Shinai grip 竹刀の握り

Yesterday I popped into my sempai’s kendo shop in central Osaka to buy a shinai. Almost all my shinai have round handles, but sometimes I do use koban (oval-handled) shinai, so I picked one up. I took a snap and posted it on facebook to quickly see if kenshi247 readers also try koban shinai. Of course the answer was in the affermative.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am really picky about shinai. This has led me, over the years, to experiment with different types of shinai, be that lengths, weights, brands, balance, handle length, and even handle shapes. I think only the last one will raise an experienced kenshi’s eyebrows. Even then, for most people a change in handle shape means the decision to use a normal round handled shinai, or the oval, more sword-like, koban handled shinai. Thats it. But the reality is that there are various types of shinai handle shapes out there. Although rare, I’ve tried SQUARE and OCTAGONAL handles, and I’ve heard of triangular and hexagonal.

As a quick comparison, please take a look at these snaps of square, octagonal, and oval handles on these shinai that I own:

But why bother with using a non-round handled shinai anyway? Here are a selection of comments from the original image I posted on facebook:

“I use one pretty regularly. What I like about it (aside from how it fits in the hands) is that it is a more realistic representation of how an actual sword would feel when gripping.”
– Scott

“I use koban only. I feel my grip is more over the top of the Shinai. It helps my seme, tenuchi and feels more like a katana.”
– Simon

“My definitive preference is koban shinais. Considering the shape of a half-closed human hand is that of an oval, I would consider koban to be more anatomically correct, comfortable, and a better representation of a katana grip.”
– Leo

“I did for a while when I had a lot of trouble keeping my hasuji accurate. It also helped strengthen my tenouchi.”
– David

“It helps me with Do(u).”
– Israel

“I love the oval grip. I do notice it tends to make me lazy when using a normal shinai and tend to let the shinai drift from left to right in my grip.”
– Wes

“I prefer koban… I think they’re easier to use than the round grips.”
– Joe

“I started Iaido and Kendo at the same time it only felt natural to have a koban styled shinai.”
– Lance

“After many years of battodo, iaido and taijutsu I couldn’t get used to a standard tsuka, koban gata feels more natural for me and helps with correct hasuji.”
– Graeme

“I started kendo after several years of iaido practice. Koban tsuka was a natural choice.”
– Raymond

I don’t really have too much to add on top of what everyone wrote, but if I try to summarise everything it would go something like this: basically, koban are easier to use because they fit into the hand better, they promote a better awareness of the ‘blade’ part of the shinai (thus leading to better, more correct hasuji), and they fit more into the shinai-as-a-sword part of kendo’s culture. I think the other handle shapes also promote the same things to a degree (though the square shaped handle can bite into the hands a bit).

What I do want to add is this: I think its worth exploring different handle shapes in order to explore how you use your hands, not only in the action of striking, but how the shinai sits in your hands in static kamae, and how this changes during the actions of osae, harai, etc. For me personally it took a long time (over 15 years?) to begin to become aware the subtleties of finger use and to wake up to the fact that my grip was constantly changing during an encounter (and that this is normal). Also – and this is an important point for me in particular – deeper understanding of shinogi use and concomitant change in how the wrists work – is very hard if not impossible to come by while using only a round handle.

At any rate, although you can do all this with a normal, round-handled shinai anyway, I do think its a good exercise to use an oval (or whatever) handled shinai now and then in order to explore what your hands and fingers are doing during keiko. Try it!

I’m super busy at the moment, so this article was a little bit rushed… I hope it actually makes sense! Feel free to comment on facebook or below. Cheers!

Bunburyodo 文武両道

Bunburyodo is a term that I’m sure many if not all budo practitioners are familiar with. It’s a term used to describe someone who has become or is trying their best to become ‘accomplished in the both military and literary arts’ (martial arts and arts/sciences). The first recorded use of a similar term (「文事ある者は必ず武備あり」) is found in the ‘Records of the Grand Historian’ (史記), written in Han-era China around about BCE 109-91. When the Records came to Japan and how and when the term was was changed to ‘bunburyodo’ seems to be unknown, but various other synonymous kanji combinations have been used for a very long time.

During the classical, feudal, and Tokugawa periods of Japanese history, the term is said to have referred to the importance of understanding both academic and warrior arts in order to be able to govern effectively. That is, an effective ruler (and subordinates) would ideally have a balance of both. The need for this balance was promoted by Tokugawa Ieyasu, and became increasingly looked at as an ideal situation for the ruling class in general by the 19th century. However, nowadays in Japan (a country with a far less hierarchical class system that existed before), this ideal has been reworked to simply refer to those that try hard in both their study and some sort of physical activity (e.g. baseball), and it seems to be used almost exclusively in reference to students.

… which brings me neatly round to the point of this article – the reason for the slow down of written content over the last while (or, at least, why I’m not writing as much as I want to!). Basically, the study for my 2nd degree is literally taking up all my free time, which I didn’t have enough of anyway! Between an agressive keiko schedule (8 times on a slow week), a full time job, and my private life, its been hard to fit in time for translations and article writing. I also had to suspend work on the next kenshi247 publication… which is about 65% done as we speak.

Not to fear, however, as I intend to start work on the above publication in May with hopefully a summer release, and will be back to work with some kendo articles around the same time. In the meantime, I will continue to post updates on facebook, and I also seem to be addicted to instagram at the moment (#kenshi247)… so check out both those channels for continual kendo-related updates and pictures. Cheers!!!!!

* In case you are interested, I’m currently studying History. My first degree was in the completely unrelated area of Computer Science…

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 yahoo.jp 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!!