Kendo is …. (fill in the blank)

Numazu Iaido Dojo

I started kendo in 1996, as a “consolation” martial art for not being able to find Japanese swordsmanship iaido or kenjutsu in the city I was living in. I realize now that kendo was essential to starting my study of iaido and provided me with a great baseline for the kihon, concepts, and reishiki.

When I first arrived in Japan, my priorities were:

  1. Start to learn the language
  2. Find a dojo that teaches the sword

And that’s it.

Below are some excerpts from the diary I wrote when I arrived in Japan that fateful day in April 1996. Disclaimer: I was pretty young… ‘nuf said.

May 12, 1996

… I am still hoping very much that I will be able to study Kendo. This is one of the main reasons that I came here, unofficially of course. I have been practicing my Karate the last couple of days though, and feel better about that. I need to stay tuned. I really do miss my friends at the Dojo and the regular workouts.

May 27, 1996

… Went a touring on my bike today. Wow, the seat is short!! Found a martial arts shop that sells Kendo, karate, judo gear and after many sheets of paper, the owner called and talked to a Kendo sensei. I went to the BuDoKai center and again after using the dictionary and more paper, arranged lessons twice weekly starting on the first. I am totally psyched! The hakama’s they were are really sharp, and for about ¥1600 I can own one. The shinai is about ¥2000 and the lessons are ¥130 each!  Finally I will be able to start. My student, Tadashi, is a police officer and said that he will introduce me to his sensei next Saturday evening. Maybe I can take it from two at once.

June 1, 1996

Today was my first Kendo lesson. I went to the BuDoKai and worked with my instructor for an hour on the formal seiza, “greeting procedure” before a match, and footwork. My arms were a bit sore after working with the bokken, but I will practice at home and become stronger as I progress. The footwork is difficult, because I keep wanting to step into a triangle stance. I have to keep my feet straight, and shorten my stance considerably. Again, time will take care of that. My instructor speaks very little English, so the lesson was completely in Japanese, and we did consult the dictionary quite a bit. He seems really nice, and presented me with a bokken as a gift to study at home.
During the afternoon, I went to the festival in the city down by Aeon. There were hundreds of booths on all of the side streets with many different things you can purchase. There was food, games, plants, clothing, even small chickens, live eels, and gold fish for sale. I sampled some of the local quisine again, but went for the crepe again for dessert. Many things to buy, so little money to spend.
I went to my first Kendo lesson at the Dojo that Tadashi took me to. The Sensei was very nice, and I met his family. The Dojo is very impressive. It is only two years old, and the floors are beautiful. There was a small kitchen/reception area where we had tea. We talked a bit before the lesson, and then I watched his class. The Sensei had his daughter work with me on footwork and striking. Again, it was difficult, but I felt very welcome there. I am looking forward to my next lesson there too.

June 8, 1996

Went to my Kendo class this a.m. and had fun. My foot (blister) was taped, so hopefully I will develop some calluses soon. I do get tired from swinging the bokken and shinai, but again, that is all part of the developing. My biggest fear is developing bad or incorrect habits and never re-learning correctly. My instructor, Mitsuru Nakasuji, is really patient and funny, and he laughs at my mistakes too. He is very supportive, and does say when I do it correctly, “Very good Bradley.” I found out he is a big San Francisco Braves fan, so I asked my mom to pick up a hat and mail it to me. He gave me a head band for a gift to use under my bogu gear. The kanji say Sim Sin Cho Wa, or heart, body, harmony. I think it’s really cool, and I plan to send one to Mike and Paul back at the dojo. Mitsuru refers to me as Ken Si, maybe student??

June 15, 1996

What a great day! It started with Mitsuru buying me lunch at the Dojo. I had some zaru soba, and some cha han. It was a nice lunch, and I really enjoyed talking to him about things other than Kendo. I told him I had a date that evening. He started giving me shit until I told him that she was taller than he is (about 165cm).

July 3, 1996

Things have been going pretty smoothly lately. I have been learning slowly at Kendo, and everyone says that I’m doing really good. I am “a very powerful Kendo player.”

