Mazeru – mix it up 交ぜる

Recently a long-time kendo friend living in the U.K. messaged me on facebook to tell me he was bored with kendo (again). The problem – as I put it to him – was that he has probably “little variation in his keiko” and that he is “constantly stuck with the same partners, doing the same thing.” He readily agreed to my analysis. When you combine this with the lack of a large kodansha base (whereby there are few senior people to learn under nor aim towards), then you can see where his boredom comes from and can easily understand the root of his frustration.

My suggestion was for him to get out of his usual comfortable keiko-zones and go and visit other places. A 2-week kendo trip to Japan would be optimal of course, but is far from realistic for most people most of the time. Simply visiting another dojo now and then can make a world of difference. Being based in Europe gives him the added ease of making a weekend kendo trip to another country, say France, Germany, or Italy.

I am in a very lucky situation here in Osaka, but I still make the effort every now and then to practise in places that I haven’t been (or barely go) to. At the same time, I try to do the same thing with my high school students (when you practise 6-times a week with friends its easy to become over comfortable with them), but in the following 3 ways (and in this order):

  1. Renshu-jiai

    Where we go to another school (or visa versa) and spend the day doing as many practise shiai as possible. Scores are kept but there is no league or competition per-se. At the end we may do a little bit of jigeiko. Students generally don’t know each other.

  2. Godo-renshu

    Again, were we go to another school (or visa versa) and take part in their keiko (or them ours) menu. The aim here is to practise polishing our kendo. Again, theres usually a little bit of jigeiko at the end and students may not know each other.

  3. Degeiko

    When I take a number of students (not all of them as there are too many!) to an adult dojo for some instruction/practise with my sempai and sensei.

Of course, sometimes 1 and 2 are done in combination.

The aim in all this is basically to change mood, but there are also added pluses such as exposure to different teachers or training methods; sometimes something as simple as a change in venue helps a lot. If you find yourself bored or frustrated with your kendo practise, get out of your normal dojo and go somewhere else or even call a friend at another dojo and tell them to bring their friends along to training next week.

A term used in kendo circles that everyone knows is 交剣知愛 (ko-ken-chi-ai). The KO portion is the kanji 交 which means to MIX or CROSS. Kendo-wise, that refers to the crossing of shinai, and can be taken to infer – in our term above – the making of friendships.

In other words, If you get out of your normal dojo and do kendo with different people, I’ll guarantee that you’ll not only make new or perhaps deepen older friendships, but your boredom and frustration will also disappear!!

Suzunosuke 鈴之介

I’d like to introduce kenshi247 readers to someone who has played a large part in my kendo life over the last three years: Kubota Suzunosuke. He was a key member of my high school kendo club, eventually becomng the club captain and passing his 3 dan when he was still just 17. Unfortuanately, on January 30th 2013, he passed away, so you will never be able to meet or do kendo with him. However, like I have done, I believe there is something you can learn from him by knowing a little bit about how he lived his life.

In a post that is completely different from my normal content, I would like to tell you something of his story here today, but rather than use my words, I’ll do so by translating a couple of pieces that were published in the Sankei Shinbun on February 18th 2013, adding in a couple of comments for clarification here and there (I will also add a personal section at the end). The article also reached the top of news topics on that day. Of course, because I want to respect the privacy of his family, I wont go into too many extra details.

Please note that I did get his parents permission to publish this English translation online.

I hope you can find something inspiring in his story.
Continue reading Suzunosuke 鈴之介

Eikenkai February 2013

We had our first keiko of the year on a sunny Sunday morning on February 24th… and it was a good one! Jam-packed, we had nearly 30 kenshi in the dojo representing 11 countries, 8 prefectures, and almost every continent (Africa and Antarctica were absent). We had university students, a high school teacher, a science researcher, past-current-and-soon-to-be national team members, a director of international business of a large kendo equipment company, and a restaurant owner amongst other things.

The university students came from: Osaka City University, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific university, and the International Budo University. The last one is a private university that specialises in turning out P.E. teachers, policemen and women, and professional sportspeople. The have a one-year budo course aimed at non-Japanese people. The students on this course choose either kendo or judo to specialise in. This current year has 8 people on the kendo course, 5 of which attended todays Eikenkai session.

Keiko consisted of the usual 45-30-45 format: 45 minutes of kihon, 30 minutes of waza practise, and about 45 minutes of jigeiko. By the end everyone was tired but happy!!

After keiko we took a short stroll through the beautiful Sumiyoshi Taisha before sitting down to eat okonomiyaki at our usual place. After eating, we continued drinking and chatting into the evening.

The term 交剣知愛 (kokenchiai) is commonly used in kendo circles; we, however, have our own word that describes what we do here at Eikenkai: 英剣知愛 (eikenchiai)!!

