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.
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…
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.
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!