View Full Version : Kendo, the 18th-Century Way?

Charlie Kondek
20th August 2001, 13:41
Hi. I'm a kendoist, and I've been wondering about something for a long time. One of Hyakutake-sensei's comments got me thinking maybe it's time I articulated my question and asked for some feedback. Sensei wrote:

"...I can't compare either Kendo or Kumdo with actual swordsmanship. They may have resembled it in the past but not any more. Both have drifted well away from the biomechanics of using a real sword into a specialized facet of swordmanship."

A couple of points up front. I love kendo and make no apologies about it; I plan on playing kendo for the rest of my life. I've also begun the study of iaido, through the setei, and hopefully this will also develop into Muso Shinden Ryu.

When I first started to spend time at resources like e-budo, I didn't really know what a koryu was. Now I know and respect it - it was important for me to learn that koryu are not businesses, they are families. It's doubtful I'll ever participate in a koryu (unless you count MSR), as it's doubtful I'll ever live in Japan. And I'm okay with that. I like having a wide range of gendai interests - I also somehow find time for karate/boxing and judo. (And swing dancing, but that's some other thread...)

I have heard a lot of talk about kendo having drifted away from the way it was originally practiced, as sensei stated above. Sometimes this leads to snottiness or superiority on the part of non-kendoists or koryuists who insist that what they practice is better than kendo. I hope we can avoid that in this thread and instead concentrate on the constructive. I guess what I'm taking far too long to say is:

What do you think? If kendo were to be practiced today as it was when it was first developed in the mid 1700s, how would it be practiced? What would be different? Where would the emphasis be? What would the curriculum be like? Can we ever really get back to that?

20th August 2001, 14:19
There are a lot of issues here, and no, practicing kendo the 18thC way is not the answer. If I understand what you are trying to get at, I think the real answer is more how YOU want to practice kendo.

-Each Dojo is different, some sensei like to practice an older style, and some a more competitive style. You choose your style.
-As an indivdual competitor, you can choose to practice competitive technique or not. One way will let you win matches the other will not.

I can tell you, that most people I have talked to about kendo are very interested in its history and traditional practice. But outside of prearrange match to test some "stuff" we read about, I don't entertain for one minute that pushing Kendo towards its tripping, punching, men ripping, do choking past is going to be good for its Budo'ness. There is simply enought in it right now to more then challange my skills for the foreseeable future.

Charlie Kondek
20th August 2001, 15:17
I agree, Ed. I should note that I'm perfectly fine with the way I practice kendo and the guidance my senseis and sempai give me. We practice for shiai but we also practice for health and technique and it seems we value kata more than some other places; we also encourage the pursuit of iaido when one has a good grasp of findamentals. I guess what I'm more curious about is that people keep saying kendo has moved away from its original purpose and practice and I'm just quite curious to know what they mean by that. What's different? And I'm not sure it has anything to do with "tripping, punching, men ripping" and "do choking," (that might be more pre-war than 18th C) but more to do with taisabiki and stuff like that.

Don Cunningham
20th August 2001, 15:53
The most interesting aspect of Zen Nippon Kendo Renmai (ZKNR) kendo for me was the martial art etiquette and tradition still included in the modern form. I've tried the pre-WWII rough stuff, and some of it appealed to me as well. I also like the competitive aspects of modern kendo.

As a former competitive judoka, I like judo shiai and randori. Despite judo's roots in traditional jujutsu, much of the martial arts culture was eliminated. I believe that Dr. Kano did this on purpose, considering the Westernization of Japan during the period in which judo was founded. I realize they retained the jujutsu techniques, but they also "modernized" many of the external aspects of training, probably to reflect the thinking of this period and to make judo more appealing to an international audience.

I don't criticize this about judo, but just mention it to explain my attraction to kendo. I will always consider myself a judoka first and foremost. I love the sport and judo culture. However, I found many nuances of kendo practice to be quite interesting because of the emphasis on proper etiquette and tradition. For example, the ways equipment is put on and how the cords are tied have meaning. There is a correct way and an incorrect way for most every little detail.

In comparison, judoka generally don't care how one puts their judogi on or how it is folded. Even though there is a traditional way to fold and store a judogi, most just throw them in a gym bag. I do this as well because it is not an important consideration for judo practice. Yet, I would never just bundle up my kendo equipment and toss it in a bag because how one cares for their gear is an important aspect to kendo training. This Japanese cultural attitude retained in kendo was most enlightening to me and explained many things about other aspects of living and working in Japan. Although I learned many other things through my practice of judo, I still found this attention to detail in kendo to be quite fascinating.

21st August 2001, 05:27
Originally posted by Charlie Kondek
I guess what I'm more curious about is that people keep saying kendo has moved away from its original purpose and practice and I'm just quite curious to know what they mean by that. What's different? And I'm not sure it has anything to do with "tripping, punching, men ripping" and "do choking," (that might be more pre-war than 18th C) but more to do with taisabiki and stuff like that.

Good point, and I ask the very same question! I think another problem though is defining what the technical origin really was (pre-war..okay..so exactly how far back then?). hmm wish I could read Japanese!

Charlie Kondek
24th August 2001, 13:53
Well, Ed, Don, et al., doesn't look like we're getting too much of a reply here. I was hoping Hyaku-sensei would weigh in, but I think he's still soaking up rays in Bali, and more power to him!

Let's start by trying to answer our own questions. In what way is kendo different now than it might have been in the past? I have some theories.

