture. He started kendo at around 10/11 years old in Fukushima Butokuden. After graduating from what is now Fukushima University he started teaching kendo at various high schools. In 1939 he began to work in Mitsubushi’s mining operation and taught kendo throughout the country whilst visiting various mines. After the war, he became a student of Mochida Seiji hanshi and – while running his own kendo club – began working as a director in the Tokyo Kendo Renmei amongst other things. He died at 84 in 1997. He was hanshi hachidan.


Source

平成・剣道 地木水火風空 読本(下)。佐久間三郎。平成9年発行。

Shinai Kyogi

しない競技は、終戦後の廃墟と混迷の中から生い立った新しい競技である。
Shinai kyogi was a new sport that sprung up In the ruin and confusion of the post war period.”

… is the first line of the chapter on Shinai-kyogi in the book “How to study kendo” that was published in 1965. It goes on to explain in a bit more detail:

To say it another way: a modern and democratic sport was born out of the older kendo. At the end of the war, when both the outside pressure (GHQ) and self-reproach from inside kendo circles caused the breakup/dissolution of kendo (i.e. the Butokukai) the discipline was at a crossroads; it was at this time a chance was taken and the new sport was created.

At that time the (kendo equipment) manufacturers and kendo exponents wanted to somehow (in any way possible) keep at least the essence of kendo alive but, because of the severity of the situation (the current state of destitution and poverty in post-war Japan combined with the strict law of occupied rule), kendo wasn’t allowed to continue as it was (i.e. it was banned by GHQ).

Despite this situation, the involved parties continued to work ceaselessly in negotiations with the the occupied authority, gathering as much information and working with their total energy and concentration to leave the purity of kendo intact, the result of which was a version of kendo with modern elements added that we call shinai kyogi.”

What follows is a 80 page plus manual of shinai kyogi instruction (the first 230 pages are about kendo).

What was this ‘shinai kyogi,’ where did it spring from, and what happened to it? This article will look very briefly at this often ignored yet important aspect of kendo’s history.

Background

It’s almost certainly probable that kendo only started to become widely practised after its introduction into schools in 1911, and especially once it was made a mandatory part of the education system in the 1930s. Japan at that point was becoming increasingly militaristic and kendo was co-opted as part of the war effort, primarily as a way of ‘spiritual and physical training’ of male youths (girls were eventually made to practise ‘naginata,’ created as a form of calisthenics and thinly disguised budo).

Changes in the development of kendo during the 15 year war period (brief explanation)

Starting from the invasion of Manchuria in 1931, Japan was constantly at a state of war until 1945, a period of over 15 years. As the tension in Japan escalated the younger the age for mandatory kendo training became, and the emphasis on group drills and practise (rather than a person-to-person training) increased. Eventually training took place outside, shinai become shorter and heavier, and even hakama and keikogi were abandoned in favour of trousers and shirts. Rules in kendo competition changed to reflect a more ‘real-life’ situation: ippon-shobu, no katate-waza, no jodan, no nito, and all cuts must be big.

This was the situation of kendo at the time of the end of the war and was the kendo that the American occupation forces banned (the war-cabinet controlled Butokukai dissolved itself under pressure soon after the war ended).

The aftermath of the war

Kendo was banned but – obviously due the sheer number of people who had experience in it – not forgotten. During the banned period various groups continued to practise in secret anyway. A public effort was made to promote kendo at higher diplomatic levels. Often cited at this point is Sasamori Junzo sensei’s (Ono-ha itto-ryu soke) influence: educated in America (PhD from Denver University) and a fluent English speaker (and Christian priest) he worked with GHQ during the occupation period, and supported the re-introduction of kendo in educational circles (he was headmaster of various universities and eventually worked in the Education Ministry. He emerged in the post-war kendo community as the head of the Shinai Kyogi association, then eventually the university kendo association).

Obviously wary about the militarism that was inherent in the immediate pre-war country controlled Butokukai, GHQ was seemingly very reticent to allow its restart. To battle this, the pro-kendo lobby introduced not ‘kendo’ but a new kendo-inspired sport called ‘shinai kyogi.’ Renamed, and without some of the more nationalist attributes, it wasn’t ‘kendo’ per-se, but it was to have a long lasting on the art.


What follows here is some information about the sport itself.

Name and term changes

It is important to note that the ‘shinai’ portion of shinai-kyogi is written in hiragana and not kanji (though there is kanji for it), much like the change that was done for naginata. This might not seem particularly important to non-Japanese speakers, but it had 2 effects:

1. It explicitly removed the ‘weapon’ aspect of the arts name, thus giving it a “softer, less violent feeling”;

2. It gave the sense that something new was being made. In the naginata community they actually named it ‘atarashii (new) naginata’ to reflect this. The new sport created from kendo was called ‘shinai KYOGI,’ a term that refers to pure sport.

Not only this, but many long-used words were changed to make shinai-kyogi more sporty for example ‘nafuda’ (name tag) was changed to ‘zekken’ (a term of German origin that refers in Japan to names/numbers on athletes), ‘ippon’ was changed to ‘tokuten’ (points), and tasuki to ‘hyoshiki’ (flag). The white line from where participants start a match was called the ‘shuppatsusen’ or ‘starting line.’

The parts of the bogu were also renamed (see below).

