Kenshi Journal

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Shu, Ha, Ri ( 守破離) ~Follow, break, leave

Shu, Ha, Ri ( 守破離) ~Follow, break, leave

The essence of Shu Ha Ri is, in the beginning, one focuses on learning the basics through imitation (Shu), next, the focus shifts to understanding principles, philosophy, meaning, and applying that to oneself (Ha), focus finally shifts to self-directed teaching and innovation (Ri).

Shu refers to the stage of the beginner. This is the stage where everything is new to the incoming student. He is bombarded with large amounts of new information and may feel overwhelmed by it all. At this stage, the would-be practitioner must discard all that they believe they know. Most beginners think they know a great deal already about what is kendo is. They have watched many instructional videos, read books, visited you-tube daily, and have even bought a shinai and perhaps swung it around in the backyards. But in truth, they are bringing nothing of use to the dojo when they do this. In the Shu stage, one should be a blank slate, ready to absorb all that the teacher is giving. Instruction is mainly demonstration with the expectation that one will attempt to duplicate what was shown. Duplication of what the sensei does is the essence of the Shu stage. It is a vital stage, for it is now that kihon or fundamentals will be learned. This is when the muscles will remember from those endless repetitions that you think the sensei is not paying attention to. It is not the time or place to elaborate on your theories of how this or that waza could be improved. These wazas have survived because they worked in order to save a swordsman life at one point. The fact that he was alive to teach is was proof of its efficiency. I would venture to say the teaching method adopted in this stage of practice has its root in the apprenticeship.

The Ha stage begins to take form when the budoka has spent at least a decade of serious practice. At this point, the basics should have been learned and the muscles will have formed the necessary memory connections. If the instructor is a good one, along the way she would have begun to transfer more than just the bare essence of physical instruction. Instruction with your teacher is still necessary as she continues to provide the example for your progress, but the kata/waza starts to become your own. As such, one may start to look carefully at the timing and rhythm of the kata, or begin to think about the real concerns of distancing. More important, some of your identity may begin to surface in your budo. Slight adjustments may start to be made to fit the kata/waza to your speed or strengths as you begin to internalize the kata. For most budoka this is the hardest stage. The beginning was full of excitement, a new technique was always waiting in the next trip to the dojo. And once you showed the sensei you had a grasp of this new waza, maybe she would teach you another. Thus, the motivation to continue was high. Practice is rather different as one progress through the long path of the Ha stage. The introduction of new katas are technique are rare, indeed the instructor may not acknowledge you for some time, occasionally stopping you mid kata to correct the smallest detail that you are still wondering how he noticed. This is when your kendo begins to assume a personality. This is where the balance of the individual character and the teachings of the sensei is hard to maintain. With the kihon understood, one now starts to learn the underlying principles and theory behind the technique. Now more than ever it is important to start to delve into the deeper meaning of the movements and techniques under the continued guidance of a teacher. The student might start to branch out and seek instruction from others and incorporate this into his budo.

The Ri stage is when one leaves the umbrella of their instructor behind, but also realizes the spiral staircase of keiko leads back to the self-directed refinement of the basics, as one has learned that the true mastery lies in the mastery of those core teachings.




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Kendo by the numbers part 2

The eligibility date for promotional testing is approaching and that has inspired me to reflect on a few things.  I have maintained a steadfast method of how I approach regular  practice and shinsa preparation that has been forged under the guidance of my sensei and instructors. Those in the kendo community often speak about, some boast, about the difficulty of kendo examinations as one ascends in rank, and about the “grueling” 8th dan test. Quite a bit of it comes from the National Geographic documentary some time ago. Miyamoto Musashi said “the way in training.” Endo sensei told me a few times “the answers will be found in keiko.” Nevertheless, my analytical side peeked out and asked “what do the pass percentages look like?”  The All Japan Kendo Federation has since 2012 it seems, adopted the practice of posting the shinsa results online for Kodansha tests. I wondered as to the trends in attempts and pass rate percentages, and also would differing ranks display different trends. I assumed that the trends would be differ between iaido and kendo but have learned many times not make assumptions, especially when there is data.

The plots in the left panel below shows the number of people that attempted the shinsa as a function of  year. The population that attempted the test for 6th, 7th, and 8th dan, are given as the solid blue, red, and black curves, respectively. The right panel displays the pass percentage as a function of year. The curves for 6th, 7th, and 8th follow the same designation as the left panel.

