Eikenkai (Feb. 2017) 英剣会

Yesterday was the first kenshi 24/7 run Eikenkai session of the new year, and it was a packed one! 34 kenshi from six prefectures (Okayama, Hyogo, Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, Mie… plus Rhett from America) squeezed into the kendojo at Sumiyoshi Budokan, which is located in the precincts of the beautiful Sumiyoshi shrine.

Although there was a cold breeze outside, the dojo was boiling. We did about 40 minutes of kihon (including uchikomi and kakarigeiko), 20 minutes of waza practise, and about 45 minutes of jigeiko before heading to the nearby local restaurant for okonomiyaki and a couple of refreshing beers.

With work and other dojo commitments increasing exponentially over the last year I’ve decided to reduce the number of sessions we will hold this year, probably only hosting three or maybe four rather than our usual six. Anyway, the next session will be in mid-May, so if you are in the Kansai area at the time please feel free to get in touch. Cheers!

Quality kenshi 質のいい剣士

One of my own favourite posts on this website is from way back in October 2012. Entitled “Small things” it lists a few simple points that I think make a large difference in the quality of a kenshi. Re-reading it recently I started to think about some “bad” or “uncool” things that people (often unconsciously) do in the dojo that might reflect on this (perceived) quality (as defined by myself). I thought I’d stumble through listing some of them here. Although I particularly don’t like to show faults or give bad examples about things, sometimes a wee hint or nudge can help.

Remember, like the Small Things article, this is of course my personal, arbitrary opinion.


1. In the dojo

Sometimes I see people who stomp around the dojo. By stomp I mean not only walking heavily and making loud noise whilst doing so (which is annoying by itself), but walking around with an air of arrogance. Even if they actually physically own the dojo itself, treating it as simply a personal possession rather than a space for serious shugyo is pretty uncool.

Leaving things in a clutter, not cleaning, walking around wearing socks, eating, and generally not treating the dojo as some sort of special space strongly hints that they are neither serious about the shugyo aspect of kendo, or that they simply don’t care.

Of course, some of this feeling is hard to engender when you practise in a rented sports hall rather than a dojo, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be aimed at.


2. Studying

Here in Japan, I know not a few kenshi that actually know little to nothing about kendo’s history. I guess I could probably forgive most of them because that’s just how most people learn kendo in Japan, but some people are actually quite open in their almost disdain towards anything other than physical practise of kendo.

It’s not only the historical aspect that disinterests these people, but also studying how to be good coaches, practising kata, and expanding their kendo knowledge via kendo books just doesn’t seem to interest them. People like this, I’ve realised, think they have already acquired kendo…


3. Teaching

When I first became a kendo teacher I tried to follow other kendo teachers style, that is, constant shouting and berating of students. This is what almost all the strong high school teachers do after all. After years of teaching, though, I realised that many of these teachers just went through the Japanese school club system and know nothing else. This is what they think is the correct way to teach kendo.

One day a few years ago, a friend of mine who graduated from one of the most famous kendo high schools in the country said: “I hated the kendo teacher. If I was driving down the road and I saw him walking I would – if I thought I could get away with it – ram him down and kill him.” My fiends’ kendo is awesome, but it came at a cost… for both parties involved.

Being a kendo teacher is not a position that is awarded, but one that is earned.


4. Doing

Actual constant physical practise of kendo is paramount. Keiko is everything! Some people, however approach things half-assed. They make excuses to avoid keiko: it’s too hot, too cold, they have to go out drinking, they have a date, etc. etc., yada yada yada.

Another thing that particularly annoys me is people who strike at their opponent and – whether successful of not – they turn their back on them, walk away, and reset the encounter. It’s something you might see now and again with a very elderly person, which I might forgive, but it still makes me mad. In fact, I almost never see it here in Japan.

Actually, one of my sensei just turned 92 years old and he doesn’t do it (and neither did Mochida sensei).

People like this believe their kendo to be somehow more “correct” than others and show little willingness to learn from (perceived) inferiors. Someone may not be the same grade as yourself, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have a deeper understanding of the shugyo aspect. In other words, people who act like this show a fundamental misunderstanding of kendo.