November 2, 1996

Today, not so genki. I had kendo this morning, but my ki was weak. I had a really good practice yesterday, but today I couldn’t seem to get into the groove. I think that part of the problem is I can’t see well without my glasses, and I can’t wear glasses in the head-gear. Anyway, I couldn’t hit at all, and then I became very slow and frustrated. I am learning kata well, though, and I really enjoy that, but the idea is to learn something new. Mitsuru was a real help and gave me a little talk about how long he has been practicing, and that I shouldn’t be frustrated. I don’t want to let him down.

June 26, 1998

I am doing well, and very busy. I have been studying Japanese at least once a week in class, and have recently started Kendo again here. It has been a lot of fun to resume again, and my feet are finally starting to get back into shape with some callouses on the bottoms. I’ve suffered from the blister-on-blister problem for a few weeks now, and besides being painful, it makes it difficult to practice. My new sensei is very good (7th degree), and speaks a little English, so maybe I can learn more of the tradition and meaning behind the art, and not just the mechanics.

December 9, 1998 (Letter to my Grandpa)

I am still studying kendo.  Kendo is Japanese sword fighting using a bamboo sword and protective gear where you score a hit on either the chest, head, or hand.  It’s a lot of fun, and I think you knew that I got my black belt (shodan) last year.  I am improving in that as well, but still have A LOT to learn.  It’s also sometimes difficult trying to communicate with the sensei sometimes, but I seem to manage okay.  Someday, I hope to buy a real samurai sword to bring home as a souvenir, but they’re rather expensive.

April 23, 2001

… We cut bamboo in my Iaido class last night. It was pretty fun, and my cutting is improving. I was a bit worried when I bent my Sensei’s sword though, but he straightened it and then bent it himself also. If you don’t cut correctly, you can easily bend or break your sword. No pressure. We have a demonstration this weekend before a kendo tournament, so I will do kata with the rest of the group, and then 3 of the higher students will do cutting again. It should be fun and my first “public” performance.

I transitioned from kendo to iaido around 1999 when I moved from Toyama prefecture to Shizuoka prefecture. I started kendo, but when my back started to hurt and the movements became painful for me to do, I searched once again for kenjutsu or iaido, and was able to connect with Takeda sensei who did both kendo and iaido. I later found out that my pain was associated with a herniated back which chiropractic treatments has resolved.

I’d like to start kendo again, but it’s been hard due to the lack of local instructors being available. The closest club is Minnehaha in the Minneapolis area.

I never did take my 2dan test, and would consider myself a “rank beginner” again if I restart.

Funny story about Nakasuji sensei. I was totally incorrect in the conversation about his favorite baseball team. After further conversations I learned it wasn’t the Braves as his favorite team, it was the Giants. In my naivety, I assumed he meant the American team the San Francisco Giants, but of course he was referring to the most popular national Japanese team the Tokyo Giants. It was a bit of an awkward moment when I presented him with a SF Giants baseball cap as a present expecting a great “thank you” and it ended up a complete miscommunication and a somewhat awkward, yet grateful acceptance for the “gesture” behind the hat. I think he wore that hat for the rest of the day, and then I saw it on his desk in the Budokan every time I came in. I’m guessing it made for a great story about his “Gaijiin” student’s effort to present him with something special, and the mis-communication that followed. I laugh about it now remembering his face when I gave him the hat and he looked like, “Whaaaaaat??”

Natsukashiii ne!? Good times.

I miss both my sensei a lot. Takeda sensei is the 4th from the left on the front row.

March Newsletter

Spring is in the air!

It looks like spring is just around the corner, and we can finally say goodbye to old man winter. I know he’s hung around a bit too long and worn out his welcome.

Testing – Congratulations!

Congratulations goes to Shawn J, who received his 3kyu, Andrew M. – 4kyu, Mike S. – 4kyu, and Andy R. – 4kyu. Way go to fellas!

Up until now, the first “rank” in our dojo has been 4kyu. I’ve added an additional rank of 5kyu which we’ll be implementing going forward. The thought behind this new, and additional rank is to give members a taste of our koryu, Musoshindenryu, before they get into the more restricted seitei iaido.

