The shugyo spiral 修行スパイラル

Just under six years ago I published an article entitled The Kendo Lifecycle. It was quite popular at the time and, based on my site stats, is still visited regularly by people from all corners of the Internet. As an extension to this I started, from about two or three years ago, to attempt and organise Japanese terms and phrases used in the discussion of long-term kendo shugyo. Using these I then tried to sketch out a physical “image” of what kendo progress looks like in theory.

Although it’s been quite challenging to combine somewhat independent ideas and represent them visually, I came to a conclusion about the general “shape” of the graphic quite quickly. After this I kind of sat on it and let it simmer for a year or so. Since I’m not sure I can expand or detail it any further without input from others, I’ve decided to publish it here. If it seems like a random collection of ideas pulled together simply as an academic exercise please don`t worry… that`s exactly what it is!

Here it is …

(Apologies for the low quality of the image… I bought a new MacBook and my scanner stopped working! I also have terrible handwriting – in English as well as Japanese – but don’t worry about that… )


Commonly used terminology

First, I’ll introduce and describe the various ideas/phrases used in the chart.

1. Shu ha ri (shin-gyo-so)
守破離 (真行草)

“Shu ha ri” is a common concept discussed in budo circles so I`m sure all kenshi 24/7 readers have heard of it before. Its basic meaning refers to the progress of skill and understanding in an art by a student under the tutelage of a master. Although we are referring to it in a budo context today, it is used across not only all the traditional arts of Japan (for example tea-ceremony or noh) and also in more modern endeavours such as cooking, baseball, or even software development.

The shu (“protect”) stage is the time when a novice studies diligently under a master. At this time they are like an infant copying the actions of their mother. No deep discussion of theory is needed, they simply look at the master and copy. Needless to say, a bad “master” at this stage often spells disaster for the future.

The ha (“break”) stage sees the student progress to the point where they are experimenting a little bit with what has been taught them, like a teenager rebelling against her parents. Sometimes this can lead to great progress, but at other times a night in jail or a trip to the hospital!

The ri (“separation”) stage is one that few ascend to. It is the point where the student has finally soaked up all that their master can teach and, combining it with their own discoveries in the ha stage (both the good and the bad), they create something uniquely theirs. They now become independent of their teacher.

In arts such as kendo, which has quite a long gestation period, the shu stage is usually what makes up the bulk of an individuals career. A novice who thinks that they have acquired deeper understanding than they actually have and attempts to experiment before they are ready is setting their own progress back considerably. What is needed here is the guidance of a good teacher and humility from the student. There is no sudden line to cross between shu and ha and, I think, most people who get this far spend the rest of their careers hovering above and below the line, alternating between serious study under a teacher or teachers and personal experimentation.

Note that there are also some other terms that attempt to describe what is essentially the same progress of physical skill but sometimes with a different twist, e.g., shin-gyo-so.

The problem with gradings as indications of shugyo

I have seen various charts attempting to equate the shu-ha-ri stages to grades. For example:

Shodan-godan: shu
Rokudan-nanadan: ha
Hachidan+: ri

As I have discussed before, I believe the grading process to be the biggest problem in modern kendo. There are various reasons for this including wide discrepancies in the difficulty of gradings based on area, and the fact that gradings are often the primary (sometimes the only) source of income for organisations. On top of this is, of course, the fact that it`s extremely difficult if not impossible for judge on a grading panel to know or read the mental state of the challengers.

I personally know plenty of people who’s attitude to and skill in kendo far surpass their grade (some even have no interest in grading) and others whose grade surpasses their actually ability. The latter outnumber the former.

At any rate, I think we can safely disregard grade as anything other than a general indication of technical competence, and remove it from our discussion today.

2. San ma no kurai. (Kenkyu to Kufu) 
三磨の位 (研究と工夫)


Moving on, san ma kurai is a term which initially appeared in Yagyu shinkage-ryu`s heiho-kadensho, written in the 17th century, and is process that underlies this entire discussion.

