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The desire NOT to kill

Thoughts on Nihon Kendo Kata by Inoue Yoshihiko Sensei, 8th dan
(日本剣道形 by 井上先生範士八段)
Japan has become so used to peace nowadays, that few take the time to reflect on their mortality. I hope people learn to recognize the finality of death though the Kendo Kata. Once the practitioner grasps this, their Kata will become ‘alive’. Ippon-me is essentially kenjutsu (killing techniques of the sword). Sanbon-me represents kendo (the Way of the sword). Nihon-me falls between the two extremes.
“Chi-jin-yu” is the fundamental philosophy in kendo. “Chi” refers to the wisdom or to judge things correctly. “Jin” means benevolence, kindness or consideration to other humans. “Yu” refers to the valour needed to action things.
Ippon-me: Acquiring the skill to smite an enemy with one blow; Nihon-me: ‘Disarming’ the enemy without actually killing him; Sanbon-me: Recognising the joy of living. Controlling the enemy with superior presence, but not spilling a drop of blood in the process. Then, sensing the joy of living, both return unharmed. This is the ultimate objective in kendo.

Learning the ‘Authority of the Kensen’ through Kendo Kata

The most important thing in kendo is probing and applying pressure (seme) on the opponent using the kensen. Without using the kensen to pressurise the opponent, kendo would gradually disintegrate into merely hitting people with sticks. Applying seme with the kensen also enables the practitioner to gauge correct maai.
Learning Correct Keiko Attitude through Kendo Kata 

Most of the time these days, winning and losing is the focus of keiko. How replete one’s spiritual energy or power is has become almost irrelevant. People compete in shiai to determine winners and losers, whereas keiko is for the improvement of both sides. It is important that both sides engage in keiko with full spirit. If you can achieve this, one bout of 2 or 3 minutes will be exhausting, just like it was in the old days. Nowadays, unless told to stop, most people do keikowith each other for 10~15 minutes a time. They practice to beat each other, and give little consideration to the objective of mutual improvement. This is precisely the kind of keiko attitude that can be nurtured through the practice of Kendo Kata.

Important Points for Enbu and Keiko – Differences According to Level

Against beginners the instructor (Uchidachi) in the Itto-ryu “makes it seem as though he will strike, but ensures that it misses”. Against mid-level adepts, he “makes it seem as though he will strike, but just stops short”. Against advanced practitioners, he “makes it seem as though he will strike, and does.”

In Kendo Kata, most Uchidachi do not have sufficient zanshin. When they have yelled “yaa!” this is where it finishes for them. However, even when a person is cut, he does not die immediately. When I worked as a prison guard [in the gallows], even though the executed prisoner lost consciousness, his body would still move for a while. There is nothing scarier as this. This aspect of zanshin which facilitates an understanding of dying is missing.
Kendo Kata that Connects Prewar and Postwar Kendo

Even though postwar kendo was recreated after a period of forced cessation as something completely new, old kendo can still be found in the Kendo Kata. If Kendo Kata is neglected, then there is the distinct possibility that kendo will devolve into act of playing tit-for-tat hitting with ashinai [completely forgetting its origins and theoretical basis]. In Sanbon-me, the target is a thrust to the solar-plexus, which is not a valid target area in modern kendo. However, Sanbon-me represents true kendo. The sword does not contact the body of the opponent and draw any blood. Both Shidachi and Uchidachi come out of the encounter unscathed. Ultimately, Shidachi overcomes Uchidachi with the highest form of assailment called “kurai-zeme” in which the opponent is subdued through force of spirit and presence. The vanquished acknowledges defeat and feels joy at being allowed to live. To not die, but carry on living – the importance of life becomes clear here. This is the biggest reason why “kenjutsu” was changed in name to “kendo” – A Way of life as opposed to techniques of death.

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Endou Katsuo Sensei: Hanshi Hachidan 遠藤勝雄範士八段

This is a translation of an article originally published 2010 in the Nippon Kendo Magazine.

Translated and edited by JuanDiego Fonseca and Brian Beckford

A brief biography

Endou Katsu is a 69 years old kendo hanshi hachidan. He spent his youth as a high school student at Iinogawa high school in Miyagi prefecture. It was there that he began to practice kendo under the tutelage of Matsugorou Takeyama and trained under Yoshihiro Nyuui. Upon graduating from the famous Kukushikan University went on to hold staff positions at Iinogawa High School, the 3rd Sendai High School, and Shida High School. He eventually became a school principal until his retirement in 2001. During the course of this time he additionally was the instructor of the Kenyuukai of Kano School for over 30 years until he took up the position as the Tohoku University Kendo Club shihan. Endou sensei has also served as an advisor and promotion council member for the Miyagi Prefecture Kendo Renmei, director of the Sendai City Kendo Renmei, Shihan and Official representative for the Sendai City Budoukan Kendo, and much more.

