Posts Tagged ‘Inoue Yoshihiko’

inoue-yoshihikoI was asked by Kendo World magazine for a few words to sum up the obituary I wrote for Terry Holt-sensei that will appear in the next issue together with obituaries for Inoue Yoshihiko-sensei, Mochizuki Teruo-sensei. Thinking about my summary and reading the words already written for the other two sensei made me reflect on what we gain from a lifetime of kendo practice.

Inoue sensei would have made the point far more eloquently, but to my mind kendo is the path to becoming a complete human being –to learn to accept others with all their idiosyncrasies through our contact in keiko. By imposing mental and physical discipline on ourselves through constant hard training we learn about our own limits and weaknesses and start to empathise with others who are facing the same challenges

Nearly all of the strong kendo teachers who I have met during my 47 year kendo career are friendly, likeable, self-effacing and big hearted. Whether these characteristics are built on the true confidence that comes from developing a skill to a superior level or whether it is a matter of them being aware of their own inadequacies is open to conjecture.

Our keiko is a barometer of our state of mind at any given moment. If we are nervous, we rush and attack at the wrong time. If we are over confident we rest on your laurels and leave ourselves open to attack. Our objective is to develop a still mind that reacts in real-time to changing circumstances. If we can do this we are not being controlled by others, but allow ourselves the luxury of taking charge of our own actions.

Perhaps this is why kendo is so addictive and why many of us keep training to the end of our lives. If we can achieve this mental balance then it is much easier to take a benevolent view of your fellow men, inside and outside kendo.

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DNAI seem to have missed an interesting kendo kerfuffle on Facebook this week. A Japanese sensei from Brazil posted on The British Kendo Association’s page that if you wish to learn kata correctly then you should be taught directly by a Japanese sensei and should not learn from a video. Good advice! If I had the chance I would love to take some kata lessons from Inoue Yoshihiko sensei, who has spent a lifetime developing his knowledge of the form.

On the other hand the assumption that only a “Japanese” sensei could understand the riai of kata to a level where they can teach it seemed a bit harsh and a number of my friends took exception to the apparently xenophobic tone of the post. Some of the loudest comment came from Japan where people made the point that kata is often ignored by the majority of kendoka and that more focus is put on its practice by kendo countries outside Japan. It was also noted that not all Japanese kodansha are good at kata.

I have some sympathy with this point of view. When I lived in Japan, I asked a very strong kyoshi 7th dan teacher to teach me kata. He was delighted to help, but did so with a bokuto in one hand and a kata instruction book in the other. I don’t know if the rules are still the same but in Osaka and Hyogo it was possible to be excused the kata part of a grading exam by showing evidence that you had attended a kata course. I took advantage of this several times.

On the other hand I have seen people fail the kata section in the UK and in other European countries for what by Japanese standards are minor mistakes.

The All Japan Kendo Federation strongly promote the correct understanding of kata for both foreign and domestic instructors. The ZNKR kyoshi examination (which is open to non-Japanese teachers), focuses heavily on the teaching of kata and reigi, both of which I see missing as often from Japanese kendo students as from those from other parts of the world.

Let’s face it; learning from a teacher is better than learning from a video – fact. Some teachers are better at teaching kata than others- fact. On the other hand I strongly believe that the ability to teach kata correctly is based on years of practice and research rather than DNA.

Oh and talking about Brazil; a Brazilian sensei from Hong Kong just passed hachidan. It’s a funny old world.  Congratulations Kishikawa sensei and Merry Christmas to you all!

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Nishinomiya Hachiman Jingu

The spring grading examinations are looming and I am getting a number of requests to teach kata or to act as a kata training partner for candidates. I mentioned in an earlier post on the subject, that I share the guilt of many kendoka in not practising kata often enough. When I do make the effort, I realise that kata is a superb vehicle to demonstrate not just the whole range of kendo technique, but it also teaches seme, distance and timing.

