The Way of the Sword

The Way of the Sword

Kendo (剣道 kendō), meaning “Way of The Sword”, is a modern Japanese sport/martial art, which descended from swordsmanship (kenjutsu) and uses bamboo swords (shinai) and protective armour (bōgu).

Today, it is widely practiced within Japan and many other nations across the world.

Kendo is a physically and mentally challenging activity that combines martial arts practices and values with sport-like strenuous physical activity.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kendo

The Sword is the Person

(transcript from a talk by Noma Hisashi, 1931)

First, I would like to use this occasion to recommend to everyone, from the bottom of my heart, that they take up the practice of kendo. From the standpoint of physical fitness alone I believe there is ample reason to recommend the practice, thought to sure the rewards offered by the practice of kendo go far beyond the purely physical, and in fact, they defy all verbal expression.

What always comes immediately to mind when discussing the practice of kendo is that as a result of the practice one’s whole character and state of mind are distinctly revealed. Whether a person is courageous, cowardly, honest, cunning, sharp or dull-witted, persevering or superficial, all will be revealed and perceived through the practice. Even for an inexperienced person such as myself it is possible to understand something of the character and frame of mind of a person simply by observing his way of training. Therefore, in order to become an excellent exponent of kendo one must first cultivate an excellent character. There is a saying in kendo: “if one’s mind is correct then so too will one’s sword.”

Again, in kendo one is admonished against the evils of surprise, fear, doubt, and hesitation. One is also cautioned against the temptation to hold weaker opponents in contempt and anger. Naturally we must apply these lessons to our daily lives, however they are particularly important during tournaments, because to possess even slightly any one of these inferior states of mind will doubtless result in failure. This is because the opponent’s sword will come crashing down at the very place of any such weakness. Even though there may not appear any weakness in one’s outer form should there be a weakness in one’s mind it will be due to this that one is struck. Again, one will also be struck if one’s concentration is relaxed even slightly. Surprise, fear, doubt, hesitation, or else, contempt or anger, the harbouring of any of these will result in one’s defeat. Eventually the realization dawns upon one that, somehow or other, faults of this nature should be shed.

For this reason it can be understood that kendo consists not merely of a battle for victory between two people using bamboo swords, but is in fact a struggle between two minds and personalities.

A state of mind free from such impurities as those mentioned and free of the need for praise and applause is known in kendo as the “immovable mind” (fudoshin) or “normal mind” (heijoshin). The immovable mind is not affected by what takes place before it, it is fixated upon nothing thus it is moved or swayed by nothing. The normal mind is the naturally calm and tranquil mind not in the least different from the state of mind under normal conditions. Call it a mind “free of device or intention,” or a mind “clear and lucid,” the condition expressed is one and the same. It is said that Miyamoto Musashi had a fondness for the poem: “A winters eve, the moon above waxes its brilliance, below gently and quiet flows the river, ripple-less mirror.” What a tranquil scene these words conjure up for us!

Be that as it may, the state of mind suggested here is not easily achieved. I am sure most of us have experienced the feeling of being over-awed by a large opponent or one of violent character. It is only through ceaseless practice that one is able to face calmly any type of opponent. When one’s mind is moved and there is fear, and so on, then one is already defeated. An immovable and naturally calm mind  is of the greatest importance.

The Concept of Kendo

The concept of Kendo is to discipline the human character through the application of the principles of the Katana (sword).

The Purpose of Practicing Kendo

The purpose of practicing Kendo is:

  • To mold the mind and body,
  • To cultivate a vigorous spirit,
  • And through correct and rigid training,
  • To strive for improvement in the art of Kendo,
  • To hold in esteem human courtesy and honor,
  • To associate with others with sincerity,
  • And to forever pursue the cultivation of oneself.
  • This will make one be able:
  • To love his/her country and society,
  • To contribute to the development of culture
  • And to promote peace and prosperity among all peoples.

The Concept of Kendo was established by All Japan Kendo Federation in 1975.

The Mindset of Kendo Instruction and its explanation

The Significance of the Shinai

For the correct transmission and development of Kendo, efforts should be made to teach the correct way of handling the shinai in accordance with the principles of the sword.

Kendo is a way where the individual cultivates one’s mind (the self) by aiming for shin-ki-ryoku-itchi (unification of mind, spirit and technique) utilizing the shinai. The “shinai-sword” should be not only directed at one’s opponent but also at the self. Thus, the primary aim of instruction is to encourage the unification of mind, body and shinai through training in this discipline.

Reiho – Etiquette

When instructing, emphasis should be placed on etiquette to encourage respect for partners, and nurture people with a dignified and humane character.

Even in competitive matches, importance is placed on upholding etiquette in Kendo. The primary emphasis should thus be placed on instruction in the spirit and forms of reiho (etiquette) so that the practitioner can develop a modest attitude to life, and realize the ideal of koken-chiai (the desire to achieve mutual understanding and betterment of humanity through Kendo.)

Lifelong Kendo

While providing instruction, students should be encouraged to apply the full measure of care to issues of safety and health, and to devote themselves to the development of their character throughout their lives.

Kendo is a “way of life” that successive generations can learn together. The prime objective of instructing Kendo is to encourage the practitioner to discover and define their way in life through training in the techniques of Kendo. Thus, the practitioner will be able to develop a rich outlook on life and be able to put the culture of Kendo into use, thereby benefitting from its value in their daily lives through increased social vigour.

March 14, 2007
All Japan Kendo Federation