Pursuing the spirit and modern kendo (part 5)

This is the final part in a five-part series that translates a lecture made by Morishima Tateo. To see the rest of the published series plus a bio on Morishima sensei, please click here.

Pursing the spirit and modern kendo


4. The essential mechanism for striking

Lastly, I would like to discuss the mechanism for striking. It doesn’t matter how technically able, how physically strong you are, or how much speed you have, if you mistake the chance to attack then you will not be successful. It is a steel rule of kendo not to attack when people are fully concentrated and have no openings, and to attack when they lose concentration and leave themselves open (虚実 Kyojitsu). If you don’t apply this rule, you cannot defeat your opponent. During the cut and fray of keiko, when you are open this is kyo (虚), and when your opponent is open it is jitsu (実). This situation rapidly goes back and forth between you and your partner. During changes in your and your opponents movement small openings for attack will appear (虚). If you overlook this opening it won’t happen again. During an intense battle, with you fully concentrated and without an opening (実) you must strike instantly at your opponents opening if/when it appears (虚). Chiba Shusaku taught this as 「剣は瞬息、心気力一致」(ken wa shuniki, shinkiryoku itcchi. “you must use your sword in an instant, with mind, spirit, and body in unison”).

In todays kendo there is neither kyo (虚) nor jitsu (実), people attack indiscriminately. In some shiai I have seen people call “hajime!” and already people are jumping through the air to strike. There can be no thought of “Is my opponent open?” The person being attacked simply uses sanpomamori to block this (see part 1). In truth, if someone is attacking you when there is no opening they are actually opening themselves up for attack; you must counterattack in this situation. But you simply block and the shiai hasn’t moved anywhere. Because of this, there is nothing but hikiwake in university and adult shiai nowadays.

First, “if there is no opening, don’t attack.” If there is no opening and you attack, you are opening yourself up and may be struck yourself. Next, “if there is no opening, you must make an opening by breaking them (KUZUSHI), then attack.” In kendo today, there is no kuzushi (崩しい. This is where you open you opponent up by breaking their kamae, spirit, or technique. Although not a term common in the English speaking kendo community, most people will recognise the description via sansappo). There are many ways to do kuzushi, but today is not a seminar, so I won’t explain them here. Lastly, “if you see an opening, seize it.” As hinted at in Chiba Shusaku’s quote above, when you think “I should attack now!” you must already be attacking. Just getting to the point where you can see the opening and think “I should attack now!” in itself is difficult.

We need to think about how to know/recognise chances. A chance is a “symptom.” Making a chance is breaking your opponent (kuzushi) then attacking. When you see an opening you should commit with everything (the English kendo community would recognise this as sutemi).

If we are to work on changing kendo from now on, we need to think about the above principles and do “rational kendo” and “kendo without waste.” If you follow the principles, then you will be able to strike shotachi. If we say this in another way: in order for you to be able to strike shotachi, you should work out the principles through hard training and research (kufu), and bit-by-bit remove needless attacks. Nowadays we don’t stop your opponent during keiko and point out “those are needless attacks” because needless attacks have become part of everyday kendo. By removing needless attacks from your kendo bit-by-bit your kendo will grow. This is not only a technical growth, but you will grow as a human too. Isn’t this a good thing !!?! Our purpose is to strike shotachi, but aiming to remove needless striking is also important. Please pursue this.

Winning by striking simultaneously (aiuchi no katchi)

The essential points in kendo are “shotachi ippon” and “aiuchi no katchi” (winning by striking simultaneously). This is the same essential point as koryu schools like Itto-ryu and Yagyu shinkage-ryu, etc. If you achieve shin-ki-ryoku-icchi then you will be able to strike shotachi and win aiuchi. In other words, understanding the principles is extremely important.

There is an old kendo teaching that goes:


Looking from the outside you can’t tell who has won, i.e. the strike was decided by narrowest of margins (the thickness of a single piece of paper).