1) For starters, in the past you probably practiced your ryu's kata and suburi with shinken and bokken, and then kendo was something you did after you mastered the basics. These days, the situation is reversed - after you have mastered the basics of shinai kendo, you are encouraged to place more emphasis on kata and pursue iaido on the side. Either model is probably applicable, but now you have shinai kendo for its own sake. There's nothing wrong with that, but that's another thread probably titled "The Value of Combative Sport" or something.

2) Because the shinai is shaped the way it is, it encourages its users to use it in ways that a shinken could not be used (not without difficulty). It is true that there are small, quick waza with shinken - even that small quick rising and sharply falling cut to shomen can be accomplished with shinken, ditto small kote strikes. But I think perhaps kendoists are encouraged (by themselves, not by their sensei) to "flick" more rather than cut in a realistic fashion. With some of these, the attack would be with the shinogi, not a cut.

So, given that, "kendo the 18th C way" would include equal or more emphasis on kata and a blatant renunciation of shiai "tricks." A model I use for myself sometimes is: if I can't do it with my iai-to, I try not to do it. Simple test, non? Pick up iai-to or shinken and see if you can do with it all the things you do in kendo. The footwork is different, you're not hopping around as much, the waza are different. Ever tried it?

Hey, Don. I like what you wrote. I was thinking of you when I read this from the guide at www.kendo-usa.org, the official web site of the All U.S. Kendo Federation:

"It is said that Kendo begins and ends with rei-gi, so a natural place for this guide to start is with a discussion of rei-gi. The physical aspect of rei-gi is represented by the rei as one enters the dojo or shiai-jo, thus starting each practice by the display of respect for the place of practice and its members. The end is by repeating the process thanking everyone for the practice as one leaves the dojo. The natural outgrowth of this is that same manners carry over into all aspects the Kenshi’s daily life.

"The rei-gi of Kendo is correct behavior in all dealings with other people as you work through your daily activities. In Kendo, a failure in this behavior is a moral failure in the Kenshi’s character and training. At the practice level, Kendo is an art form the purpose of which is to defeat one's opponent in a combat of mind against mind and strength against strength. Without the rules of etiquette from beginning to end, the Kendo becomes merely a bashing of the opponent with the only goal to win with any means possible. Kendo with rei-gi remains an art and the opponent is yourself to overcome. With this in mind one is thankful to your partner for having struck you, this exposes your weakness and allows you to improve. Thus practice is an exchange of technique and the Kenshi must always be polite to the person giving you such a gift."

24th August 2001, 14:26
Dear Charlie:

"...) Because the shinai is shaped the way it is, it encourages its users to use it in ways that a shinken could not be used (not without difficulty). It is true that there are small, quick waza with shinken - even that small quick rising and sharply falling cut to shomen can be accomplished with shinken, ditto small kote strikes. But I think perhaps kendoists are encouraged (by themselves, not by their sensei) to "flick" more rather than cut in a realistic fashion. With some of these, the attack would be with the shinogi, not a cut...."

I wish I could paste this across the forehead of our head instructor at the Kumdo school at which I practice. The problem is that in order to support the sport side of the class (which is most of the students) focus is maintained on these light, fast, snappy strikes which are swell for competition but must nearly be unlearned when considering the use of the sword as a weapon. I would bet dollars to donuts that Net members who are reading this right now and attend various TAI KAI or cutting competitions don't use snappy quick movements when executing a cut. Seems like this is much the same issue as when sport-oriented MA compare what they do to that of full-contact fighters, ne? Of course, the arguement is always made that sparring with juk-to (J. Shinai) is always of benefit for inculcating proper distance, timing and technique. Can't argue there. But I think sometimes that "sticks are sticks" and "swords are swords" gets lost a lot of times.

Best Wishes,

Earl Hartman
24th August 2001, 18:05
Modern kendo can be compared to Western fencing in its development. Originally, practice weapons and protective equipment were developed in kendo simply to make it possible to practice with a certain amount of freedom without getting everybody killed or injured. However, the emphasis was always on using the practice weapons to learn how to use a real sword.

Similarly, the foil and the epee were originally developed as training weapons for learning how to use a small sword, which was the weapon that gentlemen wore as part of their everyday dress.

In Europe, as in Japan, once the sword ceased to be 1) a battlefield weapon, and 2) an article of everyday dress, and once duelling fell out of fashion and there was less immediate need for being ready to use your sword in self defense, people trained to learn to use the practice weapon itself and as an inevitable consequence its use became less and less realistic. Also, duels between gentlemen were governed by mutually agreed upon rules and etiquette.

It seems to me that it should be fairly easy to speculate what kendo was like "in the old days": just look at the koryu and how the sword is used.

One of the problems with this sort of discussion is what your definition of "kendo" is. Is it swordfighting in general or is it ZNKR shiai kendo? Without defining these terms, a discussion is well nigh impossible.

24th August 2001, 19:50
Dear Earl:

"...One of the problems with this sort of discussion is what your definition of "kendo" is. Is it swordfighting in general or is it ZNKR shiai kendo? Without defining these terms, a discussion is well nigh impossible...."

Excellent point.
I had recently participated in a discussion in which I think this very point was pivotal. I think it is important to remember that there are at least two levels of understanding when it comes to using various terms and labels in the MA.

One level is the public domain where terms such as "Taekwondo," "Karate," "Aikido" and even "Kendo" take on pretty broad meaning and application.

