Posts Tagged ‘Reiho’

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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Kendo Ritual

1312_sumo_mainThere seems to be a division of opinion between kendoka who are attracted by the ritual involved in kendo and those who feel that some of the ceremony is out of place in a modern martial art. Sonkyo is used only in sumo and kendo and whilst we don’t engage in salt throwing or have our referees dress in Heian period hakama and signal with gunbai, we are asked to pay a lot more attention to etiquette than our friends in judo or karate. I am aware that Kumdo in Korea does not use sonkyo, but as my only experience with Korean kenshi has been within the context of FIK kendo where they are gracious enough to use the Japanese system, I am not in a position to comment.

Personally, I like the ritual aspect of kendo. I believe that the reiho of bowing correctly to the dojo, to kamiza, to sensei and to your opponent help prepare your mind for the intensely serious business of keiko. Mokuso before and after each practice is the time to change your mind-set from that of the working day. Sonkyo particularly aids the transition from not fighting to fighting. We start with an empty mind as we make the initial bow and make three steps forward.  As we draw our shinai and drop into a squat we engage with our opponent. This is where we make mind contact.

As a referee I can see when two shiasha have locked on to each other and are ready to start. This is the time to call hajime. From my very limited knowledge of sumo, this also is what the referee is looking for, but it is even more evident amongst the salt throwing and false starts.

The down side of a complex etiquette framework is that we have to devote much of our training to learning not just when and where to bow but how to bow correctly. I mentioned in an earlier post that last year I had the privilege of a private kata lesson in Yoshino with Uegaki sensei, who has just gained Hanshi. Three quarters of the lesson were devoted to the correct way to enter the enbu-jo , take seiza and bow.

Watching newer kenshi, it is easy to judge the length of their experience by their command of reiho. We all start with dropped chins and sticky-out bottoms when we bow and I defy anyone who has not done a considerable amount of keiko to produce anything other than wobbly sonkyo. The bad news is that when we get to the tail end of our kendo careers and knees wear out, sonkyo starts to get wobbly once more.

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Repetitive Reiho

ritsureiI have touched on the subject of reigi numerous times in this blog and I am prompted to make it my topic again after a conversation that I had last week with a student who helps teach a regular beginners’ lesson. One of his colleague instructors defers to him when it comes to teaching the rules of kendo etiquette on the basis that “he likes reigi”. As he explained to me, he has no particular like or dislike of the subject, but having originally been taught by Japanese instructors and regularly nagged by me on the subject, he sees reigi as an integral part of kendo.

In my view the level to which reigi is displayed in the dojo is not open to discussion. It is a fundamental expression of our regard for others and without it kendo turns into a brawl with sticks. The rules of reigi, or more correctly reigi saho (the outward expression of etiquette) are not negotiable and are either correct or not.

From day one beginners should be taught how to behave in the dojo, how to bow correctly, how to treat the shinai as a sword and how and when to speak in the dojo. The latter point is best summed up by “as little as possible”. The instruction of etiquette should be delivered as a basic part of kendo teaching. The physical elements of reigi saho should be absorbed by the student from day one. If someone is capable of delivering a great men attack but cannot bow correctly, what they are producing is not kendo but a pale imitation.

I regularly hear the argument that kendoists outside Japan should not have to be part of a behaviour system that was formulated in the Japanese feudal period. I believe that the answer is that kendo is above all, a vehicle for personal development and that by physically observing and perfecting its courtesies, the practitioner develops an understanding that will have a long-term effect on his or her relationships with others, both in and outside the dojo.

The way you bow and stand in the dojo, the way you put on and take off your bogu and the way you thank people before and after keiko should be repeatedly polished. When these are correct and become a natural part of your behaviour they automatically improve your kendo technique and maybe make you a nicer person.

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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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Another rant about reigi

ReiI thought that I had written enough about reigi over the time I have been writing this blog, but a mixture of recent circumstances have drawn me back to the subject.

