The Meaning of Tanren:
More Than Training

tanren, kanji, calligraphyTan Ren

Let’s training hard! Practice starts from suburi with a rigorous kiai. All the members are filled with positive energy. But something is lacking… Something really serious… It is the sense of TANREN.

Tanren usually is translated as training but it is more than training. To understand what that really is, I would like to break down the word into two;  the tan part and the ren part.

  • Tan means… “To improve the quality of metal by hitting it from its top to the bottom”
  • Ren means… ”To improve the quality of metal by melting it and separating impure substances”. 

From Kanjigen, 5th Revision. Translated by Masahiro Imafuji

They both mean to improve the quality of metal through the process of melting, separating impure substances and hitting it. Does this remind you something?

katana, kissaki, kensen


Do you think katana can be made really easy? It needs good material first. And then it has to go through multiple levels of process and its process is done by katana craftsmen. (Click to read a brief explanation of katana craftsmanship)

Tanren is a Process of Improving Ourselves

Firstly we need to purify ourselves. What does it mean?

It means you need to remove your own theories of what kendo should be. When you learn something, you need to listen to your teacher. But if you are already filled with random information you’ve gotten elsewhere, then you cannot learn anything from your teacher. It doesn't matter how great your teacher is. You simply cannot listen to your teacher. 

Make sure you remove impure substances from you. Well, you should realize what is the true information first but let’s assume that your teacher is great and you are getting the real info from your teacher.

Then once you learn from your teacher, you must strive to understand and practice what you have learned. We call it “neru” and it means “to knead”. The kanji, Chinese character for ren can be the same as the kanji for “neru” too. 

By kneading a dough, we expect what we are making will taste better. It is exactly the same in kendo. We repeat what we learned over and over to improve it. And at the same time, we must adjust things to improve it even better. This is the process that we cannot skip.

We need to hit the metal while it is hot and fold it in half then hit it over and over again. That is the process of making the katana too. By doing the same process over and over we are improving the quality.

Just doing the same thing over and over won’t improve us. We need to think hard to improve ourselves through kendo. Like katana craftsmen do when making the katana. Every time they hit the metal with a hammer, they must adjust their strength, timing, angles and so forth. They are not hitting the metal without thinking. 

This whole process is called “Tanren”. Our goal must be to improve ourselves physically and mentally through tanren of kendo.

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