The population of iaido practitioners that attempted the 7th dan in each year is roughly 40-50% of the 6th dan that attempted, whereas in kendo, the fall off is around 25%. The population that show up at the iaido promotional exams pale in comparison to kendo, comprising up only about 6%, 3.5%, and  4% of the kendo populations that attempted the 6th, 7th, and 8th test annually.

The data revealed that the 6th and 7th dan pass rates for iaido have been similar and hovered around 20-22% for the last five years aside from the increase in 2015 for 6th dan. However, for kendo, 6th and 7th dan pass rates display remarkably corresponding trends with a overall slight growth, yet preserving a clear separation of 3-4%.


Lastly, I compared the trends of 8th dan iaido and kendo pass rate percentages. The plots below presents the pass rate percentage for the 8th dan promotional exam for iaido and kendo as the black and red curves respectively. For the 8th dan promotional exams, as expected, the pass rate percentage for kendo has remained consistently below 1% peaking in 2013, where it came dangerously close to breaking through the event horizon, and as if in response to the affront fell the next year. This trend is not seen for iaido were the pass percentage has varied from 4-6%  and does not display an equivalency with that of the kendo curve.


I make no conclusions about the results presented, but found the brief study as source of motivation to continue to refine myself through the daunting and rewarding way of the sword.


Kendo by the numbers



Fig.1. Population of registered dan holders in Japan (2014)

The data for these plots below was acquired from Kendo Culture of the Sword by Dr. Alex Bennett. As usual, his books a small masterpieces chocked full of knowledge. I have assumed that being the trusted scholar that he is, that the data is correct. He presented this data in a table but I decided to present it graphically to illustrated a few things. It is my impression that a lot of kendoka outside of Japan thinks everyone in Japan does kendo, they don’t. What I would like to bring the focus on are the large number of dan holders for 1dan and 2dan. They account for roughly about 75% of the registered dan holders as shown in the second figure. The numbers fall of at 3dan then rapidly drop for 4th and 5th. I would argue that the reduction in population for 3dan might have to do with students graduating from universities and then having limited time to continue their practice. The data presents us with a clearer image of the number of practitioners that are in the beginners ranks (1-3), that progress to that middle ranks (4-5), and ever make it up to the higher ranks (6 and above).  A recent post on kendo ranks in the terms of academic ranking can help.  Below is the population percentage of dan holders in Japan by rank.


Fig. 2. Percentage by rank of registered dan holders in Japan (2014)



Fig. 3 Percentage by gender of registered dan holder in Japan (2014)

For the most part, those involved in kendo have an idea of the sparseness of female partitioners at higher ranks, here we can clearly see the rapid decline of representation after 3dan. If we consider that there are probably more female kendoka in Japan that in the US, I would venture that the decline happens after 2dan in the US in contrast to after 3dan in Japan.

After spending the time to compile these results it got me really thinking about performing something similar but expanded for the AUSKF. Most kendoka in the US have a vague idea of what the population of the US kendo community is, but no one knows for sure. I would like to remedy that. I am interested in conducting a longitudinal study on the AUSKF registered membership that includes:

  1. The population of kyu/dan holders
  2. The gender population of kyu/dan holders
  3. The population of kyu/dan holders by age
  4. The population of kyu/dan holders by rank
  5. The population of kyu/dan holders by geographic region (i.e. local federation/state)

This could of course be extended to shogo title holders, but I think the data set would be so small it would be hard to draw any statistical conclusions.

The next idea would be to perform a survey of all registered AUSKF members to gather data for a broader study. Particularly, I am interested in the following:

  1. Racial/ethic heritage of AUSKF members
  2. Population of kyu/dan holders by racial/ethic heritage
  3. Occupation of registered AUSKF members
  4. The number of attempts at each rank
  5. Reason(s) for beginning the practice of Kendo
  6. Reason(s) for continuing/not continuing practice
  7. Number of practice sessions per week regularly attended
  8. Number of tournaments/seminar attended annually
  9. Number of family members involved in kendo practice
  10. Other budo previously/currently practiced
  11. Injuries suffered

The results of this study could possibly be utilized to inform the AUSKF, EKF, FIK, and AJK communities of the current US kendo population and its evolution over time, with special attention to the increased internationalization of Kendo worldwide. It could provide evidence to support AUSKF’s policy for truncated training periods between rank eligibility for members over 60 years of age. Also, it may support the federations outlook of 5th dan as the starting rank for kodansha. Moreover, it believe it would provide a method of comparison to AJKF, FIK, and EKF populations and hopefully incite further global discussions.