Another level is a bit more sophisticated wherein the same term is used but the application is intended as much more specific (ie. Karate=Shotokan; Taekwondo=Chung Moo Kwan; Aikido=Iwama)

I suspect that we run into a lot of trouble when some terms are mis-matched to intent such that "Kendo" is used to identify something more accurately labeled "ken-jutsu" or even "batto-jutsu". In my own particular case I practice Kum-bop ("sword form") which can be both a sub-category of Kum Sool (the Korean counter-part to Japanese Ken-jutsu) as well as Kumdo (the Korean counterpart to Kendo). Since I have no interest in chasing another guy around the floor and hitting him with a stick (nor in having him do the same to me) I am most properly identified as practicing Kum Sool. This is affirmed and supported by the fact that I also teach Hapkido of which Kum Sool is one of the six traditional weapons and for which there is no sport application.
Nothing I have said however --- nothing--- has ever stopped some guy from watching what I am doing and promptly commenting that he was unaware that I practiced "Kendo". :cry:

Best Wishes,

Charlie Kondek
27th August 2001, 13:44
Good points, guys.

Earl: two quick questions. One, when you wrote:

"One of the problems with this sort of discussion is what your definition of 'kendo' is. Is it swordfighting in general or is it ZNKR shiai kendo? Without defining these terms, a discussion is well nigh impossible."

Could you elaborate on that? Also, when it comes to "looking at a koryu," how is that done? Well, more to the point - how is that done for us Americans. I do have access to MSR iaido. Good starting point, you think?

Bruce: off-topic question. I have really enjoyed what I've seen of hapkido. Besides your site, can you recommend any good sites that describe its development and techniques?

27th August 2001, 14:28
Dear Charlie:

".....Bruce: off-topic question. I have really enjoyed what I've seen of hapkido. Besides your site, can you recommend any good sites that describe its development and techniques?..."

Crap. Now I've done it. I really hate it when I get myself into these situations. ;)

OK, but a couple of caveats first.

1.) Everybody -- EVERBODY -- that you will visit will have their own particular agenda to press. This also includes yours-truely so take what I say as reflecting my own personal prejudices and purposes for my involvement in MA training.

2.) Many of the people that you visit will tell you that everyone else is bad or wrong and only THEIR way of doing things is correct and authentic.

Here are some people to be aware of and my reasoning behind it.

1.) Dr Kimm, He-young, a life-time student of Korean martial traditions, author of at least 7 major works (and dozens of papers and articles) on Korean martial traditions such as Kuk Sool Won, Hapkido, and HanMuDo which is Dr Kimms own particular take on Korean martial traditions. His work is by-far the best documented and supported with personal training with/under the many people he cites and discusses.

2.) M Seo, In Suh, originator of Kuk Sool Won and current head of both the World Kuk Sool Won and the Korean Kido Assn. While most people have worked to identify and clarify the connection between Hapkido and its Japenese roots in Daito-ryu AJJ, M Seo has pressed equally hard to recognize the Chinese influences as well. His authored work will a bit crude in production reflects a sound foundation in Korean tradition.

3.) M Lee, Joo Bang, originator of HwaRangDo and current head of the World HwaRangDo Assn. As with M Seo, M Lee has sought to give equal balance to both the Japanese and the Chinese traditions. While I personally have isses with many of the claims M Lee makes, I have the deepest respect for his contributions to the Korean martail traditions. Watching a performance of HwaRang technique only affirms that this is MA of a very high caliber. His original trilogy published in 1979 is, I think, up for republication and he has recently producedf an entire line of tapes and books.

4.) M Jae, Abraham, current head of the Han Pul art here in the US (Santa Maria, Calif). Han Pul is probably the closet one will get to a decent representation of pre-Japanese Korean emptyhand tradition but is not very well-known outside of a small circle of pratitioners. As you can imagine the Chinese influece is VERY apparent.

5.) I am going to lump a whole group of people into a single group. These are the high profile 1st generation folks that most people think of when they consider modern Hapkido. Most of these practiced with GM Choi, Yong Sul or one of his immediate students. They include but are not limited to M Ji, Han Jae (Sin Moo Hapkido), M Myung, Kwang Sik (World Hapkido Federation), M Myung, Jae-num (International Hapkido Federation), M Han, Bong Soo (International Hapkido Federation -- US Version), M Park (Mu Sool Kwan Hapkido), M Lim (Jungki Kwan Hapkido) and many others. M Myung, Kwang Sik has an entire line of tapes and books which is sound, effective Hapkido albeit from a heavily Japanese-influenced biomechanic nearly bordering on Judo/jujutsu.

6.) I am also gonna lump a whole group of people together as second generation which would include John Pelligrini (ICHF), M Wollmerhauser (American Hapkido Assn), M Don Burns (US Hapkido Assn), M Hackworth (USKorean MA Instuctors Assn) and M Jr West (US Korean Martial Arts Assn). (There are also some alternative folks like M Michael D'Alba who have elected to move off in their own direction. Being a traditionalist I don't have much connection there but many people consider the work of these pioneers rewarding and satisfying.)

7.) Finally, let me say that in my opinion there are some people who are most probably not worth the time and trouble and I throw Scott Shaw, M Rim and Master Sheya into this group. Just my opinion.

I have absolutely no idea if any of this of any help. Let me know if this was the information you were looking for or if I am off the track.

