There was some discussion on this blog last week and considerably more debate on the Facebook kendo groups about an incident that took place at the European Championships in Berlin, where a competitor allegedly threw his opponent in an illegal and premeditated manner.
Although I was a referee at the event, I was unable to offer an informed comment, as I had been concentrating on my own court at the time. Like many of the people who wanted to discuss this issue, I only briefly saw it on the YouTube clip through Facebook.
Opinion was divided. A few people expressed the view that kendo was a part of budo and that we should be prepared to man-up and take a few knocks for the benefit of our spiritual development. The majority felt that it was reprehensible to put another person’s health and safety in jeopardy to win a shiai.
I was about to write that “kendo has a violent history”, but on reflection this is incorrect and certainly so following kendo’s post-war reintroduction. Kenjutsu has a very violent history where the aim was to take life with a sword. Gekken or “exhibition fencing” which was introduced in the Meiji period after the sword ban incorporated a range of taijutsu techniques. But as the ZNKR has it, “The concept of Kendo is to discipline the human character through the application of the principles of the Katana (sword).” In line with, this trips, throws, arm-locks and strangles are illegal in modern kendo.
Before the war there was a legacy of hand-to-hand combat in kendo. Trips were common; men were removed and strangles applied. You can still see photographs like the one above showing this type of kendo and there is a clip of Mori Torao sensei using trips and ankle sweeps from an early US TV show. One or two Japanese universities still have special occasional practices where physical contact is allowed and I know teachers who have been known to introduce the odd “deashibarai” into kakarigeiko with favourite students. The throws of this type that I have seen, have always been below waist height and the recipients were supported as they fell.
From another perspective there has been some controversy over the levels of discipline imposed by seniors of Japanese university clubs on junior kendo students, which in several notable cases resulted in fatalities. Stringent action was taken against the kendo clubs concerned.
Whether we view kendo as a sport or martial art, we have a duty of care towards those that we teach or train with. We practise on hard floors and kendo bogu is not designed to accommodate break-falls. I would suggest that we concentrate on striking ippon correctly and leave the rough stuff to our friends in white pyjamas.