To quote Marshal McLuhan “The real news is bad news”. Whilst we had a wonderful 15th European Kendo Championship with some excellent kendo and a great deal of good fellowship, one of the most discussed aspects of the event, certainly amongst people who did not attend, was a single example of rough play. I can understand why people are concerned about this type of behaviour as it has a detrimental effect on kendo, but maybe the time has come to think about the more positive aspects of kendo.
For those of us who follow the kendo groups on Facebook it would be difficult to miss that the All Japan 8th Dan Championships were held recently. Thanks to the AJKF there are many clips of shiai from this taikai on YouTube. For many years I have felt that this competition gives us some of the best examples of kendo that we could wish to follow. Whether it is a “chicken or egg” phenomenon, I do not know the answer. Either the sensei who achieve 8th Dan did so because they display a perfect understanding of “riai”, or as 8th dans they are conscious of their positions as kendo role models and perform accordingly in the shiai-jo. Either way I think that this is the sort of kendo that we should aspire to.
There are lots of great examples from this year’s taikai but the final between last year’s winner, Tani sensei and Ishida sensei says it all. Not only do both fighters display fantastic awareness and kihaku throughout the shiai, but they are ready to attack instantly at any opportunity. Their distances throughout the match are text-book and on the few occasions when they get close, they separate by mutual consent without losing mind contact and concentration. There is no wasted effort, only real opportunities are taken and when they are, the action is clear and decisive. Ishida sensei’s single winning point is a great example – he explodes forward to nearly take men and as Tani sensei tries to recover is kamae he comes forward to do it again this time with a clear target and unanimous ippon from the referees. If you haven’t done so already take a look.
Both of these sensei are in their fifties and there were some equally impressive shiai from competitors well into their sixties, so this taikai holds particular interest for oldies like me. I think however that kendo of this kind should be what we all should aim for in our long term development.