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JapaneseA colleague who trains in Brazillian Jujutsu showed me an on-line video of the sport. I could not but notice the similarity to Judo, although I am told that the groundwork differs but that the throws are almost identical. Having done Judo in the past I know many of these techniques only by their Japanese names and my friend referred to them by their English tags. He did not go into detail but I presume the original language used is Portuguese and that the countries where it is practised use their own terms.

This made me reflect on the fact that in kendo we use Japanese on a scale that followers of other martial arts would find difficult to justify. Not only do we have imported labels for the techniques, but all dojo and shiai commands are in Japanese. The courtesies we observe before and after practice are in Japanese and many kenshi have a vocabulary that extends to social conversation.

There are obvious advantages to the use of a single language amongst an international population. We can travel to countries where we do not share a common language and still understand the instructions given in a training session. The downside is that as beginner as well as having to learn to make your body do things that it has never done before, you have to learn a new vocabulary.

The official languages of kendo are Japanese and English and when we attend Europe Zone Referee Seminars, translation is provided from the former to the latter, we then usually have numerous side conversations to ensure that whatever message is being delivered is understood by those who are not fluent in English. My guess however is that nearly as many people understand the Japanese instruction as the English translation.

I personally like the fact that we use Japanese for kendo. Initially I found it part of the attraction as it made kendo seem exotic. Then having spent time living in Japan and using the language I realised that the meanings of technique names and commands are fairly mundane – “mask, glove, trunk, stop, start, thank you very much”; they do not sound nearly as grand in English.

If we did revert to our own languages, international competition would be interesting.  In the shiai-jo with a Spanish opponent and a German referee, should you shout glove, or guante, or handschu  or all three when you make a kote attack?

Kakegoe too would become interesting. When we make these initial shouts before attacking, although without meaning, they are usually modelled on Japanese sounds. I have a fear that in moving to English these would become more like the “sledging” insults used in English cricket to put the opponent off his stroke.  Standing up from sonkyo to taunts about my body shape or my opponent’s relationship with my wife does not seem like an ideal start to a good kendo tachiai.

It might not be ideal for everyone but I suggest that for the time being we keep the ZNKR’s dictionary of kendo terms in the bogu bag.

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As several people including the organisers of the Senior’s seminar and taikai have pointed out. I have been less than clear about the dates of the event.

The seminar will be held over the weekend of 19th to 21st June 2015, with the competition held on the 21st. I appreciate that it is a long time ahead, but I let my excitement run away with me.

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Me in the middle with short sleevesI recently saw a trailer for a post on Linkedin titled “what would you do differently if you knew at age 22 what you know now?” As usual I did not have time to read the article, but the heading made me think about how a similar question would work in a kendo context.

At 22 I was a first dan, three years into my kendo career, training regularly and energetically. My foot movement usually followed that of my arms and shoulders and when I hit men it was if I was trying to drive in a fence post or win a coconut at the fairground. When I later moved to Japan my friends and teachers suggested that my keiko was “gotsui” which in Kansai Japanese means “very”, but the inference is ”more than needed” or “over the top”.

Had the present day me been able to advise the 22 year old me, I would have suggested that I “lighten up”. I would have recommended that I relax, and instead of making my attacks hard and heavy, I should make them sharp and light, using forward motion and tenouchi. Even then, I probably would have ignored my own advice as I had that of various illustrious sensei, that is until my body was no longer able to waste energy.

Thanks to the teaching of Chiba sensei and the refusal of my elderly body to waste the effort that it dissipated in younger days, I now try to concentrate the little vitality that I have left on making correct approaches and sharp attacks. Of course I am still a long way from  my ideal vision of the kendo, but I am still able to enjoy keiko, and without false modesty, I am sure that my kendo is now more effective than it was when I was in my 20s. My big question is “could I have made this change when I was younger”, and if I had,”how much more progress could I have made in my kendo career?”

I see many younger friends make the same mistakes and even though they agree with the advice I give them, they seem unable to change. When you watch the All Japan Championships, you often see kenshi in their 20s and early 30s who are able to use kendo energy effectively. They may have started younger, practice harder and be more naturally talented than the average club kendoka, but I am sure that if we follow their example, there is a way to get our kendo looking like theirs before reaching old age.

So for me it’s not so much a case of “I wish I knew then what I know now”, more a case of “I wish I could do then what I know I should be doing now”.

