Zanshin confusion, sutemi, and hikiage 真の残心

The common meaning of ZANSHIN nowadays is exactly as the kanji suggest – 残心 – “remaining spirit.” In other words, once you have struck you have to remain aware of your opponent in case they attempt to strike you back and, if they do so, you should be in a position to counterattack. In modern kendo this usually (for men) takes the physical form of turning around, facing your opponent, and going into kamae after a strike. I’ll explain why this can be slightly odd behaviour further down.
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Conceptual kendo shield 我拳を楯につくべき事

Many many moons ago, straight after graduating university, I uprooted and moved to America. I had started kendo only a couple of years earlier and, after taking some time to settle down, I eventually joined Ken-Zen dojo in NYC. There I found myself in great environment with awesome teachers and – for the first time in my life – a proper dojo. Before iaido and kendo keiko on Saturdays there was also kenjutsu being taught, something I knew absolutely nothing about… and so, after some persuasion and with recommendations from some of the kendo and iaido sensei, I was given permission to join. The kenjutsu was Yagyu Shinkage-ryu, and the teachers were the soon-to-be headmaster of the style, and Meik Skoss. The stars had aligned!
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Ichinen-fusho 一念不生

Today’s article is a short translation piece from the venerable Ogawa Chutaro sensei (1901-1992). Not only was Ogawa sensei kendo hanshi kyudan (teaching posts at Kokushikan and Keishicho) and an Itto-ryu and Jikishinkage-ryu swordsman, he was also one of the few distinguished kenshi known to have a truly deep involvement in buddhism. I think only Yamaoka Tesshu and Omori Sogen top him in this regard. His ideas about the purpose of kendo as well as his rationale for practising budo, was influenced heavily by this, and can be seen in The Concept of Kendo, which he helped write.

I’m not sure if you will be interested in the translation, but it spoke to me on a private level. I hope you enjoy it.

Continue reading Ichinen-fusho 一念不生

Shugyo 修行

For perhaps the fifth year (or maybe it’s the sixth) I find myself going through ramadan. Well, not exactly ramadan, as I am an atheist (though not irreligious), but I co-opt the month to do my own sort of spiritual and physical discipline (for the same reason I have tried Lent before). During this period I fast during daylight hours, allowing myself only a banana and a piece of chocolate before 6am if I have asageiko on that day, otherwise I eat no food until 7pm-ish, or around about whatever time the sun sets. If I have keiko in the evening it means I may not sit down to eat until after 9pm. As I may do anything from one to three keiko sessions some of these days, I do allow myself to drink water or maybe a cup of black coffee. Even though it’s not ramadan proper, I do believe it still serves as a spiritual exercise meant to better me as a person. This is, to me, an important part of my personal shugyo, of which budo is a part.

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Hasegawa hanshi’s tai-atari and kakarigeiko 長谷川壽範士の体当たり・掛かり稽古

Recently I was handed a condensed paper booklet of the kendo teachings of Hasegawa sensei, hanshi kyudan. The contents seemed to be a republishing of some earlier material (originally from perhaps the 50s or 60s?) on the 13th anniversary of his death. Leafing through the material I decided to translate a couple of small portions of the text, mainly as a pretext to introduce, via short bio, this forgotten kenshi to everyone.

Sadly, there are many many many sensei with similar backgrounds that have already faded from memory.

Hasegawa hanshi

A short bio of Hasegawa Hisashi sensei

Born in Niigata prefecture in 1906, Hasegawa sensei’s first introduction to kendo was as part of P.E. class in school (he was a member of the track and field club, not the kendo one). Upon graduating from school in 1925, under the influence of his big brother (and against his fathers wishes), he planned to study kendo seriously at the Butokukai’s teacher training facility in Kyoto, Busen. However, before going there it was decided that he should spend a year training under Nakayama Hakudo at Yushinkan. After the year was up Nakayama tried to dissuade him from going to Busen (i.e. for him to stay at Yushinkan), but he went anyway, again at the insistence of his brother.

