The AJKF states that “The concept of Kendo is to discipline the human character through the application of the principles of the katana”. One of the virtues that we aim for in this process is humility. This is not easy to attain as success and growth in kendo calls for confidence and self belief, and in the eyes of many people these qualities do not sit easily with modesty.
Through blogs like this and through comments on social media, it is easy to instantly express feelings about our kendo. I often read posts from friends returning from a good practice, which read along the lines of: “I was on fire”, I aced it”, I smashed it” etc. I know from personal experience that when keiko goes well, particularly if you have just “broken through the wall” after a period of frustration, you want to tell the World, but I am still not sure how to do it without sounding boastful.
Blowing your own trumpet is worse when it is done by more experienced kenshi. If after 30 or 40 years of “shugyo” we are still showing obvious basic character flaws, something is not working. Last year at the Kyoto Taikai, I was asked by a senior sensei what I thought of my performance after losing my tachiai, I stupidly mentioned that I was satisfied with my performance. I meant that I had tried my hardest, but having said it the way I did, I realised immediately how conceited it sounded.
There is a Japanese proverb that says “Minoru hodo kobe no sagaru inaho ka na” 実るほど頭のさがる稲穂かな “The bough that bears most (fruit) hangs lowest”. This seems to be illustrated continuously by the really great kendo players, who let their actions speak for themselves. Kenkyo (modesty or humility) is of course central to Japanese culture, so people from countries where more direct communication is the norm may be forgiven the odd inadvertent boast. Nevertheless kendo values come from Buddhist / Confucian roots where humility and obedience are prized.
Like most things, humility can be overstated. There are certainly cases where false modesty can be as annoying as boastfulness. “Oh no I am only a beginner” sounds a bit trite after you have just won a major international Taikai.
Modesty is of course not just a Japanese trait. In the paraphrased words of Rudyard Kipling’s poem” If”:
“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:
you’ll be a Man, my son! “