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March book project #4: kendo books for kids

The fourth instalment of my March book project will look at a handful of books that are primarily for children. I guess many kenshi 24/7 readers aren’t too interested in kids kendo books and, honestly, neither am I very much. However, when flicking though the books I realised one area that they can be of great benefit: as a Japanese learning tool.

In a (now archived) article I wrote back in October 2008 I discussed the benefits of studying Japanese for the serious kendoka. Let me resurrect the body of that post for you now:

I live here so I need to use Japanese in my daily business (work, kendo, buying beer, etc), but for those of you that live outside Japan and practise kendo, what’s your take on whether learning Japanese for budo (kendo et al): is it a good or a bad thing? Actually, lets go one step further: is it a necessity or or is not?

Are there any benefits to your study, either physically or mentally, by learning Japanese? Can you learn kendo (for example) without Japanese and still “get” kendo? If you don’t fully understand the more intricate nuances of budo terminology does it even matter? etc etc.

If you have a look at the (very modern) definitions of both BUDO (1987) and KENDO (1975), it would suggest that the study of things like kendo go above and beyond mere “Japaneseness” and are separate from – not only Japanese culture (including language) – but any culture (historical references withstanding).

My personal viewpoint is this: by not understanding or, much more importantly, by not making an effort to understand the Japanese terminology that is used within our everyday practise, then I suggest that you will be forever underexposed to the full breadth of the thing that we call “kendo” (and “budo”).

I believe that kendo (and perhaps “budo” in general) cannot be separated from its “Japaneseness” without making it something else (for better or worse). This includes, of-course, our day-to-day in-the-dojo vocabulary set.

This might sound like me saying “learn Japanese and understand the truth” but please don’t misconstrue what I mean. I think there is a new definition shaping outside of Japan as to what KENDO/BUDO means and what its aims are. This is a natural thing and something that comes from people having a long exposure to the art. Surely a localisation of meaning is not only natural, but something to be celebrated? Hand in hand with this localisation you have, of course, less emphasis on Japanese language as a core transmission vehicle for the art(s), and new definitions of words being written (if Japanese is even being used).

However, there is a danger: I was taught many Japanese words throughout the years of my training only to find out much later that many of the words/concepts explained to me were in fact conveyed inaccurately. This was not deliberate of-course, just a by product of studying something as “Japanese” as kendo, but without Japanese language proficiency on the side of the teacher (and the student).

At any rate, I don’t think anyone would deny that knowledge of Japanese won’t help you to understand some of the more physical and (more pointedly) metaphysical concepts that underpin everyday budo practise, and that people can reach the highest levels of budo ability without speaking Japanese; I will always reserve a little bit more respect, however, for those that do go out of the way and add – to the already hard task of learning budo – the study of Japanese as part of their shugyo. If you haven’t already, why don’t you give it a go?

I think that even if you disagree with what I tried to say back in 2008 I think you might concede the general gist: that knowledge of Japanese increases the breadth of kendo/budo knowledge available to you (whether thats verbal or written), and that this can only be an aid in your study. It is with this in mind that I look at todays handful of books.

All the books shown today are completely in Japanese but they are all written simply and, more importantly for those wishing to use them as study tools, with furigana.

Parents and kids kendo classroom / Kids kendo primer

By complete coincidence, both of these children kendo books were written by the same gentleman – Tsukuba university professor Tsuboi Saburo – and both were released in 1980.

Although the funny drawings in the inside of both make them without a doubt kids books both, surprisingly, cover a large breadth of information. From the history of kendo dating back hundreds of years (including details of famous kenshi and ryuha) up to the more mundane things such as explanations of different keikogi patterns and how to tie all the knots on the shinai, these books have it all. Also included are keiko plans, waza explanations, kata, shiai rules, shinpan movement, etc etc etc., probably anything you care to mention. And all in very easy to understand Japanese.

I think either book can be picked up second hand for a handful of yen and can, in my opinion, serve as a great way to study Japanese via a topic you like.