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10153021_10200981771141538_7507786376156219769_nYesterday Stuart Gibson won the men’s individual event at the European Kendo Championship. This is the first time, at least in my memory, that a Brit has won the event.

I watched the final from the cathedral-like atmosphere of the referee’s seats, expressing my excitement with the occasional burst of polite clapping. The rest of the British squad sat quietly by the shiai-jo doing pretty much the same thing even though they were bursting out of their skins with enthusiasm.

When our national anthem was played at the closing ceremony we all stood in silence. This was in marked contrast to spectator behavior on  previous days and competitions when everyone joined in singing the French and Italian anthems. It may be because they have catchier tunes (apologies your Majesty) or simply that British reserve gets in the way of a good public sing song.

This national difference is evident in the way we applaud at kendo matches. The Brits have taken to the Japanese pattern of polite clapping, whilst our continental neighbours prefer more vocal support. Over the three days of the event, numerous requests were made for supporters to stop cheering or rhythmic clapping, but as soon as it stopped it restarted.

I was asked for my opinion of this at the sayonara party and frankly the fact that I am not keen on loud support is as much a reflection of my British reserve as my conservative kendo attitude.

Nevertheless, regardless of how I express it I am thoroughly delighted to have witnessed Stuart’s achievement. Well done Gibbo!






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 I just saw the latest edition of Kendo World which is now out on Kindle http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00E5OSFFO and it contains a really positive book review of “Kendo, A Comprehensive Guide”. The writer, Alex Bennett, does however point out that the cover picture shows me with the katakana name Saruman on my zekken and compares me to the “White Wizard” in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

IMG_1302I have been wearing the same kana on my tare for over 30 years and for most of them, I have been aware that it is not an accurate rendition of my name. Salmon should be spelled in katakana as sa mo n. Nevertheless, the zekken has stayed in place because most of my Japanese friends have got used to it. The confusion goes back to the beginning of my time in Japan, before I had even got round to signing on at the YMCA language school. I asked a colleague to write my name for my new zekken and he must have been confused by my cockney accent when he wrote sa ru ma n.

This made me think about the difficulty of transcribing many western names into Japanese, some are almost impossible to write accurately. I had a long circular conversation with a Japanese sempai when referring to the French kenshi, Pierre l’heureux sensei.  The confusion was caused by the fact that his name in katakana was simply written as Lulu. I ordered a zekken from Japan for a student called Carruthers and went to great pains to explain on the phone that his name should read ka ra za zu. It came back spelled perfectly, except we got the romanised spelling wrong. Other names can be unintentionally comical. The first name Gary written in Japanese makes people think of pickled ginger and several eastern European names can appear to be very rude.

The use of kanji for western names is even more dangerous. It seems to work well for dojo names, even non-Japanese ones. The dojo in St Etienne uses the kanji for Aka Mon (red gate) as they are located in Porteuil Rouge. This is particularly memorable for Japanese people as Tokyo University is known as Aka Mon because of the original colour of the entrance. Cambridge University kendo club use the kanji for bridge in Cambashi.

People’s names in kanji are more of a mine field. A friend whose surname was Peace was known by our Japanese friends as as Heiwa as he used a literal translation in kanji. The other alternative is to find “sound alike” kanji that match the sound of your name but can have irrelevant meanings. I explored some at the time I cemented my name in incorrect katakana. There were various options on meaning from the relatively sedate Westgate to an ungrammatical but memorable monkey man. Maybe being the White Wizard is not so bad.

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5thLast Saturday was the 5th birthday of this blog. Over the last five years I have shared 273 posts, received over 1200 comments and seen monthly visits move from the low hundreds to regular totals of over 15,000.

I have learned that my readers are most interested in comment on major shiai, the thoughts of famous sensei and notes on technique and training. This feedback has very much influenced recent content and has given me the encouragement to write “Kendo, A Comprehensive Guide to Japanese Swordsmanship” which was published by Tuttle Publishing a few months ago.

Producing a detailed instruction guide is very different to the less restrained experience of blogging and I owe a debt of gratitude to Katsuya Masagaki for the numerous precise illustrations he produced for the book. Rather than leaving me to use ad-hoc photographs, he drew to reflect my words and in some cases I rewrote to reflect his drawings. It’s difficult to see past people’s politeness, but the few reviews we have had on-line and face-to-face comments I have heard, lead me to believe that the book has been fairly well received.