Equipment

Clothing:

– clothes should be made of strong cloth, a tracksuit top and trousers should be worn;
– girls may wear a skirt instead of trousers;
– shiai held outdoors generally require the use of footwear. If the ground is safe then you can use socks or go barefoot;
– any colour may be freely worn but black doesn’t fit with the bogu well, so its banned;
– clothing should be a little bit loose, not tight fitting;

Shinai:

– shinai should be wrapped on the outside with leather (i.e. a fukuro-shinai);
– shinai must be split in either 4, 8, 16, or more pieces;
– shinai must be equal to or less than 3.8 in length and weights where set based on age/gender;
– the kote-dome (i.e. tsuba) must be smaller than 3-sun and made of leather or rubber. It can be of any shape.

Bogu:

– bogu consists of a men, doate, and tebukuro (‘gloves’)*
– names were also given in hiragana MASUKU (‘mask’ i.e. men), PROTEKUTA (‘protector’ i.e. dou), and GURABU (‘glove’ i.e. kote);

* Note that the ‘tsuba’ has been renamed ‘kote dome,’ the kote ‘tebukuro’ (gloves), and other pieces given English-sounding alternatives in order to de-swordify the art and make it seem more sporty, much like the use of the name ‘shinai kyogi’ itself (see above). We could also surmise that this was done to placate GHQ as well.

Rules

Shiaijo:

– usually matches occur indoors, but outside is ok too;
– whether held inside or out the area must be flat and have no obstructions;
– the shiaijo is to be 6×7 meters and have a space of 1.5m between the middle and each player;
– if you are outside you can mark the shiaijo boundaries with stones or paint;
– if the shiaijo is raised it would be preferably if the boundaries were roped (like boxing)*;

* early all Japan championships also seem to have this feature

shiai:

– at the start of the match shinai must not be touching (a change from pre-war);
– shiai were 3 points (pre-war this varied);
– there will be 3 shinpan (apart from tenran shiai, there was almost only ever 1 shinpan, sometimes 2);
– time limits and the use of encho (and hantei) were defined.

hansoku:

– violent behaviour (e.g. taiatari or leg sweeping);
– use of shouts (i.e. kiai);
– going out of bounds.


Impact on kendo

If you look at the history of kendo as told by the ZNKR (All Japan kendo federation) you would be mistaken in thinking that shinai-kyogi had a short life-span and was irrelevant to kendo in the long run. This isn’t true. Although the shinai-kyogi association was created in 1950 and merged with the new ZNKR in 1954, books continued to be written and shiai run for quite some time it seems. The book mentioned in the opening was published in 1965, showing that a full 11 years after the dissolution of the shinai-kyogi association there was still a market for manuals. More than that, just this last weekend (end of January 2012) I found reference to shinai-kyogi shiai results from 1975 in a shiai brochure… a full 21 years after the merge.

So we have shown that shinai-kyogi outlasted its original remit, but what lasting impact – if any – did it have on kendo?

I don’t want to go into the complete ins and outs of this topic as it would require some very detailed research and presentation (maybe in the future). In brief, here are some of the far-reaching impacts of shinai-kyogi. Those in bold are fundamental changes to kendo as it existed prior to or during the war:

– fixing shiaijo sizes;
fixing of shinai weights and lengths;
– definition of time limits;
– creation of a more democracy i.e. males and females could practise and compete equally;
establishing 3 shinpan for all shiai;
disallowing violent actions, specifically foot sweeps;
creation of a ‘sporty’ image.

There are of course more things we can add to this list, for example how a yuko-datotsu was defined, but I will leave it here today.


Shinai-kyogi gallery


Summary

This has only been a very brief look into shinai-kyogi and its impact on modern kendo. We do know it had a massive impact on the kendo community as the sportive element of kendo (introduced by shinai-kyogi) went in a direction and at a speed no-one seemed to predict. Proof of this can be seen in the writing of various senior sensei in the 50s and 60s lamenting over the state of kendo at the time. Their unifying cries ended up with the ZNKR getting together a group of its most senior people; the publication of ‘Concept of Kendo’ was the result.

Unfortunately, the Concept of Kendo didn’t really work out to be the call to rally as expected, and kendos sportive elements have continued to evolve, sometimes seemingly in opposition to its stated goals. The ‘Mindset of Kendo Instruction’ (published 2007) has been a newer initiative to address the situation but its end point may potentially be that as the earlier Concept Of Kendo. Inclusion of kendo as an eveny in the Olympic/GAISF ‘Combat Games’ in 2010 is yet more evidence of the continued sportification of kendo, a process that has its roots in shinai-kyogi. Some people may argue that kendo was heading in this way anyway, but a closer inspection of kendo in the 1930s and during the war suggests that kendo was getting very much back to its roots. That story, however, is for another time.

I hope you found this brief introduction interesting!!!

Check out Morishima Tateo sensei’s ‘Pursuing the spirit of modern kendo‘ for a further insight into the comments above.


Sources

剣道とシナイ競技。小西康裕。1952発行。
剣道の学び方。柏木賢。1965発行。
剣道に内在する武道・スポーツ性について:しない競技規程と剣道試合・審判規則の比較から。国分 国友。鹿屋体育大学。1990発行。
大阪新人大会2012年度BROCHURE。