Let me give you an example. A long time ago Yagyu Jubei was making a visit to a feudal retainer when, by chance, he met a ronin on the road. “Please sensei, a match. Onegaishimasu.” The match was decided in Jubei’s favour by aiuchi. “One more time!” the ronin asked, and again the match went the same way. “I’ve made all this effort to find you, so one more time, onegaishimasu.” At this point Jubei answered “I have won. It seems that you can’t understand this, so theres no point in fighting again.” At this the ronin got angry and said “if thats the case, then lets use real swords and see.” Jubei replied “No. We only have one life, lets not waste it.” The ronin, ignoring these words, drew his sword and prepared to fight. The ronin attack with a slash and Jubei dispatched him with a single stroke. Although the ronin was dead and the winner was decided, Jubei’s sleeve was cut.

Surely this is the origin of the phrase “let him cut your skin, but cut his flesh” (fans of Kurosawa Akira’s ‘The 7 samurai’ will notice that there is a scene in the movie that is based on this episode). This is aiuchi. Striking when your opponents attacking feeling starts – having the ability to perceive this and to strike first – is the meaning of aiuchi. This is the real “aiuchi no katchi.” Technical skill goes without saying, but you must also have an unperturbed spirit when in kamae. This is mushin, If you do this, then your opponents striking feeling will be reflected in your heart. Shotachi ippon is the the passage way into auchi no katchi. Therefore, this auichi no katchi is the summit of Japanese kendo. In other words, there should be no simple blocking of your opponents attacks.

Thinking about the important points in kendo

This is the last thing I wish to discuss in this lecture. The following is the former chief justice of Japan and 2nd president of the ZNKR (he was also the 5th headmaster of Itto-shoden muto-ryu, the 18th headmaster of Takeda-ha hozoin-ryu sojutsu, and received menkyo-kaiden in Ono-ha itto-ryu from Sasamori Junzo), Ishida Kazuto sensei’s words:

Live when you are alive, and die when when you should die. This is indeed “life and death as one” (死生一如 from Confucius). “Live when you are alive” means to use up all your energy living life to the fullest, and “die when you should die” means that you should proceed to the end in calmness.

The ability to show strong resolution and to make correct judgements during your entire life – it is my conviction that it is this, at the end of the day, where the true meaning of Japanese Budo lies.

The essential point is the removal of the attachments that routinely spring forth from within us, with the mind/heart neither stopping nor stagnating; in other words, by the cultivation of mushin (free from obstructive thoughts) and muga (selflessness, removal of the ego), and by being free of possessions (permeable or otherwise), you can arrive at a situation where your heart and mind are like a clear mirror.

I have not yet arrived at this destination, so for me to explain this to you is arrogant/disrespectful of me. To discuss it in detail is frivolous but at the end of the day you should be facing your opponent in kamae and have “arrived at a situation where your hear and mind are like a clear mirror” – this is the essence of kendo.

The part “This is indeed…. end in calmness” is Ishida sensei explaining the “essence/true meaning of Japanese budo.” To get to this point you need to train for the aiuchi no katchi, which I talked about before.

With reserve, let me look at the section “by the cultivation…. like a clear mirror.” The clear mirror reflects the subject as it is, and if the subject goes away, the mirror goes back to being clear. The mirror doesn’t wonder who or what the subject is or was. The essence/heart of kendo is like this. Yamaoka Tesshu sensei said:

In clear weather it looks great, in cloudy weather it looks great, Mt. Fuji.

In other words, in spite of the situation the essential nature or shape of the mountain does not change. Please transpose Mt Fuji into your heart and suppose this is your true self. “Winning is good, losing is good,” “adversity is good, favourable circumstances are good,” if we go extend this teaching further then we could go as far as saying “dying is good, and so is living.” Nowadays we can’t expect to go to this depth of understanding, but famous people and experts in the past had this purpose in sight when going through their arduous training.

If we look at modern times, there is only one kendoka that I could bring up without hesitation: Yamaoka Tesshu. In the prior paragraph I talked about seeking a depth of understanding, Tesshu went to this final destination. One time, one of his students approached him with a question: “Sensei, what is the secret/essence of kendo?” He answered, “Go and ask the Kannon (Buddhist deity) at Asakusa.” I heard this story when I was young and went to offer a prayer to the Asakusa Kannon. If you look up in the main hall there is a large picture hanging there. It was written by Tesshu. It reads 施無畏 (semui). Tesshu’s secret was the “elimination of fear.” If you can reach the place where “life and death are as one” (死生一如), then you have nothing to fear. At least, this is what I believe.