I am still highly enthusiastic about writing what has now become a regular weekly blog post. I find that my own keiko, teaching in the dojo and refereeing are enhanced by sitting down at a keyboard once a week and trying to structure my thoughts on some element of kendo. The subsequent response I get from reader’s comments then often gives me a new perspective to take back to the dojo.

I occasionally let my dubious sense of humour run away with me and have produced the occasional good natured rant about a variety of kendo connected topics such as the relationship between kendo and Iai, the misuse of Japanese names for dojo and choosing to call one’s-self sensei. I appreciate that the person most amused by these diatribes is me, so thank you all for humouring me.

Future plans are for more of the same. I intend to keep posting until I either run out of ideas or the stats page flat-lines. I am also planning to release another book in September. This will be more reflective than “Kendo, a Comprehensive Guide” and will be based on the most popular posts since www.kendoinfo.net was first started.

Thank you all for supporting me over the past five years.

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Kendo feet

feetA continuing side-effect of my kendo training is that my feet have continued to get wider over the years. I have seen no scientific evidence that kendo makes feet spread, but I am sure mine were normal when I started and now are becoming almost as wide as they are long.

I confidently continue to add to my collection of unworn shoes believing that after a few days of “wearing in” they will become comfortable, only to find that there is not enough stretch in any of them to encompass my feet without causing pain. While they hide unloved at the bottom of the wardrobe, I invariably flop around in trainers which I buy a size too big. I do occasionally have to wear “proper” shoes and I have a black pair and brown pair which do the job without making me limp. Both have been repaired nearly as many times as my kote due to my paranoia that I will never find new ones that fit.

I have tried to solve the problem. I sent my foot measurements to a specialist on-line supplier of wide shoes; they told me that they had nothing suitable and that I should try contacting a surgical boot maker.

I don’t however think that I am alone in suffering from this problem. When I visit Japan I notice that most of the shoes that I see in the “genkan” of dojo or friend’s houses seem to be on the wide side. I have also started to take crafty peeks at colleague’s feet in the changing rooms. Forgive me if you have noticed me doing this, but my interest is more scientific than perverse. I am sure that somewhere a kendo loving orthopaedic surgeon, podiatrist or sports scientist has developed an equation that measures the hours of keiko required to add a centimetre of width to each of a kendoka’s feet.

It might be that his or her study is even more complicated and that the constant pressure on the left foot outweighs the effect of fumikomi on the right foot and that the feet broaden at a different rate.

However in terms of hard evidence, I do not have a foot to stand on. Perhaps I am unique in experiencing this phenomenon  and my fellow male kendoka can get away with wearing the narrowest of “fandangos” and the girls still fit nicely into their Laboutin’s and Jimmy Choo’s.  It would be interesting to hear if this problem affects others or whether it is just me that will eventually have to wear flip-flops with formal wear.

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Ishida sensei in Kyoto

With Ishida sensei in Kyoto

To quote Marshal McLuhan “The real news is bad news”. Whilst we had a wonderful 15th European Kendo Championship with some excellent kendo and a great deal of good fellowship, one of the most discussed aspects of the event, certainly amongst people who did not attend, was a single example of rough play. I can understand why people are concerned about this type of behaviour as it has a detrimental effect on kendo, but maybe the time has come to think about the more positive aspects of kendo.

For those of us who follow the kendo groups on Facebook it would be difficult to miss that the All Japan 8th Dan Championships were held recently.  Thanks to the AJKF there are many clips of shiai from this taikai on YouTube. For many years I have felt that this competition gives us some of the best examples of kendo that we could wish to follow. Whether it is a “chicken or egg” phenomenon, I do not know the answer. Either the sensei who achieve 8th Dan did so because they display a perfect understanding of “riai”, or as 8th dans they are conscious of their positions as kendo role models and perform accordingly in the shiai-jo. Either way I think that this is the sort of kendo that we should aspire to.

