(Note this is a guest post from Daniel Zoot)
“Motomereba Mugendai” (求めれば無限大) is my favorite Kendo book. It is a small, easily readable book composed of 100 short essays on Kendo training and leadership topics. One of the things I like about it (in addition to the uncomplicated, straightforward word choice and sentence structure) is the way the author has divided the book in to chapters based on the themes of the essays. The first two chapters are devoted to the practitioner’s personal technical and spiritual development. The third chapter is focused on advice for the kenshi as an instructor. The last chapter is for parents, both those with children already practicing Kendo, and those considering encouraging their children to start.
Some of the advice is highly Japan-centric (such as one vignette in which the author posits that people with dyed hair shouldn’t be put in leadership positions). But anyone doing Kendo should enjoy this book. I re-read a page or two every few days. The book is beneficial to me because I am wrestling with my own challenges as a student and junior instructor, and hope soon to be a Kendo parent as well. I don’t believe that a translation exists yet, so I have included some of my own translations of my favorite passages below.
From chapter 1, which is entitled “When you start practicing Kendo, so that your efforts will yield results”
Essay 5: If you want to become strong, develop two rivals
One’s approach to keiko is very different depending one whether or not one has a rival. This is particularly true if there is a person to whom one does not want to lose. When your rival is from your own dojo, and is always in sight, you never let you can’t get lax. When your rival is in another dojo, since you can’t see what he is up to, you can’t get lax because you are always concerned that he or she might be working harder than you. So it makes sense to have a rival both inside and outside of your dojo.
From chapter 2: “Is it possible that the way you are practicing is inappropriate?”
Essay 28: You should always practice as if your teacher is watching you
The other day I was forced to do a demonstration match (mohangeiko-模範稽古) in front of everyone. In my personal opinion, I feel that I did a good job. People even gave me compliments, saying that it was fantastic. Someone approached me and gave me the following advice, “Isn’t the reason you were able to do so well because you were being watched by so many people? If you were able to do so well even if you were not being watched, you could even get stronger. That’s certainly possible, since you did it this one time.” These words really made an impression on me because there is so much truth to them based on my daily practice.
Essay 39: One purpose of keiko is to be able to feel that a moment is “long.”
Even during a fierce exchange, serious competitors can capitalize on opportunities that appear for only a moment. To the people watching, it may only seem like it was a split second chance, but to the competitor, he or she might say that it seemed like quite a long time. That’s why they’re capable of these kinds of things. They say that the [famous baseball pitcher] Kawakami Tetsuharu said during his best season “I was able to see the stitches on the ball.” This is a matter of how much mental leeway [kokoro no yoyuu-心の余裕] a person has, not a matter of a length of time. If one is placing one’s opponent under pressure, one gets the mental leeway. If one is being pressured by one’s opponent, one will not have the mental leeway. What is important in Kendo is not whether one is hitting or one is hit, but whether one is pressuring the opponent or being pressured by the opponent.
From chapter 3: “When you become a instructor and you are doing your best, at least so that you do not spin your wheels”
Essay 64: Never give advice to someone else’s students
Children don’t always progress smoothly. Sometimes they go to the right, and sometimes they curve backwards to the left. To correct something that is leaning too far to the right, sometimes it is not enough to try to straighten it out, and one must overcorrect by overshooting to the left. The only person who knows the right thing to do is the child’s direct teacher. So when you are visiting another dojo, one might have an urge to say to a child, “if there is a chance, you should take it.” To a child that goes only for men, you should not say, “you should also go for kote and dou.” It is possible that for a particular reason this child has been instructed to only practice hitting men.
From chapter 4: “In Kendo, children will improve two or three fold with their parents’ understanding and cooperation.”
Essay 80: If you want to force a child to do something, don’t ask his or her opinion
These days you often hear parents say, “We respect our child’s independence.” I can understand that when it is a matter of the child wanting to take on a new challenge, but not when the issue is that the child has gotten sick of something and wants to quit. Using an example from Kendo, there are no children that say, “I am going to try hard at Kendo for the sake of character development.” For most children, it is normal for them to say, “It looks like fun, so I want to try it. Now I am sick of it, so I want to quit.” If a parent feels it is necessary, it is OK to force the child to do it of the parent’s volition. In any event, all of the responsibility for a child’s education is with the parents.
Essay 91: Troublemakers are the ones who excel.
When you are in charge of a large group of children, you will have quiet and diligent ones that are easy to deal with, and you will have troublemakers that you can’t ignore for a minute. The ones who you don’t have to watch are easy to deal with, but they are uninteresting as individuals. And in that sense, the troublemakers have an allure that you can’t dislike. In the first place, troublemaking comes from ways of thinking that can’t be kept inside a box. They have bountiful curiosity, and make trouble because they get bored with only what they have been taught. Hence, if one does not endlessly scold these types of children, but rather channels their energy into positive endeavor, these children will excel even more.