San ma no kurai describes the acquisition of a physical skill (any skill, not only budo) as a circle with three parts:

Shu (習): to study or learn something
Ren (練): to practise it (repeatedly)
Ko (工): to work/figure out and improve on what you studied based on feedback from practising

After the ko process you would then go back to shu and repeat. This learn-practise-think process continues, round and round, endlessly. To those that think, then, continually progress is thus assured (however minute), and it is implied that there is no limit to the skill that can be acquired.

This phrase pops up a lot in serious kendo publications and discussions, but your general kenshi usually uses the term “kenkyu and kufu” when describing this process at work. Basically, it is up the individual to do their own research and to make an effort to work things out for themselves (of course, whilst under the tutelage of more senior teachers). Again, this is a circular, never-ending process that continues for the entirety of their career.

An interesting related phrase “Mon-shi-shu” (聞思修) literally means “listen – think – practise” and suggests the exact same circular process.

3. San toku

Related to 2 above is a term not in common use in the English speaking kendo community: san toku. “Toku” basically means to “benefit” or “gain” something and is, for our discussion, combined with other kanji as follows:

Kai-toku (会得): understanding / comprehension
Shu-toku (習得): acquisition
Tai-toku (体得): mastery

This could be used to describe the circular study of individual waza as in 2 above, but I prefer to use it at a more macro level to describe kendo as a whole, which brings it nearer to shu-ha-ri, though I would suggest it isn’t so all-encompassing.

In the first years of your kendo study you strive to understand how things should be done. Sometimes teachers explain explicitly, sometimes (especially in Japan) they do not. Eventually though you manage to get some sort of comprehension and slowly you begin to acquire the techniques of kendo. These stages tend to overlap with the shu phase detailed above.

Tai-toku, or physical mastery of kendo, takes a very long time, and perhaps is out of reach for most of us. Those that do master it, however, may not necessarily go on to master kendo, which is something different entirely. As with the prior stages, there is a spectrum or gradient of mastery, no final destination.

Related terms

The following may seem like a loose collection of terms, but I think they are all at play in one way or another in today’s article and the attached graph.

The Importance of a teacher:

(Futoku seishi, funyo fugaku)
It’s better to go unlearned than study under a bad teacher

A saying of the zen Buddhist priest Dogen, it suggests that it’s better to wait until you find a good teacher before learning something. If you are impatient and study under a poor one you will ultimately pay for it.

(Yoi shisho wa tetsu no waraji ha haitemo sagase)
Even if you are wearing steel sandals find a good teacher

No matter how long you walk, no matter how long you search, if your sandals are made from steel they won’t wear out. Keep going until you arrive at the thing you seek, i.e. a good teacher (another way to say this is that “thought the steel sandals hurt your feet it’s worth it to keep walking in them until you find what you seek”).

(Sannen kakete ryoshi wo sagase)
Even if it takes three years, seek a good teacher

Pretty much the same as above.


Again, in order to receive the correct transmission of something you must become an initiate of a good master.

The importance of keiko:

Forge yourself in the morning and temper yourself in the evening i.e. be a kenshi 24/7 !!

Allegedly a phrase first used by Musashi, this spells the importance of constant daily practise. This is a personal favourite of mine (as you may have guessed).

The importance of humility:

(Ware igai minna shi)
Everyone is my teacher

This is pretty simple: there is something to be learned from everyone.

Return to beginners mind

This strongly hints to the cyclic nature of long term study. Even if you think you have mastered something you should, at times, go back to the beginning and re-study with your new perspective. In other words, not only have you not mastered whatever it was that you were attempting to, but you may even have a long long road in front of you. Again, this suggests that there is no end to shugyo.

The shugyo spiral explained

In a paragraph:

Through daily study and practise under the watchful eyes of a good teacher or teachers, the thoughtful individual will see her kendo improve through time. It takes a lot of consistent effort, a lot of listening and watching others, and tireless self study. Mastery comes neither quickly or easily… in fact, it may never come. Taking care during your day-to-day keiko over years is what counts. Mastery, if it does come, can be thought of a by-product of this, it is neither something that is forced nor desired.