Hasegawa sensei spent the next six years at Busen, four years as part of the normal course, and the last two years on the research course. Here he studied kendo under such people as Naito Takaharu, Monna Tadashi, Ogawa Kinnosuke, Yano Katsujiro, Miyazaki Mosaburo, Tsuzaki Kanejiro, and Sato Chuzo, amongst others. The highlight of his six years in Kyoto was representing the prefecture at the 1929 Tenran-jiai, which took place in Saineikan, the budojo in the imperial palace.

Upon finishing at Busen he was invited to go to Noma dojo by Noma Hisashi and Masuda Shunsuke, but he declined and became a school teacher instead. He taught kendo in Hikone city, right next to the famed castle, between 1932-9. To further his personal study in kendo he took up an offer to join Osaka police dept. where he remained (surviving the turmoil of the war and post-war years) until retiring in 1967.

He was awarded hanshi in 1963, and became kyudan in 1977. Hasegawa sensei passed away on the 10th February 1986.

The following is the liberal translation of two short passages of Hasegawa sensei’s own words.

hikoneHikone castle by Aki Sasaki on flickr


Tai-atari

Although kendo is an activity whereby you discipline the mind and the body and achieve victory through the use of the sword, there are many times when this victory can be achieved with the aid of tai-atari. For example, you can use tai-atari to break your opponents stability when they are slight off-balance, when they have just finished a technique, or in the very instant they have lost concentration, etc. By doing this you can place them in a disadvantageous position, both posture wise and through loss of nerve.

But tai-atari is not just useful in those situations. If you practise it in your daily keiko it will help train the spirit and body. It is especially important to tai-atari during kirikaeshi.

When executing tai-atari ensure that you pull both your arms back to your body, push out your abdomen, and make sure that your shinai’s tsuka is at a diagonal. During kirikaeshi don’t strike men and go straight into left and right cutting, do tai-atari first. Remember to launch the sho-men strike from a far distance with full vigour and from there tai-atari strongly.

Point 1: smash into your opponents chest not only powerfully, but “flexibly.” At the same time, ensure that your hands push up into the opponents face so that you can scoop them up and force them back (Editor’s note: this is not recommended nowadays…).

Point 2: if the opponent is strong and cannot be forced back easily, try pushing them back a little bit diagonally.

Kakarigeiko

Note that the term “kakarigeiko” and “uchikomi” are sometimes used to mean the same thing. What is being described here is what we would refer to as “uchikomi” today.

The job of the motodachi during kakarigeiko is to make random openings for the kakarite to strike. The motodachi should be able to differentiate between well executed and poorly executed attacks, receiving the former and blocking or executing oji-waza against the latter. The motodachi must also pay careful attention at all times, and work hard to teach (show) the kakari-te the difference between the correct and in-correct way of striking so that the kakari-te can improve.

The kakari-te should throw away any personal ideas they may have and aim to execute attacks exactly as they have been taught them during basic training. Attacks should be executed largely, from a far distance, and with a loud voice. Kakarigeiko should be done this way repeatedly with a full spirit.

Point 1: Kakarigeiko is practise of basic strikes in a free manner.

Point 2: You cannot become victorious without have a correct posture and deliberate striking (as we learn in basics). Practising kakari-geiko with these points in mind at full power and intention is essential to becoming victorious.

Note that I used “kakari-te” in this translation but the term used in the text is actually “shugi-sha” (習技者).


Bonus: Hasegawa sensei’s last quote

“After 60 years of age you should keiko more with your spirit than with technique. If your opponent steps forward and pressures you allow yourself to move freely. Pressure them physically from your waist and spiritually with your presence (kurai). When you pressure them never wait. If you wait your presence will disappear. If you pressure with your spirit in this way the opponent will be unable to stand it and attempt to strike you. Strike them at that instant (debana). We are only human so of-course sometimes our strikes are unsuccessful, but if you are patient and stop yourself from striking randomly, and you practise like this again and again, eventually you will develop a strong presence. I tried keiko-ing like this for two or three years but couldn’t master it. Please, try it yourself.”

54 days after he said this, Hasegawa sensei passed away.

asdasda
Yours truly doing keiko with one of Hasegawa sensei’s kendo students in 2006, himself also kyudan.

Sources

私の剣道修行第1巻。体育とスポーツ出版社。1985発行。剣道時代編集部編。
剣道手引き。非売品。発行不明。長谷川壽

(Special thanks to Jean-Christophe Helary for some extra research help!)