I believe that by introducing the first four kata of the Shoden series, students will have a better base of the kihon (fundamentals). Shohatto, Sato, Uto, and Atarito are all performed from seiza, much like the first three kata in seitei. The nice thing about these first koryu kata is that they are all essentially the same kata, just performed from four different starting directions. I think this will help reinforce the critical movements we need to master in iaido, and give the beginning student slightly less rigid requirements as found in seitei.

We’ll see how it goes after a class or two have started this way, but I think it will be a positive change, and I’m looking forward to getting back to koryu on a more regular basis.

CoreCon 2014

I’m hoping to have our dojo participate again in the CoreCon this spring. The Con has changed from May to Mid-June, this year, so hopefully we can put on our regular demonstration and discussion. We’ve had pretty good attendance at our panel since we started doing this in 2008. Look for more news on that to come!

AUSKF Summer Camp

The AUSKF summer camp will be held in New York this year, June 12-15. I’m hoping that some members from our dojo will be able to attend this wonderful educational and testing opportunity.

The AUSKF has stated that they will try to hold each year’s camp in one of three “regional” parts of the country. Last year it was in the “central” region, this year East, and next year it will be out West somewhere. It makes travel a little expensive, but hopefully a person will be able to attend at least one in three camps near their regional federation.

Other Stuff

Just a reminder for all current students that we are able to wear our black hakama on the first practice of the month.

Reishiki (Etiquette)

This is a good topic to review sometimes, especially for any new members.

When we start and end our practice, the reishiki or etiquette is an important aspect.

Opening

  1. (Standing) All turn to shommen. Sensei / lead student calls out, “Shommen ni rei.” All bow to shommen.
  2. “Suwatte” (sit down). Everyone sits in seiza and places their katana to the right of where they’re sitting, tsuka forward w/ tsuba at their knee.
  3. Lead student calls, “Mokuso!” Everyone meditates until the lead student again calls, “Yame!” (Stop/Quit)
  4. Lead student calls, “Sensei ni rei!” All members bow to the sensei and say, “Onegaishimasu!” (Pronounced oh-nay-gai-shimasu).
  5. Everyone takes and places their katana at a slightly L-R rising angle, centered in front of them with room enough to place their hands when they bow.
  6. Lead student calls, “To-rei!” Everyone performs the bow to the sword, starting left hand down, right hand down , right back up, left back up.
  7. Everyone puts the katana into their obi and ties their sageo (without looking), and then waits patiently in seiza.
  8. Sensei calls, “Tatte kudasai” (Please rise / stand up) and everyone rises and awaits further instruction.

Closing – the closing is pretty much the same as the opening, just in reverse, and with different responses from the students to the sensei.

  1. “Suwatte” (sit down). Everyone sits in seiza, unhooks their sageo (without looking) and places their katana horizontally, tsuka to the left.
  2. Lead student calls, “To-rei!” Everyone performs the bow to the sword, starting left hand down, right hand down , right back up, left back up.
  3. Everyone gathers the sageo, and places the katana to the right of where they’re sitting, tsuka forward w/ tsuba at their knee.
  4. Lead student calls, “Sensei ni rei!” All members bow to the sensei and say, “Domo arigato gozaimashita!” (Thank you very much)
  5. Lead student calls, “Mokuso!” Everyone meditates until the lead student again calls, “Yame!” (Stop/Quit)
  6. Everyone takes their katana, gathers the sageo if necessary, and places it on their left thigh with the tsuka-gashira on centerline and waits patiently for instruction from the sensei.
  7. Sensei calls, “Tatte kudasai” (Please rise / stand up) and everyone rises, turns and faces shommen.
  8. Sensei / Lead student calls, “Shommen ni rei!” and all members bow to shommen.
  9. Everyone finishes the bow, and then steps back three steps starting with their left foot, turns right, and exits the practice floor and goes over to wait by the sensei for closing remarks and announcements.

