Miyamoto Musashi was three hours late. This was his way. On the beach the tension in the air was palpable. Sasaki Kojiro paced up and down on the fine sand with his hands behind his back. His wrath was rising with the sun, and with every passing minute he felt the insult to his honour growing. The date was the 13th of April, 1612.
Kojiro was considered one of the greatest Samurai in Japan. He was famous throughout the land for his speed and precision, which was made even more remarkable by his preferred weapon. He wielded a huge no-dachi blade, a curved Japanese sword in the classic style, but with a blade over a meter in length. The size and weight of the no-dachi made it a brutal, unsubtle weapon, but Kojiro had perfected its use to a degree unheard of in all Japan.
As his skill had grown, he had won many duels, and by the time he waited on the beach at Ganryu Island he had secured a comfortable position as weapons master to the Daimyo of the Hosokawa clan. His fame had grown with his skill, and eventually, he came to the attention of Miyamoto Musashi.
This post was made by Geoff and it has been published in kendoinfo.net. Please visit the referenced web for more info on this post and kendo.
One of the few times I witnessed a Japanese kendo teacher lose his temper was when he was told by a local kendo instructor that “I do kendo for other people”. The general thrust of his response was that kendo is a shugyo, a way to hone your own mind and body through hard keiko, so regardless of whether you are involved in teaching, refereeing or running a dojo or federation, you should first and foremost focus on your own kendo journey.
This may sound like a very self-centred approach, but essentially kendo is all about the self, or if you want to be specific, supressing it. Kendo is introspective. We train to develop to a level where action becomes instinctive, but to get there you have to think about it. The only person who can change you is you. At the same time we need others as training partners and opponents. The sheer unpredictability of other human beings makes kendo both interesting and challenging.
The chance to test ourselves in keiko is not all we expect from our dojo mates. We offer each other support and encouragement. More experienced kenshi pass on their knowledge to junior members and we work together to improve our technique. Even for the most senior practitioners teaching and learning should be a two way street.
As an example, when receiving kakarigeiko, if you put the same amount of focus into creating the attacking opportunities as your partner needs to respond to them, you both gain the same level of benefit from the process. In hikitate-geiko we should strive to take the first point or shodachi whatever the grade difference. Only after establishing control should we offer points to the student and even when doing so we should work on our own seme.
Unlike many sports that have an “if you can you play, if you can’t you coach” ethos, we expect people to continue to be involved in every aspect throughout their active lives. As a result some of the great competitors have gone on to be amongst the best teachers and continue to prove themselves in the All Japan 8th dan Championships and the Kyoto Taikai.
Whilst we focus on our own kendo, we do it together and friends made through hard training continue to be friends for life. So although we each follow our own path, we need those paths to regularly cross with the paths of others.
With Star Wars once again all the rage, it’s probably a good chance to remember that Star Wars and Samurai have a lot in common!
The movie Star Wars was based on the Kurosawa Akira flick, the Hidden Fortress, and the scene change “wipes” were a device used by the samurai movie’s director. The clothes Luke first wore on Tattooine were based on karate wear, the Jedi fashions matched those of the samurai, even Darth Vader’s helmet was based on the samurai’s Zunari Kabuto helmet. The light-saber duels are reminiscent of the samurai katana sword fights. Yoda’s name came from that of a Japanese friend of George Lucas, a Mr. Yoda, and the word Jedi comes from the name for samurai period dramas, Jidai-geki… Jidai became Jedi…and the rest is history.
There’s a Death Star in the center of Aichi Prefecture’s capital, Nagoya! Well, it LOOKS like the Death Star from Star Wars, or one of those Trade Federation ships from Episode 3 has descended onto Nagoya City’s Shirakawa Koen Park! And in fact the Stars are on the inside!!!
Zacchary Falconer-Barfield, Co-Founder of The Perfect Gentleman, introduces David J Constable to James Marwood, a self defence and Bartitsu instructor, at Brand Exchange, London. With David's stand-in help, James demonstrates three bartitsu techniques: pugilism, artifice, and accessories. Tiffin on the Trinc Bartitsu Demonstration. This demonstration was done by the Bartitsu Amateur Forum at the Tiffin on the Trinc steampunk event in June 2013.
Yoshimitsu Yamada has been showing students at the New York Aikikai on West 18th Street in Chelsea how to deflect, throw and pin opponents for 50 years. At 76, he can still toss a full-size man onto his head or incapacitate a charging assailant with any number of joint-twisting techniques.
"As a young boy, I wanted to beat up some guy," Mr. Yamada said, recalling his childhood in postwar Tokyo and the impulses that led him to try the then-burgeoning martial art.
