RESPONSE to Podcast #207: Overcome Pandemic Fatigue with Kendo Mentality

by Tadakatsu
(Michigan, U.S.A.)

I believe that it is generally true that to see who a person truly is, or what a person truly believes, you have to observe them during hard and dark times. This pandemic may be a perfect opportunity to look at ourselves as kendoka and ask a hard question: “Are we actually just posers?” Imafuji sensei points out in this podcast that an equal number of those who wear masks faithfully still wind up becoming infected with the virus as those who wear masks and don’t. Whatever your view is of masks, it seems clear that if you are putting your faith and trust in them, your faith and trust is misplaced. Imafuji sensei then goes on to kind of speculate as why cases in Indiana are rising even with all the mask-wearing. Sadly (and I deeply appreciate Imafuji sensei), none of his speculation on the matter has anything to do with a ‘kendo mentality’.

Though we are not samurai in the historical sense, kendoka are closest inheritors (Podcast episode #206) of samurai philosophy of all the martial arts. Where does so much of our kendo mentality come from? “The Unfettered Mind” where it discusses ‘the affliction’ of having your mind dwell in one place. Zen, or standing meditation, with a focus on deep introspection and a pursuit of non-attachment. “The Hagakure” which points out in many ways the centrality of absolute fearlessness. I could go on, but suffice to say that if we are honest with ourselves, many modern kendoka are absolute posers. We want the outward aspect of embracing “bushido”, but our lives display little true understanding of bushido (or any other ‘way’).

During the time of this pandemic, we should strive to be good citizens and follow the law. If our dojos are closed because of law (actual passed legislation that outlaws the opening of these establishments), then so be it. If our dojos are closed and there is no law requiring this, this is shameful behavior unbecoming of a kendo mentality. Why? The likely core motivation for voluntarily closing is fear, and fear has no part in bushido. If you are a card carrying kendoka and wear a mask because the law requires it,
then so be it (“Your master decides what is right and wrong” – The Hagakure). If you wear a mask and the law is not requiring you to do so, your core motivation is likely fear, and fear has no part in bushido.

I’m not trying to motivate all kinds of flaming responses, but instead am encouraging kendoka to use our ‘standing meditation’ to search ourselves and see our core motivations. If your core motivation is fear, you are a kendo poser. Is not fear one of the Four Sicknesses that we work so hard to overcome? Embrace the Makoto pleat of our hakama and ask yourself honestly, “What is it that I’m afraid of?” The answer in a time of pandemic is likely “death” (either your own, or of family and friends). NOW we can have a conversation based on Truth, because we have arrived at the true issue: a fear of death.

The overcoming of the fear of death by samurai is well documented and is surely a core tenet of bushido. As inheritors of their philosophy, can we say that kendo is helping us overcome our fear of death? Probably not. I have never heard a sensei mention this when teaching about kendo’s ability to “discipline the human character through the principles of the katana”. If our kendo is not encouraging us to confront death and find the Way to overcome our fear of it, then our kendo is simply a sport (or at worst – cosplay). If we as kendoka cannot boldly display our absolute fearlessness of death before a watching public, then how has kendo improved us? What have we truly inherited?

I, personally, can say that my fearlessness of death comes from my faith in Jesus Christ as my Savior – the One Who has given me Life. My kendo is focused through the lens of my spirituality and is given meaning because of it. There is a reason why the Bible was so embraced in Japan during “the Christian century” before the government (being of the bushi class, but extremely fearful of Christianity) wiped it out. I have found The Way. I suggest using this pandemic time to honestly seek the same.

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