Best Wishes,


Earl Hartman
27th August 2001, 16:54
Kendo, as most people understand it today, is a modern combative sport, somewhat like boxing, that allows people to compete in a situation that is governed by rules. Once there are rules about what you can and cannot do in order to defeat the other man, it can be legitimately asked if what you are doing is in any way "combative" in the true sense. A tough, gritty sport that takes a lot of guts and which carries the possibility of pain and injury, yes. Potentially life threatening? In most cases, no.

Becasue of kendo rules, kendoka often allow themselves to be struck with the shinai in areas that are not legitimate targets in kendo, such as the knuckles, the forearm, the thigh, or the junction of the neck and shoulder. Often, this is because the opponent is clumsy, but just as often it is because knowing that a point will not be scored, the kendoka does not exert every effort to keep the enemy's "sword" from comng into contact with his body. This is especially true in tsuba zeriai. Often, a kendoka will initiate an attack not worrying about ai-uchi because if he knows he can get in his strike even a nanosecond before the other fellow, he will get the point even if he also gets hit almost at the same time, or that neither stroke will count. Or, if the strike is not done precisely with the monouchi, he can ignore it.

I was once sparring with a fellow who, instead of warding my men strikes, would slip them the way a boxer slips a punch by moving the top of his head out of the way at the last second so that my shinai would fall on the junction of his neck and shoulder. This happend so often that I got pretty pissed, and so the next time he did it I simply followed through, and as a result I struck him a good solid blow right on the base of his neck, THWACKKK!! He got really mad and said "Hey! You can't do that!" Oh yeah? In kendo, no point. With a real sword, his head is on the floor.

Becasue of the rules, kendo allows for a shocking degree of sloppy technique that would simply be impossible with a real weapon, since people feel protected by the rules. I am not saying that kendo training is not tough (it is) or that it is not valuable as a character building exercise (it is), or that it doesn't help train a person for a combative situation if it is approached correctly (it does). However, it is no longer "real" swordfighting.

Charlie Kondek
27th August 2001, 17:51
But I get confused when you say, "kendo is no longer 'real swordfighting,'" because, unless I'm misunderstanding your definition of kendo, it was never "real swordfighting." I'm sorry, I'm still not understanding what you mean when you say "What is the definition of kendo?"

I've run into the kind of stuff you're talking about, as well. It's a (somewhat natural) abuse of the rules. Whenever you have rules, you will have abuses and shortcuts. (Good for you for clocking that fellow in the neck!)

So, if we want kendo to "keep it real," as it were, we would penalize students from, for example, being in tsuba zerai and letting the opponent's shinai hang on the neck or shoulder. Funny enough, I'm seeing more judges separate kendo players when they start leaning on each other like that. And ai-uchi, well, that's a tough one. Some people see ai-uchi as an acceptable or unavoidable outcome in a sword fight. (Is that last comment a can of worms for another thread?)

P.S. Bruce - thanks for the leads.

Earl Hartman
27th August 2001, 18:17
Yagyu Sensei of the Yagyu Shinkage Ryu will often call Yagyu Shinkage Ryu "kendo". People who know modern kendo but not koryu, of course, would not understand him. But he is using the term in one of its truest senses, to mean "the way of the sword", which Yagyu Shinkage Ryu most definitely is.

Anyway, this thread is called "Kendo, the 18th century Way". Well, was kendo kendo in the 18th century? Depends on your definition. I think someone was asking: "what was kendo like back in the day"? Well, I think that it was a lot rougher, a lot more violent, there were a lot more injuries, there were far fewer (if any) rules, and the idea of a two-out-of-three-pont match was probably not yet in existence. Sort of like boxing in the old days, which allowed grappling, throwing, rabbit punching, and anything else, and where matches went on, sometimes for 50 rounds or more, until one combatant dropped and couldn't go on. Nobody sued anybody back then if they got poked in the eye with a stick. But was that "heiho/hyoho", "kenjutsu" "gekken", or "kendo"?

If you believe that kendo means specifically modern sportive kendo, then you are right, it was never "real" swordfighting, and this whole discussion is pointless. Or, at the very least, the terms of the discussion need to be defined.

Charlie Kondek
27th August 2001, 18:36
What I meant by real swordfighting is that only a real sword fight is a real sword fight.

Any attempt to practice the actual sword fight will be a simulation. So by definition, "practice fighting with shinai and bogu" - whether it was the kenjutsu of the late 1700s, the pre-WW II gekken or contemporary sport kendo - is not a real sword fight. Nothing but a real sword fight is a real sword fight, just as nothing but a chicken is a chicken; a turkey is not a chicken. "Sparring" in any discipline is never the real thing, no matter how much you try.

I mean, I see your points, though. Perhaps a better name for this thread would have been "What must kendo do to retain its soul?" or "its roots?"

Earl Hartman
27th August 2001, 19:01
Personally, with no research to back it up, I think that "kendo" as we understand it today, can be said to have been born when three things happened:

1) protective equipment was developed
2) rules, of any kind, were instituted, and, most importantly,
3) people started training in order to use the practice weapons for themselves as opposed to viewing them as tools to use to learn how to use a real weapon in preparation for the possibility of having to fight with a real weapon.

Without these three things, I don't think there is any kendo, at least as we understand it today. Historically, I do not know the exact date when these three factors coalesced into what became modern kendo.

