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Are Kendo & Iaido true to their roots?

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  • Are Kendo & Iaido true to their roots?

    Hello everyone,
    After someone posted this video on my Dojo's group on facebook, an interesting debate came up and I wanted to share it here and hear what other people have to say.
    In sake of privacy, I will censor the names of the people involved (also, some of the text was not in english so I translated it loosely, sorry for any mistakes in grammer etc):

    Person A
    Thanks for the video. Now here's a puzzler:
    According to "today's" teaching, Haga sensei is doing just about every possible mistake in his Kata: wrong kamae, lack of metsuke, no zanshin at end of kata, even parries that are too wide across the body, opposite to Furi-kaburi style as requested by Musoshinden-ryu. Now the conclusion is 1 of either 2: Either Haga sensei is NOT a sword genius as we think, and we're fascinated by a "Japanese old master" who is wrong in almost everything, OR the current teaching we get, from present day masters, is wrong... When I say "wrong" I mean it's not "real" and connected to Iaido's true origins. The truth, IMHO, is mainly toward the later, but somewhere in between :-(

    Person B
    I don't think there is TRUE or WRONG in Iaido teaching. Iaido, as in other martial arts is evolving through the years. Seitei kata for instance is something that is quite fixed, while minor changes are still made here and there, but the Koryu style seemed to be always different between the various sensei, even form the same ryu. different interpretations - some emphizing speed while other zanshin etc.... I guess that is why it is important to follow one Sensei which you trust and going his way.

    Person A
    I agree on variations in style, and interpretation. However, I'm not referring to style or ryu: In Iaido, as in other martial arts, there are BASIC truths, relating directly to the practical use of a sword, and its relation to the body. Timing can vary, style can vary, but Zanshin is a principle. Certain waza with a sword are true because they relate to practical use of a sword, and if done wrong - they will not work in real life. Of course, we don't practice and study for real life sword battles (unfortunately...), but when the -basics- go wrong, then the ryu has lost its roots. In case it wasn't clear from my previous comment, I do believe what we see in this video is very realistic and true to Iaido, which only shows how much of today's teachings are disconnected from a real UNDERSTANDING of the sword. Now here's the bottom line: As long as you consider this only as "budo training", there's no problem - it still makes a fine framework for practice, advancement and self improvement! However, if you seek the roots and insights of Japanese swordsmanship, I fear that many of today's teachers have no idea on the subject.

    Person B
    Yes, I agree. I guess the main difference between old and 'new' is due to the shift from Jutsu to DO with all the physical and mental difference between them...

    Person C
    I tend to disagree, first of all I see a lot of Zanshin and Kime in his motion, and alot of inner energy in his motions.
    I don't see a lot of difference between his technique and today's pointers. The only thing different is the speed, but in my opinion only those who have a firm graps of the basics can works this fast without it being only a theatrical motion. Moreover, I'm not sure he's actually working at this speed or it's just the quality of the film (I'm unsure wihch year this was taken).
    In regards to what you said about today's teachers as opposed to those from 50 years ago, I'm not sure there is such a difference. Sword fights weren't as common even 150 ago, so to say people in the 40s had more sword experience than today is a bit presumptuos.
    Who are we to say we know better than today's masters, and who are we to say what is more efficient in battle, none of us knows what went on in the 16th and 17th century.
    Anyway, I enjoyed the video very much.

    Person B
    Just to clarify my point. I did not say the sensei of today are wrong. My point of view is that the iaido of today is different from 100 years ago. Different and not worse.

    Person A
    We are not disagreeing, at least about the video we are in the same mindset: What I meant is that I loved the work in the video very much, but it is very different than what is being taught today, which is just a proof that today's teachings are syntethic and artifical.
    It's true that I don't practice Iaido for 50 years, but I have a hard time agreeing to the term "today's masters", there are some relatively, but they are also not direct student or descendants of people who used a sword on the battlefield. 150 years ago maybe the masters weren't as sharp also, but they learned directly from generations and generations of real warriors, who used these techniques on the battlefield.
    In 1867 most of the original methods were lost, and those who revied them 20,30 and even 40 years after were not warriors, but representatives of the government, which did not have anything to do with Budo.
    By the way, the same historic process happened even worse for Kendo. We hate looking at it as a sport and insist it's a martial art, but today's Kendo is a sporty version of Kenjutsu, and lacks any real fighting ability with a sword, it is a great training setting, and has good and important principals for a martial art, but it has lost its being a method of swordfighting.

    Person D
    I agree, today's kendo is sporty and is detached from the "martial" of the martial art, no flips and etc, and it's a shame, are we only doing it to get Ippon?!