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A Myriad of unfailing wazas (techiniques) transmitted at the Nyuui Doujou Katsuo Endou Hanshi has taught a vast number of kids both as a high school teacher and also as a instructor at the kendo doujou. Following his retirement from the postof a School Principal in 2001 he has been employed as the shihan (head instructor) of the Kendou club at Tohoku University in Sendai. The cornerstone for his instruction to university students is based upon the fundamentals he learned during span of his high school years. The substantial amount of wazas that Endou Hanshi was introduced and became proficient in, when he practiced at the Nyuui Dojo in Miyagi Prefecture, were specifically targeted towards detecting the very instant when an opponent is coming and dealing with it without hesitation or failing. The following oration is what we could hear from him at a practice session at Tohoku University. I began Kendo when I became a high school student. It was at this time that I met my former teacher, Matsugorou Takeyama Sensei, at the language classroom. His sensei was Yoshihiro Nyuui Sensei. Aside from his activities related to the high school club, Takeyama Sensei also practiced at Nyuui Dojo in Sendai. I was fortunate to be taken along with him to practice and consequently, I was ”forged” by Nyuui Sensei. Training was intense, but without both Takeyama Sensei and Nyuui Sensei’s teaching method, that involved screaming harshly at me, I wouldn’t have come to understand the essence of what they were trying to teach me. Soon after beginning to learn, I focused on kendo day and night so much that I think I was even doing Kendo even while dreaming. Although I was thoroughly instructed on the basics, what these gifted Senseis specially taught were numerous wazas and the important points for each of them. An example of such would be that he explained This is what is important for this waza, ”The proper way of using this waza is as such.” I was taught the significant points to be mindful of with great detail and was actually able to the techniques during shiai. This helped to make kendo even more fascinating. When I continued my studies at Kukushikan University I further received a high level of instruction, but even today I can say without any doubt that the fundamentals acquired during the training as a high school student under Matsugorou Takeyama Sensei is the core of my Kendo. From the this framework I will describe the strategy of seizing the opportunity, enticing the opponent and when to strike. An important item was to learn to read the opponent’s state of mind or his actions, and interpret any slight movements shown by the opponent. If you decide on performing debana-kote, this does by any means mean that the opponent is going to accept such an invitation so easily. Take the situation in which you open up to the omote side while in the issoku-ittou-no-maai distance; It is not guaranteed that the opponent will decide to commit to a men attack. In such a situation, it now becomes a test and contest of endurance. It becomes a mutual contest of endurance, and a shorter distance is attempted. What is required here is the feeling of strength. Success is when the lured opponent struggles and attacks you and you can think to yourself, I provoked it. This is what is known as defeating the opponent before the strike. There are also points to be aware of in regards to the method of striking. Nowadays, it can be seen that when striking dekote the attack to kote is launched directly in from a frontal position, and subsequently after the strike has landed the body is allowed to scape to the right side. This however, makes it easy for the opponent to aim for a post-attack and makes it hard to reassume kamae. The teaching of Nyuui Sensei was to take the imaginary line extending from the opponent’s big toe on the right foot as reference to our fumikomi’s direction. The imaginary line extending from the kensaki of your shinai aims at the chuushin of the opponent. This way it is easy to avoid hitting the base of the tsuba and on will be able to do a display zanshin based on a correct positioning of the kensaki and body posture, without worrying about a counter-strike being launched. Furthermore, I was also taught how to change to a men-nuki-kote as a reaction in case that the opponent’s men-uchi is too fast. Avoid the men by displacing to the left side and pressure the kote. If the kote cannot be struck, the strike the open men instead. Nyuui Sensei taught me the value of shikake-wazas regardless of the counter-reaction. He was very detailed about it not being about waiting for the opponent to initiate an action but to provoke it, that is, to cause it beforehand. If both opponents are aiming for debana-waza, then we must be able to see through this and invite his debana-men, and then we must reply using suriage-waza. As for the way of striking, specifially in terms of suriage-waza, I was instructed in the fine art of what to do under many circumstances, how should I perform in from omote, or from ura. I learned how the finer points of tai-sabaki (body movement). Most importantly, when mistakes were made, I received corrections addressing in which manner it should be improved. For example, ”If the distance is too deep, then lower yourself towards the back and the right” and so forth. Clear descriptions on the way of striking and leg movements were taught to me as part of a set of reactions to any situation. This ri-ai about the way to combat other high school students made it feel very interesting. In order to make his pupils aware of their own bodies, both Nyuui Sensei and Takeyama Sensei did hikitategeiko. That means that during seme-ai or kuzushi-ai, we were offered small openings (Sa!) from time to time, so we could learn to take advantage of them. They made us sense the moment prior to the origination or thought of the movement. It can be said that the importance of feeling the spirit’s movement just before a waza is performed is to experience that necessary instant where both theory and experience are combined and we understand that, here it comes!. Along with these lessons, we cannot lack the self-consciousness that even in our confrontational relationship, it is both of us performing kendo together. If one acts only upon one’s own body’s account there can be no success. If that takes place, then it becomes a dull and monotone combat which we call set-play Kendo. If one goes for set-play technique and scores by using it, then it may seems to work. However, if we use it and fail then the continuity of the combat is completely lost. If we have decided to use a certain technique and wait for the right opportunity but the opponent’s reaction is not what we intended and we fail to respond against that unexpected attack, then we will be hit. Nyuui Sensei taught us to continually apply seme until the very moment of definition, the spill point. I believe that by getting to know the opponent, by analyzing his way of moving, and by enhancing our waza, then this technique of provoking the opponent will luster and shine.

