Archive for the ‘Kendo and other martial arts’ Category

The hot sports news from Russia this week is that President Vladimir Putin has been promoted to 8th Dan in Judo. Clearly a great achievement and an even greater one as his last recorded grade was 6th Dan.  Judoka please correct me if I am wrong, but this is I believe, not an unusual scenario. If my memory serves me correctly the higher grades in Judo tend to be awarded for contribution to the sport; rather than being earned in grading examinations.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, this is not the case with kendo. Anyone who has watched the 8th Dan examination in Kyoto in May or its November counterpart in Tokyo, will be aware of the bravery and determination of candidates in their 70s and 80s still trying to demonstrate the physical qualities required to take hachidan.

Many of us have seen the documentary “The 8th Dan Challenge” where we watched the preparations of Ishida sensei, then 48 years old and Miyamoto sensei, who was approaching the age of 80. I had the opportunity to talk to Miyamoto sensei several years ago in Kyoto. I mentioned that the programme had been seen widely outside Japan. His response was that he was embarrassed when it was shown in Japan and that he could now say that he was embarrassed on a World scale. He did however say this with a smile. At the time of our conversation he was still nanadan.

There also appear to be no exceptions made in kendo for the great and good. The late Japanese Prime Minister, Ryutaro Hashimoto remained at 5th Dan after a lifetime in kendo.

For kendoka who want to climb the grading ladder within FIK (International Kendo Federation) or its member organisations, there is no short-cut. The pass percentages at this year’s examinations in Aichi were just over 17% and 12% for 6th and 7th Dan respectively and a daunting 0.84% for hachidan in Kyoto .  Even shogo, which were at one time awarded by recommendation, now have to be earned by examination. For the ZNKR Kyoshi, even non- Japanese candidates have to physically attend the examination in Tokyo.

The ZNKR does have other ways of recognising outstanding contribution to kendo development such as the prestigious Korosho. This award is presented to few people and is meant as an accolade for a lifetime of service to kendo. My colleague John Howell is one of the few non-Japanese to receive the Korosho. In his case it was presented for many years of continuous service to European Kendo.

When it comes to grade however, no matter how great one’s service to the organisation, it’s a matter of getting in the registration queue at the Nippon Budokan and doing your best for 120 seconds.

So congratulations Putin sensei, but for us poor old kendoka – Gambatte kudasai!

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Mandal Instructors

We got back on Monday from the Mandal Budo Summer Camp. The kendo classes were well attended by experienced kendoka from around Norway and I enjoyed teaching this motivated group of people. Hopefully they also feel that they gained from the experience.

As planned, my wife and I used the opportunity to try karate for the first time and I also attempted shorinji kempo, whilst my wife went back for a second karate session. We were exceptionally lucky to receive personal attention from two excellent teachers, Els Muilwijk sensei for Wado Ryu karate and Yamaue Keido sensei for shorinji kempo. Both experiences were really enjoyable.

There are obvious differences between most martial arts and even when reasonably fit from other activities, several gruelling 90 minute sessions resulted in completely new aches, in muscles that we did not know we possessed. For shorinji kempo the big change was in trying to move from kendo footwork to walking on the inside edge of the feet. Blocking with the open hand and return punching made sense, but then the concept of gyaku tsuki took some mastering, as stepping forward with one foot and punching from the other side is alien to kendo. I suppose the closest experience is in the way we receive kirikaeshi. Fortunately the latter half of the session moved into a drill where we had to block a punch and turn and throw the attacker – long forgotten judo muscle memory helped me both through the throws and the break-falls. The throw was done from a half kneeling lunge position, so my push leg is still twitching.

Karate was equally interesting. We were taught the basic stance, (pigeon toed) and the kicks and punches, before doing a one/two sparring routine with experienced partners. This time through my kendo experience, I was more or less able to understand and predict the attacker’s timing and became reasonably competitive. Els then attempted to teach us the “Wanshu” kata, which we later heard, is quite advanced and part of the Wado Ryu third dan test. She did a great job in keeping in front of us, so that we were able to follow her example. The consensus was that my wife did a much better job than I. Being a keen dancer who still regularly attends classes, her flexibility really paid off.

In fact she went back without me for another session to complete the kata and to learn more free fighting technique. I spent most of the flight home watching out for kidney punches. Hopefully the experience will give me a better understanding of the difficulties experienced by beginners as well as a healthy fear of my wife.

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