Archive for the ‘Shogo’ Category

Kyoshi revisited

One of my early posts when I started this blog, lamented the fact that the All Japan Kendo Federation Kyoshi shogo could only be gained through a written examination in Japanese, http://wp.me/stBQt-kyoshi. Since then the wheels have slowly been turning and from November of this year the examination can be taken in English as well.

Some countries including the U.S.A and Germany have developed their own shogo system and do not see this as particularly exciting news, but for British kendoka who are reliant on the International Kendo Federation for grade and shogo recognition, this is a major move towards equality with our Japanese counterparts.

Personally, having held Renshi for 12 years and 7th dan for nearly 5, I welcome the opportunity to develop my kendo career, but as they say “be careful what you wish for”.

I was recommended as a suitable candidate to take the examination by my peers in the British Kendo Association earlier this month and the appropriate paper work has been sent off to Japan. The difference between the new systems and the old, (Kyoshi was formerly open to non-Japanese kendoka by recommendation alone), is that now, Kyoshi examinees need to go to Tokyo to physically take the exam. So this November I will have the pleasure of meeting old friends in Tokyo and getting some great keiko opportunities, but the main business of the visit will be a 3 hour written examination. 

The AJKF, have provide a detailed briefing document covering the examination questions and the relevant reading list, so I know what is expected of me. I have sent off and received my order from their online bookshop and I am now wading through the latest edition of Guidelines for Kendo Shiai and Shinpan, Training methods for Fundamental Kendo Techniques with a Bokuto, Nippon Kendo Kata Instruction Manual and the new Official Guide for Kendo Instruction. The latter is brand new and is a really well thought out book, excellently translated by Alex Bennett.

Looking at the subject matter it is clear that the emphasis of the exam is not just on technique, but there is a strong need for candidates to demonstrate knowledge of the philosophical aspects of kendo. Most importantly, the examination seems to looking for evidence of understanding of reiho or reigi saho, (the demonstration of etiquette) and its contribution to developing the whole person.

With application and registration fees, (if I manage to pass) and the cost of a trip to Japan, the new Kyoshi exam has to be taken seriously by applicants. I like the fact however that the content of the exam sets out to measure that instructors have the same depth of knowledge about all aspects of kendo regardless of where they live. Now I just have to ensure that I keep reading and revising and get the questions right on the day.

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I have tried to studiously avoid contentious or political posts since starting this blog, but there is one glaring anomaly in the shogo system that i feel is worth airing.

Most of you know that in addition to the kyu and dan system of grading, there are three shogo grades – Renshi, Kyoshi and Hanshi. These are said to be a measure of suitability as a kendo role model rather than the technical ability measured by kyu or dan. There is however a correlation and currently 6th dans are elligible for Renshi, 7th for Kyoshi and 8th after some considerable time for Hanshi.

Like many aspects of kendo this has changed several times over the years. I believe originally, as with Naginata, the grades went only to 5th dan and the shogo were a measure of further development. Later it was possible to gain Renshi at 5th dan, Kyoshi at 6th and in rare cases, Hanshi at 7th. Originally these shogo were granted on recommendation by the relevant prefectural or country association and confirmed after examination of each candidates kendo cv by the ZNKR.

Several years ago the method of qualification was changed. Hanshi is still awarded by recommendation and election, but Renshi and Kyoshi are gained by submitting a written thesis. So far so good! Where in my view things become a little unfair is that the Renshi paper must be submitted in English or Japanese, which is hard on folk who’s first language is neither. Worse still, (for me at least), is that the Kyoshi paper can only be submitted in written Japanese, which is pretty daunting even if you speak the language. The ideal candidate for Kyoshi is therefore a native speaker with the benefit of a Japanese university education.

This then starts to give us a two tier, (maybe three tier system) 1, Japanese 7th dan Kyoshi, 2, Foreign 7th dan who were awarded Kyoshi before the change of rules and 3, Foreign 7th dan Renshi. The dissadvantages for the latter group are not just that they will perpetually be lower in the pecking order than their Japanese writing counterparts, but confined to the Renshi group in the Kyoto Taikai and other danbetsu events.

There were discussions some time back, coming from the German Kendo Federation about establishing a European Kyoshi qualification, but to me, this sounds divisive and just a way of highlighting an “us and them” scenario. Having gone through the stringent ZNKR and FIK dan examinations it seems unfair to have to drop out of the system at the shogo stage.

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