The True Meaning of the Nihon Kendo Kata

At the 3rd Kendo World Tokyo Keiko-kai held on Saturday August 2, 2014, H8-dan Inoue Yoshihiko-sensei spoke about the true meaning of the Nihon Kendo Kata, and a demonstration was given by two of his students. The talk was based on an article that Inoue-sensei had written for the September 2014 issue of Kendo Nihon. Below is the handout that was given to all participants.

The True Meaning of Learning the Nihon Kendo Kata
(Inoue Yoshihiko Kendo Hanshi 8-dan, Kendo Nihon Sept. 2014)

Inoue-sensei talking about the true meaning of the Nihon Kendo Kata
Inoue-sensei talking about the true meaning of the Nihon Kendo Kata

The Desire NOT to Kill
Japan has become so used to peace nowadays, that few take the time to reflect on their mortality. I hope people learn to recognize the finality of death though the Kendo Kata. Once the practitioner grasps this, their Kata will become ‘alive’. Ippon-me is essentially kenjutsu (killing techniques of the sword). Sanbon-me represents kendo (the Way of the sword). Nihon-me falls between the two extremes.

Chi-jin-yu” is the fundamental philosophy in kendo. “Chi” refers to the wisdom or to judge things correctly. “Jin” means benevolence, kindness or consideration to other humans. “Yu” refers to the valour needed to action things.

Ippon-me: Acquiring the skill to smite an enemy with one blow; Nihon-me: ‘Disarming’ the enemy without actually killing him; Sanbon-me: Recognising the joy of living. Controlling the enemy with superior presence, but not spilling a drop of blood in the process. Then, sensing the joy of living, both return unharmed. This is the ultimate objective in kendo.

Learning the ‘Authority of the Kensen’ through Kendo Kata
The most important thing in kendo is probing and applying pressure (seme) on the opponent using the kensen. Without using the kensen to pressurise the opponent, kendo would gradually disintegrate into merely hitting people with sticks. Applying seme with the kensen also enables the practitioner to gauge correct maai.

Learning Correct Keiko Attitude through Kendo Kata
Most of the time these days, winning and losing is the focus of keiko. How replete one’s spiritual energy or power is has become almost irrelevant. People compete in shiai to determine winners and losers, whereas keiko is for the improvement of both sides. It is important that both sides engage in keiko with full spirit. If you can achieve this, one bout of 2 or 3 minutes will be exhausting, just like it was in the old days. Nowadays, unless told to stop, most people do keiko with each other for 10~15 minutes a time. They practice to beat each other, and give little consideration to the objective of mutual improvement. This is precisely the kind of keiko attitude that can be nurtured through the practice of Kendo Kata.

Important Points for Enbu and Keiko – Differences According to Level
Against beginners the instructor (Uchidachi) in the Itto-ryu “makes it seem as though he will strike, but ensures that it misses”. Against mid-level adepts, he “makes it seem as though he will strike, but just stops short”. Against advanced practitioners, he “makes it seem as though he will strike, and does.”

In Kendo Kata, most Uchidachi do not have sufficient zanshin. When they have yelled “yaa!” this is where it finishes for them. However, even when a person is cut, he does not die immediately. When I worked as a prison guard [in the gallows], even though the executed prisoner lost consciousness, his body would still move for a while. There is nothing scarier as this. This aspect of zanshin which facilitates an understanding of dying is missing.

Kendo Kata that Connects Prewar and Postwar Kendo
Even though postwar kendo was recreated after a period of forced cessation as something completely new, old kendo can still be found in the Kendo Kata. If Kendo Kata is neglected, then there is the distinct possibility that kendo will devolve into act of playing tit-for-tat hitting with a shinai [completely forgetting its origins and theoretical basis]. In Sanbon-me, the target is a thrust to the solar-plexus, which is not a valid target area in modern kendo. However, Sanbon-me represents true kendo. The sword does not contact the body of the opponent and draw any blood. Both Shidachi and Uchidachi come out of the encounter unscathed. Ultimately, Shidachi overcomes Uchidachi with the highest form of assailment called “kuraizeme” in which the opponent is subdued through force of spirit and presence. The vanquished acknowledges defeat and feels joy at being allowed to live. To not die, but carry on living – the importance of life becomes clear here. This is the biggest reason why “kenjutsu” was changed in name to “kendo” – A Way of life as opposed to techniques of death.

3 Comments

  1. Excellent post, thank you. It is nice to see the deeper side of kendo written about. I am sharing with my club.

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