The reason why I respect Tesshu is that during the attack on Edo (Meiji restoration period), there was a famous episode where the “follower of the enemy of the court (Tokugawa shogunate), Yamaoka Tesshu” managed to slip over the loyalist forces line alone and unaided; he continued pressing forward until he met and negotiated with their leader – the result of which stopped the planned attack on Edo. He not only saved the residents of the city from a dangerous situation, but also put his life on the line for his country and the Shogunate. This is the spirit of kendo’s “aiuchi.” Its bushido. This exists within kendo. Kendo isn’t only just winning and losing. I want to make everyone aware that this amazing spirit is part of kendo, and for you to teach kendo with pride.

The departure point for the pursuit of kendo (剣道の修行) is “sutemi” (the act of attacking with 100%, without fear or hesitation) and the destination is “aiuchi.” You must do keiko with “sutemi.” Give up your body to your enemy. If you wish to pursue the discipline required to train the heart, even if your progress is small or slow, you must always be in this mental state – if we do this I we can get closer to having a heart “like a clear mirror” don’t you think? This is the “Concept of Kendo” – “To discipline the human character through the application of the principles of the Katana.” If the above is true, then you have to ask yourself the question: are you putting KIAI (i.e. your full effort) into your daily pursuit? If you do your upmost at all times then the mirror in your heart will surely open.

Today I talked about how to change “defensive” kendo into “positive/attacking” kendo. If we don’t make this change to attacking kendo, then there is no future for Japanese kendo. This is the danger that we encounter today. I am definitely not over-exaggerating this point. Please, everyone, be more and more diligent over this matter.

I’m sorry for taking such a long time over this matter, thank you for listening. Please have a good year, and lets all try out best this coming year. Thank you.

(this lecture was given on December 1st at Kudansha kaikan hall in Tokyo. Morishima sensei’s lecture was part of the “6th Kendo culture lecture”)

Editors comment

I don’t usually add comments to translations, except for my usual disclaimer, but I would like to add something briefly here. This entire lecture took up 9 pages and required quite a lot of effort for me to translate. I don’t mind making the effort (its education for me after all!) but I do feel slightly nervous regarding my translation ability. There are things that are easily said in one language which cannot be said as easily in another. There are also things in this lecture that fall out of my kendo experience (as yet). As such, I have been quite liberal with my translation in parts, and have had to guess at at the deeper meaning of the words at times.

With this comment/disclaimer in hand, I hope you enjoyed this five part lecture anyway, and that it causes some pause for thought, whether individually or in the pub after keiko. Cheers!



I am a deshi

Even if Japanese is not our main language, in a kendo environment we often use the Japanese term “sensei” to mean teacher. What about the other 1/2 of the equation, the student? I can’t recall any Japanese terms being used in any of the 10+ countries I’ve had the fortune to do kendo in.

Traditionally, when someone joins a dojo there are a couple of terms used to express “student”: monkasei (門下生) and deshi (弟子). There are some other terms (e.g. 門弟 or 門人), but those two seem to be the main ones used. Unless you are part of a koryu dojo, or watch and read anime/manga, you will probably never come across the first term. The second term, however, is still used – though uncommonly I must admit – in the Japanese kendo community today.

As regular readers probably know, I run a high school kendo club here in Osaka. When I first started teaching my sensei turned to me and said:

Now you’ve got your own deshi.

This kind of stopped me on my tracks: “deshi… what should I do?” I thought.

Rather than attempt to explain the meaning of “deshi” myself, let me translate a piece from a 13 year old kendoka from Kyushu that I found in this months Kendo Jidai.

p.s. Please check out this old article after you read the one below.

The following essay was awarded the kantosho prize in the Junior High School section of the “32nd kendo youth research seminar.”