    Person B
    I'm sorry to read the last 2 comments here regarding kendo. firstly I guess it depends at which sensei you learned your kendo. I'm sure there are here and there teachers that emphisez more shiai but most of them (and sorry if I'm not sounding too humble) teach kendo emphisizing the SPIRIT in the fight. martial art is not only about a magnificient technic that you throw your opponent down on the floor and you break his neck but mainly about the practice of the SPIRIT (zanshin, kiai, sutemi). show me one martial art that teaches more spirit than kendo??? Why do you think the main practice in kendo is kirikaeshi, kakarikeiko, ji geiko? those are not about technics or points but are made to forster the true fighting spirit. you don't need to know 100 technics to win your opponent, but if you have the correct seme (just see Miyazaki !) you can beat everyone with only MEN.
    Let's practice...not write

    Person D
    Dear friend, there's nothing like Kendo, but today people are running for the Ippon, and a lot of articles of many great teachers say that Kendo is too inclined for sport and Shiai, I still however, enjoy Kendo very much.

    Person E
    My two cents, from my limited experience:
    The concept of Kendo, as established by the AJKF is "to discipline the human character through the application of the principles of the Katana", and the purpose of the practice 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."
    Nowhere does it say that we should learn how to handle a sword as accurately and as closely as it was handled in the past, nor does it say we should try to win as many Shiai as possible.
    The concept and purpose established by the AJKF is way more thrilling and exciting than any of those, and it is what all students should thrive to accomplish, and all teachers should aim to teach their students, in my opinion.
    As for the purpose of Shiai, in my humble opinion, we are taking place in it not to earn the Ippon (although that is obviously very nice), but to put ourselves to the test, and to see if our Kendo is progressing in the correct way. We are not swinging the Shinai to cut our opponent, but to cut through the fog in our own mind.
    Again, just my humble take on the matter. Cheers.

    Person A
    Don't feel 'sorry' to read this, you missed my point. I said nothing about spirit, or the lack of... When I said its still a great martial art to train with, obviously I was referring to spirit and training as a method, not just waza. I was only talking about the loss of the "Martial" side of Kendo, the actual sword work. This also answers Ido's comment; I agree that the ZNKR definition is exactly what Kendo is today, and that's why its great. Yes - we do see competitions as very superficial in light of these goals, and I also think they become less representative of the ZNKR spirit, but who are we judge? My former comments were relating to my own desire to learn swordsmanship. This is why I started Kendo in the first place, and although I realized its not there, here I am still promoting Kendo with dedication and the love of it.

    That's it. ​ Sorry if it was very long ... So, Kendo-World, what is your take on the subject? I am very mesmerized by this discussion and some new opinions from other people is very interesting to hear!

  • #2
    I was hoping that the guy in the dark gi was going to use a triangle choke at 7:05, though it wouldnt have worked with the opponent starting to stand like that.

    Otherwise you can find 6 pages of discussion here:


    • #3
      Just go practice.


      • #4
        Is it silly question month? j/k
        Anyway, I think this is kind of like the "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin" argument in that we cant actually know the truth (even presuming angels exist and that they can dance, etc). None of us were around during the founding of the arts so how can we really make a determination whether the current manifestation of the arts is true to it's origins? What does that even mean?

        I also think person A is a bit ignorant and contradicts himself so I probably wouldn't want to continue this debate very far with him/her. The gfact that he didn't think the video showed any zanshin/metsuke is (imo) a good indication that he doesn't know enough to discuss such things. He also says kendo is a great martial art but it's not martial any more. Also, kendo was never about the technique but always about the spirit and the principles. In this respect, it's just as true to it's roots as it always was. That also depends more on who is doing the instructing also. At least in the US, kendo as a sport is hardly the dominant form of kendo.


        • #5
          To Person A: Learn to watch video better. I see all of the points you say are missing.
          I agree with Ken Morgan and will +rep him after posting, however I'm going to modify his statement to paraphrase an old Asics ad:

          Just shut up and practice.

          Well.. all of this reminds me of the old story about the students in a karate dojo sitting around after practice talking about how sensei told them they could apply their art to every day life. It's raining outside so the topic turns to how to apply their karate studies to that.
          Student A: Sensei has always taught us the importance of decisive and quick movements.. Applying this I would run decisively and quickly through the rain between the drops.
          Student B: Sensei has always taught the importance of Ki. With a loud Kiai and full of Ki I would walk out there and the rain drops would not dare to hit me.
          Student C: more silliness.

          Unseen or and unheard by the student, the sensei came out of the changing room and listened smiling to the students debate. When he'd heard enough he walked to the dojo door, opened his umbrella and walked out into the rain.