Over the past almost 9-years of being a high school kendo teacher (and the 5 years of teaching at junior high/elementary school level before that) I have been to quite a few shiai. Actually, I lie: I have been to about a million (if not that exact number then it certainly feels like it!). Behind all these official shiai are many many many more unofficially renshu-jiai (practise competition). These practise shiai sessions vary from smallish groups of one or two school kendo clubs getting together for a couple of hours of shiai followed by jigeiko, to massive multiple day events attended by 30 or more schools battling each other out.
In almost all cases there is no overall winner, you simply do as many shiai as possible and catalogue your own or your teams wins and losses. The competitor does his or her best against a – usually – unknown opponent then afterwards receives advice from their kendo teacher.
Apart from being fun, there are many helpful benefits to this kind of training, for example it:
– increases motivation;
– engenders a competitive spirit;
– offers a time and a place for experimentation without fear of loss;
– forces students to deeply consider why it was they won or lost;
– can be a good time to talk strategy with students (rather than purely form);
– allows the students to see if their kendo works against others in a low-stress environment.
Etc., etc. In other words, renshu-jiai offer opportunities to test ones kendo out against other people in a competition-near environment (timed, judged) without the emotional stress that can accompany official shiai.
If you don’t already do renshu-jiai as part of your kendo clubs training process, why don’t you try?
p.s. It would be remiss of me if I didn’t make a final point: it’s important to note that behind all of these shiai (official or practise) is keiko. Day-to-day keiko sessions far outnumber actually competition, exponentially so.
Bonus: Shiai wisdom
… the actual result of shiai is greater than simply winning or losing: it trains you to use the techniques you acquire in your daily practice fairly and justly, and gives you an opportunity to ensure that your manners are correct. Also, by reviewing how you acted during the shiai you can evaluate the degree of improvement in your spiritual and physical self-cultivation, providing you with a valuable reference about how to improve your kendo for the future.
One more …
Some exponents will tell us that there “is nothing to gain from merely winning in shiai” that the highest aims and the ultimate principles of kendo are beyond victory and defeat, and even transcend the realms of life and death; in this sense we can agree with this comment. However, even though the ultimate aims of kendo may transcend victory and defeat, the struggle for victory remains the only avenue for attaining them. Hence, comments such as the one above are easily misunderstood. Even if one tries one cannot divorce oneself from the confines of victory and defeat (shohai). It is only by focusing one’s mind upon shohai and submersing oneself into it that one eventually man- ages to emerge and transcend it. Consequently, the shugyosha must make it a golden rule that should he decide to enter a shiai he must endeavor to win at all costs.
– Noma Hisashi, The Kendo Reader
Some renshu-jiai pics from over the years: