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Posts Tagged ‘Kendo reigi’

International reigi

 

Kyoto asageiko

Kyoto asageiko

My “Kendo Ritual” post prompted some enlightening contributions from a number of people. Hakan’s last comment was particularly thought provoking.

I wrote the original post from the perspective of someone who‘s formative kendo years were spent in the Japan of the 70’s when many of my teachers brought pre-war values to the dojo. Even then zokin-gake was not a fixed part of adult kendo practice, but was a daily ritual for many high-school and university and kendo clubs. There were however a number of duties that seem strange to some of my western kendo friends that I viewed as an earned privilege.

Being asked to take care of a very senior teacher’s sensei’s bogu, washing his back in the communal dojo bath, even being one of the select few who were invited to bow to his departing car or taxi, were signs that you were accepted as a student and not the non-person who had spent months or years waiting to gain acceptance.  In those days, even with an influential introduction, most new members had to prove themselves before becoming part of the group.

Thanks to the efforts of FIK in internationalising kendo and the fact that many senior Japanese instructors teach seminars around the globe, kendo in Japan now seems to be far more accessible to foreigners. Nevertheless the format of reiho is still uniquely Japanese. The importance of correct reigi is underlined by the AJKF in the syllabus for the Kyoshi examination and there is an emphasis on imparting kendo’s values as well as its techniques both at home and abroad.

I have had numerous discussions with friends who think that my attitude to dojo etiquette verges on fundamentalist. They believe that a more localised approach would give greater encouragement to new students. I can see the value of both points of view but I am obviously a product of my own experiences.

I am perhaps softening with age. At Mumeishi dojo where my co-instructor is Japanese, my bogu is invariably impeccably tied and whisked away to the changing rooms at the end of each practice. In Shion dojo in Spain where I teach from time to time, I take care of my own kit, but very often the keiko ends with a round of applause and a hug. Both scenarios are very different, but each serves the same end in demonstrating mutual respect. Put it this way, I always come home from kendo in a good mood. Perhaps that’s a reflection on being part of a vertical society.

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Following on from my last post, it’s worth looking at what we should and should not do when visiting other dojo. The best option is to go with a regular member who can explain the system and tell you who’s who. If you do visit alone, then here are a few tips on how not to make the wrong impression. The key however is to watch what others do and to follow their example.

Start by getting there on time or slightly early. Bow correctly when you enter and if you can introduce yourself to the shihan or dojo leader and ask if you may practice. The instructor will usually ask your grade and help direct you to the right place in the line. If you are left to your own devices sit in the lowest position.  Being asked to move up is flattering; being asked to move down is less impressive. Pay particular attention to the “gorei” commands at the beginning and end of the session. If everyone bows to showmen make sure you are facing the right direction.

If the dojo practices motodachi- geiko, then queue for the most senior person and work your way down the line. It goes without saying that in any kendo practice you should give it your all. This is particularly true if you are training in a new environment. In jigeiko, unless you know for sure that you are the senior grade, always defer to your opponent over who takes the kamiza position. Most people will put up a show of resistance and go through a “no please, after you” discussion. Politely refuse and make sure that you stay on the lower side. I have been in situations where I have had to physically push my opponent across the dojo. During keiko if you are given advice, acknowledge the it with a quick yes or “thank you”. Do not ask questions or get into a discussion.

After practise, quickly cross the dojo to thank all the instructors that you have trained with, starting with the most senior and working your way down the line. Then repeat the process with opponents on the shimoza side. If advice is offered, accept it gratefully, but again, do not ask for a critique or make excuses. If you can, take some tenugui from your dojo and present them, ideally with a business card, to the senior dojo members.

Pay attention to the after practice showering or bathing routine, in some dojo it is the custom for sensei to go first, always defer to seniors. Finally if you are invited to go for a drink after practice, say yes; you have probably made some great new kendo friends.

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The 2012 London Olympics have reached their end and like many of my fellow Britons, I have been caught up in Olympic fever. From the opening ceremony (give or take a slightly wobbly Sir Paul McCartney), to the final days competition, the whole thing has been truly inspirational.

I have been delighted that London has managed the event so well and that we have seen so many exceptional performances from athletes from around the globe. On a patriotic level, to know that Great Britain with a population of less than 60 million is third in the medal count, behind only the USA and China makes me swell with pride and whilst tickets were hard to get, I was glued to the TV for many of the events.

Whilst I writing this before the closing ceremony, many of the analysts and pundits have been giving their view on why Team GB has achieved relative success this time round and the answer has emphatically been the £260 plus million of lottery funding spent on athlete development. It is good to know that although I have never won so much as ten pounds, that my pound a week (and that of a few other people) has gone to such a good cause.

I have to confess to slightly mixed feelings on this going back to the 12th World Kendo Championships, when both Sport England and Sport Scotland refused to make any contribution to a World class event. It is of course obvious that the Olympic Games is the most prestigious sporting occasion in the world today, so one can see why funding works the way it does. With that in mind and with the adrenalin of the event still running high, it is easy to ask the question “Why is kendo not an Olympic sport?”

