‘Traditional’ kendo pedagogy and abuse

My area as some of you know is teaching kendo to young people. In high school I teach kendo as an elective subject to 12 and 13 year olds. One tool I have found very useful for firing their imaginations is telling them stories from Japanese history, stories that most of us have read or heard at some point I’m sure.

The other day I was telling the story about the student who went to learn from a teacher in the mountains but instead of waza, he was made to cook and clean for sensei. Most of my students even today have seen the movie “The Karate Kid” so this was something they recognised. The next part of the story tells how the teacher starts hitting the student out of the blue, to the extent that the student is on edge at all times, never sure when the next blow is coming. The resolution of the story is, of course, the moment when the student spontaneously reacts and protects himself from the unseen blow, the teacher says, “Now we may begin”. I realised as I finished that some students were looking at me puzzled as if to say, “so what is the moral of that story?” Indeed what is it? Is it that there is something inherently abusive in traditional sword pedagogy?

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