Kata in the right frame of mind when you can truly harmonise with your partner, is a joy. I have had two experiences of kata that have had a profound effect on my understanding of kendo and the way I view the world. The first was quite a few years ago when I was preparing for the 5th dan grading in Japan. A sensei from Nishinomiya in Hyogo arranged for the two of us to perform kata privately in the local hachiman shrine as the dawn was breaking. The second, more recently, was again, a one on one session. This time with a friend who was practising for the opening kata at a taikai in Nara. We did this with mogito in Uegaki sensei’s edo period dojo in Yoshino, with Uegaki sensei correcting every move

Both these experiences were made special as much by the spirituality of the location as by the quality of my opponent. I was also fortunate to attend a kata seminar given by the late Ikeda sensei in Osaka who explained in detail the riai of kendo no kata; demonstrating the kodachi section at almost a running pace to show that the possessor of a short sword would do his utmost to close the distance with an opponent using a longer weapon. This riai (or the the theory or reason for each movement), is what makes kata meaningful.

To give an indication of the deeper meaning of kendo no kata, I quote from the paper submitted by Kensei Hiwaki of Tokyo International University entitled “A breakthrough in the dilemma of war or peace – The teachings of kendo”. The author borrows from the physical description of the kata from Hiroshi Ozawa in “Kendo the definitive guide” and the mental aspects from Yoshihiko Inoue in “Nippon kendo no kata no ichi kosatsu”.

In this section the author discusses the lesson taught by ippon me, the first technique of the kata – “The first kata begins with jodan no kamae. The person on the right assumes the role of teacher (uchidachi) and the one on the left the role of student (shidachi) in the training for kata. As the teacher executes a frontal attack with an indomitable fighting spirit, the student parries (sic) and delivers a frontal strike. In this kata exercise, both the teacher and the student attack each other from the “overhead” posture implying a clash of justice against justice. The first kata is meant to teach that one defeats the other with the difference of relative skill cultivation that corresponds to the laws of nature”.

The author goes on to explain that “The first lesson in kendo means training for the self acquirement of the physical movement and mental attitude, as well as the cultivation for the self-manifestation of justice. In addition to the self-manifestation, the first kata teaches the importance of repentance for the killing. In real combat, the loser dies and the winner who survives must have repentance. This mental attitude in part represents the assertion of zanshin.”

The author goes on to illustrate the meaning of the second and third kata in the same fashion. Of course this is a far more profound view of kata than we often take, but it certainly starts to give meaning to what are often meaningless actions based on “one two three, yah- toh”.

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Inoue senseiI have had a few days rest from work and kendo due to a tummy bug, so am feeling a little more reflective than usual. I re-read an article by Inoue Yoshihiko sensei on Kendo and Love. In this very erudite article, Inoue sensei examines through kendo and budhist philosophy, the way we evolve through kendo training to make a positive contribution to society.

I do not consider myself remotely qualified to comment on teaching that is based on such a depth of practical and philosophical kendo knowledge, but I started to think whether or not we are starting to lose some of the spiritual and moral values of kendo along with the older generation of kendo teachers.

The fact that I am even writing this, is indicative that I think we are, but that is from my perspective as a westerner who does not read Japanese. I suppose a question that has been at the back of my mind for a long time is – Was modern kendo formulated to foster a love of mankind, (as the mission statement says), or did someone do a great job of creating a rationale for a now irrelevant form of sword play?

Having practised kendo for 40 years and with the firm intention of continuing to do so until I am no longer able, I do of course, believe that I gain a great deal of mental and physical benefit from regular keiko, but it is impossible to say whether or not I am a better person for it.

Thanks to the internet, there is now much more English language kendo information available. Having said that, much of it is either news about kendo events or discussions on technique. What is missing is the philosophical element! This is probably due to the fact that most of the people putting information out on blogs and web sites, (me included), are not qualified to discuss the more esoteric aspects of kendo. There is also the zen conundrum that you do not reach a state of “no mind” by thinking about it.

What does seem clear is that as kendo grows in popularity, particularly in the West, it is moving more towards sport and further away from traditional budo. By joining GAISF and with the requirement for drug testing at the 14WKC, we appear to be going in the same direction as Judo. My only hope is that through this evolution, we do not lose the discipline and Reiho that separates kendo from other sports.

Inoue Yoshihiko sensei pictured above

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