I am a deshi

Written by: Hasuda Tomoka
1st year Junior high school student (approx. 13yrs old)
Miyazaki prefecture, Miyazaki city, Shujakukan dojo

Suddenly, after keiko one day my sensei said “you are my deshi.” I was surprised at the suddenness of words, but I was also happy that he called me “deshi.” However, I somehow felt strange. Its because I didn’t actually understand the word “deshi” or what being one means or involves. I thought hard about the meaning of the word and searched out information about it in books and dictionaries. I discovered that “deshi” is part of a “teacher-student” relationship (師弟の関係). On one side of the coin we have the teacher – one with technical skill based on, and knowledge cultivated through experience – who imparts this through instruction; and on the other side we have the deshi, who learns from and studies under the teacher. In a dojo environment, the sensei are the teachers, and we are are the deshi.

So, what is a deshi’s job? What is a deshi supposed to do? A deshi has many various jobs to learn, including seeing off and meeting the sensei when they come to the dojo (shiai), getting any shopping thats needed (for the dojo and/or sensei), taking care of various things around the sensei (to do with the dojo) etc. In kendo, for example, tidying up/putting away the sensei’s bogu and making sure he is comfortable are both part of the deshi’s job.

I started taking tea to the sensei after keiko when I was a 6th grade primary school student (11/12yrs old). This started because my sensei said “bring me tea,” but now it just natural happens. During that short interval, sensei gives me praise, or brings my bad points to attention.

We also talk a lot about non-kendo things as well. What my future dreams are, whats going on at school, the taikai my sensei goes to, the change in seasons, etc all of these are valuable conversations for me. On the occasion that visitors came to keiko, I brought them tea as well. At that time I was told to sit in the corner and listen to the conversation (between the adults). I couldn’t really understand what was being talked about but my sensei said later “even if you can’t understand whats being said, even if you are not part of the conversation, listening to other peoples stories and conversation is important. There will come a time when you will understand.” When he said this to me I pondered that the chance to listen in on these conversations was something different when compared to my usual daily life, and approached these chats with a new feeling.

Another thing that I pay attention to is when my sensei leaves by car (after keiko). When I see him off, I wait until I can no longer see his car before turning away. I learned this after watching how the Riot Squad Police treated their sensei (its possible she is talking about the elite tokuren kenshi in her prefecture).

By continuing to be a deshi like this I have learned some good things, for example: how to use language properly (i.e. learning to by polite in Japanese) and how to be sensitive to nuances in peoples conversations, so now I am at ease with speaking to people who are my superior (i.e. by rank, age, profession, etc). There are other things as well, for example I am able to think and predict what sensei will say/want next, and am already in motion before anything is actually said.

At one time, my sensei told me that deshi have responsibilities. I didn’t really understand what these could be and I thought about it to myself. I think a deshi’s responsibility/job is to keep whats taught to them by their sensei and act within there limits, and to pass these teachings onto their kohai. I still don’t have the ability to do this, so in the meantime I will try my best at keiko, and aim to become a good sempai in the future.

At first I didn’t really know what it means to be a “deshi,” but thanks to everything that my sensei has taught me, I think I am getting closer to understanding the true meaning. Ever since becoming a deshi my sensei has shouted at me a lot; but since there few people around to scold me, I am thankful that he is there, as I know it for my own benefit.

From now on, through kendo and as a deshi/person, I want to keep learning about life.



Pursuing the spirit and modern kendo (part 4)

This is the fourth part in a five-part series that translates a lecture made by Morishima Tateo. To see the rest of the published series plus a bio on Morishima sensei, please click here.

Pursing the spirit and modern kendo


3. Mai (間合) and ma (間)

MAI is the physical space between yourself and your opponent when you are in kamae. MA is everything involved when you confront an opponent – physical distance, time, KYOJITSU (“truth and falsehood” 虚実. If you are open to attack or have a loss of concentration this is 虚; the reverse is 実) – i.e. the current “state.” When this state is good for you when “you are far from your opponent, yet your opponent is within reach of you.” Scientifically speaking this is of-course impossible. This is a spiritual problem. If your spirit is calm but your opponents is overwhelming, he will seem closer to you; in the reverse situation he will seem further away – this is MA at work.