Kendo manga textbook series 1-7

You’ve probably seen one or two of these books before. This is a series of textbooks in manga style that goes through the ins-and-outs of kendo. The series of 7 books I have deal with basics, techniques, shiai, kata, shiai rules, kendo knowledge, and gradings. They are aimed at primary school kids and as such as super easy to understand. If you are learning Japanese and are looking for easy kendo material to help you do so, you can’t go wrong with these books.

Book covers

The top two books are by the same author and the bottom picture shows the manga series.





By George

George is the founder and chief editor of
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16 replies on “March book project #4: kendo books for kids”

The role of language in shaping thought is long a subject amongst philosophers, psychologists, semiologists, cognitive scientists, etc. Languages with strong cases (genetive, acvusative, etc) such as German or Russian tend to demand more precise construction of expression of their speakers (with a lot of failure mind you). A contextual language such as Japanese forces awareness of the other party’s intention or perception through socially established norms (hence the cultural difficulties non-Japanese often have in Japan). English, perhaps through its history of population mixture (medieval and colonial invasion, open immigration, pop culture, etc.), has a high degree of flexibility while retaining intelligibility (sort of). In my view, linguistic awareness/ability always opens new doors of thought.

Spot on as always Dillon… I live for your comments!!

Actually, just yesterday someone said to me that Japanese was a “listeners” language, one that you listed to and carefully intimate meaning by reading between the lines.

Is it just me missing many vowels in the comments above? Is it a display problem or are they really missing?

For example in George’s last comment I read:”[…] one that you lsted to and carefully ntmate meanng by readng between the lnes.”.

You know, to stick to the literal context of your latest post (i.e. Kendo books for kids), as a parent who has a young child in Kendo now I really wish I had some English language material to give him.

I tried having him look through the existing stuff out there, but it’s all a bit high falutin’ for a 10 year old.

Hmm….niche market perhaps. And by “niche” I mean, very niche.

Need to grab myself some copies of these.

In regards to the pursuit of Japanese I think Dillon’s highlighting of contextual communication is crucial. The contextual dynamic/relationship is present both in verbal instruction and physical instruction.

I believe communication in Japanese ties into developing a mindset that is conducive to the self improvement that is sought in keiko. I suspect the lack of verbose instruction from my teachers to be aproduct of this.

French kenshi, writer, architect and comics’ author Pierre Delorme (kendo rokudan) wrote two small volumes of great quality in French, _Le Kendo en bandes dessinées_, vol.1 in 2008, vol.2 in 2011, published by Guy Trédaniel Éditeur. Little (but very accurate) text, excellent pictures.

The sensei figure in the books is Delorme sensei’s own sensei, Okada Morihiro hanshi, a student of Saimura Goro hanshi. For anyone whose French is better than their Japanese, it may be a good substitute for the Japanese books that George has so generously introduced to us. All areas are covered (how to dress, how to wear bogu, reigi, cuts, waza, kihon no kata, but not kendo no kata. Initiation of great quality.

Luc is quite correct about Pierre Delorme’s contribution as early as 1979 when he wrote: “Dojo le temple du sabre” a romanced accourt of his experience in japan training at Shodokan with the late Okada Yasuhiko, Morihiro’s son in 1973.
Everything concerning kendo technique is an exact rendering of Shodokan tuition.
Pierre is also a great boxer and painter, sculptor….
I had dinner with him last monday, as he is the only architect I know who studied japanese kendo sprung floors.
Pierre studied antisismic architecture at the time.
Kendo dojos should fall into that catégorie 😉

I have always been keen on his Les arts martiaux appliqués aux affaires . I see it has been republished.

Sensei is very into Japanese, and having classes where almost everything is in Japanese has been amusing as it works more smoothly (no explanation, just go).

I have interest in kendo books for kids, as my daughter is already keen (but a little too young yet). Going to look for manga on kendo as well.

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