Posts Tagged ‘Kendo and Judo’

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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One of the longest running debates on the Linkedin kendo forum is on the question of cross training for kendo. This has created a polarisation of opinion almost as meaningless yet as keenly contested as Jonathan Swift’s conflict between the “Big Endians” and “Little Endians” who fought bitterly over which end of a boiled egg to open.

In this case the big endians feel that gym activity is essential to kendo progress whereas the little endians will make the sign of the cross or recite the lotus sutra at the very mention of treadmills or weights. I personally am somewhere between the two camps. I would far rather practice kendo than pump iron, but if I have limited access to kendo practice I will happily use the gym for cardio vascular exercise and do low weight, high rep exercise on resistance machines to keep essential muscles working. Having said that I have absolutely no scientific knowledge of which stamina or resistance exercises best supplement kendo training. It’s more a matter of guesswork. It seems logical that if you can run for an hour, then you should be able to practice kendo for the same length of time. Where I am far less enthusiastic about gym work, is where it replaces time in the dojo as it has in many cases with Judo. 

After the victory of the 120kg Dutch man Anton Geesink in the Judo open class at Judo’s Olympic debut in 1964, Judo training for many athletes became increasingly focused on strength exercises.  Whether this change was caused by the loss of Japanese monopoly, or by Judo’s emergence as an Olympic sport, or the subsequent introduction of the lower value yuko and koka to the scoring system, Judo changed irrevocably.

Traditionally martial art training was based on repetition. In kendo this was exemplified by Yamaoka Tesshu‘s approach where a succession of opponents was faced in a concentrated period. By and large, this is still the way we train in kendo, with the constant repetition of suburi, kirikaeshi and waza geiko; aiming for that moment of no-mind or clarity where the technique emerges without conscious effort to meet the target. I am sure that sports-scientists have biomechanical models that can make kendo actions better and easier to achieve, but I wonder whether a more scientific approach will dilute the spirit of kendo.

Everything is subject to change, and kendo will of course continue to change and develop as it becomes more popular and more international. The way we train is still a subject of discussion between the Big and Little Endians, but for me, now that the latest gym membership has lapsed, my only other form of exercise is carrying my bogu from the car park to the dojo.

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