The graph shows a straight line through the middle but, of course, progress isn’t straight. In this spiral model you can imagine it a point (“progress”) spinning round and round. Sometimes you spend more time on studying the principles and learning new things, other times you are just busy doing uchikomigeiko and kirikaeshi. In general, however, if someone has the correct attitude towards their shugyo, exerts effort over years, and studies kendo theory then, over the course of years, they cannot fail to progress.


Kendo, as an art, professes to be something more than “mere” sport. The Concept of Kendo, The Purpose of Practising Kendo, and The Mindset of Kendo Instruction all state larger goals within them than that of mere physical mastery, some quite grandiose. If kendo is to be like that then measuring “progress” for the purpose of comparison becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible. This is why I said above that “we can safely disregard grade as anything other than a general indication of technical competence.”

I’m not sure if any of this made sense but, if nothing else, I hope it serves as fuel for discussion over post-keiko beers. Cheers!

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The mystery of the black-hand 黒手の謎

During June last year I was invited to join an open keiko session at the dojo which probably has oldest (kendo-related) tradition in the Kansai region. During the break between the kihon and jigeiko parts of the session I was wandering around the dojo looking at the various pieces of calligraphy and what not that were displayed on the walls. One in particular caught my attention: a metre long piece with five tegata, or hand-prints. Inspecting it I saw that it was some sort of commemorative piece with the hand-prints and signatures of the kendo giants Takano Sasaburo, Mochida Seiji, Ogawa Kinnosuke, Saimura Goro, and one other name I couldn’t exactly make out. I didn’t have longer to study it as keiko began again and I mostly forgot about it.

A few months later I was again snooping around a dojo – this time in Nagoya – when I noticed the exact same piece tucked in behind some trophies out of sight. I managed to have it brought out and myself and the Japanese sensei started discussing it. I confirmed my initial suspicion that it was a list of the sensei who took part in the 1940 tenranjiai, with the five tegata being the most senior sensei. The names below this were those that took part in the specialist competition section and the demonstration matches. I realised that not only had I seen the piece at the dojo a few months earlier, but perhaps in a couple of other dojo in the past. However, there was still one niggling puzzle: the name in between Takano and Mochida. The Japanese sensei and myself stood pondering over it for a few moments before keiko began.

Roll on January 2016 and a few days ago, to my surprise, I received a package in the post. Unboxing it I was absolutely delighted to discover it was the piece that I had been looking at in both dojo: one of the sensei in Nagoya managed to somehow source one and have it sent to me!!!! Unfurling it and having a close look I’ve come to the tentative conclusion that it must have been a piece that was on sale (or given away perhaps) around about the time of the 1940 tenranjiai. I’m not sure if the original had red hand-prints or not but I’ve yet to see one. Mine, and the others I’ve seen, are all reproductions in black.

There was still one nagging problem however: the mystery name. Sitting in my quiet living room by myself, it took me less than 3 minutes to work it out. In 1940 who were the top sensei? Who could possibly be above Mochida yet below Takano? Whose name stood out because of it’s absence?

I decided that it could only be Nakayama Hakudo. But what was written there was not anything close to “Nakayama” but something like “Arinobu.” Then it clicked. Nakayama Hakudo inherited the dojo Yushinkan from Negishi Shingoro. The kanji for YU-SHIN is 有信 which, as a name, is read ARI-NOBU. The first kanji of the signature was obvious the HAKU or Hakudo, and the last kanji, when I checked online (it was written in an unfamiliar style), was of-course michi, or DO in Hakudo. In other words, it is unmistakably Nakayama. There are a few reasons why he may have signed his name like this, but I suspect it was just artistic flourish!

Like the calligraphy I was given a couple of years ago, I will get this piece framed in preparation to hang in the dojo I will eventually build!!