In the same way, training in koryu is not a real swordfight either. There is an element of real danger in kata, depending on a person's level, the attitude of his training partner, etc. So, proplery done, kata can also help to prepare one for a real combative situation. Although I have never been in the army, it sounds as though the purpose is the same as basic training: create as real an environment as possible so that the trainee learns how he will behave in a stressful and dangerous situation. But, it is not a real fight. As you say, only a real fight is a real fight. Who knows what will happen or what one will do when it is all on the line? I certainly don't, and anyone who has never been in that situation and pretends to know what he would do is talking through his hat. I know what I would like to be able to do. I know what I hope to be able to do. But I don't know what I will do.

Now, based on things I have read, mainly by Ellis Amdur about his experience in Araki Ryu, it certainly sounds that, depending on the ryu, koryu training can be incredibly violent and painful. Even in the free-for-all training he describes in his book "Duelling With O-Sensei", however, they were wearing protective equipment and using practice weapons. The training he describes sounds, frankly speaking, very much the same in spirit, if not in degree, as the kendo training I experienced with the riot squad police. We didn't do a lot of wrestling, but the message was the same: if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

It seems to me, based on my personal experience, that a lot of budo training is precisely for the purpose of teaching people to take the heat. As such, the person training must be tested to his or her limits of endurance and courage. I hated training with the police most of the time. They were all bigger, stronger, meaner, faster, and better than me, I was afraid of them, I was always tired, it hurt like hell, and I was always painfully aware of my own inadequacies. There was not a single peson on that squad that I could beat if they put their mind to it. And they always made sure that I knew that they knew I was weak. Humiliating and humbling. But I think it toughened me up a bit.

Anyway, I think that if kendo maintains that outlook it will keep its "soul", since I think that the main purpose of kendo is to instill the spirit of equanimity in the face of adversity and the toughness required to never give up (or at least take a hell of a lot of punishment before giving up, since everyone has their limits). Basically, to the degree that you can conquer your fear, you will be able to fight. I think that that is the main (not the only) thing that kendo has to teach.

28th August 2001, 09:41
My first time to find a server that didnt take 20 minutes to connect!!!

I like the fight in Kendo. Fighting others, the fight against yourself to do better.It may have drifted technically but still offers a lot in that face off. Standing on one side with forty or more on the other, one always waiting to replace the one your fighting with just has to be a great challenge that some other arts dont offer. If I see my last minutes out in the dojo I will be happy. Although as is pointed out to me with todays medical technology thats doubtful and I will live far longer than I should have bar some misfortune.

If we used real swords I doubt if would be here writing this and would have chopped off some poor senseis fingers in the process of learning.

I don't think we will ever get back to old Kendo and have a difficult enough job keeping it as it is. The main difference being the static twisting back foot movement that I still do in Kenjutsu. There are tiny similarities I find but the main problem is leaving the Kendo techniques of outstretched arms and kikentai-ichi outside the door when I practice Kenjutsu. I would really like to see some more disciplined Kendo which we could bring back. On average the Japanese seem to be a very unreligious lot and sadly lacking in a good family upbringing. Then again the reigi in Kobudo certainly has far more to offer both in discipline and politeness both inside and outside the dojo.

I would just love to see the two point system abolished. The Jieitai still use one. Can't see the point in getting fataly injured twice! Even in jigeiko one should really get that first cut. The rest is just practice

The political situation first forced kendo to become a sportlike tradition. Even veneration of Japans wardead (Yasukuni) brings lots of protests now.

Most of my info on how it used to be comes from the same source as others. I am still waiting for a copy a video of a film made of the Ten Ran Taikai. A friend of mines father was eighteen when he took part in this 1940s event whith Oasa Yuji Sensei, Japan's last living Judan. I could post some pics and perhaps a short video on my home page.

To my understanding many years before this there were no set target areas and no limitation on shinai length. I did try out a 4 shaku one a few times.

Even if we did allow kendo to become more physical in shia we would still have to have a pre-arranged set of rules as to what constituted an ippon technique between the two competitors.

"Warm" regards Hyakutake Colin

P.s. Latest news from Bali.

Got a severe skin allergy from holding a mongoose.

Also everyone asks Why do all the Japanese people have orange hair? Beats me!

28th August 2001, 12:44
Dear Earl and Charlie:

Nor does it help when the various sources take differing approaches to the degree to which they emphasize the connection between modern Kendo and the more ancient precursors. I recently purchased LOOKING AT A FAR MOUNTAIN by Paul Budden (Tuttle Publishing, 2000; ISBN 08048-32455) and was both pleasantly surprised as well as confused by the information this slender paperback (128 pgs) provided. The focus of the book was an examination of the modern Kendo kata. However, the treatment of the history and later a series of lineages as an appendix to the text left no doubt that the author saw Kendo as a direct descendent of the Koryo and I felt he
made only limited distinction between sport and combat applications. Since I am not a pactitioner of Japanese martial tradition I would be very interested to hear anyones' take on the material presented as it relates to our discussion.

Best Wishes,

Charlie Kondek
28th August 2001, 14:01
I'll have to check that book out, Bruce. Sounds interesting, and it'll be interesting to see what the author says about the kata, or anyone else's thoughts?

Earl, thanks to you I am now planning on hunting down a copy of "Dueling With O-Sensei," by Ellis Amdur. I'm thinking I'll order it from his company? I read some chapter excerpts, great stuff.

You made such very good points, too, thank you. Well said.

And then the man of the hour chimed in - mongoose rash and all. Thanks for the good points, sensei. You articulated how I feel about kendo, definitely - I also wouldn't be averse to having a one-point ruling for tournament.

