I occasionally hear complaints that kendo’s character has been diluted where it is practised outside Japan. Now obviously I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but by and large the export version seems remarkably similar to the Japanese domestic product.
When I did Judo many years ago, in the days before koka and yuko were introduced. Even then I felt that it had moved on from the original concept. Japanese terminology and its English equivalent were interchangeable and ogoshi and ippon seoinage often became “hip throw” and “one point shoulder throw”. Although training was conducted in a disciplined and respectful fashion, bows had become quick nods before pulling open the judogi to make it harder to hold. So to me at the time, the “Japaneseness” of kendo was part of its attraction.
I found then, as I do now, that by comparison most overseas kenshi do a pretty good job of using Japanese technique names and although I have heard the occasional reference to “kiri crash” and “jogai buri”, these have typically come from new converts who have yet to learn the correct words.
Reigi too is followed more or less as it is in Japan, although we may not be totally sure about the correct direction of kamiza. Techniques seem consistent wherever you go, with allowances for peoples respective level of experience or technical ability. If someone who had never seen kendo before, witnessed keiko sessions in Chicago, London, Paris, Sao Paulo and Singapore on different days of the week, he would have no problem in telling you that he saw the same thing in each place.
Kendo seems to have a different ethos to some martial arts that have obvious self-defence value. Several times when I’ve spoken to other martial artists and mentioned my length of time in kendo, they have asked me incredulously why I have not set up my own school or system. The honest answer is that I have never even thought about doing so. If I had, then I would still take the view that it is better to be part of a global group of like-minded friends with the same objectives and ambitions, than to go-it-alone for the sake of selling lessons to beginners.
Is it the mental, character building element of kendo, or the fact that, thanks to the efforts of FIK, most countries around the world get regular exposure to senior Japanese teachers that helps keep kendo in such an undiluted form? There is also the fact that kendo is addictive to the extent that many foreign practitioners find their way to Japan to deepen their exposure and spend varying amounts of time, whole lives in some cases, studying kendo at the source and evangelising on its values and etiquette to the rest of the World.
I apologise to practitioners of Korean kumdo if my blog continually focuses on Japan. It is simply that my experience has come from the Japanese kendo tradition and I have little knowledge of the Korean equivalent. Having said that, I strongly suspect that there are numerous shared values between the two. I have also seen kendo in organisations that fall outside the aegis of FIK and felt that there were more similarities than differences.
There has long been talk about making changes to the kendo scoring system to make it more understandable and interesting to spectators, but I personally hope that this does not happen. Whilst kendo becoming more popular would benefit the sport financially, I believe that we would become emotionally poorer by losing kendo’s aspect of shugyo. I for one would not want to start each keiko by touching gloves before going for a “head strike”.