Posts Tagged ‘Zazen’

Breathing is important in kendo. Come to think of it, it is generally important. Specifically to kendo however, the way we breathe has an enormous effect on our progress and on the effectiveness of our technique.

The breathing style used in kendo is known in Japanese as Aun no kokyu. We breathe in through the nose hold the air in our abdomen and then expel the air through the mouth. This is the type of breathing associated with yoga and meditation. In kendo however we use aun no kokyu to aid the explosive power of our waza and in concert with our kamae, as a force to repel attacks. Try breathing in as your opponent is moving into striking distance and the chances are that he will attack and you will not be able to resist. If he tries the same approach when you are either holding your breath or slowly expelling air, you become far less vulnerable.

As a general rule we breathe in when we are in safe distance, hold the air in our tanden, expelling some by way of a kakegoe shout in issoku-ito-no maai. We then reserve what is left of our breath until we strike, letting out the remainder as me make our kiai and take zanshin. We only breathe in again after we are back in safe distance. Kendo-no-kata, whilst teaching us many other elements of kendo, gives us a perfect illustration of the correct way to breathe. If we use the first form of the Tachi-no-kata as an example ; both uchidachi and shidachi breathe in on taking jodan, both then hold that breath until they make their respective men attacks, releasing air on their kiai and breathing in after completing zanshin.

In shinai kendo we are in a strong position when we are replete with air or slowly exhaling. So for example with debana men; we breathe in before we make our initial seme, release some breath as we step in, hold our breath in tame and then explode into the technique whilst letting out our kiai. What happens if you run out of air? My suggestion is that you move back to safe distance, breathe in and try again.

There are lots of opportunities to practice correct kendo breathing. One is of course during mokuso, particularly after keiko when we may be out of breath and need to slow things down. The idea is to breathe in quickly through the nose, hold the breath in your tanden for as long as is comfortably possible, then breathe out slowly.  Another classic approach is through the practice of kirikaeshi, aiming to complete the first shomen, nine yokomen and the second shomen strike in one breath.

Whichever way you do it, the most important point with breathing is not to stop.

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Ten rai wo kike

TenraiI snatched a tenogui from the pile in the cupboard before practice and as you do, I held it up to look at before it and my men went on. It read Ten rai wo kike, “listen to heaven’s (nature’s) sounds”
Thinking of the practical relevance of this advice to kendo in the UK was not easy, I had just completed mokuso against the sound of the air-conditioning fan and a squash ball bouncing off the next door wall. Kendo experiences in Japan were easier to connect. The rain on the roof of Uegaki sensei’s dojo in the Yoshino Mountains or the spring breeze blowing through the cherry trees on the walk through Osaka Castle Park on the way to the Shudokan are far more conducive to reaching mushin.
Regardless of environment, this chain of thought led me to contemplate why we have mokuso before and after kendo. To me it is a great way to transition from the crowded, working day “to do list” mindset that normally comes home with you after a day at work, to the calm natural mind you need to practice kendo. At the end of the kendo session, mokuso has the reverse effect, taking you from heightened awareness to a more relaxed state.
Mokuso is not full blown zazen, but just 30 seconds or so to clear the mind before and after kendo. More precisely it is an opportunity for you to let your thoughts flow without becoming attached or concerned.
This is not a technical guide, because I am not qualified to teach what is in effect a meditation technique, but you should be in an upright relaxed seiza with left or right hand supporting the other, thumbs touching, knuckles down towards your lap. (Which hand supports which is irrelevant, but one way indicates god supporting humanity and the other humanity supporting god. Unfortunately I can’t remember which is which).
Different people take a different approach, some count breaths, some concentrate on the depth of breathing, other like to project mental images, such as contemplating the hidden side of the moon.Personally I like to think of the imperative “Shisei o tadasu, kokyu o tadasu, kokoro o tadasu” (correct posture, correct breathing, correct heart)
Not quite the sound of water trickling from a mountain dojo roof, but it drowns out the air conditioner.

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