Here are some larger images of the hand-prints for you to look at, along with with pictures of the sensei and links to further information:

Takano Sasaburo


Nakayama Hakudo (written Arinobu Hakudo here)


Mochida Seiji (aka Moriji)


Ogawa Kinnosuke


Saimura Goro


Lastly, my beautiful copy looks like this:


Don’t forget to support kenshi 24/7 by picking up one of our publications or sharing our dedicated publication website. Cheers!

2015 in review 2015年に振り返る

Another year done! Unlike the end of last year where I basically didn’t stop kendo, this year I am spending the entire holiday period back home in the highlands of Scotland (where I’m posting this from now). This means that, for the first time in who knows how long, I’m actually taking a couple of weeks of keiko…. I may die!

Since I’ve nothing to do here except drink whisky, eat (veggie) haggis, toss cabers, and frolic with sheep, I thought I’d do a wee review of the past year in kenshi 24/7 land. Here we go…

p.s. the featured image shows Urquhart castle on the shores of Loch Ness.

Most popular articles

Here are a small handful of this years most popular articles:

* Takano Hiromasa’s keys to the improvement in kendo
* Sensei
* Victory and defeat: 15 points
* One should always be ready for snakes and demons
* Ogawa Kinnosuke
* Doing kendo in Japan
* Towards the true internationalisation of kendo
* Thoughts on the internationalisation of kendo

To view all the articles from this year go here:



This year saw the publication of our seventh book, Teikoku Kendo Kyohon – The Kendo Textbook of imperial Japan. It was extremely well received and represents the pinnacle of publications put together by yours truly.

For full information about the book including how to pick one up, please check out it’s dedicated site here:


Korea vs America

I didn’t really attend many events this year and, thinking about it, I don’t really attend any anyway! This year was slightly different in that the 16th WKC was held in Tokyo at the end of May. Another thing, though not an “event” for anyone else than me, was my “warrior’s pilgrimage” in Tokyo.

* Kyoto taikai
* World kendo championships
* Musha shugyo


What can I say? The kenshi 24/7 led Eikenkai keiko sessions just keep getting better and better! If you are coming to Osaka next year and there is an Eikenkai event on, please feel free to come and join us.

My favourite pictures from the year

Pretty much every non-historical picture used on this website is taken by myself or a friend, by iPhone or whatever. I personally try hard to illustrate articles with attractive and hopefully content-related pictures. Here are a handful of uploaded pictures that I particularly like:


So, I was contacted by ESPN to help on their “Evolution of the lightsaber duel” documentary. I really added almost zero to the project but this website URL and my name are in the credits!!! Bonus! If you haven’t seen it already check it out.


I just want to say thanks to everyone who visits the website, whether you are someone who has been reading since 2008 or a new reader in 2015. It is pretty hard work putting together articles constantly, and it takes up a lot of my time… but as long as there are people out there who look forward to reading my stuff I will soldier on!

Hope you are having a great holiday period and I wish you will in 2016. Kampai!

– George

Oshima Jikita’s advice for Noma dojo practitioners (1928) 大島治喜太先生のアドバイス(昭和3年)

The following is a translation from a privately published 1928 book entitled “Noma dojo ki.” I assume that a set number of copies were printed and distributed to Noma dojo members only (it was finally re-published publicly in 1996).

The book is essentially split into two halves: the first discusses Kodansha founder Noma Seiji’s ideas about kendo and education, and the second is messages from the various kendo teachers there at the time to Noma dojo members. These included Nakyama Hakudo, Saimura Goro, Oshima Jikita, Hotta Sutejiro, Yamamoto Chujiro, and Nakayama Zendo (there is also a smaller section where the young Noma Hisashi and Masuda Shinsuke offer advice as well).

Note that this book was published just before kendo became immensely popular and Noma dojo itself a kendo mecca. Both happened due to the fallout of a single event: the 1929 Showa tenranjiai (a story for another day).

The small section I present today is by Oshima Jikita, a gentlemen I introduced on kenshi 24/7 recently. Again, like all my recent translations, this is perhaps more interpretive than literal. I hope you enjoy it.