5. Outside of the dojo

It’s often said that kendo (or any budo) is something that should have meaning in all aspects of your life, regardless of physical location or who you are dealing with. For many people, however, there is a large separation between who they are in the dojo and who they are outside of it. I guess in the beginning of someones kendo training this is to be expected, but once you start accumulating decades, I think we should see a closing of the gap. This not only includes movement and mannerisms, but respect for older people, taking appropriate care of juniors, and being able to deal with whatever situation comes your way appropriately, without panic.


There are actually many more things that I think affect a persons “quality” of kendo that I could list, but an exhaustive list is impossible. Anyway, I think I’ll leave it here today. Cheers!

High school shiai (university invitational) 大学招待試合

Today I spent the whole day at yet another university invitational shiai for high school students (it’s that time of year!). I got up at 6am and was greeted with a cold and rainy Osaka morning. Jamming a banana in my mouth, I bought a coffee at the nearby convenience store and headed over to Kyoto.

As usual, the day went as follows:

– warmup
– opening ceremony and morning shiai (preliminary rounds)
– lunch break and another warmup
– knock-out rounds
– godogeiko with university students and graduates

Of the different type of shiai I attend, I much prefer these invitational ones to “official” shiai because of the always-included (if short and frantic!) godogeiko session at the end.

Anyway, please enjoy the video clips and gallery:

Gallery:

Kendo: a detailed explanation of its essence and teaching methodology (1935) 剣道:神髄と指導法詳説

A couple of years ago when I was visiting Tokyo for some kendo, I stumbled upon a chunky kendo book from 1935 in a second hand bookstore. What immediately caught my attention was name of one of the most fearsome kenshi of the 20th century on the cover: Takano Shigeyoshi (adopted son of Sasaburo). Another name on the cover suggested it was co-written, but that person I had never head of: Tanida Saichi. Of course, I immediately bought the book, took it back to my hotel room, and had a closer inspection. It was at this point I noticed that Tanida was the principal author whereas Takano served as a proofreader/mentor for the project.

I couldn’t uncover any information about Tanida at all other than what was written in the introduction (where it mentions Takano was his sensei and that he has studied kendo for over 20 years) which is very frustrating! At a best guess – based on the content of the book – I’d say that he was some sort of professional school kendo teacher. The fact that Takano was his sensei suggests that he was either a student of Takano at the Urawa Meishinkan between 1900-14 or in Manchuria sometime after 1914. Perhaps it was a bit of both.

Anyway, an extremely detailed book, it goes into a lot more detail and covers a much larger scope than any other kendo book I have seen, pre or post war. To give you a clue as to just how comprehensive it is, here are the chapter titles:

1. The nation and athletics
2. The social position of Budo
3. The development of kendo
4. The significance of kendo
5. The purpose of kendo
6. Kendo and discipling the body
7. Kendo and discipling the spirit
8. Kendo and technical skill
9. Where does the essence of kendo lie?
10. Kendo and calligraphy
11. Kendo and character
12. Kendo is dignity
13. Kendo and the military
14. Kendo and bushido
15. The holes in modern kendo
16. The steps in kendo
17. Things to prepare about in your kendo shugyo
18. The process to walk the path of kendo
19. What we can apply from the life of self-improvement led by Confucius to our kendo shugo
20. Dojo
21. Things we should be careful about during practise
22. Kendo bogu and uniform
23. Basic movements
24. Kamae
25. Basic striking
26. Other ways to strike
27. Things to be careful about when striking
28. Basic drills
29. How to move the sword
30. Special training
31. Musha shugyo
32. Attacking strategies
33. Defending strategies
34. Keiko
35. Types of keiko
36. Tsuabazeria
37. Dealing with jodan, nito, naginata, or other types of weapons
38. Men techniques
39. Kote techniques
40. Dou techniques
41. Tsuki techniques
42. Kendo in school
43. Discussion on teaching kendo
44. Discussion on how to help others improve
45. Discussion about competitors
46. Kendo teaching material
47. The steps in designing kendo teaching material
48. The conventions for teaching material
49. Things you should be careful about as a kendo teacher
50. Grading kendo
51. Dai nippon teikoku kendo kata
52. Shinpan
53. Shiai
54. Types of shiai
55. The style of “Kokutai yusho taikai”
56. Kendokai (keikokai)
57. Kendo seminars
58. Size/weight of shinai
59. How to improve technical skill
60. How to forge the spirit
61. Taking stock
62. Kendo and women
63. Iai
64. Eishin-ryu iai
65. Shizuka-ryu naginata
66. Setsunin-to, katsujin-ken
67. Shuriken
68. Things you should know about the katana