endou_sensei_kata


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Emptiness with emptiness, real with real

In regards to the use of the sword, the right hand is the jitsu, (実) real, the left hand is kyo,(虚) emptiness. They are both needed and exhibit the dichotic nature when expressed in balance. But when facing an opponent meet kyo, emptiness, with emptiness. If your foe strikes into the emptiness, become jitsu. Become real. The stance of emptiness can only be met with emptiness. Both opponents, neither moving nor moved. No temptation. But the real demands the real. Reality, striking into emptiness. When unequal opponents battle, that decides the victor. The powerful sees through his opponent’s emptiness and finds the opening. When both are evenly matched it cannot be, no opening to be found for either. And thus, both strike the stance of emptiness. Wait. Patience. Tempt. He who is tempted…dies. Harmonize with the opponent. Meet emptiness with emptiness, the real with the real. 虚虚実実.
-LW&C Vol.23


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Holding the shinai

The following was taken from a conversation in a kendo shop with Akira Ijima Sensei, Kendo Kyoshi Hachidan, and instructor at the International Budo university, that was also there to buy a couple of things.

The first thing to be aware of is the positioning of the little finger as it the hands grasps the handle. The location of the little finger is slightly different for holding a bokuto and a shinai. In the case of the bokuto, the bottom of the tsuka is at the same level as the lower edge of the little finger. While for the shinai, the bottom of the tsuka is located at the position of half the little finger. The reason for this position is to prevent the hand from sliding towards the front of the tsuka, when performing tsuka waza, especially katate tsuki. An additional reason is that it provides an added support in the strike and kamae position. One should ensure that the index fingers on either hands are not extended or separated from the other fingers. The index finder does, however, touch the tsuba at all times.

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In order to execute a strike with the appropriate and correct tenouchi both hands grip in the same way. The method of grasping the handle is such that the right hand grips mostly with the two smallest fingers. The thumbs of both hands essentially are pointing towards the front. It is important to have the V that is formed by the skin between thumb and index finger aligned with the middle of the shinai at all times. It is also critical that the the right hand is not allowed to over rotate and end in a position that is on the top the tsuka.

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A good quality handmade shinai always has 5 nodes (fushi). his is originated from the same source as the pleats in the hakama. The hakama has 5 pleats which represent the 5 virtues (五徳) of Confucianism of ( 仁 義 礼 忠 孝) not the virtues expressed in Bushido. Therefore, always try to acquire a shinai with 5 nodes, even if not top quality one. The first node is the strongest part of the monouchi. Depending on the position of the nodes, the shinai has a different balance and bending characteristics. One should study where one likes the node in the monouchi and take this in consideration every time when purchasing a shinai. This is ultimatelyIt a personal choice. The node location is not the only factor that should be evaluated, also consider the balance, type, and thickness of tsuka. As one increases in skill, there must be a adjoining increase in time spent enhancing the knowledge about the dogu and seek for higher quality correspondingly.