Nomo dojo 2007
Nomo dojo 2007

Oshima Jikita’s advice for Noma dojo practioners (1928)


Like the saying “DAI-KYO-SOKU-KEI” (big, strong, fast, light) suggests, your strikes should incorporate all these elements: “DAI” means that your techniques should use large movements; “KYO” means that your strikes should be firm and accurate; “SOKU” means to attack smoothly without delay or doubt; and “KEI” refers to being able to move your body swiftly and lightly in any direction. If you attempt to strike with only strength your body will stiffen-up and you will be unable to move smoothly. To strike quickly, then, you must get rid of unneeded power.

During keiko it’s important that you not over emphasise trying to strike your opponent in a skilful manner. Don’t be overly concerned with victory or defeat, simply attack with abandon (sutemi). However, you should realise that in the instant of victory there also lies an opportunity for defeat, and in the instant of defeat there is a chance of victory. That is, defeating your opponent is not due to your skill but, rather, it’s their fault for allowing an opening to appear. In defeat too, it’s not because your opponent was strong, but because you allowed an opening to appear.

A note to Hisashi (Noma Seiji’s son, the future owner of the company):

In order to use maai in a skilful manner you should make a distance where you feel far to your opponent yet he feels close to you. For your kendo, I think you should fight from a far distance (about the distance where you and your partners shinai tips are touching) and strike men from there. Remember and put power in to your left leg in particular.

I think the most important thing in kendo is the battle to take and act on the initiative (debana). If you feel that you haven’t quite caught the instant correctly, you should prepare to defend yourself.


Sometimes when seeking to strike a debana technique we find ourselves moving seemingly without reason towards the opponent and striking. Hitting them we may feel in a way that it’s more of an accident or luck than anything else, but you shouldn’t think like that. Often it’s simply “inspiration.”

When it comes to shiai the following are important: power of observation, judgement, strategy, bravery, and composure. You should know how strong/skilful your opponent is before the shiai, though you could observe it during as well. Generally, however, all five of the elements mentioned above should be at work during a shiai without conscious effort. Please pay attention to this.

Also, like the phrase “attacking is proof of victory” suggests, it’s important to attack with abandon (sutemi). However, attacking blindly is foolish: it’s important to attack with abandon only at the right time.

One day, one waza

I think it’s good that you keiko with a goal in mind. It’s hard to practise every technique every time, so it’s better to be selective: “today I’m going to practise attacking from a far distance,” “I’m going to practise oji-waza today,” “I’m not very good at dou cuts, so let me work on them today” etc. etc., I think it’s good if you pick something and work on it. If you focus your daily practises like this and not worry too much about striking or being struck, then I think it’s a great way of improving rapidly. However, “I’m only going to practise techniques today” or “I’m only going to practise training my spirit today” is not thought a good method of quick development.

This are only my ideas. Although I think it’s important to listen to advice, I also believe it’s important to use your eyes and watch what people do and how they move. I believe that this type of research is essential to your improvement.

Shouting (kiai) and spiritual power

Unless your entire body is filled with spiritual power you will be unable to shout effectively. It is only when your spiritual power has travelled through your entire body and has reached it’s peak can you shout effectively.

For example, when labourers or sailors are tired and someone leads them in a sing-song, their tiredness disappears. The use of shouting in kendo can have the same effect.

You have to shout from the very bottom of your stomach so that when you strike your opponent they believe they have been cut down.

Practical techniques

– debana men: when the opponent attempts to strike your men strike their men while going past them to the right or left.

– Debana kote: when the opponent steps in to strike you strike their kote.

– Debana dou (nuki-dou): the instant your opponent steps in to strike you cut their dou.

– Debana tsuki: the instant your opponent moves forward tsuki them (*editors note: not a popular waza nowadays because it’s dangerous)

In basic technique practise like this the attacks and counter-attacks are pre-arranged. Despite this, you should strike with full intent and only after you are in synch with your partner.

During dou strikes you shouldn’t just hit and stand there as it will become ai-uchi. Instead, after striking you should release the grip on your left hand and go past the partner in a smooth action.