I'm thinking you just have to keep in mind the differences between kendo and other traditions (koryu, iaido) as you go along your path and take from both the best of both, accepting the limitations of both. I think I speak for all of us in saying that we would love to see pics and videos from the Ten Ran Taikai. I know you may not log on again for a while, but may I ask your opinion as an educator and coach? Do you think kendo is in danger? Do you see mainstream kendo as having degenerated to a great degree? It seems to be alive and well in the states; I think most of the Americans you meet that are into kendo would be either like me, very accepting and eager to improve their practice, or, well, arrogant know-it-alls. Your thoughts would be appreciated, if you can tear yourself away from the sun and sand!

P.S. Some of the Japanese kids over her have green or blue hair!

Earl Hartman
28th August 2001, 18:48
A few other points.

Technically, kendo can never be the same as kenjutsu. I think it would be wise to stop worrying about that. Also, even in koryu kenjutsu, there are widely varying methods and a great deal of difference between armored techniques and techniques for use when the combatants are unarmored, and the philosoiphy changes from ryu to ryu.

The main thing kendo teaches is a certain spirit. Part of this is training to develop an indominitable will, the feeling that you can never be beaten and that regardless of the circumstance you will always prevail. Of course, in an actual competition, one competitor will be better than the other, but the goal of kendo is to develop this spirit, since winning in a fight is impossible without it. So, you must train in a way that tests you so that you can develop this spirit. This is the "fight" of kendo that Hyakutake san is talking about.

That being said, I think that in any kind of fight, you will lose if you do not have this spirit to a greater degree than the enemy. That is why kendo training has to be so tough. You simply do not know what you will do until the situation is so tough that you are left with nothing but your own will to not be defeated. Insofar as it is possible to learn this spirit from a modern budo, I think that kendo, properly done, can teach this.

As I said, I found training with the riot squad police very difficult. I could not do it now. However, regardless of one's abilities, one can always push oneself to go as far as one can go. That is the important thing. So, while the training was in no way "enjoyable", like going to a movie or the amusement park is enjoyable, it was very valuable, and I am very glad I did it, although I hated it at the time. I wanted to learn what it meant to be tough, and so I stayed. When it was time for me to leave, my sensei said "You know, Hartman, you never got any good, but you never gave up, and I respect you for that." I don't think anything anyone has ever said to me has meant as much to me, and looking back now, I don't think I would exchange the experience for anything.

Also, I don't think that this spirit belongs to Japanese budo alone. My sons were wrestlers in high school, and I think that they learned more about the true budo spirit by being on the wrestling team than they would ever have learned at a local kendo dojo. They practiced very hard and really suffered. Once, one of my sons was going to quit because the training was so hard, but he screwed up his courage and kept on with it. I think he probably learned more from that one experience than he would have learned from years doing kendo at the local Buddhist church. Both my boys later joined martial arts clubs at college, and were amazed at what most people considered a tough practice. None of it was anywhere near as tough as wrestling.

Regarding the first point in a match, even in practice: yes, it is absolutely the most important thing in the world to get the first point, even just in practice. Except in kakari-geiko, or when you are trying to improve your technique and spirit by training with your sensei, or working on something specific your teacher has told you to correct, you should never think that it is OK to get hit first.

Charlie Kondek
28th August 2001, 20:09
Thank you for your comments, Earl. May I pester you for further elaboration on one thing? When you wrote:"Insofar as it is possible to learn this attitude from a modern budo," what did you mean? In what way is a koryu different in this regard?

Earl Hartman
28th August 2001, 20:17
Like I said, rules.

Koryu and gendai, as they exist today, take different approaches to trying to resolve the problem of how to train as realistically as possible without killing people.

Gendai uses protective equipment, practice weapons, and rules to allow the maximum degree of freedom compatible with safety. In doing so, the actual combative utility of the techniques will inevitably suffer as the emphasis shifts to winning within the rules. It is difficult to maintain the proper attitude in such a situation.

Koryu tries to preserve the forms and attitudes through kata, but it's too dangerous to actually fight with wooden weapons. So, there is no sparring. Yagyu Sensei said, however, that when he was young, they would put on kendo equipment and spar using kendo shinai. Sounds very painful. This is not done in Yagyu Shinkage Ryu any more, so far as I know. However, my expeience in Yagyu Shinkage Ryu is quite limited, so don't take what I say as gospel.

I think both approaches have value. The best way is to train in both koryu and gendai, if that is possible, while understanding the limitations of both.

Don Cunningham
28th August 2001, 21:05
A lot of the discussion here is over my head. I don't have that much experience in kendo. With that said, however, I think most anyone who has done sport kendo is well aware that it is not kenjutsu. Certain strikes which would be harmful, even lethal, are not even scored in sport kendo. I like the example of the head weave to avoid men strikes described earlier. I used this myself when playing kendo. It's fast and easy since there is little actual mass to be moved in order to avoid the cut. In boxing, we used many of the same techniques to prevent scoring. If real fists were used, the damage would have been tremendous. On the other hand, we hit places with the fist that were only possible because of the gloves. Without that padding, the effect would have been broken hands, fingers, etc.

On the other hand, participation in any kind of combative sport offers an element not available in kata, that is, an uncooperative opponent. While judo has many safety rules and prohibitions, the actual experience of trying to throw someone who doesn't want to be thrown, in fact is trying real hard to throw you, provides a whole new element to grappling. I've seen jujutsu practitioners who are really good at kata techniques just get their butts handed to them when they first try randori.

