Posts Tagged ‘A Comprehensive Guide to Japanese Swordsmanship’

ritsureiDespite my regular attempts to grab attention with ironic references to kendo as “stick fighting” or as a sport, I firmly believe that it is a shugyo, a Zen martial art based on Taoist and Confucian philosophy, developed with the aim of developing the human character. As such reiho , the physical display of courtesy is an integral element.

In Kendo, a Comprehensive Guide I devoted much of the book to the description of reiho and chakuso and still only scratched the surface, Your remarks on my last post prompted this attempt to describe some of the aspects of reiho in slightly more detail.

Reiho can be easily categorised into the obvious and the kendo specific. The obvious includes the things that we would consider polite behaviour in most societies. For instance don’t chat when an instructor is talking”, or “don’t slouch or lean on on walls in class” are instructions given to school children around the world.

As a child, I was told to ask permission when I wanted to leave the dinner table. In the same way you should do so when you need to leave the dojo, not just for the sake of politeness, but so that those running the session can keep track of you, if for instance you became unwell.

I could continue with this list but there is little value in describing the obvious. Instead I have tried to list some of  the points that are specific to kendo or budo.

  • Rei – This used to be a lot more complicated, as anyone who has watched elderly Japanese ladies striving to hit the correct angle for the exact social circumstance might realise. Now in kendo we bow to each other at an angle of 15 degrees from the waist keeping the back straight. The key thing is to make eye contact and then continue it throughout the bow. At the dojo entrance and to our instructors we bow to 30 degrees. For zarei we form a triangle between our two hands and lower our forehead directly above it keeping the back street. You should exhale as you bow.
  • Sonkyo – This salutation is unique to kendo and sumo. Ensure that after rei you come to correct distance and then bring your shinai over and down to chudan using the most direct path as you drop into sonkyo. When you finish your keiko or tachiai you reverse the process, ensuring that you put your right hand on your right thigh as you return the shinai to your hip. This signifies that you have no further intention of drawing your sword, but that you are able to do so if your opponent breaks the peace.
  • Entering shiai jo – you can take as many steps as you like before you bow, but bow correctly and take only three steps to the kaeshi sen and sonkyo.
  • Shinai – Kendo is “The way of the sword” and the shinai symbolises the razor sharp katana. We should not walk over other people’s shinai or touch the jinbu of their or our weapons. We should not use the shinai as a walking stick nor drag the point across the floor and we should not bang it on the floor to signal yame.
  • Hakama – After my last post someone commented on one of the Facebook groups that he has seen hundreds of ways of wearing hakama. I personally believe that there are only two ways – right and wrong. The hakama invokes the spirit of budo with pleats representing the Confucian values “gin,gi,rei, chi, shin – makoto” (benevolence, justice, courtesy, wisdom, faith and sincerity). The left leg goes in first and comes out last. The waistband should be level with the navel. The ties should cross under the tanden. The koshiita should sit above the ties at the back. The hem of the hakama should clear the toes and slant upwards from front to rear.
  • Kote – like the legs of the hakama, these go on left right and come off right left. Reasons given are that it left the right hand free to draw the sword or to draw a bow string when under attack.
  • Tenegui – folded inside or draped outside the men for rei, customs vary from dojo to dojo, but however you do it, keep them freshly laundered and contemplate their meaning before you put them on.
  • Kiai and kakegoe – should be short and sharp; it should not sound as if you are bragging about the point you just made.
  • Sempai and kohai – Unless we are part of the Japanese system, we will never fully understand the structure and obligation of these relationships. Dojo etiquette however should however be based on mutual respect. Feel free to cross the dojo to make zarei to your teacher, or even to tidy and pack his or her bogu, but only do so as a genuine token of respect.

These are just a few examples of the way we should behave in the dojo. To make a comprehensive list would be a major undertaking.

I hoped to give more explanations of “why” we do things and over the years have asked a number of sensei about some of background to kendo reigi.In most cases the answer is “because that is what we do”. Perhaps one more point of reigi is that we should show the tact and politeness to accept the “sonno mama” (way it is) of kendo.

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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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