Quality kenshi

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!

By George

George is the founder and chief editor of
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18 replies on “Quality kenshi”

pet peeve. Not showing respect and doing the ritual “i’m sorry for being rude” to sensei when intending to take nito or jodan.

I’d understand if you’re a staple at the dojo, you’ve already done it etc. but if it’s the first time or first time in a while then I feel they should out of respect.

Sam, I think thats generally a fault of their teacher for not telling them to do it. Assuming of course that they have a proper teacher…. !

Problem is what if a person starts to behave very badly in the dojo. When can we draw the line until this person can be kick out the dojo?
This always bugs me, i’m currently having a very serious problem with a girl in my dojo who is going beyond the limits of disrespect with both sempai and collegues and we are kind of trying to be patient and talk to to her be even that makes no effect. We are starting to wonder if we should ask her out. o.0

Whoa, is that George’s old teaching style coming out again?

I disagree, and since we don’t know (or want to see it posted here) the exact details of the situation I would be against saying kick her out!

Assuming you are a Dojo leader, I suggest you and the other leaders (sensei/club president/secretary etc) first have a discussion among yourselves about the behavior of the person. And then talk to the person themselves.

Gain an understanding of her circumstances and then make an informed decision. Give her the opportunity to redeem herself. Or you the chance to understand her behaviour.

If else fails. Kick her out! πŸ˜›

Yes, yes, of course. Like a friend of mine joked once “The decision must be made in the Γ‘gora” or else it’s not a democracy ahaha. I’m only asking because pretty much everything was already tried (talking, excuses, ignoring etc) and since it’s such a rare (i hope) situation we’re kind lost. Don’t want to kick somebody out but if there’s no respect there’s nothin else to be done will have to do it.

Per usual, a fine post.

One thing you mentioned in the “Study” portion of the post was about people who show no interest in anything other than the physical side of Kendo. That caught my attention because the “non-physical” side is a big part of what drew me into Kendo in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t get all Yoda about it, but the philosophical/historical aspects are interesting to me. One of my fave Kendo books is Kiyota Minoru’s work. I found his connections with Buddhism and Kendo to be very compelling.

Many years ago I was discussing this book with a very high ranking teacher, who quickly dismissed the topic and simply said with a dismissive wave of the hand “Bah, those are just old ideas”.

Suffice to say, I didn’t feel inspired to follow that teacher after that.

Not small things at all! As usual your perspective as an embedded ex-pat is thought-provoking. Especially the perspective on teaching methods which is a professional interest for both of us. One Japanese sensei who lived here for a few years had never taught Kendo at all in Japan, in spite of being 7 dan (he’s a doctor). He said being forced to examine how and why he knew what he knew was the single biggest learning about Kendo he had ever experienced and had made him a better kenshi. Another interesting conversation I had about teaching styles recently was with a different resident sensei, also 7 dan. He noted that some kenshi are so strong that they actually produce few good students. He noted that Shizawa sensei of Nittaidai, who never reached 8 dan himself, has 20-30 students become 8 dan. That was a good reminder for me to make sure my students surpass me. b

Thank you for the thoughts. I think if something is not laid out explicitly in front of some people they miss it. It is something I struggled with a lot when first starting and still do. I don’t think it is a lack of ability, but more one of how you expect to be taught.

Also loving the picture of the bridge, can’t wait to go back this month.

Very insightful read, as always πŸ™‚

Many kendoka advocate the “Kendo is life” motto, which to me, personally, is a slightly shallow understanding of things.

As the Bruce Lee adage goes: “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough we must do”. Learning should not end in this and that. And this doesn’t only constitute waza. This also goes for the philosophical aspects of the martial arts.

I would say, rather, “Life is Kendo”. I believe that martial arts should be a good tool in shaping one’s character and outlook in life. One’s demeanor outside the dojo becomes reflective of how he is in the dojo. How one deals with the ‘hits’ life gives him and how he responds, seeing the opportunities and going for them, etc.

Though this also goes the other way, we are taught to leave our baggage at the door the moment you go in and rei.

As you have said, time would close the gap between one’s life outside and inside the dojo, I also believe that having this mindset from the get go would be beneficial to the kendoka in the long run. Not being overzealous or obsessive about it, but, for lack of better description, it’s akin to implanting the seeds so that they grow well in time. (No guarantees, though πŸ˜› )

Of course, it’s given that time will really influence the maturity and wisdom of a kendoka. πŸ™‚

I’d add to in the “Studying” part maybe the search for diferent points of view like travelling and visiting other dojos.

Back at my old dojo in NYC (NYC Kendo Club) our teacher (Kataoka sensei) and senior students (4th Dan and above) enforced decorum. I was a member there from 1986-2000 when I left for Japan and I must say that apart from minor matters, I am glad to say we had no such discipline problems. We all thought for the good of the club.

Is that so?? Wow what a small world. Well I’m up here in the Tokyo area so perhaps we can meet one day and cross swords once again!

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