Ijima Sensei’s choice:
Ijima sensei personally likes a dobari shinai, as much as he likes chokuto. He says that both types feel like a shinai. He prefers a shinai with a well distributed weight, with regular thickness all the way. His favorite shinai is a  京都尚光 shinai, which he always uses independently of it being keiko or shiai.

Lastly, if all else fails, fall back on the sake cup method. Hold the shinai as if holding a sake cup.

sake_cup_nigiri

 


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Three S and one Z

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Endou sensei hanshi hachidan and Sone sensei kyoshi hachidan 

What do letters of the alphabet have to do with kendo? That was the same thing that I thought upon hearing three S and one Z.

It was a steamy summer afternoon in the middle of August, and I, along with a fellow non-Japanese kendoka partner in crime were invited to a weekend seminar of the Kokusai Shakaijin seminar, in Iwanuma city. This was going to be an incredible learning and training experience or so we imagined. Anticipation kept me from sleeping well, as I was filled with anxiety about arriving late to the budokan where Sone sensei, kyoshi hachidan would pick us up. The Japanese are notorious about punctuality. All went well and we were on our way. After sweating under the weight of our bogu for an afternoon of full practice, we soaked away the aches in a hot bath and proceeded to what would be the highlight of the entire seminar.

At the end of the first day we were treated to a lavish meal with endless cups of sake and beer. Anyone that hasn’t had the chance to dine with a group of kendo sensei and take advantage to the forthcoming knowledge that comes with each consumed glass is surely missing out. I was highly surprised when Sone sensei uttered something in English. Having known and trained with him for five years and never hearing him speak English before, I blanched. He said “three S and one Z”. What did three S and one Z mean I asked? He replied simply “Speed, Simple, Straight and Zanshin. ”

The essence of his approach to practice he explained, is to develop, through sustained effort, an ability to execute the techniques with speed, a straight and proper hasuji, in a natural way that exhibits elegance, and a simplicity of motion.

All should be enveloped in Zanshin.

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Sone sensei


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Nukitsuke 抜き付け,(刀を抜く)

nukitsuke

The term nukitsuke 抜き付け,(刀を抜く) refers to the action of simultaneously drawing the sword from it’s scabbard (saya) and cutting. The cutting arch may be horizontal, rising or any variations of these. The kanji nuku (抜く) means to pull out or draw and tsuke means the action or moving as such to forestall the opponent’s attack before it happens. Rather, it is the application (付ける) of the sword draw (抜く) to control an opponent. Nukiuchi on the other hand means to cut down an opponent. This is how nukitsuke differs from simply drawing the sword and striking.

Technically it begins in the mind, in stillness, and progresses through the grasping of the handle, releasing the koiguchi, proper sayabi, focusing of the ki in the hara followed by a crisp flash of steel like lightning on a clear sunny day. It concludes with the iaidoka once again in a picture of stillness. This is the timing I try have in my nukitsuke, not unfamiliar to many other budo. From stillness, action and then stillness without wasted energy.

However, if the term nukitsuke means to draw in order to forestall the opponent, then I question how this applies to the true opponent? Which is oneself. Perhaps with years of endless training one can truly come to understand what is meant by the following statement; victory is accomplished with the sword still in the scabbard. (Saya no uchi kachi).

I sure don’t know.


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Seme 攻め

There is often a mention of seme in every training in the dojo. I have heard it in every seminar and by a myriad of sensei. Seme first; Don’t forget to seme; At your next testing they will be looking for your ability to seme. The list goes on.
Recently at a seminar with Kato sensei, kyoshi hachidan, he spent a great deal of time trying to have people reflect of kizeme. I took it that we often focus on the physical demonstration of seme but do not spend enough time on the developing a strong spirit that can break the opponents’ kamae.

This motivated me to think back on the teachings and thoughts on seme by Endou Katsou Hanshi Hachidan:

“Seme is not just motion of the body, it is the ki (spirit) moving towards the opponent partially manifested by the movement of the body. Moreover, seme is the same for shikake or oji wazas. It is common to see people just enter and strike. This will never allow one to advance and pass 6 dan or higher. After initiating your seme, in that fraction of a second, the opponent will respond and based on their action, you will know what technique should be used. It is two-steps yet one motion.

We train our bodies over and over to allow it to react without conscious thought. This is what is meant by cutting away the self and reaching mushin 無心.”

Hopefully, being able to do this ever, if at all, comes with more time spent in training.

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