The same goes for kendo kata. It is more like the koryu method of training for kenjutsu. However, the opponent's moves are prearranged and never varying. Although the jujutsu practitioner who has never tried real randori may know, even practice potentially lethal techniques, they will still probably lose against a judoka who may not use such lethal moves, but has spent hours fighting real opponents in shiai. It just adds another level, even with prohibited techniques or "lethal" techniques allowed due to protective gear.

Okay, that's my opinion. I'm sure many will disagree with me, but I would rather learn a sport with some kata on the side than only practice kata.

Earl Hartman
28th August 2001, 21:16

That's why I said you need to do both.

Charlie Kondek
29th August 2001, 13:21
Well, I have to agree completely with that. Thanks, Earl, Hyaku, Don, all, for your thoughts.

Incidently, Don, you'll probably see more of me at the judo forum. After some previous experience in what I call "tori and uku jujitsu" and some randori, I've found time to join a judo club in my area and have been loving it. The validity of sport training for self defense and character development is pretty much another thread, but I think everyone here would agree with you (see Earl's comments about his sons' wrestling experience). Incidently, Neil Ohlencamp has a good article on this at www.fightingarts.com.

29th August 2001, 23:43
Originally posted by Charlie Kondek
I'll have to check that book out, Bruce.

It's got some good stuff in it, and good explanations of what's going on in the kata, but suffers horribly from amateur martial-arts book layout (e.g. text and associated picture on different pages). It also has some good suggestions on different ways to train kata other than in order, approach, retreat, ... My personal favorite is the kata in bogu with shinai. "Who cares if shitachi gets out of the way of my men cut in ipponme? I will try to cut him in two as hard and as fast as I can."

30th August 2001, 12:31

"Looking at a Far Mountain" is, in my opinion, a very valuable Kendo Kata resource for Kendoka ... BUT - as stated earlier - the ryu-ha lineage charts at the back of the book are *very* odd....... (the yagyu-shinkage ryu one is crazy) there is also no explanation (I believe) as to where they come from. Also, the english used throughout the book is somewhat cumbersome (unedited?). Despite all this I would still say get it for the kata explanations/pictures + the interesting kata-history section at the beginning.
It has recently been re-published, but was originally released around 1995-ish ... when there was almost nothing of the sort in English available. Even now it stands up to every kata reference in English.

As for Gendai and Koryu combination (re:Earl et al) I would say that - for me - no matter how much Koryu Ive done/will do I will never give up Kendo, never, because its the glue that makes my Iaido and Koryu training make (mental if not 100% physical) sense. In the same vein I never understand people who do Iaido without Kendo ...... but thats a discussion for another day :)


- George McCall

Seishinkan Kendo Club, Edinburgh, SCOTLAND

Don Cunningham
30th August 2001, 13:58

I don't have the latest edition, but I do have the original first edition of Looking at a Far Mountain, published by Ward Lock in 1992. While Paul Budden, the author, probably could have explained it more clearly, I believe the linage charts in the back of the book are mostly from the Dai Nihon Butokukai's original attempt to standardize kendo kata in 1911-12. Button describes their intent and even presents a translated version of their original edict in the first chapter.

While you may question it, even find glaring inconsistencies in it, I don't think the author of the book should be held accountable. (By the way, I certainly have no qualifications to even fully understand the linage charts, much less evaluate their authenticity.) Personally, I think it is historically valuable in that it at least provides the basis on which the members of the Dai Nihon Butokukai used to make their decisions.

The author even notes that the 1981 ZNKR committee charged with revising and updating kendo kata also found the edict confusing. He also mentioned the possibility of misprints in both the Dai Nihon Butokukai's edict and linage charts that may have added to the overall confusion. Therefore, it's not surprising that you and other knowledgable kendoka may also find the charts "are *very* odd."

While I would never presume to consider myself a kendo expert (I am not even that proficient in kendo), this is one aspect of historical research which fascinates me. It's not all that easy to determine fact from the fiction created by those who later record it. No matter how careful they may be, there is always some personal bias introduced. The more people who get involved in the chain, the more the bias is amplified, much like noise on an analog electronic circuit. Eventually, the "noise" is so integrated within the signal, it becomes very difficult to filter out. The same is true with history. The myths and conjectures introduced by sometimes well-meaning researchers are often repeated as fact later.

On a sidenote about the English used in the book, I must agree. Of course, half the time any one spoke to me while I was in Scotland, I thought they were using Gaelic. They weren't, but the English was so different than our American version, it was often nearly incomprehensible. Then again, they may have been speaking Gaelic.

[Cunningham = cunnig (rabbit) and hame (home) in Gaelic. Even my ancestors were early exponents of Crusader Rabbit Ryu. ;) ]


I'm sorry if I just repeated your point earlier in my own words. I was getting all confused by the unfamiliar terminology, etc.

30th August 2001, 18:12
Dear Don et al:

Is there a resource that discusses the role (if any) that the Dai Nihon Butokukai might have had in the introduction of Kendo/Kenjutsu to Korea about the time of the Korean Reform Movement (1894)? The Korean Kumdo Association was supposedly started in 1895, and the International Kendo Association reportedly started in 1925 (?). But the Butokukai started in 1896 (?) and I would be curious to know if there is any documented connection between this MA organization and the practice of Jpanaese martial training in Korea arising out of the same time frame. Anybody? Suggestions?