We can explain how to come to this “advantageous state” through 6 factors:

1. Kamae. Utilisation of the natural posture of chudan no kamae you can respond and adapt to the your opponents actions.

2. Mai. “Issoku itto no mai” is the distance where you can reach out and strike your opponent in a single step. However, people have different bodies, abilities, kendo is done by different genders, etc various things change this distance. As you get older you naturally can’t strike from a far distance, so your Mai becomes shorter. The same “issoku itto no mai” is a lot longer for younger people. That is, the distance changes on the individuals circumstance. Working to strike from the best distance and time is called “MATZUMORI” (間積り).

3. The principles of attack and defense as one (攻防の理合). Important For the purpose of achieving Matzumori are the Sansappo (“three killing methods” 三殺法) and Kyojitsu. Depending on the way you use your shinai and they way you move forward and back, left and right, you can make the best distance and time to attack.

4, 5, and 6. Kiai, Waza, and Movement of the Spirit. These three factors are an important element in creating the desired “advantageous state.” Movement of the spirit refers to MUSHIN. If you are thinking about some sort of ideal or worldly thoughts then you can’t move freely. If your spirit is like a mirror you will be able to respond to your opponents movements and execute techniques freely.

If we combine all of these factors, comparing yourself with your opponent you should feel closer to them than they do to you. In kendo terms this is called *NORU (乗る). There are many different explanations of this “noru.” There are no mistakes in them but the real “noru” is what I explained above. When you are in a more advantageous position than your opponent you can then be said to be “overwhelming” them.

* I would translate this not literally from the dictionary, but as “Overwhelm”

Continued in the last part…



Pursuing the spirit and modern kendo (part 3)

This is the third part in a five-part series that translates a lecture made by Morishima Tateo. To see the rest of the published series plus a bio on Morishima sensei, please click here.

Pursing the spirit and modern kendo


(2). From “technique kendo” and “power kendo” to “spirit kendo”

The steps of kendo pursuit (剣道修行)

So, how do we change this “defensive” kendo into an “attacking” one? I mentioned before about the problem of instructors; this is one point that needs addressing. One more point is changing the content of kendo from “technique” and “power” based to “spirit” based kendo (心の剣道). This is very difficult to do, but if you are prepared to do it, then it can be done.

From now I will explain the 3 steps to pursue kendo correctly. The first step is:

elementary level people* – those from beginners until around 3dan who should focus solely on training drills and kihon.”

If people at this level practise this way, they will make a solid base from which they can build on. Nowadays basics are neglected and people are suddenly doing shiai here and there. Being taught is a hassle for these people and – no matter how they do well at shiai – there will come a time when they find themselves unable to advance without difficulty.

* Note that in Japan this usually (but not always) covers primary school children up until university aged young adults. Watch some university level shiai to get an idea of what your kendo should ideally look like at that end of the elementary point.

Look at the famous words by Mochida Seiji:

Until the age of 50 you must do your upmost to study and make the basics your own. You might think that you have already mastered the basics when you were still a beginner, but this is completely wrong. There are many people who think in this wrong manner. It took 50 years for my body to acquire the basics.

The famous Mochida Seiji said that it took him 50 years to acquire the basics of kendo! I was lucky to have done keiko many times with Mochida sensei at Keishicho and Noma dojo. After keiko I would be sitting in the teachers room drinking tea when someone more senior than me would ask “Was my left foot twisted out?” Being humble in this way allows us to grow. Undoubtedly, the most important part of your kendo life is the time when you are focusing solely on basics.

The next step is the:

Intermediate level – at this stage in your career you can improve rapidly, and it usually comes around 4, 5, 6 dan. Above and beyond drilling in the basics, you should work on utilising techniques and your power to the most, and temper your confidence through wholehearted hard training”

This is the most painful and difficult part of your kendo career. Because it is the most difficult part you must do kendo so much that your body becomes lean and strong. Wherever you go for keiko, whenever you do shiai, you must do it with full strength so that everyone says “wow, that guy is strong!” People who keiko like this during this period and those who are negligent are easy to tell apart after the fact.

The last level is:

Advanced level – people 7dan and above who aim to achieve completion in the physical (technique) and mental (spirit), as well as the human factors of kendo training.”

