My “Kendo Ritual” post prompted some enlightening contributions from a number of people. Hakan’s last comment was particularly thought provoking.
I wrote the original post from the perspective of someone who‘s formative kendo years were spent in the Japan of the 70’s when many of my teachers brought pre-war values to the dojo. Even then zokin-gake was not a fixed part of adult kendo practice, but was a daily ritual for many high-school and university and kendo clubs. There were however a number of duties that seem strange to some of my western kendo friends that I viewed as an earned privilege.
Being asked to take care of a very senior teacher’s sensei’s bogu, washing his back in the communal dojo bath, even being one of the select few who were invited to bow to his departing car or taxi, were signs that you were accepted as a student and not the non-person who had spent months or years waiting to gain acceptance. In those days, even with an influential introduction, most new members had to prove themselves before becoming part of the group.
Thanks to the efforts of FIK in internationalising kendo and the fact that many senior Japanese instructors teach seminars around the globe, kendo in Japan now seems to be far more accessible to foreigners. Nevertheless the format of reiho is still uniquely Japanese. The importance of correct reigi is underlined by the AJKF in the syllabus for the Kyoshi examination and there is an emphasis on imparting kendo’s values as well as its techniques both at home and abroad.
I have had numerous discussions with friends who think that my attitude to dojo etiquette verges on fundamentalist. They believe that a more localised approach would give greater encouragement to new students. I can see the value of both points of view but I am obviously a product of my own experiences.
I am perhaps softening with age. At Mumeishi dojo where my co-instructor is Japanese, my bogu is invariably impeccably tied and whisked away to the changing rooms at the end of each practice. In Shion dojo in Spain where I teach from time to time, I take care of my own kit, but very often the keiko ends with a round of applause and a hug. Both scenarios are very different, but each serves the same end in demonstrating mutual respect. Put it this way, I always come home from kendo in a good mood. Perhaps that’s a reflection on being part of a vertical society.