The next session will be help on Sunday April 28th 2013. The following day is a national holiday and the Todofuken-Taikai (All Japan prefectural teams championships) will be held in Osaka. If you are in town, please come for keiko!!

Kendo photography

I started taking kendo pics back around 2003-4 with a small point and shoot camera and, after a few iterations of pretty low-end cameras, have settled on reasonably cost effective setup that allows me to take pics in a variety of situations, both for pleasure and images for use on this website. Since I get a lot more likes on pictures than articles on facebook, and because a lot of people ask me about the equipment I use, I thought I’d share my current setup as well as some sample images over the last 10 years using a variety of (mostly very) cheap cameras. Putting this post together has also allowed me to look to see how my technique has (or has not) matured over this time.

Basically, my current setup is as follows –

Digital: Sony Nex 5n (kit lenses 16mm/2.8 and 18-55/3.5-5.6; also use a nikon lens adapter)
Film: Nikon FM2n (primarily Nikkor 50mm/1.8; still experimenting with films; negatives self-scanned)
Mobile: iPhone 5 (instagram and/or KitCam for processing)

Nothing special nor professional, and nothing too expensive!

Please note that all photos are copyright yours truly. Downloading for use as desktop wallpaper is cool, but no unauthorised commercial use please. Cheers!

2003-7 Casio ExSlim-z40


2007-8 Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30

2007 February. Panasonic Lumix.


2008-11 Nikon D40





2011+ Sony Nex5n





2012+ Nikon FM2n




2012 Point-and-shoot test with a Nikon Coolpix P310 (i.e. can I pull some decent images from a point and shoot?)


In my experience…

For me, personally, a good kendo picture is about timing and location rather than the sharpness or quality of the image produced.

As you might have noticed in the above selection, all the kenshi are in kamae or are watching/waiting rather than actually striking. With the nex5, I can easily put the shooting mode on continuous and take a burst of 10 shots/second.. in fact, I had great fun doing exactly that when I got the camera at first. Wading through the hundreds of images I would produce per fight, I could easily find 1 or 2 of clear strikes. However, the whole thing became old and rather boring quickly. Not to mention the hassle involved. Looking at the pictures I produced I also realised that I preferred to see my pictures showing ‘semeai’ or to catch the kenshi in a moment of reflection (catching facial features can be hard). Of course, I do like to take the odd ‘exact strike’ shot, but when I am doing that I stand in kamae with my camera, and take the shot as if it is a debana-men… !

Location, also, I think is vitally important. For me, kendo has to be done in a dojo. There nothing worse (for me) than seeing kendo photography done on a colour-lined basketball court or something similar. I realise that this isn’t always possible to avoid (I take pics like this as well, though I don’t like to), especially for kenshi247 readers abroad without a ‘real’ dojo. My access to a variety of dojo is probably my only advantage over other camera-loving kendo friends abroad. A way to get around this of course, is to bokeh the background out.

There are a few other things I could chat about here, but nothing extraordinary – my kendo-photography philosophy is pretty simple… just like my kendo style!

Other pics from yours truly can be seen on:

my public kendo photo album on facebook

Also check out the flickr ART OF KENDO group for brilliant kendo pics from around the world.

Kendo kotoba 剣道言葉

Kendo kotoba

I wandered into the dojo a week or so back, and overnight my sensei had written and taped some kendo-specific kanji to the wall (see picture above).

The terms are very commonly used when talking about or describing kendo, but I thought I’d use this this opportunity to go over them here. As an added bonus, his handwriting is beautiful – enjoy!

For each term I will present the ‘official’ translations available from the Japanese-English dictionary of kendo where available (italicised), then supplement my own additions after that. The final version of my additions became somewhat larger than I intended, sorry!

The descriptions of the words are written below as the appear on the picture from top-bottom and right-left (the traditional direction of Japanese writing). Pay careful attention to the order that the vocabulary are presented in, as its not random.


The act of vocalising. The act of shouting at the opponent when facing each other. The act of shouting kote, men, do, when striking.

KIAI (気合)

The state where one is fully focused on the opponents move and one’s planned moves. Also, it refers to the vocalisations one produced when in such a state of mind.

The words hassei, kiai, and (not mentioned above) kakegoe, are three – at times – overlapping and interrelated words that we in the English kendo community commonly package (mistakenly) into single word: kiai. Why is this mistaken? Basically, kiai refers to a feeling of focus and determination, an internal will or drive to do something (e.g. desire to pass an exam, determination to ask a girl you like out on a date, etc). Sometimes (though not always) this is expressed vocally as a shout. We are in the habit of calling this kiai, but its probably more correctly termed kagekoe. Hassei is the act of doing kakegoe.


The strength of spirit to face any situation. Also called ki-gai. A strong mind capable of responding properly to a pressing matter or an attacking opponent.

