A number of kendo teachers have mentioned to me that they felt the standard of reigi is slipping in the UK as it is in many other countries. I also officiated at the weekend at a taikai where quite a few of the shiaisha were unsure of the correct method to enter and leave the shiai-jo. This could be explained by the fact that they are comparatively new to kendo, but I think that if someone is qualified to enter a kendo competition, then their dojo instructor owes them a lesson in the way to behave in a shiai.
People who have been reading my blog for a while will appreciate that my own outlook on kendo is very conservative. I suppose it is only to be expected as I spent much of the 1970’s training in Japan with a number of old-school sensei who continually stressed the importance of correct kendo etiquette. One of the proudest moments in my kendo career was when I was chosen to wash Matsumoto Toshio sensei’s back in the dojo bathhouse. Obviously the world is changing but I still believe that reigi and reiho (the way of demonstrating reigi) are what makes kendo a shugyo and not just a violent sport.
I don’t believe that a lack of knowledge about kendo etiquette it is a purely western issue; I have met a number of young Japanese kenshi who have not learned to bow correctly and who do not know which leg goes first when they put on or take off a hakama. Like their British counterparts they are all nice people. They get on well with their friends in the dojo, they are thoughtful and courteous, but have not been taught all the elements of reiho.
Reiho is something that instructors should stress as an integral part of kendo. New kendoka need to repeatedly practise bowing and sonkyo in the same way as correct cutting and footwork. They need to be taught the ways in which we show respect to our peers, juniors, seniors and those that went before them. In the same way that we learn good manners from our parents, we need to learn good kendo manners from our teachers. I appreciate that some dojo leaders have responsibility thrust upon them and do not necessarily know all the answers, but if they don’t there are books to consult and other sensei to ask.