My recent kendo in or out of the Olympics poll produced an 80/20 vote in favour of out, against the 60/40 out at the time of the last Olympics. The poll and accompanying article also stimulated some well thought out comments which fell predominantly into the “out” camp.
On the evidence of this poll, and although as a former marketer I have learned never to trust surveys, I have leapt to the assumption that 80 per cent of us want to retain at least some of the traditions of kendo. I suspect though that there are many variations of understanding of what constitutes “traditional kendo”.
I have had a number of people tell me that “my dojo does traditional kendo”, explaining that they only practice big cuts, or that they avoid taking part in shiai. On the other hand I have been in many dojo in Japan, including the Imperial Palace’s Sainekan and the old Noma Dojo, where despite centuries of tradition, the kendo you see is effective modern competitive kendo.
Anyone who has read Alex Bennett’s excellent book, Kendo, Culture of the Sword can see how kendo has adapted tradition through the ages, moving from the warriors art of medieval Japan to the reflection of samurai aesthetics in the Edo period, before becoming little more than street theatre when the samurai were dissolved. Kendo’s emergence into the early 20th Century was then blighted by being adopted by the ultra-nationalist cause.
Kendo as we know it has been in existence only since 1952, Under the stewardship of the AJKF kendo has been developed both as a sport and as a personal development methodology, utilising the techniques and ideals of traditional Japanese fencing. The Concept of Kendo is explained as “the way to discipline the human character through the application of the principles of the katana.”
To me this means training to reach a level where you can make effective strikes without thinking and at the same time treating your opponents, seniors, juniors and teachers with courtesy and respect. Kendo’s traditional system of reigi seems to provide a perfect framework to achieve this objective.
There are many Japanese sword arts and I can see the value of learning Iai or trying tameshigiri as an added extra is a great idea, but to my mind trying kesa-giri in your kendo keiko, or practising to be the perfect kaishakunin is taking tradition a step too far.