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  • Chambara?

    GCL brought up the new practice of Chambara in the "Old-Time" Kendo thread. I must admit that I have been intrigued by the idea since I stumbled on it about a year ago. All of what I know about it has been gleaned from the web, including: or

    GCL wrote:

    I also wanted to combine Kendo and Judo. As you have pointed out, getting tossed on a wood floor can be hazardous (although a late sensei of mine used to do it occationally to show lack of concentration and it was clear he had been well trained in it) - bogu is terrible to fall in. So I have been doing Chanbara on the side with a number of jujitsu/judo/karate people. While Chanbara's formal rules are exactly the same as Kendo's down to ki-ken-tai-ichi, since there is no do or tare and we practice on a wrestling mat it lends itself to judo and other moves.

    I have noticed three main things from this practice:
    a) your spirit and commitment are determinative even more than in traditional kendo;
    b) kendokas are at a disadvantage fighting people with longer/different weapons. Probably because those people train to fight against swords and kendokas don't train to fight against yari, escrima, bo, naginata, etc.; and
    c) there are huge gaps (as, I am sure, all of us realize) in AJKF kendo as a combat system and even as a sword combat system. (Try explaining to a non-kendoka that a do doesn't count because you were in chudan or a missed men that hits your shoulder isn't a point, for instance.) Like any sport, kendo has adapted itself to its rules and most kendokas learn to ignore things that wouldn't be a point in kendo but would be bad news in real life.

    I found that if you don't score on your first strike (which, on a positive note, kendokas are very much more likely to do than practitioners of other arts), you become open to all sorts of nasty things that kendokas aren't taught to counter (because they are either against the kendo rules or just plain don't count as a point in shiai). My favorite is sweeping my opponent when in tsuba-zerai.

    All in all, my experiment in Chanbara has taught me that in kendo practice I had been drawn into a rut of focusing on scoring the point (which is relatively easy) rather than defeating the opponent and keeping an eye on the big picture.

    My understanding of the Classical Kendo Federation is that, while they do formal shinai kendo using AJKF rules as well, techniques that address the aforementioned gaps are a significant part of their teaching.
    I posted a reply to the Kendo elements in the "Old-Time" Kendo thread.

    I am glad to hear the GCL has had a positive experience with Chambara. However, from the evidence on the web that I have seen, I have got some doubts. I have heard Chambara referred to as a lazy-man's Kendo, and a cheap way for Karate-ka to pretend that they are Samurai without the discipline of training and just wale away at each other.

    The literature presented at the websites sound good in theory; however, from the few movie clips available, it just looked like a wale-fest to me. Also Chambara, which was referred to as Kombat [sic] Kenjutsu, seems to have taken on a life of its own, having once been a facet of Goshindo (the other two facets were Toyama Ryu Batto Kata, and Tameshigiri or test-cutting with a live blade).

    I would like to hear other people's experiences in Chambara.

    Raymond Sosnowski

  • #2
    Sports Chambara thread @ SFI where a couple people talk about their experience with it.

    Looks like it could be fun, but much rather kendo. Most certainly not kenjutsu.


    • #3
      again, like in the last chambara thread, I refer everyone to


      • #4
        Like everything, chanbara is what you work to make of it. I have worked hard to learn from it.

        I see no reason that it could not be as good an art as I have found kendo to be. However, what I have found is a number of people, as was so aptly phrased, doing "lazy-man's Kendo, and a cheap way for Karate-ka to pretend that they are Samurai without the discipline of training and just wale away at each other." Unfortunately, I have found this to be true (or at least a truer statement about Chanbara than about kendo where I have also run into many karateka pretending to be samurai without discipline or training).

        However, I found the difference is not in the equipment, it is in the teaching. Kendo has centuries of tradition behind it and everyone who puts on bogu feels it. Kendo is taught very seriously and there is no mistaking what you are there for. I am entirely convinced that if, magically, your bogu and shinai turned into a helmet, gloves and chanbara sword, and everything else stayed the same, you would get substantially the same experience from your practice.

        Chanbara, however, is brand new (by comparison). Kendo senseis are not crossing over. It is also marketed to strip mall karate dojos as an easy "add-on" and not as an art in itself. Karate senseis are taking a two or three day class and then giving sword instruction to the typical 'karate kid' crowd. And then consider this: we all know how hard it is to simpan kendo (remember, chanbara's rules are almost exactly the same - kote, men, do, tsuki, and ki-ken-tai-ichi) and here are people who took a three day class and are refereeing tournaments the next week.

        There have been many threads here about how ludicrous bogu is in the modern day. But it does keep the people from walking in off the street and 'waling away'. It takes several practices to learn how to but ON bogu. Perhaps that 'barrier to entry', to borrow a business phrase, is more important to kendo than it first looks. I, for one, think that what makes kendo so very special is how seriously it is taught and how seriously the students take it.

        I did achieve my goal in trying chanbara. I was able to combine judo/jujitsu with shiai. I feel like I, and my kendo, are much better for the experience. But chanbara is not kendo. Not yet, anyway, and maybe not ever. Though who can say... No matter what happens, it won't be the fault of the equipment, only the practitioners.


        • #5
          A very interesting and fair-minded appraisal Lewis. I'm glad someone has had the curiosity to cross the great divide between two conflicting (as it were) martial arts and bring back some valuable reconnaissance.

          Personally I don't care much for learning techniques that might be effective in a "real life situation". OTOH kendo's solemn insistence on the visualisation of the shinai as *really being* a sword is an amazing thing. Different from "remember this *represents* a sword," or, "this once *was* a sword."

          This is what makes kendo different to any other pastime I know of.



          • #6
            I concur, Ben. Exactly what real life situation would find you with your shinai at the ready? Do you take your shinai to bars, or perhaps out on the street at night? Other than the fact that having one's shinai while out in public spaces may provoke some curious stares, it certainly isn't overly useful otherwise, unless you want policemen to reprimand you.

            On a more serious note, I value kendou because it has become an art form. By moving away from the 'real situation' defense, kendou has become more elegant and physically demanding in a different way. Rather than focussing on striking areas that would cause maximum harm, or responding to a punch in the face, we prefer to focus on a series of permitted striking points.

            Kendou is pleasantly ritualized, and I, for one, will not complain. Though I would be among the last to speak out against change, it's rather comforting to know that some things don't change much.