After starting last week’s slightly heated debate about the value of learning kata from Japanese sensei. I should make it clear that I have always valued the instruction and guidance of senior teachers and I try to both reflect this in my own keiko and the advice that I give others. Kendo has a clear hierarchy and those of us who are, or have been privileged to learn from those at the top are fortunate.
Whilst there are a number of 9th dan sensei still with us, Hanshi 8th dan is now the pinnacle of kendo achievement. Kyoshi 8th Dan follows and then Kyoshi 7th dan and Renshi 7th dan and 6th dan. There are a handful of 8th dans outside of Japan and Korea, but by and large kenshi from other countries are lucky to be taught by a 7th or 6th dan.
What is not taken into account is that thanks to the ZNKR and the individual efforts of many senior sensei, the kendo world is now a very small place. Many of the eminent hanshi now travel the globe on a regular basis, leading seminars, helping with taikai and generally spreading their knowledge to the international kendo community. Often during these trips they are available for keiko to all comers, which is a very different scenario to their accessibility at home.
Japanese friends who have attended seminars in Europe have been astounded that a British shodan may only have to wait for minutes to practice with a famous hanshi, when a Japanese 7th dan could spend an hour in line at the Budokan godogeiko or the Kyoto Taikai asageiko without reaching the head of the queue before yame is called.
Of course these teachers are as active and as generous in their home country, but they have a limited amount of time, so often it is only close students who benefit from regular one- on-one training. More often than not it is a case of transmission down the grades.
I have personally been very lucky in benefiting from the help of many important kendo teachers over the years both overseas and in Japan. In my younger days in Japan however, nothing came easily. It was a matter of putting in the time and effort and proving that you were worth a few minutes of sensei’s time before your existence was acknowledged.
I am looking forward to my next year’s first practice on January 2nd. If I take a bit of extra time in mokuso it is because I will be thinking of all the teachers, past and present who have given so much to make kendo such a treasured experience.
Happy New Year! Rainen mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu.