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Posts Tagged ‘Traditional Kendo’

Samurai3My recent kendo in or out of the Olympics poll produced an 80/20 vote in favour of out, against the 60/40 out at the time of the last Olympics. The poll and accompanying article also stimulated some well thought out comments which fell predominantly into the “out” camp.

On the evidence of this poll, and although as a former marketer I have learned never to trust surveys, I have leapt to the assumption that 80 per cent of us want to retain at least some of the traditions of kendo. I suspect though that there are many variations of understanding of what constitutes “traditional kendo”.

I have had a number of people tell me that “my dojo does traditional kendo”, explaining that they only practice big cuts, or that they avoid taking part in shiai. On the other hand I have been in many dojo in Japan,  including the Imperial Palace’s Sainekan and the old Noma Dojo, where  despite centuries of tradition, the kendo you see is effective modern competitive kendo.

Anyone who has read Alex Bennett’s excellent book, Kendo, Culture of the Sword can see how  kendo has adapted tradition through the ages, moving from the warriors art of medieval Japan to the reflection of samurai aesthetics in the Edo period, before becoming little more than street theatre when the samurai were dissolved. Kendo’s emergence into the early 20th Century was then blighted by being adopted by the ultra-nationalist cause.

Kendo as we know it has been in existence only since 1952, Under the stewardship of the AJKF kendo has been developed both as a sport and as a personal development methodology, utilising the techniques and ideals of traditional Japanese fencing. The Concept of Kendo is explained as “the way to discipline the human character through the application of the principles of the katana.”

To me this means training to reach a level where you can make effective strikes without thinking and at the same time treating your opponents, seniors, juniors and teachers with courtesy and respect. Kendo’s traditional system of reigi seems to provide a perfect framework to achieve this objective.

There are many Japanese sword arts and I can see the value of learning Iai or trying tameshigiri as an added extra is a great idea, but to my mind trying kesa-giri in your kendo keiko, or practising to be the perfect kaishakunin is taking tradition a step too far.

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Musha-shugyoAldqueiroz made an interesting comment on my recent post on refereeing, “Article 12”. In essence he said that if a player dodges or moves the angle of his head to avoid a legitimate strike, then the strike should (at least in spirit) count as ippon. As I mentioned in my brief reply, I have heard this from senior sensei at various seminars, but never seen it applied in major shiai. Nor have I been instructed to take these unfair misses into account when refereeing. The rule that the correct part of the shinai should strike the correct part of the bogu invariably stands.

Dodging is just one element of the behaviour demonstrated by kenshi who are afraid to lose. Blocking strikes to the men with the shinai above the head or using more normal blocks without the intention of responding are other examples of the same behaviour.

I have frequently heard members of various dojo and kendo associations say that they practice “traditional kendo”  by which they mean that they face their opponent in the spirit of “life or death”, “kill or be killed”, with no compromise made to winning or losing shiai. I know some kenshi who will not take part in shiai because the feel that the focus beating their opponent will detract from their shugyo.

To turn this argument on its head, shiai is the nearest experience we can have in kendo to a life or death situation,  that is of course unless you are a psychopath. The challenge is having the strength of mind to face your opponent with the correct posture and attitude. This is often summed up in Japanese as “utte hansei utarete kanshya”, (reflection on hitting, gratitude on being hit).

That some people will try to bend the rules does not detract from the fact that the ZNKR constantly reinforces the message that “The concept of kendo is to discipline the human character through the application of the principles of the katana”. This is evident through most of the official instruction material and some of the questions in the Japanese Kyoshi exam.

Kendo has gone through numerous changess, from the art of war, to a zen discipline to a form of entertainment and as it stands today an educational sport that is meant to aid physical, mental and moral development. Whether it was always viewed as wrong to duck, I couldn’t say, but if we were back in the sengoku period and someone was running at me with three foot of razor sharp sword, I might be tempted to move my head to the side.

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