As readers of kenshi 24/7 of course know, I have been involved in writing kendo stuff online for a long time… but maybe you don’t know exactly how long. kenshi247.net started in 2008 as an evolution of a blog I had started 5 years earlier in 2003. The prior instance of the site was a private blog I wrote to share my kendo experiences in Japan with friends back in Edinburgh, London, and NYC. Before arriving in Japan I re-booted and run the British Kendo Associations’ website between 2000-2003, and before that, when I was living and working (and training) in America, I maintained a semi-kendo related website in the late 90s. My first foray into kendo websites, however, was before even that…
I can’t remember the exact year I started kendo. I think it might have been 1993 or maybe early 94, I am not quite sure. I had gone to university to study Computer Science in late 1992, where I learned machine code, wrote programs in COBOL 85, and all our computers used Unix (it was as boring as it sounds). Anyway, although I am not sure the exact date I started kendo, I do know that it wasn’t until the internet started to become more visual – i.e. with the release of Mosaic (1993) and Netscape Navigator (1994) – when I first hit upon the idea of creating a website for my kendo club (I would eventually take over the helm of this club in 2000 and re-named it Edinburgh Kendo Club).
“What in the world has this to do with a shinai bag?” I hear you ask! Well, it is quite simple: at that point in time the internet had not yet exploded into the public domain (it was about to). As such, there was nothing really online. I know it’s probably hard to imagine for most people, but its true – it really was devoid of content, and what was there was hard to find. Around the time my website was live there was only two other kendo related websites online: one in Canada (I think) and one in Japan. During that time I conversed with the writers of both sites. I have no idea who the Canadian person was, but the Japanese person was almost certainly Abe Akihito, the person who made the shinai bag I am introducing today.
(I first met Abe-san at the 2003 World Kendo Championships, where we vaguely remembered each other; but it wasn’t until the 2015 World Championships in Tokyo where we sat down with some beer and really chatted about those early kendo-internet days. Although we can’t be 100% positive, we think that the chance that we exchanged email together extremely high.)
Currently Abe-san runs isenokami.jp, which is the domain he registered (in 2011) to succeed the site that he had been maintaining since 1994. Currently he uses it as a sort of brand for kendo-related items. His instagram is probably a better place to look, however, as he posts quite frequently. It was on there that I started to take interest in his hand-made shinai bags. I’m not sure when he started making them, but it must be a couple of years or so at least. Rather than talk about them, please have a look at some of his recent instagram posts.
Awesome looking right? I thought so too, so I ordered one. The bags are really subdued in style, and when ordering you can only choose from a small handful of carefully curated colours (for the bag itself as well as the leather parts) in shades of brown, green, grey, blue, and black. When I ordered I had the choice of 4 colours of bag material and 6 for the leather. You can choose a 2 or 3-shinai size bag. The bag is quite expensive, but it is completely handmade by Abe-san at his home in Kamakura.
Without further ado, here is the final product:
Check out Abe-san’s instagram post with my bag shown as well.
The shinai bag took about two months to arrive and came beautifully gift-wrapped and with a lovely hand-written letter as well.
The bag is awesome. Not only great looking and unique, but strong and sturdy. It smells nice too. I personalised it by having some kanji stencilled the top (the brand name “Isenokami” is stencilled on the bottom). I never use bags with a shoulder strap, but I do like the addition of the hand strap. I think I am going to use this bag for a very long time. I’ve taken it out to a couple of degeiko sessions thus far and both times people have come over and commented on it.
I am pretty sure Abe-san will take orders from abroad (though since the bags are handmade and he has a full-time job you’ll probably have to wait) so if you are interested in getting one for yourself, please get in touch with Abe-san directly via his website or instagram (English ok). I am throwing some un-asked for love in his way so if he seems surprised if you contact him, don’t worry!
The kanji I had put on the bag consists of two kanji MYO and KEN. The second you of course know, the MYO translates to either “exquisite / amazing” or “mysterious / strange” depending on the context. My use comes from an Itto-ryu teaching that says there is no self, no enemy, no shape, and nobody special. When facing a threat, you should be empty, void of all desire to win or avoid losing. Related terms you might have heard are things like mushin or muso-ken and so on. The idea is, of course, that you empty yourself and allow nature (the unexplained/unexplainable “mystery”) to flow freely though you and guide your actions… which will inevitably lead to “victory.”
In modern kendo we sometimes (actually, very rarely) hear MYO used in the phrase GEN-MYO NA WAZA (玄妙な技). This refers to the use of a rare or particularly difficult technique. These types of waza are considered yuko-datotsu even if they don’t exactly fill the requirements for a valid technique. This is particularly so if the strike was light.
So what waza are “gen-myo” anyway? Well, that depends on who you ask. For me I would consider techniques such as maki-kote, ura-tsuki, mune-tsuki, tsuki-men, maki-age-men or kote, men-kaeshi-men, kote-suriage-kote, kote-nuki-katate-hanmen, men-nuki-gyaku-dou and the like to probably qualify. But it isn’t necessarily the execution of the waza itself that makes something gen-myo – what happens right before the technique is launched is equally, if not more, important. So even a normal men strike could be considered “exquisite” if the lead up to it (that is, the seme-ai) is particularly good.
p.s. while writing this article I’ve come to the conclusion that Edinburgh Kendo Club almost certainly has a good claim as the longest kendo club online. The initial page I made in 1994 was live until at least 1997 or 8 (it wasn’t deleted immediately after I graduated), and I made a new site and registered a domain (which is still active) in 2001. So, minus a 2 or 3 year blank, Edinburgh Kendo Club has been online continuously for something like 25 years!