A number of kendo teachers have mentioned to me that they felt the standard of reigi is slipping in the UK as it is in many other countries. I also officiated at the weekend at a taikai where quite a few of the shiaisha were unsure of the correct method to enter and leave the shiai-jo. This could be explained by the fact that they are comparatively new to kendo, but I think that if someone is qualified to enter a kendo competition, then their dojo instructor owes them a lesson in the way to behave in a shiai.

People who have been reading my blog for a while will appreciate that my own outlook on kendo is very conservative. I suppose it is only to be expected as I spent much of the 1970’s training in Japan with a number of old-school sensei who continually stressed the importance of correct kendo etiquette.  One of the proudest moments in my kendo career was when I was chosen to wash Matsumoto Toshio sensei’s back in the dojo bathhouse. Obviously the world is changing but I still believe that reigi and reiho (the way of demonstrating reigi) are what makes kendo a shugyo and not just a violent sport.

I don’t believe that a lack of knowledge about kendo etiquette it is a purely western issue; I have met a number of young Japanese kenshi who have not learned to bow correctly and who do not know which leg goes first when they put on or take off a hakama. Like their British counterparts they are all nice people. They get on well with their friends in the dojo, they are thoughtful and courteous, but have not been taught all the elements of reiho.

Reiho is something that instructors should stress as an integral part of kendo. New kendoka need to repeatedly practise bowing and sonkyo in the same way as correct cutting and footwork. They need to be taught the ways in which we show respect to our peers, juniors, seniors and those that went before them. In the same way that we learn good manners from our parents, we need to learn good kendo manners from our teachers. I appreciate that some dojo leaders have responsibility thrust upon them and do not necessarily know all the answers, but if they don’t there are books to consult and other sensei to ask.

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Presenting Fighting Spirit Prize to Mukhtar Hussain.

Presenting Fighting Spirit Prize to Mukhtar Hussain.

This year’s Sir Frank Bowden Taikai took place on Saturday. As shinpan-shunin  one of my duties was to work with the refereeing team to select candidates for the fighting spirit prizes.

Of course different referees have different opinions on who to choose, but this is not surprising as we all probably have different views as to what “fighting spirit” actually means. This is a subject that is seldom discussed and I can’t remember ever seeing objective guidelines as to what constitutes fighting spirit. Having asked colleagues the reasons for their choices over many years’ competitions, I get the feeling that definitions include the following.

  • Being one of the most aggressive fighters.
  • Overcoming the odds – small person beats much bigger person or low grade beats higher graded opponent or opponents.
  • Turning things around – being in situations where you come from being a point behind to evening the score and taking one more point to win, or pulling out the stops in the captain’s match to take an evenly drawn team score to victory.
  • Having the best technical kendo.
  • Keeping calm under pressure.
  • Not giving up.
  • Someone who in spite giving it their all in every fight still shows courtesy and fairness to their opponents.

I believe that all of these are valid in their way, but I feel, and this is as subjective as it sounds, that true fighting spirit is a combination of all of these.

Of course aggression is important, but it must be controlled and shown within a spirit of fair-play. The smaller or less experience player or the individual who overcomes the odds and snatches victory from the jaws of defeat will most likely, only be a contender if he or she uses correct technique.

On the other hand correct technique will probably be admired, but not if you do not have the strength of mind and will to win to overcome your opponent.

If you can do all this and at the same time show correct reiho and generosity of spirit to your opponents, it should do even more to enhance your chances of getting a fighting spirit prize.

On a practical level, it is unlikely that you will get the first place medal and a fighting spirit award. It is generally thought that being the winner or being in the winning team is reward enough in itself.

Despite the subjectivity, I was very confident that on Saturday we picked three worthy winners – Jenny Wilding, Mukhtar Hussain and Sarfraz Aziz.  All fought consistently well throughout the day and displayed the true spirit of kendo.

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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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