There are various ways in which to execute techniques, how you do so depends on the situation.

Kirikaeshi and katate-uchi

For kirikaeshi start from a far distance and step in and strike men before doing sayu-men. Keep striking sayu-men until you are exhausted, then step back to a far distance and start again. Each set must be done in a single breath only.

Attacking from a far distance not only will improve your footwork but you will become more familiar from attacking from afar. Once your men attack from a far distance has improved somewhat you can add in tai-atari.

Executing a one-handed (katate) strike when there is no opportunity to attack is meaningless. If there is an opening and you have practised so much that you are able to execute one-handed techniques effectively, then it’s fine to use them. However, you must be good at using two-handed techniques first.

If you don’t follow this process, that is to become good at two-handed techniques before attempting one-handed ones, then you will be sorry in the end. I suspect that people who ignore this have some sort of spiritual or emotional problems.

Examples of good one-handed waza include katate-men against someone who has just finished executing a technique; katate-yoko-men against a small men or kote attack; threaten to attack kote and then strike katate-yoko-men; etc.

Tenouchi and tsuki

Regarding tenouchi, as soon as you have made a strike return to your kamae. Like the shrine maidens of Ise shrine who shake bells while dancing, when you think something is out of your hand it’s actually in it, and when when you think it’s in your hand it’s actually loose. This way of gripping is important.

Within the different techniques that we do in kendo, tsuki waza are amongst the most feared. If you are good at tsuki then your opponent will be scared of you. Conversely, if you are facing an opponent whom you know to have a strong tsuki then you may find yourself cowering uselessly in fear before them.

Noma dojo 2015
Noma dojo 2015



Takano Hiromasa’s keys to improvement in kendo 高野弘正先生の「上達の秘訣」

Takano Hiromasa (1900-1987), kendo hanshi and headmaster of Itto-ryu*, was the the second son of kendo legend Takano Sasaburo.

A brief bio:

Hiromasa began studying the sword when he was 6 years old in his fathers dojo, Meishinkan. He graduated from Tokyo Shihan Gakko in 1923 and, in 1927, took over the day-to-day running of Meishinkan. At the same time he started teaching kendo at various universities (Waseda, Tokyo Institute of Technology, etc). Between 1936-41 he lived in America and taught kendo at California State University. After returning to Japan he started becoming involved in kendo publications, first by producing a magazine called “Shin-budo” before authoring his own titles. After the war he continued writing kendo books, eventually writing a kenshi-inspired novel. This led to him becoming a budo (swordsmanship) advisor for various plays and movies.

Today, similar to what I did in an earlier article of his fathers writings, I present a sort of mostly-translation plus semi-interpretation of a chapter from Hiromasa’s 1973 “Kendo Dokuhon” (Kendo Reader) entitled “Jotatsu no hiketsu” (the secret to improvement). I hope you enjoy it !

* Itto-ryu that was passed down through the Takano family is refereed to “Nakanishi-ha itto-ryu” nowadays, but it was never referred to this prior to the 1960s: it was always called “Ono-ha itto-ryu.” The change in nomenclature was done, presumably, to establish it as something different from the Ono-ha itto-ryu of Sasamori Junzo who, in 1960, copyrighted the name.

Keiko (2012)

Key’s to improvement in kendo

1. Concentrate on developing willpower

The spiritual power of humans:

Horie Kenichi, a young 23 year old yachtsman, crossed the pacific on his own, from Nishinomiya to San Francisco, in 1963. It took him 94 days. Since his success there have been many other people attempting to copy him, however, it’s like tapping a stone bridge before crossing it (i.e. looking before leaping) their caution makes what they are doing valueless. Horie, on the other hand, dared to do what nobody had ever attempted before, and thus can be said to have great spiritual strength.

On January the 24th 1972 Yokoi Shoichi was captured on the island of Guam after spending 24 years living in a cave. People were struck with admiration at his will power.

Both of these people are good examples of humans spiritual capability.

The first and most essential thing you must develop to improve your kendo is your emotional strength, that is, to have an indomitable spirit.