This is all but a thought. Lets see I can actually ever make this happen. In the meantime buck up and enjoy your time in the dojo.


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Shugyō (修行)


The Japanese have six words referring to the intensity of training in any activity: keiko, renshu, shunren, tanren, kufu, and shugyo. The first four can be translated respectively as: practice, training, discipline, and forging. There are no adequate English words for the last two. Shugyō is the deepest spiritual training possible. In shugyō training there are two paths that may be followed, the first being the way of training the mind (kokoro) and the second of training the body( katachi) [1]. Refining the self in shugyō is like forging a sword from raw iron ore. Fire, water, and iron are folded upon each other by the pounding of the hammer over and over again to create the cutting edge. One should keep in mind the principles of Shu, Ha, Ri, and be tenacious in the mastering of the fundamentals (kihon), so that the mind, the body and the weapon become one. If one delves into the kanji that make up the character, one finds Shu, which can be understood as practice or to engage in study; and Gyō, that can be understood as a juncture or crossroads. Hence, it is to persevere when one has reached a point where one has a choice to quit or proceed on the Way [2]. Shugyō is the method of polishing the mind and body of a person through a means of rigorous training [3]. If one engages in their training as such, the practitioner has the opportunity to refine not only their physical ability but the mental strength and stability in order to deal with the complications of life.

The dojo is not a place that one retreats to in order to hide or escape from the difficulties of life , instead it is the place that one meets their true inner selves and thus aims to improve ones character and learn how to cope with real life. If a man is to know himself, he must be tested; no one finds out what he can do except by trying [4]. This is the heart of Shugyō, an austere training where the limits of physical endurance and performance are surpassed, where only the strength of character and the will of the spirit fuels one forward. Trying and being tested is the proof of good men [5]. Without Shugyō, all realizations are passing highs. The natural form of the body will not be developed, nor will the structures of mind emerge from the Unconscious; and a person will regress to egotistical patterns under pressure. If a person trains to attain enlightenment as an end, frustration and despair is inevitable for the Way is endless. But if you accept life as shugyō, see through both good and bad fortune as the effects of karma, and continually refine breath, posture, and awareness, then one day you will clearly realize the truth of the words of Master Dōgen, Training is enlightenment, and enlightenment is training. At the heart of this is to discover the truth for oneself.

Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to keep in mind that one should never give up or quit. As one progresses in practice there will most assuredly come a time when the budōka questions his progress, or the reason for continuing in an art or way that is not popular and at times obscure. There may be times that he will be forced to confront the urge to quit as the demands of work, a spouse, or the aches of age become stronger. These doubts are not ones that will enter into the thoughts of an eager beginner as everything is quite exciting. But for the practitioner that has performed thousands of cuts in the refinement of his technique, this is a deep and important question. As now he has come to understand that the path of budō is an extremely difficult one; it is path that does not hold the rewards of fame and fortune. He may want to quit but he cannot, it is part of his life and he presses on in the spirit of shugyō.

The purpose of the practice of Budō is not for the sake of physical technique or strength. We continue in our practice through the adversities of life, the bone chilly winters, the blistering summers, and the humbling injuries, because we have come to acknowledge and learn about our true selves. A sincere involvement in the practice of Budō provides us with the rare chance to face ourselves. From these encounters when the ego is stripped away, we come to realize the essence of Budō( 武道), the way. We practice for the refinement and polishing of our character and spirit. It should then be understood with advancement, what is meant by the saying, if the heart is not true and correct, the sword will not be true and correct [6]. There indeed should be an ascension in the character, maturity, and development with the advancement in rank and age. This development should be as a person, a being of the universe. Our continued practice in these obscure ways, serves as a way to preserve a significant cultural jewel, to develop ourselves, and to strive towards realizing our potential. Thus, a Budōka becomes more potent in spirit even though the vigor of youth gracefully falls away as cherry blossoms at the end of spring.