The sensei, an eighth-degree black belt and one of the longest active practitioners, is also one of the last living direct students of aikido's founder, Morihei Ueshiba, a pedigree that makes him a sought-after instructor around the world.
As aikido went global, Mr. Yamada brought the martial art to New York in 1964.
"I spoke a little bit of English, and I like American culture, like jazz and musicals, and American girls," he said. "New York was always my dream. If I ended up in a small town in the South, I wouldn't have lasted 50 years."
The art's core practices of harmonizing with an opponent's force and cultivating one's ki have sustained him when most would have long ago hung up the cotton uniform known as a gi. His dojo has survived in part because the organization bought its building about 20 years ago for $500,000.
As the city has become safer, fewer students want to learn how to defend themselves. And many traditional martial arts have become overshadowed by the popularity of mixed martial arts.
Mr. Yamada instead focuses on helping city dwellers better connect mind with body.
"Those who stay with me, they learn something else, not only the physical side," he said. "Depending on how people take it, they gain some positive thinking, gain some confidence."
When the English word God is translated into Japanese, it is generally represented by the kanji (Chinese character) 神 and pronounced kami. However, to avoid misunderstanding, it would be better to think of God, 神, and kami as three separate concepts.
“God” is the supreme being of monotheism and is customarily capitalized to indicate the unique nature of the deity and draw a distinction with the multiple gods of polytheism.
The written Japanese form, 神, is influenced by the Chinese meaning of the character. Common words in both languages using this character, such as 精神 (pronounced seishin in Japanese), meaning “spirit” or “mind,” and 神経 (shinkei), meaning “nerves,” are related to human mental qualities. Pronounced shen in Chinese, the character 神 carries some divine attributes, but they are of a decidedly low rank and far below those of the highest power in Chinese theology, termed 天 (tian) or 上帝 (shangdi) in Chinese.
Japan’s kami were traditionally thought of as anthropomorphized natural phenomena. They included the kami that appear in the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) and the Nihon shoki (Chronicle of Japan), Japan’s ancient records of myth and history, kami that were worshiped in shrines, and everything possessing extraordinary qualities, including the sun, the moon, the wind, the rain, the sea, large rocks and trees, and even some smaller plants, animals, and people. This is how they were defined by the eighteenth-century scholar of Japanese classics Motoori Norinaga. According to Motoori, anything that inspired awe and sensitivity to ephemeral beauty (aware) was a kami.
For Japanese people who believe this, their country is a rich natural landscape with kami to be found wherever they turn—in short a kami no kuni or “country of kami.” If this phrase is translated into English as “God’s country,” it can be misunderstood as a fanatically nationalistic expression, but this is not what the phrase actually means.
A Blended Faith
Japan’s traditional faith, based on worship of kami, is known as Shintō. There are no records to show what it was like in ancient times, and many details are unclear. We cannot even say if there was a set of beliefs and rituals sufficiently unified that we could call them Shintō. It is likely that the religion came into being as a blend of different elements, including the following: *The nature worship of hunter-gatherers in the Jōmon period (ca. 15,000 BC–300 BC) *The worship of clay figurines as symbols of crop fertility and the shamanism introduced from the Korean Peninsula in the Yayoi Period, when rice farming had taken hold (300 BC–250 AD) *The bronze weapons and mirrors imported from China and used by chiefs in festivals and magic rituals *The influence on rulers’ festival and funeral rituals from Chinese divination, astronomy, calendar studies, and thinking related to the legendary transcendental figures known as shinsen, or “divine immortals” *The worship of family gods and the building of shrines by a range of local communities and groups *The Japanese began to think of these elements together as Shintō after Buddhism spread to Japan and they compared the new religion with their traditional practices.
The Difference Between Kami and Buddhas
Buddhism was founded in India by Gautama Buddha (born in the fifth or sixth century BC) and has an immense written canon and intricate set of doctrines. Before arriving in Japan, it was adapted on its journey through China, where texts were translated into Chinese and religious orders were organized and run in a Chinese style. Japanese people developed their concept of kami by contrasting them with the Buddhas of the introduced faith. The main points of difference are as follows: Buddhas are living humans who have achieved enlightenment (satori). When Buddhas die, they escape from the cycle of life and death and cease to exist. Kami are a different order of being from ordinary humans, but some kami are the ancestors of humans and can live and die. Buddhas are men, and they do not marry. Kami can be male or female, and they sometimes marry. Buddhists make images and statues of Buddhas and enshrine them in temples, but Buddhas do not live in temples. Shintō believers do not make images of kami. Objects for attracting kami known as yorishiro are placed in shrines, but kami do not live in shrines. Alongside such other forms of advanced Chinese culture as the ritsuryō system of centralized government, astronomy, calendar studies, medicine, and architecture, Buddhism was a tool the ruling class used to secure its power and prestige. Following the introduction of this new set of beliefs, Buddhism and Shintō began to occupy different spaces in Japanese religious life.
