Vincent Long of the Irish Kendo Federation asked for some help in explaining Kigurai to his students.At first this appeared to be a fairly straightforward exercise, but as with everything related to Kendo the more you think about it, the more complicated it becomes.
In every day Japanese it means “pride” and has a slightly negative connotation – it could be taken to mean haughtiness. In kendo there are various definitions ranging from the late Ando sensei’s “loftiness of mind” to the ZNKR dictionary’s “the strength or commanding presence derived from confidence acquired through repeated practice”. When you break down the original characters to “mind” and “grade” you can see the logic behind these more positive kendo definitions.
I am starting to get rapidly out of my comfort zone when thinking about the subtle difference between “kihaku” strength of mind ”fukaku” depth and kigurai, but to get back to Vinnie’s question, kigurai can mean confidence, grace, the ability to dominate your opponent through strength of character. Kigurai can also be seen as fearlessness or a high level of internal energy. What it is not, is posturing, self congratulating or show-boating.
Most of us have at some time seen Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. In the film, one of the protagonists gets involved in a dual with bokken in which his opponent loudly insists that his men attack had beaten the nuki dou of the quietly confident hero. Forced into a replay with katana, our hero modestly repeats the process, watching the baddie’s two halves go off in different directions. He then without showing any emotion, puts his sword away and walks on. This to me, is a great example of kigurai.
Kigurai becomes a required element to display in grading examinations from 4th dan upwards. This underlines the ZNKR’s view that kigurai can only be built on extensive keiko. You may well be able to explain the concept, but without putting in the thousands of hours of required practice, it is unlikely that anyone can display kigurai.
However anyone can start to build it from day one. Taking dojo etiquette seriously, making the most of seiza and mokuso and repeatedly practicing kihon with a level mind and good posture are ways to lay foundations for the splendid kigurai that you will naturally show in your yondan examination.