Reishiki is at the very core of the Japanese sword arts of kendo and iaido. According to the Zen Nihon Kendo Renmei (All Japan Kendo Federation) who is our ultimate authority on kendo / iaido, the concept of kendo is defined as follows:

“The concept of Kendo is to discipline the human character through the application of the principles of the Katana (sword).”

Further, the purpose of kendo:

“The purpose of practicing Kendo is:
To mold the mind and body,
To cultivate a vigorous spirit,
And through correct and rigid training,
To strive for improvement in the art of Kendo,
To hold in esteem human courtesy and honor,
To associate with others with sincerity,
And to forever pursue the cultivation of oneself.
This will make one be able:
To love his/her country and society,
To contribute to the development of culture
And to promote peace and prosperity among all peoples.”

(The Concept of Kendo was established by All Japan Kendo Federation in 1975.)

Even though these specifically refer to kendo, I think that we could simply substitute the word “iaido” for “kendo” and they would be equally applicable.

While these concepts may not be apparent to newer students, over time, and with a good instructor, they will become a core part of the dojo and hopefully it’s members.

Happy spring!

Brad

May Newsletter

Well, May is almost gone, and as I sit here looking out the window and seeing the rain fall, it’s given me some inspiration. Strange that, but maybe it has something to do with things growing, getting green, and the necessary ingredient to that being included in the rain.

I’ve been feeling a little stress lately – excited in a good way, but stress nonetheless. I’ve got my 5dan rank test coming up in just over two weeks and it’s foremost in my mind. I have to perform 3 seitei and 2 koryu (which for me is Musoshindenryu) katas.

This will be a first of several things for me:

  • First time testing in the US.
  • First time testing with a shinken.
  • First time taking the test without having any kind of review by my sensei beforehand.
  • First time going to Cleveland (and first time staying in a Holiday Inn Express).

I’m not so worried about the last one on the list, but the first three are causing me some excitement, and as I said, stress.

I’ve heard from my sensei in Japan, Mr. Takeda, that my fellow student (dokyusei) Mr. Hasegawa has attempted and failed his 5dan twice now. The gradings 4th, 5th, and 6th dan have markedly become more difficult in the last couple of years, and the standards within Japan for aquiring rank have risen is what he’s saying.

I guess the only thing I can do is practice with spirit and without distraction, consider technique and timing, and do my best. I don’t consider this “cramming” in any way, because I try to do my best kata every time I’m on the floor anyway, though I am going to try and get “on the floor” a few extra times over the next couple of weeks.

Enough about me.

Kelly will also be accompanying me to Cleveland and will be testing for his 1kyu. I wish him luck in that as well!

New Faces

We’ve got a couple of new faces in the dojo. Welcome to Carl and Alison who’ve just joined up. They both have enthusiasm and a positive attitude for learning, and I look forward to working with them.

It’s kind of neat to see eight people dressed in hakama standing in a line at the same time. This is the most students we’ve had at one time in the dojo, and it’s cool to see everyone doing suburi in sync.

Moorhead Dojo Iaido Seminar

Our July Iaido Seminar is fast approaching. See http://seminar.musoshindenryu.com for details. People interested in attending please pre-register so I have a firm number for accomodations and meals. It’s going to be awesome!

Dojo Kyu Rank Testing

We’ll be having 4kyu and 3kyu testing on June 29th. That will give everyone a chance to practice for another month. We should have at least 5 people taking these two tests. Good luck everyone!

Interesting article

This is the second article that follows the “I am a Deshi” one I posted last month from kenshi247.net. It can be found in it’s entirety at: http://kenshi247.net/blog/2011/04/08/what-is-the-true-meaning-of-gratitude/

I’m reprinting it here with the author’s permission.
———————————– Begin ————————————

As a follow-up/tie-in to the popular I am a Deshi translation I would like to present the following piece to readers. Although both this article and the deshi one were written by children, I believe there is something worthy of study for all kendoka, irrespective of age. Enjoy!