[1] N. Hisashi, The kendo reader (1939).

[2] D. Lowry, The Sword and thew Brush; Shambala Publications (1995).

[3] Japanese-English Dictionary of Kendo; All Japan Kendo Federation (2000).

[4] L. A. Seneca, Dialogues and Essays; Oxford University Press (2009).

[5] M. Miyazako, Kendo is my philosophy; Taiiku & Sports Publishing Co.Ltd (2010).

[6] T. Shimada, Path of the Sword.





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Kendo rank in terms of academic ranking

Most of my time has been spent in academia and as a result I began question what kendo ranks might equate to in terms of the academic ranking system. Below is a chart that is the result of that exploration. As I put this together I also thought about what I perceive as a difference between the AUSKF and AJKF in regards to where the sensei ranks begin. The AUSKF defines kodansha ranks as 5dan or above, whereas AJKF defines it as 6dan or above. It the framework I have designed, it means the difference between being a sensei with master’s or doctorate. I fully acknowledge that the relations I have outlined may not be agreed upon but it does get you thinking. rank-academia.002.jpg



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Nihon Kendo Kata

The is a quick summarization and development of a previous post of a lesson from Kendo Hanshi 8 dan, Inoue Yoshihiko Sensei. I strongly suggest that readers pick up Inoue sensei’s book Kendo Kata: Essence and Application edited by Dr. Alex Bennett.

Ipponme: The first kata of the Nihon Kendo kata has opponents facing each other with swords drawn in which both adopt a jodan kamae with the swords held above the heads. The waza of the kata involves men-nuki-men. The uchidachi attacks with a fully committed cut that is avoided by the shidachi by stepping backwards just enough to escape the maai, who then returns with a cut to the uchidachi’s men. This kata demonstrates the concepts of kenjutsu, the killing techniques with a sword. In this kata one works on acquiring the skills to smite an enemy with one blow.

Nihonme: The second kata demonstrates concepts in between kenjutsu and kendo, killing techniques with a sword and the way of the sword. The waza under study in nihonme is kote-nuki-kote, which involves a cut to the wrist by the uchidachi that is avoided and is followed by a cut to the uchidachi’s wrist executed by the shidachi. In the second kata, one develops the techniques to disarm the opponent without taking their life.

Sambonme: The third kata in the series illustrates the underlying concept of  kendo. Here the shidachi parries a thrust by the uchidachi and responds with a thrust, and then continues to advance with a resolute spirit until the uchidachi concedes. The third kata exemplifies the joy of life. The shidachi controls the enemy with a superior presence, but does not injure them in the process. Finally, by sensing the importance of life, both return unharmed.

Inoue sensei is known for stating the following about modern kendo. “Kendo is a way of life as opposed to techniques of death.”



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2015 All US Kendo Federation Iaido Shinsa results


Held: June 21, 2015,

Location:San Jose Community College San Jose, California

4TH KYU: Keita Tanabe.

3RD KYU: Angela Gibson, Gina Konstantopoulos.

2ND KYU: Noriko Ambe, Jim Chandler (ZenBuKan), Jordy Davis (ZenBuKan), Sangki Lee (DFWKIK), Ashley Moore (DFWKIK), Celeste Rosell (ZenBuKan), Denise Verastigue (DFWKIK), Sean Zhu (DFWKIK).

1ST KYU: Derek Kordash, Zachary Park (ZenBuKan), Benjamin Sardinas (SFKC).

1ST DAN: Frank Campione, Ahmed Gaballa ElSayed, Alec Milton, Allen Smith, Korhan Tekin.

2ND DAN: Pedro Batista, Frank Burke, Pamela Carlson (DFWKIK), Rodney Castillo (SFKC), Michael Sareyani, Pedro Sors (SFKC), Steven Touchi (NCKF), Jeremy Wong.

3RD DAN: Terry Sewell (DFWKIK), Kimiye Touchi (NCKF), Edward Vierk, Yoshimasa Watanabe.

4TH DAN: Brian Beckford (Shidogakuin D.C.), David Chiu (Simon Frazer U), Hiroaki Fukumoto (PNKF), Takanori Furuta, Tomoyuki Hirasawa (DFWKIK).

5TH DAN: David Cooper (DFWKIK), Monica Iwakabe (Rocky Mountain).