Coming back to the games themselves, there were as I mentioned some amazing performances from many athletes, not least from female competitors in the combat sports.  Nicola Adams won an amazing boxing gold for Britain in the women’s flyweight class and Jade Jones took gold in the women’s 57kg taekwondo competition, This in itself was a superhuman feat, a nineteen year old from a small town in North Wales beating the World’s best.

What I am going to say next in no way detracts from my admiration of Jade’s achievement; but I was disappointed to see that at the end of her final match instead of thanking her opponent, her first reaction was to throw her headgear on the floor and break into a victory dance routine.

If kendo were to become an Olympic sport would we lose the strict reiho that now seems unique to kendo and perhaps sumo? If we did, would the sacrifice be worth it when weighed against the gains in public interest and financial support?

For once, I would like to keep my opinion to myself and to ask yours with the following simple questionnaire.

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We have had an influx of hanshi; with Sueno sensei visiting us two weeks ago and Sumi sensei here on a stopover last week.  Everyone was keen to treat them with the respect that they are due and to demonstrate the level of reigi that high ranking teachers would expect in Japan.  I received a number of questions on the subject and a request to put some thoughts into a blog piece explaining the correct approach to etiquette in this and other situations.

Just to clarify the terminology, reigi is the concept of etiquette and reiho is its physical manifestation.  Some aspects of reiho are technical and unique to kendo or Japan. The angles to which you bow to your teachers and kamiza and to your opponent are prescribed and have to be learned. There are rules to govern the location of joseki or kamiza in a dojo and the correct places for students and teachers to sit. The gorei commands at the beginning and end of each practice are with one or two variations a set standard that we invariably follow. However if you think about it logically, the demonstration of etiquette in kendo is based on common sense and common courtesy that would be second nature in most cultures.

It is however probably fair to say that some people are better at it than others.  Those with ethnic roots in Eastern Europe or the Middle East tend to grasp the concept of respect for teachers and elders more easily than do their peers from Western Europe, but everyone would probably agree with the logic of many of kendo’s standard rules.

In the dojo we do not chat amongst ourselves, so that we can hear the instructor. We ask permission before taking off our men and leaving the dojo, so that someone is aware in case of medical emergencies. We do not step over people’s shinai, as a shinai represents the sword and the sword is “The soul of the samurai”. We do not lean against the wall or slump, as the dojo is a place of physical and spiritual training and we need to maintain a spirit of readiness and awareness.

Translating this common sense approach to the way we treat senior visitors, we should aim to give our best in keiko. When we cross the dojo to thank sensei, we should do so immediately after rei.  Remember start with the most senior teacher and work your way down the line. Don’t ask questions. If sensei has some advice for you, he will give it automatically.

It is accepted practice to take care of senior visitor’s bogu and deliver it packed with his folded hakama and keikogi to the exit. Decide beforehand who is going to do this.

If sensei would prefer to take care of his own equipment, then allow him to do so. Of course this may be politeness on his part, so insist once or twice before you give in. In this case don’t be surprised if other junior teachers also refuse your kind offer of help. Whilst I am usually grateful for this sort of attention, I would not dream of taking advantage of it if my senior teacher has said no. To do so would be discourteous.

So although many aspects of kendo etiquette can be learned from text books or by asking your instructor, it is difficult to go wrong if you follow the basic rules of human courtesy.

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On my occasional visits to one or other of the kendo message boards, I often see requests for advice or clarification, to which someone invariably posts the response – “ask your sensei”.  This seems to me to be the most logical and accessible way to have questions answered, but obviously many people find it a more daunting option than referring to wiki style resources or asking their peers online. Surely not all kendo instructors are ”grumpy old men”, (no personal comments please), who fill students with fear.

Reflecting on this situation it is worth thinking about the roots of kendo pedagogy. As an essentially Zen martial art, traditionally the onus has been on the student to find his or her own path to enlightenment. Stories of potential disciples sitting for days outside the dojo door begging for admittance are common as are accounts of the uchi-deshi (in-house student) spending months or years just occupied with cleaning and cooking, before being allowed to pick up a weapon. Even post war, there are numerous accounts of beginners spending up to a year on their own practicing suburi before being allowed to join the class.

Certainly during my experience in Japan in the 70s, many high graded teachers were reluctant to hand out advice. Whilst their intentions were obviously benign, their approach to teaching was to act as motodachi for kakarigeiko; allowing correct technique to connect and punishing poor attacks by breaking kakarite’s posture. Some were more approachable than others and were prepared to pass on a few words of encouragement when I waited to thank them personally after the final rei. Others were polite but less outgoing.