What Is the True Meaning Of Gratitude?
Written by Furukawa Rei (14 years old)
The Best Award at the All Japan Dojo renmei Junior high school kendo speech contest
Translated by George Owaki and passed to kenshi247.net by Jeff Marsten

It has been 7 years since I started kendo. Over these years I have met many people including teachers, seniors, juniors, my family, friends, and my kendo coaches. They all taught me something and I really appreciate it. But I started to wonder if it is enough to just appreciate them and not return my gratitude back to them. It was very hard questioning how I could return their gratitude. This question was especially difficult when considering my coaches- even though we receive many things from them, I could not come up with a way to express and show my gratitude.

This summer, I heard a comment from a high school player who was on the national high school baseball championship team. He said “we were able to return to our coaches and teachers our gratitude by winning this tournament.” From this comment, I thought that I could do the same for my supporters by demonstrating my appreciation for them by winning the tournament. This was because they are responsible for our success by teaching us so many skills and techniques to be successful.

Last year I placed third at the kendo tournament and the coaches seemed really happy about the result. At the time I was really happy because I thought I could finally demonstrate my gratitude to the coaches who worked really hard to train us. I began asking myself how those people who lost in the tournament would also be able to return their gratitude to their coaches. If returning gratitude can be expressed by only winning tournaments, then those people who lost cannot return their appreciation to their coaches in this fashion. At that time, I recognized a friend who was also participating but was not fortunate enough to win. He expressed sadness because he lost and was not able to return the coaches the appreciation, although his thoughts and feelings seemed to have been the same as mine.

Summer came and I still couldn’t find an answer to my question. At the time the kendo club’s senior members were practicing really hard for their final junior high school tournament. They also were practicing at home. As a result, they exhibited great skill and teamwork. The advisor said with satisfactory smile- “thank you all for working hard from the beginning of junior high, showing effort and supporting each other with great team work.” Even though the final result was not as expected, the senior kenshis’ hard work touched my heart and it made our coaches happy. By looking at the advisor’s expression, I think I now understood what it meant to return gratitude. The coaches in the club were not just teaching us techniques in kendo. They were also teaching us how to grow to be good, upstanding and moral citizens of the future.

I made a resolution that returning gratitude can be accomplished by achieving success, but that this is just one part of the ultimate goal. Isn’t the true meaning of returning gratitude to work really hard to achieve and grow to become a good person of character?

I have learned many things about life from kendo. This includes taking things seriously and actively participating, always trying to keep promises, always performing duties as requested, working hard to accept and get along with others, contributing to the world by helping the other people, and not forgetting to show appreciation.

By looking back at myself, I think I still have a long way to go. Even though I started kendo seven years ago, I think I just now recognized what I was learning from kendo. I might make many mistakes in the future but I want to try to learn something from the mistakes. I would like to try hard to be a good person of character and return true gratitude and appreciation to those who supported me.

———————– End ————————-

Pretty insightful for a 14 year old.
Have a good weekend!
Brad

Pretty good kendo and an interesting kiai!

Here’s a good find that was referenced in Kendo World. Note the experience and intensity of the first three that go against the sensei, and then note the change that’s evident once that sensei goes against someone who’s also very experienced. The new sensei enters around 6:45.
Enjoy!

The Purpose of Practicing Kendo

I was doing some reading the other day, and I thought that this was something that would be good to share. It refers to kendo, but really applies to iaido as well.

**The Concept and Purpose of Kendo**

**The Concept of Kendo**

The concept of Kendo is to discipline the human character through the application of the principles of the Katana (sword).

**The Purpose of Practicing Kendo**

The purpose of practicing Kendo is:

To mold the mind and body,

To cultivate a vigorous spirit,

And through correct and rigid training,

To strive for improvement in the art of Kendo,

To hold in esteem human courtesy and honour,

To associate with others with sincerity,

And forever pursue the cultivation of oneself.

This will make one be able:

To love his/her country and society,

To contribute to the development of culture,

and to promote peace and prosperity among all peoples.

The concept and purpose of Kendo was established by the All Japan Kendo Federation in 1975.

This would probably apply to most of the traditional martial arts in one way or another as well, but I thought that it really worth sharing.