In this period, the technical, powerful, speed-centric kendo that you have been doing to-date must do an about-turn and change to “spirit kendo” (心の剣道). What I mean by “spirit kendo” is the ability to “show that you have won with your spirit through the techniques you execute.” When we were young there were many sensei like that, now, however, I rarely see anyone with this ability.

Looking at “spirit kendo” from the teachings of Shirai, Mochida, and Saimura sensei

In the Bakamatsu period, there was a renowned kenshi called Shirai Toru. He opened a dojo at the age of 28 and taught around 300 students. In spite of this, he had a worry about his own kendo. In the fencing world at the time, there were many fine kenshi up until the age of 40 around. After 40, however, they weakened and became a mere shadow of their former selves. “I wonder why that happens? I guess that will happen to me too…” And so he left his dojo and 300 students, went back to his home city of Edo, and sought out his (itto-ryu) sempai Terada Goroemon. Terada sensei didn’t use a shinai for sparring, but a bokuto. Terada was a buddhist priest and Shirai studied sazen under him. He also underwent Terada’s severe training methods and, before long, brokedown. At that time he unexpectedly discovered the Zen master Hakuin’s story “Yasenkanna” (Quite conversations on an evening boat). After reading this he tried harder at following Terada’s sazen instruction and introspection methods. “Introspection” is where you stare deep into your heart. After doing as best as he could he became a swordsman that even his teacher (now Terada) could not find fault with.

Mochida Seiji said:

When you become 70, your entire body becomes weak. At this time, I focused on keeping my spirit unmoved. If your spirit is unmoved your opponents spirit will be reflected in it. I worked to make my spirit quiet and unmoving.

I believe Mochida sensei didn’t suddenly begin to work on the task above when he became 70, but long before. He was always a technically superb fencer, and on top of this he worked at polishing his spirit. Its because of this that he became so famous a fencer it was said that he was unrivaled.

If your spirit is unmoved your opponents spirit will be reflected in it…. I remember facing Mochida sensei and thinking idle thoughts – “I wonder if I can win…. maybe I will lose…” – before the match was even decided. How many times was I defeated by Mochida sensei!?!?! I was probably 2 or 3 times the physical strength of him (due to age difference) and still got beaten by “that old guy!” Of course, it was wrong of me to think like that. Mochida sensei’s spirit had become a clear mirror – if you thought about striking him that thought would be reflected in his heart and in that instant he would strike. This is because he pursued kendo with his spirit.

The final sensei I want to talk about is Saimura Goro. His taught that:

If your spirit has been moved then – without even being struck – you should admit defeat.

Techniques must be practised until they become part of you, and you strike instinctually at the instant where an opening appears.

Nowadays, sensei like this have become rare. Even today I bet there are many of us that think “I wish I could become a sensei like X.” Now, many sensei believe what they are doing is correct but, there is a much higher level of kendo to aim for; because they haven’t seen those sensei, nor even heard about them, they can’t understand. Due to this, I feel sad for the younger generation.

Don’t run away from the first strike (shotachi)

One of the important methods we can use to change “defensive” kendo into “attacking” kendo is to concentrate on winning the first strike. This has been a part of the kendo pedagogy for a long time, and we have all learned it. Japanese kendo was born from “shinken shobu.” In a real life fight with swords there is no second strike, only one. In modern kendo we try to do this with shinai. “Shotachi ippon” isn’t so difficult as to require your full force, however challenging difficult things is part of the pursuit of kendo. As you are training hard to discipline yourself into seeking shotachi, and trying various methods (kufu), you will see a change: what you have been doing until now, that is, striking randomly with no rationale, with no opening, doing techniques that don’t result in ippon… this mudauchi (striking for no reason) will become less and less.

About The Principles of Kendo

In concrete terms, the “principles of kendo” is the method of drawing out maximum efficiency based upon the elements of “posture, breathe, vigour, eye contact, spatial distance, chance, body movement, tenouchi, striking the right spots, zanshin and so on.” The method of drawing out this maximum efficiency is SHIN-KI-RYOKU-ICCHI (mind, spirit and power in unison). The highest principle of kendo is this shin-ki-ryoku-icchi. If we breakdown shin-ki-ryoku-icchi into three sections we have “mental/spiritual control” (心法), “manipulation of the sword” (刀法), and “physical movement” (身法). If we break this down further we get the aforementioned elements of “posture, breathe, vigour, etc.” When all of these factors come together at the same time, we have finally achieved Shin-ki-rokyu-icchi.

