Dispelling Myths about Japanese Kendo

When I first started kendo, and for a long time after that, Japan seemed like the infallible overbearing authority for everything kendo related. For example, Japanese people bow perfectly, they are extremely polite and respectful, they take everything serious, they respect their gear, they treat shinai as if it were worth a million dollars, they move perfectly, they hit men perfectly, and so on.

Now that I've had a little bit of experience with Japanese kendo I can tell you that most of these things are completely untrue.

Some people fold their hakama properly, but others just hang them up. Some people place their men on their kote, while others just dump them on the ground. Some people place their shinai against the wall with the handle on the ground, while others place them with the tip down. Some bow correctly and politely, while others are already in sonkyo before you have even finished bowing. In general, Japanese people only give and take things with both hands if the situation calls for politeness, but in the dojo everyone is friendly with one another, and people give and take with one hand (unless it's money).

Not everyone who practices kendo in Japan is good. In fact, the majority of people see it as a hobby or weekend sport, and never dedicate much time to it. One guy told me he was 40 years old, and had been doing kendo since he was 10, and I thought he was really really bad.

When I first came here I tried to do everything exactly how my teachers in New Zealand had taught me, but the first thing I was told to do by a Japanese teacher was to RELAX, not to take things so seriously. Of course, when actually doing kendo, be very very serious. And there are times when doing what I was taught (being polite, not walking in front of a sensei etc.) was admired and praised. But when you're sitting down after practice, and someone asks to look at your shinai, you don't have to hand it to them with both hands.

It is important to strike a balance between seriousness and relaxedness, and to know which is appropriate in which situation. Thus knowing how to do things correctly is good, and will get you praise in Japan, but always doing things properly is bordering on fanaticism, and people will think you are strange.


Sam Tsai said...

Yes ...

“The ordinary mind” (heijø shin 平常心) is the way.

Good to hear from you.

Sam :)

Grasswatcher said...

Benji-kun! Hahaa...you made a kendo blog too! Yea, I haven't updated mine for a long while...haven't been practising for while too (darned assignments). Have been trying to write you a letter, hope to send that out sometime this century.