Best Wishes,


Earl Hartman
30th August 2001, 19:20
George, Charlie, Don, et al:

I think we are all agreeing with each other here. My personal view is that kendo, even if the technique is adapted to the requirements of a modern sport, gives the practitoner something that is not available in a kata-only koryu: the ability to try and hit someone who does not want to be hit and to learn to defend yourself against someone who is determined to hit you. This by itself provides invaluable feedback. However, since kendo technique is to strike rather than cut, koryu techniques will not work. So, a shallow understanding would indicate that modern kendo and koryu kenjutsu are incompatible.

However, the main thing about kata, again, is the omote and the ura, the visible and the unseen. To the uninitiated, kata are specific sets of choreographed movements and some people who fancy themselves "purists" (I use the term advisedly) will say that if the movements are not exactly as they were 400 years ago it is no longer "pure" koryu. However, while this view is valid up to a point, rigidly holding to it to the extent that modern budo is denigrated as useless indicates a shallow understanding in my opinion.

Kata are not just sets of techniques alone. Rather, they are, in addition to being a set way to practice technique, illustrations of certain principles of combat. That is to say, the specific techniques, such as he-cuts-here-I-evade-and-cut-here (or whatever it may be), are meant to illustrate certain principles of combat which can be adapted to other techniques and sitiautions. That is, they are intended to illustrate certain principles using technique as a medium. Seen in this way, if the principle, or the "kokoro" of the kata is understood, this can be applied to various situations. Understood in this way, modern kendo, properly practiced and understood, can be an excellent vehicle for understanding universal principles embodied in kata.

So, George, keep it up. If and when my Achilles tendon recovers from the abuse I inflicted on it trying to pretend I was still 25, I will be back on the floor too. Perhaps one day we can practice together.

Don Cunningham
30th August 2001, 19:28
Sorry Bruce, but I have no idea if there is any documentation about any link between the Dai Nihon Butokukai and Korean Kumdo. I really don't know much about the DNB other than what little I've read. I was mainly trying to clarify that the linage chart is explained, although not very well, and it is not something the author of the book created, but rather something of more historical value.

I do know that kendo is quite popular in Korea. A good friend of mine who lived in Korea during the Japanese occupation often talks about how he learned kendo from the soldiers stationed in his hometown. As for official links, information sharing, etc., I guess we'll have to see if anyone else has something more on that subject.

Charlie Kondek
30th August 2001, 19:42
You know, Earl, this is something I'm only just now starting to really "get." I mean, I'd always been told that and suspected that, but I'm only now getting, I dunno, fast enough or comfortable enough that I'm starting to see some of these principles.

For example, the first kendo kata: two principles come to mind immediately. One, when your opponent is attacking you and you intend to dodge their blow, you have to wait until they're fully commited to the attack to do so (a principle echoed in the 2nd kata). Two, when you dodge (in this kata a kind of rock-step), it has to be a big step, and then a big return. In principle.

Those are abstract ideas that I've taken away from that particular kata. I'm sure there are more, and will reveal themselves to me in time. And there are general principles about intensity and "reading" an opponent and other things that thread through the entire set. My initial foray into iaido (the setei gata) has helped open my eyes to this a little. Any more thoughts on this?

Earl Hartman
30th August 2001, 20:27

I, also, am only beginning to "get" this. I think it is a combination of age and maturity (I hope) and my exposure to koryu, which, I hasten to add, is still quite limited. So, I cannot comment much further on actual principles of specific kata.

This became clear to me when I started practicing Shinto Muso Ryu jo and Yagyu Shinkage Ryu Hyoho. Again, with the caveat that I am still very green at both arts, and fully realizing that I may be immediately corrected by people more knowledgeable in these arts than I, one thing became very clear from the outset: instruction is very different from what I experienced in kendo. Perhaps this is just due to the nature of the particular teachers whom I have studued under, but in kendo the emphasis was on doing and asking few if any questions. In the koryu, the "riai", or the inner meaning of the kata and the significance of what one is being taught, is explained right away so that one can immediately understand, at least intellectually, the meaning behind the movements one is practicing. Of course, this understanding will deepen and mature the more one practices, but it is much different than the "shut up and do it" approach so common to modern kendo. When I practiced kata in the US, no one ever explained what the kata were trying to teach. The kata were only practiced when it was time to take a rank test.

31st August 2001, 09:50

Don - I stand corrected ... I'll check it out. In fact, the next time I see the author I'll ask him! As for my "English" ...... ask Earl, or Meik....

Earl - I have this feeling that if your achilles was ok youd kick my ass hard. Especially all this riot police stuff! Id have to rely on the old 'rocket-kote'.. but even then youd probably rip my Men of and choke me with my Do! Unless you are planning a trip to Scotland anytime soon the best chance to meet will probably be at Nakano dojo again.... if i can sort myself out japan-wise (sigh).

Kendo no Kata - Doesnt shidachi compel uchidachi to attack, thus controlling the timing/action and winning.. rather than react to it? This maybe a bit simplistic (or general) of-course.

Actually, I am meant to be working... got 2 go.


George McCall
Seishinkan Kendo Club, Edinburgh, Scotland

31st August 2001, 14:58
I'm curious when the the practice of ki ken tai ichi striking ( the stamping of the front foot, the extended outstretched arms ...) first appear in Kendo. Was it 1940's or was it earlier? It seems like that Kendo could be very sport like while still maintain the mechanics of proper kenjutsu stricking.

C. E. Boyd