Voice from Sensei: Real Kendo

Do you know what the real kendo is? We all know the concept of kendō from International Kendo Federation. However, do we really know what kind of kendō is the real kendō?

There are many kendō senseis around us and there are many theories as many as kendō sensei. Basically most of the time, they are saying the same things but they describe in different ways.  

Of course, they have different opinions about shiai (matches). Some senseis say that you should win shiai if you participate in a tournament  and others say kendō is not all about shiai.

Whatever they say, they know what kind of kendō they should do and the process is more important than the result.

No. I should say it in a better way.

The process must be good and the result should be good too.

If we have both in our kendō, no one criticises our kendō.  Now I would like to share what I was told by the late Tsurumaru sensei when I was a youngster.

Which is better, Tsuyoi or Umai?

The late Tsurumaru sensei was no different from many other senseis; he did not really talk when he taught his students. He did not tell us what we did wrong or what we did right.

He just told us what to do and when we did well, he did not say anything. He just gave us something else to do. If we did not do well, he left us do the same thing over and over until we satisfied him with our skills.

So basically he was the main master of our dōjō and we trained according to his training plans, he did not really give us any feedback orally.

One evening, he was stretching in the shihan shitsu (main master's room) at the dōjō.  Even though it is called a room, it is wide open. It is a just place (tatami mat) for shihan.

I was a captain of the boys' section of the dōjō so I was positioned at the kamiza of the dōjō, which is located close to the shihan room.

Then the late Tsurumaru sensei stopped stretching and looked at me and said…

"Oi, Imafuji. Which one do you think is better, Tsuyoi or Umai?"

Tsuyoi means "strong" and umai is "skilful".

I paused a while. And looked at him and said.

"Tsuyoi…desu…ka? (I think it should be tsuyoi, no?)"

He smiled and said…

"Sōya (yes, you are right in Kansai dialect)."

He continued…

You can be skilful. It is very good to have many skills. For example, you can pretend to strike men and change the course of your shinai and strike kote. That is skilful but it is not a strong kendō.

In strong kendō, you are expressing that you are going to strike men and you really go for men. And you defeat your opponent by that men strike.

That is called "tsuyoi". That is the real kendo.

You know, Imafuji. What is good about your kendō is that you can strike men like that.

This was the first and last compliment from the late Tsrumaru sensei.

What he really means is that we can hit a target if we want to just "hit". We can fake our strikes to hit a target as he described. We can pretend to strike men and change the course of our shinai and strike kote. This is a very common technique.

It is good to know these techniques but what he wanted to tell me is that there was more to kendō.

The real kendo is way beyond hitting targets.

It is super hard to strike a target if your opponent knows where you are going to strike. However, you strike the target anyway and your opponent cannot do anything about it. That is the most difficult thing and you need guts to do that.

Many do want to win and do not want to lose. Many do want to hit a target before they get hit. In order to perform what the late Tsurumaru sensei described, you have to overcome the feelings of "want to strike/don't want to get struck".

When the late Tsurumaru sensei told me that, I was only 12. It's been more than 25 years (as of 2010) and I still remember that. Back then, according to the late Tsurumaru sensei, I was able to do such kendō but I find it hard to do so now!!!

If we can win a shiai in the style of "tsuyoi kendō", I think the late Tsurumaru sensei would tell us, "Your kendō is THE real kendo".  Since then that kendō became my ideal kendō.

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Related Podcast: Wanna Learn Real Kendo?