2. Keiko, keiko, keiko

Shut up and train:

If the first most important thing for improving your kendo is development of the spirit, then the second is to continually endure the hardships of repeated keiko sessions day-in-and-day-out in the dojo. This of course not limited to kendo, but various things in life: without practise you cannot improve.

As kendo is a physical art, simply thinking about it doesn’t help much – you can only learn by doing. It’s best to do this without debating this and that and chatting endlessly on kendo topics, but by getting your head down and working hard.

Adapt to the location:

In a large dojo you should spar from a far distance. In a small dojo you should spar from a close distance. In kendo we must learn to fight from both far and close distances, so practising in different dojo and learning to adapt to any dojo size constraints is essential.

In other words, don’t let yourself be constrained to a single distance, but practise in and acquire techniques to use in various situations.

Practise with difficult or awkward opponents:

It’s only natural that everybody has opponents that they find more or less easier or difficult than others. If you think “this guy is really awkward to fight with” and avoid him, it’s the same as choosing only those you can beat. Obviously, this is a sad state of affairs, and you will never truly grasp the essence of kendo.

You have to be able to face squarely and respond to (defeat) a variety or different types of opponent. Everybody has their own shape, style, and thinking. Learn from them to improve your kendo.

3. Don’t put too much importance on winning or losing

The main point of beginners shugyo (pursuit of kendo):

It’s important that beginners throw out any thoughts about winning and losing. They should simply aim to execute the basic shape of kendo as they have been taught it.

For example during uchikomi-geiko, if a beginners partner opens up his or her men to be struck, rather than attempting to hit it as fast as possible without concern for form, the beginner should take their time and aim to strike as correct as they can. This is important. Through practising this way repeatedly, even if the beginner still uses too much power, their form will improve.

Be struck to develop:

Even though in kendo we often say “Don’t worry about being struck” everybody does. Although it’s almost impossible to not worry about it, it’s important to try not to worry about it as much as you can. Like the well known phrase “turn a failure into a success” suggests, being struck is a chance to learn: “why was I strike then?”

In this way you can not only learn your own weaknesses and work on improving them, but you can also learn new techniques from your opponent.

4. Study under a teacher

Practise with your teacher and seniors:

It’s important that you learn under a good teacher(s) and good sempai. By practising hard with them and listening to their advice and direction, you cannot fail to improve. If you cannot patiently listen to their advice or endure hard keiko with them, then you will simply stop progressing.

This is all well and fine assuming that the the people you are studying under are actually good, however. If you are not lucky enough to have access to good teachers you will develop bad habits that are difficult to fix: “It’s faster to knock down and old house and rebuild than reform one that has been built slipshod.”

An old kendo saying goes: “rather than start three years earlier, it’s better to wait three years until you find a good teacher.” In other words, because a bad teacher can potentially – and irreparably – damage your kendo, you are better doing nothing than wasting your time studying under one.

5. Research (Kenkyu and kufu)

There are different opinions as to how to study kendo in the beginning. Some people believe it’s important to learn the theory first, whilst other believe physical practise is more important. Either way, both have the aim of Jiri-itchi (the unison of physical practise and theory, a term popularised by the famous kenshi Yamaoka Tesshu).

Like I mentioned before, I believe that discussion about theory is useless unless you have advanced technically enough to put words into practise. Therefore it is essential that a decent amount of technical ability is acquired before research into the theoretical aspects of kendo should begin.

Research like “if I seme like this and my opponent does that, then I’ll strike there” or “when I am in this distance if step in like this and move my shinai like that then I can get into striking distance” etc. etc., can be very productive.

However, this unison of physical practise and theory is not the end state of kendo, but a beginning one. The final state of kendo is one where, without forethought or realisation of any kind, the body moves naturally in response to an opponents opening and a strike is made. Achieving this ultimate state is, indeed, a difficult path.

Takano Hiromasa (left) advising Mifune Toshiro on swordplay on set
Takano Hiromasa (left) advising Mifune Toshiro (right) on swordplay on set



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