College Women's Association of Japan SpeechLast week (Nov. 19, 2008) I was asked to give a speech on the beauty of kendo to a rather remarkable group of ladies. Formed in 1949, the CWAJ is a nonprofit organization consisting of Japanese and non-Japanese women who get together regularly for volunteer activities in the wider community.
“Japan’s Spiritual Sports”
“Japan’s Spiritual Sports”
The CWAJ currently has a membership of 550 women from over thirty countries and a system is in place where Japanese and non-Japanese members are paired together to work on an array of given projects, including the famous CWAJ print show which raises money for scholarship programs. According to the information on their HP “One scholarship category is dedicated to non-Japanese women undertaking advanced Japanese language studies at the Inter-University Center in Yokohama. Another scholarship category is for men and women with visual impairment. Awards are also given to encourage hanga art.” (http://www.cwaj.org)
Equally remarkable was the venue in which I gave the speech. The CWAJ meets on a monthly basis at the American Club which is now based temporarily on Mitsubishi-owned land near Shinagawa. This club was founded in 1928 by some American businessmen residing in Tokyo. Naturally it was closed down during WWII, but was re-established again in 1949, and eventually relocated close to the Russian Embassy in Azabudai. “There, the Club entertained military personnel, celebrities, royalty and foreign diplomats while fulfilling its mission of cultural exchange and international community.”
In other words it was, and still is, an elite venue for ‘movers and shakers’ in international business and politics to hobnob with each other. “The Club”, as it is affectionately known by members, is currently undergoing a massive facelift, which is why it is temporarily based in Shinagawa. Pelli Clarke Pelli designed the new facilities which are scheduled for completion near the end of 2010.
With the joining fee at around 2,400,000 yen (USD $24,000) plus the monthly fees, a deprived academic like me could never join the ranks of this affluent clique of transients. I only get to see how the ‘other ‘arf’ in the ex-pat community lives when lucky enough to be invited. My immediate reaction was one that vexes me a lot recently. “Why didn’t I get a degree in accounting or law, or something more conducive to making crass amounts of cash in Japan, instead of a Ph.D. in anthro-bloody-pology...” I inevitably console myself with the thought “Well, at least I have time to go to kendo”.
That was the topic of my speech; “Japan’s Spiritual Sports: Kendo”. Michael Ishimatsu-Prime, “Kendo World” partner-in-crime, joined me for the event. After a main course of lamb chops (a refreshing taste of home), it was my turn to stand before the 100 or so ladies and try to explain the history and significance of kendo in the modern age. As most people in the surprisingly attentive audience had never done kendo before, I wasn’t sure how well the speech and ensuing Kata demonstration with Michael would be received.
I focused my talk on the concept of ‘zanshin’, and how it and other aspects of kendo can be of use in or out of the dōjō:
• Pushing one’s physical and mental limits.
• Respect for the training environment, training partners, opponents, seniors, juniors, equipment…
• Importance etiquette rituals and humility.
• Necessity of maintaining composure and confidence even in the face of adversity.
• Zanshin (constant alertness and never taking anything for granted).
In a nutshell, all this makes kendo an extremely valid ‘framework for life’ if one chooses to utilize it as such.
Apparently the speech was enjoyed by most, and on the basis of the questions I was asked afterwards, I was awoken to the potential of starting up special kendo classes designed for children and women in the ex-pat community in English. I wonder if they’d let me use the massive gymnasium in the Club. That could be my only way in…
(c) Alex Bennett, 2008