Reform of Shintō, Appeal of Buddhism
The Yamato court is thought to have had its beginnings around the third century AD in what is now the Kansai region. It was a confederation of regional forces in which only the clan believing itself to be descended from the kami Amaterasu (the sun goddess) had the right to perform rituals. Forces in other regions revered different kami as ancestors—for example, those in Izumo venerated Ōkuninushi. Myths drawn up about harmonious coexistence of the different forces’ kami supported the formation of the confederation. In the eighth century, the Nihon shoki and the Kojiki were completed. These influential compilations of legend and history positioned Amaterasu as the most important of all the kami and the emperors as her descendants, who alone inherited the right to perform rituals and to rule. As a result, all of the forces outside the imperial line explicitly lost these rights. However, the Yamato government did not proscribe the other kami and set up a monotheistic religion as the people of Israel did when declaring Yahweh to be the one true God. Instead, it gave them positions in the hierarchy under Amaterasu, with cooperation between kami intended to reinforce cooperation between different groups. In this context, Buddhas were notable in that their complete separation from the kami meant that they were not subordinate to Amaterasu. Forces excluded by the emperor’s monopoly on ritual and power following the reform of Shintō were free to adopt Buddhism. These forces were concentrated in and around Yamato Province, now Nara Prefecture, and through inheritance of bureaucratic government positions and landed estates (shōen) had developed into an aristocracy. Most of them embraced Buddhism, built temples, and hoped to be reborn in the Western Paradise. The idea of being reborn as a Buddha after death was a new one and quite different from the tenets of Shintō. By contrast, for the peasants who worked in the estates belonging to the aristocracy, temples, and shrines, their traditional faith in local kami was altogether more familiar and natural than Buddhism.
Different Ideas of Life and Death
What was the Japanese concept of the afterworld? Some believed that their souls returned to the mountains. Others thought that they went underground to a land of the dead called Yomi or across the sea to a paradise called Tokoyo. There was a vague belief in defilement (kegare) associated with death, and that the dead traveled somewhere far from the settlements where people lived. The emperor worshiped Amaterasu, the various other kami, and his own ancestors. The religious ceremonies of the court were based on Chinese models, but worshiping deceased ancestors as gods was unique to Japan. It was believed that dead emperors became kami after their defilement had been cleansed away in some distant place. By contrast, Buddhism in its original form maintains that people work to attain nirvana, or Buddhahood, through ascetic practices while passing through a cycle of life and death. When people die without attaining nirvana, they are immediately reborn in new bodies to live again; there is no land of the dead and no eternal soul. In other words, original Buddhism and Shintō have entirely different ideas of death. This idea of reincarnation was not accepted in Japan when Buddhism was brought to the country. Instead, the Chinese belief that the dead become demons living in hell entered Japan through Taoism and Buddhism and gradually spread. Buddhism became popular by adapting itself into the forms most acceptable to Japanese people.
The Convergence of Kami and Buddhas
In the Heian period (794–1185), the honji suijaku theory took hold. This asserted that Indian Buddhas and bodhisattvas (wise, compassionate beings who have not yet become Buddhas) had transformed themselves and arrived in Japan as kami. The idea that kami were Buddhas was generally accepted in the Japan of the Kamakura period (1185–1333). This meant that it did not matter whether people worshiped kami or Buddhas, and it was no longer necessary to distinguish between Shintō shrines and Buddhist temples or between Shintō and Buddhism as religious faiths. From this time until around the end of the Edo period in 1868, Japanese people made no strict distinction between kami and Buddhas. It was thought that if people could become kami when they died, they could also become Buddhas (hotoke). Devotees of the Pure Land school of Buddhism wished to escape the cycle of life and death and be reborn in Amida Buddha’s “pure land,” the Western Paradise. While studying to achieve enlightenment, Amida had vowed that he would strive to have all living things be reborn in this realm, which he reached upon becoming a Buddha. Rebirth in the superior realm of the Western Paradise meant being just one step from Buddhahood and was considered extremely important. The idea that people could become Buddhas after death spread through the doctrine that death could lead to the pure land, which in turn was a stage on the way to Buddhahood. In this way, the following general beliefs held by Japanese people regarding life after death were formed, and they persist today. When people die, for a time their spirits remain to wander near their place of death. After that they cross Sanzu no kawa (the River of Three Crossings) to the next world and become Buddhas (or kami). If they have strong attachments to this world or hold grudges, they cannot attain Buddhahood and instead become ghosts (yūrei). People who have committed wicked deeds fall into hell as punishment and are tormented by King Enma and his demons. The dead return to their homes at the time of the summer Bon festival. Ancestors are given posthumous names, which are inscribed on mortuary tablets placed on family altars. Incense sticks are burned in front of these altars. Despite their longevity, when examined closely, these beliefs are neither Shintō nor Buddhist and are actually contradictory.