Whew!! I don’t think I translated the chapter titles 100% accurately, but I think you get the gist: the book is super comprehensive. In fact, I think I’ll have to wait for retirement before I’ll ever find the time to sit down and read it from start to finish.

I contemplated translating a small part of this book today, but I think I’ll leave that for another time. Instead, please enjoy some pictures/illustrations from the inside of the book itself.

btw, when doing some online research about the book I discovered that it was re-issued in modern format a few years ago. I haven’t seen the new version, but if you are interested you can pick it up here at amazon.jp.


Gallery

Kensei Naito Takaharu 剣聖・内藤高治

As I’ve discussed on kenshi 24/7 many times, Naito Takaharu sensei was – is, in fact – the single most influential figure in modern kendo’s history (the closest person to this title is his rival, Takano Sasaburo). His idea of kendo, both in execution and in thought, permeates kendo today. Often this idea is expressed more as an ideal, but people serious about kendo still follow his defined kendo diet of kirikaeshi, uchikomi, taiatari, and kakarigeiko. He also saw little or no point in competition for the serious shugyo-sha, an attitude that has been almost lost today, even amongst senior practitioners.

During his 30 years as the most senior Butokukai kenshi he taught many people (including every 10th dan) but, being the humble person he was, he didn’t leave a lot of written material. However, his students talked about him profusely over the following years.

Luckily, in addition to the personal accounts left by his students, there were two volumes dedicated to Naito sensei produced, both of which I own and will introduce today.

The first is a book called “Kenshi: Naito Takaharu.” Luckily it was put together and printed just over a year after his death (he died on the 9th of April 1929 and the book was published for the Kyoto Taikai in 1930). Due to the books immediate nature it serves as an invaluable testament to the man.

The second book was published in 1975, a full 45 years after his death, and is entitled “Kensei: Naito Takaharu.” This book is valuable for two reasons, the first being the passage of time, and the second being less rushed content. In particular, comments by the most senior sensei of the day about their relationship to and experiences under Naito sensei are invaluable.

Unless I win the lottery and can quit my day job it’s impossible to translate the books fully, so let me just introduce a random portion from the earlier book.

The two books

From “Kenshi: Naito Takaharu” : Shinpan

The way Naito sensei did shinpan was as if he were a giant mountain. He would never move nor even stand from the shinpans seat. Even if the competitors were in a situation where he couldn’t see clearly he wouldn’t move. He would explain this by saying “If you can’t see them with your eyes, you should be able to sense them with your heart.”

When the shimpan of shiai were from the older generations (and thus smaller in stature) sometimes he would spot one siting on the shinpan chair with their legs dangling down not touching the floor. If he saw a scene like this Naito sensei would call the sensei to his house and warn them: “Sit naturally and place your hands on your knees. If you don’t sit yourself properly then how can you shinpan correctly? If you are sitting on your seat and move around you’ll make bad calls.”

When shinpaning he hated black tabi. Even if it were very cold he’d rather just shipan in his bare feet or, occasionally, he’d wear white tabi. He stuck to this rule even in large taikai. Due to this there was an instance where a famous kendo sensei was due to work as a shinpan in a shiai. The sensei tried to find some white tabi in Kyoto but couldn’t, and ended up judging in his bare feet.

* Note that until after the war (excluding the Tenran-jiai) a single shinpan was normal. They sat in a chair.


Naito sensei gallery

Most of the images included below are from the books mentioned.