Presenting Fighting Spirit Prize to Mukhtar Hussain.
This year’s Sir Frank Bowden Taikai took place on Saturday. As shinpan-shunin one of my duties was to work with the refereeing team to select candidates for the fighting spirit prizes.
Of course different referees have different opinions on who to choose, but this is not surprising as we all probably have different views as to what “fighting spirit” actually means. This is a subject that is seldom discussed and I can’t remember ever seeing objective guidelines as to what constitutes fighting spirit. Having asked colleagues the reasons for their choices over many years’ competitions, I get the feeling that definitions include the following.
- Being one of the most aggressive fighters.
- Overcoming the odds – small person beats much bigger person or low grade beats higher graded opponent or opponents.
- Turning things around – being in situations where you come from being a point behind to evening the score and taking one more point to win, or pulling out the stops in the captain’s match to take an evenly drawn team score to victory.
- Having the best technical kendo.
- Keeping calm under pressure.
- Not giving up.
- Someone who in spite giving it their all in every fight still shows courtesy and fairness to their opponents.
I believe that all of these are valid in their way, but I feel, and this is as subjective as it sounds, that true fighting spirit is a combination of all of these.
Of course aggression is important, but it must be controlled and shown within a spirit of fair-play. The smaller or less experience player or the individual who overcomes the odds and snatches victory from the jaws of defeat will most likely, only be a contender if he or she uses correct technique.
On the other hand correct technique will probably be admired, but not if you do not have the strength of mind and will to win to overcome your opponent.
If you can do all this and at the same time show correct reiho and generosity of spirit to your opponents, it should do even more to enhance your chances of getting a fighting spirit prize.
On a practical level, it is unlikely that you will get the first place medal and a fighting spirit award. It is generally thought that being the winner or being in the winning team is reward enough in itself.
Despite the subjectivity, I was very confident that on Saturday we picked three worthy winners – Jenny Wilding, Mukhtar Hussain and Sarfraz Aziz. All fought consistently well throughout the day and displayed the true spirit of kendo.
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We have had an influx of hanshi; with Sueno sensei visiting us two weeks ago and Sumi sensei here on a stopover last week. Everyone was keen to treat them with the respect that they are due and to demonstrate the level of reigi that high ranking teachers would expect in Japan. I received a number of questions on the subject and a request to put some thoughts into a blog piece explaining the correct approach to etiquette in this and other situations.
Just to clarify the terminology, reigi is the concept of etiquette and reiho is its physical manifestation. Some aspects of reiho are technical and unique to kendo or Japan. The angles to which you bow to your teachers and kamiza and to your opponent are prescribed and have to be learned. There are rules to govern the location of joseki or kamiza in a dojo and the correct places for students and teachers to sit. The gorei commands at the beginning and end of each practice are with one or two variations a set standard that we invariably follow. However if you think about it logically, the demonstration of etiquette in kendo is based on common sense and common courtesy that would be second nature in most cultures.
It is however probably fair to say that some people are better at it than others. Those with ethnic roots in Eastern Europe or the Middle East tend to grasp the concept of respect for teachers and elders more easily than do their peers from Western Europe, but everyone would probably agree with the logic of many of kendo’s standard rules.
In the dojo we do not chat amongst ourselves, so that we can hear the instructor. We ask permission before taking off our men and leaving the dojo, so that someone is aware in case of medical emergencies. We do not step over people’s shinai, as a shinai represents the sword and the sword is “The soul of the samurai”. We do not lean against the wall or slump, as the dojo is a place of physical and spiritual training and we need to maintain a spirit of readiness and awareness.
Translating this common sense approach to the way we treat senior visitors, we should aim to give our best in keiko. When we cross the dojo to thank sensei, we should do so immediately after rei. Remember start with the most senior teacher and work your way down the line. Don’t ask questions. If sensei has some advice for you, he will give it automatically.
It is accepted practice to take care of senior visitor’s bogu and deliver it packed with his folded hakama and keikogi to the exit. Decide beforehand who is going to do this.
If sensei would prefer to take care of his own equipment, then allow him to do so. Of course this may be politeness on his part, so insist once or twice before you give in. In this case don’t be surprised if other junior teachers also refuse your kind offer of help. Whilst I am usually grateful for this sort of attention, I would not dream of taking advantage of it if my senior teacher has said no. To do so would be discourteous.
So although many aspects of kendo etiquette can be learned from text books or by asking your instructor, it is difficult to go wrong if you follow the basic rules of human courtesy.
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