Seeds of Nationalism and Emperor Worship
In the Edo period (1603–1868) the Tokugawa shogunate banned Christianity and required all Japanese people to become Buddhists. Households had to choose a denomination and register with a local temple in what was known as the danka (parishioner household) system. At the same time, however, the role of Buddhist priests was limited; to prevent them from spreading ideas that might represent a threat, they were effectively restricted to performing funeral rites and the like. The shogunate encouraged samurai to study Shushigaku, the Neo-Confucian philosophy based on the teachings of the Chinese scholar Zhu Xi (known as Shushi in Japanese). The study of Zhu Xi’s Neo-Confucianism spread from samurai to higher-ranking townsmen and farmers. The shogunate was apparently oblivious to the fact that its policies of enforcing Buddhism and promoting Neo-Confucianism were inconsistent. Shushigaku denied the existence of both the cycle of life and death of traditional Buddhism and the souls that Japanese Buddhists believed in. Furthermore, the idea that anyone could become part of the ruling class through study contradicted the ranking system of the Edo period that divided people into four hereditary classes, samurai, farmers, artisans, and merchants. By emphasizing the importance of loyalty to the legitimate government or ruler, this Neo-Confucian philosophy led to the emergence of imperial loyalists, who looked up to the emperor rather than the shōgun as Japan’s true leader. This is to say that Shushigaku contained within it the potential for bringing down the Edo period’s ruling system. The author Yamamoto Shichihei (1921–1991) goes into further detail on this idea in his book Arahitogami no sōsakushatachi (The Creators of Living Gods). Shushigaku influenced the fundamentalist thinking of Itō Jinsai (1627–1705) and Ogyū Sorai (1666–1728), who advocated a return to the philosophy of Confucius and Mencius. Their thinking in turn gave rise to Kokugaku or “national learning,” which was based on the literal interpretation of ancient Japanese texts. In his Kojikiden (Commentary on the Kojiki), Motoori Norinaga (1730–1801), the central figure of Kokugaku, reconstructed a Japan without its own written language, as depicted in the eighth-century work, and emphasized that even then there was a government and people were subject to the emperor. He noted that their obedience to the emperor had not been cultivated through the teachings of Shushigaku, but came about through their natural feelings. Thus, the possibility for adopting a form of nationalism based on emperor worship opened up for all Japanese people.
The Road to State Shintō
The new Shintō movement of Hirata Atsutane (1776–1843) triggered a great change in the way Japanese people thought about kami from the waning years of the Tokugawa shogunate through the early Meiji era (1868–1912). Hirata professed to be a disciple of Motoori, and his study of Shintō led him to proclaim that when people died, they did not become Buddhas or go to Yomi, the land of the dead, but instead became spirits (rei). In particular, those who died for Japan suffered no defilement and became eirei, “glorious spirits,” who would protect future generations. The revolutionary idea that people became spirits after death, maintaining their individuality throughout eternity, leads some to think Hirata had studied the Christian concept of the soul by secretly reading a Chinese translation of the Bible (then banned in Japan). If every human becomes a spirit after death, this meant that even if all Japanese people were required to adhere to Buddhism under the danka system and had Buddhist funerals, they could still also have Shintō memorial services. It thus became possible to enshrine war dead. The imperial forces that established the new government under the emperor following the Meiji Restoration of 1868 used Hirata’s interpretation of Shintō to hold ceremonies and memorialize those who had died fighting for the imperial cause against the forces of the shogunate. In 1869, the year after the Restoration, they established a shrine for this purpose in the Kudan district of Tokyo, later placing it under the jurisdiction of the army and navy. Here at Yasukuni Shrine (as it was eventually renamed), ordinary people who gave their lives for their country came to be commemorated as kami. The Western media presents Yasukuni as a “war shrine” that glorifies Japanese aggression in World War II, but this is not accurate. It is actually equivalent to a revolution memorial or the tomb of an unknown soldier. Hirata’s version of Shintō and Yasukuni Shrine combined to inspire a modern form of nationalism among Japanese citizens. For this to happen, it was necessary to separate Shintō and Buddhism. Movements to abolish Buddhism or to make a clear division between the two religions were active from the close of the Edo period through the early Meiji era. The new Meiji government ordered that shrines and temples be clearly separated with no toleration of ambiguity. A form of Shintō presided over by the government that would later be known as State Shintō came into being. The Ministry of Education took the position that Shintō was not a religion, but an integral part of daily life for Japanese people and a patriotic duty, forcing the whole population to practice State Shintō. Based on the idea that people became kami after death, a number of shrines were built in the years following the Meiji period. These included Meiji Shrine, dedicated to Emperor Meiji, Nogi Shrine, dedicated to Nogi Maresuke, and Tōgō Shrine, dedicated to Tōgō Heihachirō. Nogi and Tōgō played prominent roles as army and navy commanders respectively in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05. There were also a number of shrines dedicated to the local war dead in prefectures around the country. And photographs of the emperor were sent to schools for teachers and students to bow to while facing the Imperial Palace. This was part of education centered on the emperor, who was considered a living god.