To express kihaku in your kendo you would stand up and face your opponent without wavering. A power, both mental and physical, with which you face adversary. If your kendo lacks kihaku, its empty.

KI O KOROSU (気を殺す)

An important teaching concerning three ways to overwhelm an opponent. The three ways are ‘killing the ki (spirit),’ ‘killing the sword,’ and ‘killing the waza.’ Killing the ki means that one’s ki overwhelms the opponents ki, thereby forestalling his/her attack. Killing the sword means that one controls the movement of the tip of the opponent’s sword by restraining or deflecting the sword. Killing the waza means that one anticipates the opponent, giving him/her no chance to attack.

The order of the terms in the ‘official’ description above is misleading, and the descriptions simplified. The order that my sensei wrote it shows a flow of progression to maturity. When kenshi are in an immature stage they tend to attack their opponents by hitting their sword away, pushing and/or slapping it up or down, left and right, and jumping suddenly in to attack. As they become more experienced they start luring in the opponents attack and defeating them as they attempt to strike. The final stage of this progression, of the truly mature kenshi, is when they are able to overwhelm and control their opponent through mental power alone. It sounds a little bit fantastic but, as any experienced kenshi knows, it happens.

SEME (攻め)

To take the initiative to close the distance with the opponent in full spirit. This puts the opponent off balance mentally and physically and prevents him/her from moving freely. This enables one to maintain a constant advantage over the opponent. In kendo its important to intentionally attack and strike, not to just strike by chance. The back and forth action of offense and defense involved in seme (attacks) and seme-kaesu (counterattacks) not only improves the skill of both players but also develops their minds and bodies. All of this leads to the mutual self-creation of both people and to the building of human character.

Here, my sensei has broken the act of seme into three parts. Seme-komu is the act of driving in for the attack. This can be in a physical or mental sense. Seme-kiru is the act of finalisation of the strike, and Seme-katsu refers to victory as consequence of the attack. Seme is not something singular but, rather, has its own progression. Seme without seme-kiru or seme-katsu leads to nothing.

KOKYU (呼吸)

The act of inhaling and exhaling. In kendo this term also means to predict the opponent’s movement and adjust one’s moves accordingly as part of the interaction with the opponent.

KI (気)

The basic energy which exists in all matter that is born, develops, and dies. In human beings, it is the source of the kinetic energy responsible for perception, sensation, and instinct. In kendo, it refers to the environment surrounding one’s self and one’s opponent, and it is the basic energy in making the functioning of one’s body and mind full and harmonious.

Breathing is taught little in modern kendo circles nowadays, mainly because even some of the most senior teachers aren’t schooled in the traditional breathing methods. AUN NO KOKYU is usually mentioned at this juncture. It is a method usually associated with zen meditation (and sometimes yoga) which refers to not only breathing, but a sort of mental harmony between you and your partner, with the goal being a unification with the entirety of existence.

Looking at the description of kokyu and ki above, you can see that kokyu’s function is to tap into ki. This results in gaining access to all the energy in the universe, becoming one with it. In other words, kendo is simply a physical activity (any activity would actually do) who’s purpose is to unite you with the universe. Your partner helps you with this… they are not the enemy, and winning/losing are irrelevant. Kendo’s final goal is revealed through kokyu.


Simply tapping or hitting your opponents armour is not good enough for ippon. It has to be a strong strike with good tenouchi. It should be strong enough that your opponent (and any watching shinpan or grading panel) can acknowledge the strike, but not so hard or heavy to cause injury or pain. The strike must be deliberate and definite.


The body posture and state of mind in which, even after striking, one is alert and ready to respond instantly to any counterattack by the opponent. Generally speaking, after striking one should put the proper distance between one’s self and the opponent and face him/her in the chudan posture in order to be ready for a possible counterattack. If one cannot move the proper distance from the opponent, one should put the tip of one’s shinai in the center or around the throat of the opponent to guard against a counterattack.

Zanshin is often mistakenly taken to be simply a physical state, as suggested in the description above. It also tends to be thought of something that comes after a strike. In actual fact, zanshin should exist in your kendo at all times, right from when you face your opponent and bow (ritsurei) until you finish. I might even go as far as to say that you should aim to be ‘switched on’ and aware at all times, whether that is in the dojo – you see a student looking tired and like they are about to collapse and make them sit out – or at the bar after keiko – you see your sempai is about to finish his beer and you quickly order the next one.

Minus the extra information I added in my additions, you can see that there is a logical progression from Hassei (kakegoe/kiai) through to Zanshin in the kanji shown above, from your first shout, through to pressure, attacking, and finally zanshin.

What we have described here then is, in the end, the act of hitting an ippon. I hope this extended definition of kendo terms is useful!!!