The world and kendo with it, has however changed. Kendo is no longer one of two choices for compulsory physical education in Japanese schools, although reintroduction is being discussed. Globally it competes not only with other martial arts, but with a whole range of sports and pastimes. In parallel we have seen a new breed of super-hanshi, people like Chiba sensei and Sumi sensei who are not only superb kendoka, but also great teachers who are happy to explain and coach as well as acting as training partners. Those of us lucky enough to spend time with them are likely to receive a quick, accurate analysis of our kendo strengths and weaknesses and tips on ways to improve.

It is however important that this openness is not abused. Remember that their time is limited; and if they have some advice for you they will tell you. When you cross the dojo to thank them, “arrigatou gozaimashita”, is sufficient. When you are part of a queue to bow your thanks, the last thing you should do is confront them with a list of questions; and never, never stop to ask a question during keiko. If sensei wants to tell you something he will; and you may be lucky enough to be part of a longer discussion later in the pub.

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Of the Japanese martial sports, kendo has been exported in the most unadulterated form and retains an etiquette system based on traditional courtesies. Importance is still placed on the correct angle of bow whereas in say judo, standard practice in shiai is to give the slightest of nods before pulling open the judogi to make it difficult for the opponent to grip. I have seen an opposite example in one form of karate, where before performing a very athletic, showy kata, the demonstrator almost jack-knifed, with his head in line with his knees in the opening bow.

I have posted before about etiquette and whilst I bundle it all together under the term reigi, I touched on reiho, or the manifestation of physical actions that show courtesy. As with all my posts, this is not meant to be a scholarly examination of an aspect of kendo, but more hard practical advice. This one is particularly so, because whilst reiho and reigi are complex subjects, not knowing how to show the courtesies correctly, can significantly harm your progress in kendo.

I was discussing the recent grading failure of a candidate for a senior dan and I remarked that his jitsugi on the day had been reasonably impressive, and that I was personally surprised that he had failed. It was then pointed out by my friend who had witnessed his earlier keiko with several of the hachidan on the panel, that he had committed a number of etiquette sins in hitting and dropping his shinai, turning his back and walking away and making an incorrect bow. OK, that was not part of the examination, you might say, but the sensei may have taken the view that a candidate for a senior grade should be able to demonstrate basic etiquette and consciously or unconsciously taken that into consideration in their decision.

Harking back to the 4th and 5th dan panel in Brussels and my own previous experience as a grading panellist, someone starting the exam by bowing incorrectly or demonstrating wobbly sonkyo, needs to do a lot to atone for the shaky start. So whilst I suggest that you should spend some time researching reiho, here is a quick survival guide for grading reigi:-

  • Walk into the shinsa jo in a straight line as directed.
  • Walk in to a distance where you can comfortably reach the starting line in three steps.
  • Bow to your opponent to exactly 15 degrees, keep a straight back and bend from the hips, keep your eyes on his.
  • Do not bow to the judges.
  • Bring you shinai up to the hip with your thumb on the tsuba.
  • Take three steps forward stopping just behind the line.
  • Extend your shinai into the chudan position on the third step as you go down into sonkyo. Do not draw it like a sword, but simply bring it up and over, taking the shortest path.
  • Ensure that your sonkyo is wide and balanced. Take a minute to build your composure and fighting spirit.
  • Either make sonkyo with your feet in a kendo stance so you can stand up in position, or if you prefer to have your feet level in sonkyo, move your right foot forward, as you stand. Never go back or to the side!

All you have to do now is two 2 minute sessions that look as good as the opening rei.

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Hakama Folding

Hakama Folding

I was seriously surprised recently, when following a keiko session as a guest in a London dojo, one of the members insisted on folding my hakama and keikogi and packing my armour. Taking this sort of trouble with senior kendoka is not unusual in Japan but almost never happens in the West.  This individual is the student of a Korean sensei, so I can only imagine that Kumdo has similar reigi.

Anyone who has visited a Japanese high school or university dojo, even if only slightly more advanced than the students, gets this treatment. Having spent a number of years at the bottom of my own totem pole in Japan, I am used to being on the folding end of this deal, eventually having been promoted to chief back washer for one ninth dan and regularly having had to stop practise to bow to the departing Nissan Cedric of another.

Now to put this into context, I have never, before or after, washed the back of anyone of the same sex, but I understood the honour this represented and saw it as a great opportunity to say thank you to sensei. On the other hand, I still have a lifetime aversion to Nissan Cedrics.

There are of course cultural differences between East and West and certainly the confucian ethic of respect for age and experience is unique to Asia. We therefore do not spontaneaously show our apreciation of those that teach us in the same way as do oriental kendoka. A number of us who have either spent time in Japan or Korea, or have been trained by strict sensei may try to implement these courtesies, but many people do not understand what is expected of them.

I have often heard hachidan sensei being referred to by their family name without the addition of sensei, or even san and seen them having to wait their turn in the rush to use the shower. This must be a total shock to the system for someone who is used to being treated with immense respect in their home country.

So, my suggestion is that without trying to be what we are not, we should at least try to show some courtesy and appreciation to people who have travelled half way round the World to help us do correct Kendo.

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