The difficult thing about achieving shin-ki-rokyu-icchi is that you are facing an opponent. Trying to overcome your opponent is surely the most difficult part of kendo. Depending on the amount of kufu you do (over time) you can achieve shin-ki-ryoku-icchi. Once you have achieved this, the natural progression is to “shotachi ippon” (the first strike) and “winning by striking simultaneously” (see the final part).

1. Posture and breathe

In kendo, disciplining your spirit though hard training is important. That is to say, shin-gi-ittai (心技一体). Technique (技) is important, but what makes technique come alive is spirit (心). How do you train your spirit? Well, its through “breathing.” Kendo breathing is chokoki-tanden-kokyu (長呼気丹田呼吸): using the tanden you exhale at length, and inhale briefly. Doing this reduces the overall number of breathes you take. Where a normal person would breathe 15 times, using this method you would need only 4 or 5. Let me explain the benefit of this type of breathing. Beneath your solar plexus is where the autonomic nerves gather. Breathing from the belly (i.e. tanden) your diaphragm goes up and down and stimulates these nerves, specifically the sympathetic and parasympathetic nerve systems. As the parasympathetic nerves ascend, it causes you spirit to remain calm. Thus, calmness is the benefit gained from breathing from the tanden.

2. Ki

The universe was said to created by “ki.” As we breathe, we inhale and exhale this energy into and out of our bodies. I talked about Terada and Shirai sensei before. It was said that from Terada sensei’s bokuto “fire” emanated, and from Shirai’s “rings.” That is to say, depending on how advanced your breathe control is, this energy can be transported from your diaphragm, through your fists, into your shinai, and finally this “ki” can be expressed on the kensaki.

As much as possible your “spirit should be correct and calm, and your ki strong.” There is a saying “pressure with your ki, overwhelm him, break his kamae and spirit, and seize the opportunity you create.” In both these teachings, spirit and ki hold the most important meaning. To cultivate ki the best method is *seiza (sazen). Depending on how you do this you can train your breathing. If your discipline your breathing, your spirit will become calm and your posture correct. If your posture is correct, your spirit will become correct, and you will be able to execute techniques correctly. In this way you can see that there are many interconnected things here, but the root of them all is breathe.

* “seiza” refers to “quiet meditation through sitting” (静座) and should not be confused with the homonym (in English at least) “seiza” (正座) which refers to the method of sitting down we often use in budo. Same pronunciation, different meaning and kanji.

The best way to achieve “spirit kendo” is to practise seiza. You can’t practise zazen without the help of a specialist but seiza anyone can practise. However, if you don’t approach the practise seriously then there will be no benefit gained from it. It can give you a correct posture, correct breathing, and put your spirit in order. If you practise tanden breathing, then you will cultivate tanden power. From seiza-cultivated tanden power comes mental concentration and the ability to confine the ego; from these limitless boundaries you can acquire exquisite skill. Practising seiza will free you from “idle thoughts and delusion” and allow you to “strike naturally from a state of nothingness.”

Continued in part 4…



Pursuing the spirit and modern kendo (part 2)

This is the second part in a five-part series that translates a lecture made by Morishima Tateo. To see the rest of the published series plus a bio on Morishima sensei, please click here.

Pursing the spirit and modern kendo


2. The road to regenerate kendo
(* due to length, this section is split into two articles)

(1). Developing instructors

Sanma no gurai

First let me talk about the pressing issue of instructor development. There is something called “sanma no gurai” (三磨の位). As you all know, this came from the secret teachings of Yagyu shinkage-ryu. This is tightly connected to instructor development, so I’ve picked it up for use here today.

First is 習 (SHU; know by even casual Japanese speakers in the verb narau, to learn/study), which suggests that you must find yourself a good teacher and learn from them. The famous zen philosopher Dogen said:

“If you don’t have a good teacher, you are better off not studying at all”

Continue reading Pursuing the spirit and modern kendo (part 2)