Difficulty of Precise Definition
Following the end of World War II, the Allied Occupation authorities disestablished Shintō as a state religion, and Yasukuni Shrine became a private religious corporation. But the idea of “glorious spirits” and the idea that people become kami after death remained among Japanese people.
Given this confused and contradiction-ridden history, I am afraid that Japanese people themselves are not fully conscious of what they believe about kami and would not be able to explain their beliefs to a third party. Successive developments have increased the complexity of defining these beliefs to the point where it is impossible to do so precisely.
This is not only about kendō so if you learn this you can use those for something else too. These 5 steps are what I learned through more than 20 years of instructing kendō and being a student of kendō for more than 34 years. The core of these steps is…
“Kendō is not about how to control your sword. It is about how to control yourself.”
So if you are a beginner or trying to reach at a higher level, these steps might help you to get there.
Learn to feel how your body works
Learn how you can move your body
Learn how it looks like when you move your body
Learn how to fine-tune your body
Learn how your emotion affects your movements
1. Learn To Feel How Your Body Works
After having seen many beginners, I have found that they do not know how to communicate with their body. Without knowing how to communicate with the body, you cannot control your sword, bokutō or shine. Most of beginners try to control their sword. When they try to control their sword, almost all the time they become tense. Since they are tensed up, their body cannot move as it is supposed to. This is the other way round: Move your body so your sword follows. But to do so you should connect to your body. You need to feel how your body works so focus on your body, not on your bokutō or shinai.
2. Learn How You Can Move Your Body
Since many focus on how to move their sword, they do something funny with their body such as twisting their right arm and body to strike the right dō. They are trying to turn their sword. But at the same time, they are turning their arm and body, which is not necessary. All they have to do is to turn their forearms. When they turn forearms, their wrists turn too. It is about how to use your body.
3. Learn How It Looks Like When You Move Your Body
You connect to your body and know how to move it. Now it is time for you to learn how it looks like when you move your body correctly. You should know how it looks like when you do things right so next time you try it again you can check it yourself. You should check your movements by how it looks like and how it feels like; inside and outside. That is why you see many sensei spend a lot of times in front of the mirror. Not because they are narcissists.
4. Learn How to Fine-Tune Your Body
Fine-tuning requires really small jobs. You might want to move your left foot 1.5cm (0.59 Inch) forward and 1cm (0.39 Inch) closer to the right foot. If you do it, it feels different. You might want to change the position of your left thumb when you take chūdan. These may be for the advanced but I want you to know this “fine-tuning” makes your kendō better. You should be able to fine-tune your kendō after you learn how to connect your body and know how to move your body.
5. Learn How Your Emotion Affects Your Movements
Your emotions affect your kendō even just a little bit. You might think this is normal and nothing special. But… Not many realise it until someone points out that their kendō is a bit different. It Is Harder To Keep Your Kendō Stable You should pay attention to the state of your mind all the time. Sometimes you do not feel energetic. Whatever the reason, you cannot do kendō as you always do.
When such things happen, don’t deny it. Face it and do the followings.
You have to realise that your kendō is a bit off
Find out why; is it physical or mental,
Learn how to maximize your ability under such condition
Then your next job is to keep youself stable outside the dōjō. You figure out what makes you feel less energetic outside the dōjō. What is it? And what can you do about it when that happens again.
This is why kendō is useful for you to improve your daily life too!
It is normal that your kendō performance gets worse when you are not feeling energetic. So…
In kendō you should overcome that. Then…
We should find out and overcome whatever that makes us feel less energetic.
Easier said than done. But that is why we are training!
Hope this helps with your kendō and life improvement!