Tani sensei on left sitting

Tani sensei on left sitting

There are lots of great examples from this year’s taikai but the final between last year’s winner, Tani sensei and Ishida sensei says it all. Not only do both fighters display fantastic awareness and kihaku throughout the shiai, but they are ready to attack instantly at any opportunity. Their distances throughout the match are text-book and on the few occasions when they get close, they separate by mutual consent without losing mind contact and concentration. There is no wasted effort, only real opportunities are taken and when they are, the action is clear and decisive. Ishida sensei’s single winning point is a great example – he explodes forward to nearly take men and as Tani sensei tries to recover is kamae he comes forward to do it again this time with a clear target and unanimous ippon from the referees. If you haven’t done so already take a look.


Both of these sensei are in their fifties and there were some equally impressive shiai from competitors well into their sixties, so this taikai holds particular interest for oldies like me. I think however that kendo of this kind should be what we all should aim for in our long term development.

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25th EKC bannerWith less than a week to go to the European Kendo Championships in Berlin, one can sense the collective energy build-up amongst prospective competitors. Team selection has been finalised, last minute training sessions have been held and messages of support are going out as I write this. All that is left for the athletes to do is to stay focused. The referees are as good as they are going to get before next week, so it is just a matter of packing t

he white shirts, flags and rule-books. The only people with a really big job to do this week are the organisers!

From my experience of playing a small part in the administration of the 13th EKC and a bigger part in organising the 12WKC, the German Kendo Association has my sympathy and admiration. The effort that goes into organising an event of this scale is enormous. Arranging the shiai venue, organising transport and accommodation, fighting for sponsorship; these are all daunting tasks. Most crucially making the budgets work, particularly in the current economic climate must be a real challenge.

Any country kendo association prepared to take on responsibility for such a major event deserves credit, particularly the smaller groups who have done such a good job in previous years despite having had to risk the financial stability of their associations on the success of these events.

In all cases it is as a result of the generosity of volunteers that makes these events possible. Thousands of hours of planning and administrative work must have already gone into this 25th EKC and a lot of the physical work is still to happen. While the rest of us are checking that we’ve packed our socks, I imagine that the organisers are running through a host of last minute checks on facilities, security and transport and of course making sure that everything works to plan within the stadium.

I am looking forward to doing my best as a referee and seeing some great kendo over the three days. Hopefully there will also be a chance to see the sights of Berlin and to enjoy a few beers when it’s all over. When we get to the Sayonara party lots of competitors will be ready to let off steam after giving their all in the shiai-jo, but no-one will deserve their celebrations more than the organising team. So only another week to go guys, gambatte and thank you in advance for all your hard work.

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I have just returned from the keiko after the Mumeishi 3’s. This was a full-on 2 and a half hour session with some two hundred people in attendance.  I was reminded that in my last post I underestimated the motodachi count by one seventh dan, but even with 8 of us plus one 8th dan and numerous 6th dans it was still hard work.

The previous day’s taikai went without a hitch and Mumeishi’s “A” team won. This was a great way for the club to celebrate the event’s 40th anniversary. My job was that of shinpan-shunin, running “A” Court under the direction of our shinpan-cho, Sumi sensei. The overall standard of shiai was excellent and the referees did a good job in keeping everything moving. My only complaints were in the few cases where overzealous referees stopped shiai too frequently for minor points. Sumi sensei did however let me know that we should have dealt more strictly with one case of tsubazeriai infringement. Of course when a hanshi tells you something like this, you answer “yes” and make sure that it does not happen again.

Sumi sensei however is a very approachable hanshi and later at the after competition party we talked frankly about how strictly the tsubazeriai rules are enforced. I mentioned that I had attended the two World Championship referee seminars this year and the instructors had made it clear what was and what was not acceptable for tsubazeriai and what counted as a clean break on wakare. In effect tsubazeri is only legal if the shinai are crossed at the tsuba on the omote side. The shinai should not touch your opponent and neither of you should touch your own or your partners jinbu. On wakare both parties should break cleanly so that the shinai are clear of each other.

Nevertheless at the World Championships numerous examples of the players either covering the shinai from the ura side, or attacking before making a clean break on command were allowed by highly experience referees.

Sumi sensei made the point that at this year’s Asia zone referee seminar the most asked question was “why should we penalise this behaviour when it is becoming normal practise at the All Japan Championship.” I imagine quite a difficult point to answer.

There is obviously a divergence between the theory of good kendo and the practicalities of not getting beaten which needs to be resolved at the highest levels. In the meantime we can start by encouraging good kendo by enforcing the rules in our local competitions.

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