Stab, Stab, Stab! — Our Jukendo weekend

By Simon Larsen

Day 0: Food Loading

When we were introduced to Jukendo I wondered if it was a cunning plan by a dastardly Frenchman to get revenge for the slurs I have spread about the Smelly French over the years… I may have also contemplated that I had inadvertently invited the Japanese military to line up and have a bit of stabby practice on my bloated carcase. We had been allowed to join a 3 day Jukendo (the All Japan Jukendo Instructors Seminar) seminar in Chiba. Much of the work organising our attendance was performed by Baptiste and I know he was busy organising the World Kendo Championships at the moment, so for him to take time out for us is pretty good proof that I am not paranoid.

2015-05-21_P1120262Bacon! This is awesome!

Chiba is a little ways from Nagoya so we get to have another train picnic, which is great. Katsuura is right out on the beach on a slower train but we had the Japanese version of Skymall magazine to peruse.

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My brother had this robot when we were young. I was always jealous.
Now I have moved on in my life and need not these trappings for my happiness. Plus I can’t read the order form.

3 days of Jukendo means we will need food. Giant pork schnitzel is the way to do this.

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The owner of the restaurant is a falconer. If these are the pigs his bird catches I am worried about the size of the birds. We weren’t the only people celebrating at the restaurant. A group of young guys were there, excited because one of them had just graded in Kendo and also passed his first exam for the police force. If he passes the next couple of exams, he will have a job for life playing kendo in the police force. It is a career choice and the police are some of the strongest kendoka around. In a similar way the military are the strongest Jukendo students around. Tomorrow we will meet a lot of them. When Japan doesn’t have need of them cleaning up after natural disasters I believe they train all day, every day.

Day 1: Jukendo

We got dressed up and ready to find dance partners. When they arrived it was a little intimidating. Wave upon wave of old guys with happy expressions greeting each other enthusiastically. That many guys that know each other that well have been doing things together a long time. Most of them had 7’s or 8’s on their sleeve. I used to think this was some kind of military insignia, like their unit number or something. Unlike Kendo or Naginata where there is no visible symbol of rank, Jukendo uses numbers on their shoulder, so this is their rank in Jukendo. The numbers of stripes is the honours side (shogo) of the grading system. Very few of them had less than three bars and a lot had 4. 8th dan hanshi (an 8 with 4 bars) is such a stupidly high rank that it doesn’t really figure in my scale of thinking. In the past I occasionally got a chance to train in a dojo, which has one of these guys way up the other end from me.

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When there are loads of them wandering around in the morning things get a little worrying. When the rest of the dance partners arrive in army jeeps and fatigues, well let’s just say anxiety levels go up a bit. Then you notice the boys in green mostly have 5’s and 6’s on their arm and you realise they are here to receive training, things seem to have escalated way too quickly.

They do not give out zeroes so we didn’t have a badge. This will have to be rectified. Train hard, get grading. Or I guess I could make us badges with zeroes.

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I think when there was no opportunity for camouflaged parking they went for the No cover to the Perimeter approach

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The smile on the receiving guys face does not bode well for the young strong guy….

We spent most of the day training with Baptiste and a lovely Japanese Lady. And constant interruptions from smiling guys with large numbers on their shoulders. Most of them appear to find the idea of a tubby Gaijin doing Jukendo sort of sweet and amusing in a mascot type of way. So sweet and amusing that it was worth poking him with a stick a few times. Kind of like those kids in Stand By Me “Hey a body, that’s fascinating, let’s poke it with a stick”.

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And they keep smiling when they poke you with their sticks

The idea of a Lady Gaijin joining in and training hard is so damn cool that Ewa got lots of attention. I think there have only been a couple of Lady Gaijin willing to join in and do it properly over the years.

Military guys, in my experience, tend towards the train hard, drink hard mentality in a way which I suspect only the most dedicated IT guy, with years of experience, can keep up. Fortunately I am one of those guys and at the evening welcome party I managed to keep up with the 4 styles of beverage which every thought I should try repeatadly. We are a great team, between us we have almost all the skills needed to cover most social situations…

Day 2: Tankendo

I would like to claim that I was in a zen state; observing, but not caring as the sheet of cloud rolled in, displaying control on the edge of chaos, the falcon drifted in the thermals and the sparrows bounced around like ADHD kids without their ritalin.

2015-05-23_DSC_0035Okay, now we know what it looks like, let’s copy that

This would be a lie though, I was just knackered. Day 1 of the seminar was Jukendo (bayonet mounted on a rifle). Day 2 was tankendo (bayonet in hand). We had done little tankendo before and it happened to be the lovely Japanese ladies specialty and Baptiste’s favourite as well. As we have done little we haven’t grown the leetle teeny muscles that are needed for the fine control. That means I usually engage every other muscle group to try and do things proper.

2015-05-23_DSC_0036No fear in his eyes. I wonder if he is bluffing and is petrified

2015-05-23_DSC_0039Okay nope, he’s not bluffing and not scared.
At least this one didn’t make Baptiste laugh, nothing more embarrassing than a Frenchman laughing at your martial prowess…

Linguistic Skills: Engaging every Opportunity to learn…

Maru means gently, softly, relaxed.
Maru, maru, maru means gently, softly, relaxed – you absolute idiot.

When I was learning naginata I spent about 6 months where the only correction I got was “relax”. It got to a point where I was going to make a little head mounted illuminated sign, so that sensei could just push a button and have his advice relayed to me visually rather than lose his voice.

2015-05-23_P1120312Two pools of Relaxed Tranquillity… admittedly Fast moving Pools of Tranquillity

2015-05-23_DSC_0049Two pools of “wow we are dead”

Tankendo kata has elbow and arm locks followed by a stab using the hip to force the bayonet in. We like these. Unfortunately, I was told that due to the nature of judges positioning in shiai, they are not used as much in competitive fighting. Often only one judge will be able to see all the technical aspects of the attack and you need two flags to score a point. That made us sad.

In the afternoon the people with energy remaining had shiai competition to allow those practising judging to have competitions to judge. I don’t know if it was because it wasn’t real competition, but the guys were doing the arm locks at full speed in the shiai. I doubt it though. I suspect it was because if you are fighting and someone grabs you, immobilises you, has you off balance and under control and makes a clean stab, you don’t care if it gets a point or not; you are suddenly terrified of that guy.

In the evening I spent a long time soaking my feet (and the rest of me) in the bath. I think it has magical healing water. Only one more day, we can do it!

Day 3: Kata

One of my favourite things to do is to be the best at something. To be the best at something you just have to measure yourself against your peers on an applicable set of criteria. Over the years I have gotten quite creative in defining the criteria for measuring The Best and defining exactly who my Peers are. The past few days seminar has been an Instructors Seminar. Lots of Super Senior Types teaching Insanely Good Guys how to be a teacher. Obviously neither group are my peers. Baptiste is French, so he can’t be my peer. Ewa is a Lady, so she can’t be my peer. Therefore by a process of elimination I was the best person there. Excellent.

Today we focussed on kata. Jukendo has many kata; gun vs gun, bayonet vs bayonet, bayonet vs gun and so on. A book was being studied which has even more kata, which have apparently been lost over the years including unarmed against a gun kata…

The interesting thing about kata is that each technique is shown winning and losing. For example in the first kata of gun vs gun the attacker runs in and stabs the other guy as soon as he moves. Four kata later, the same thing happens but the guy that died the first time uses a counter technique to win.

2015-05-24_DSC_0058I like this kata, makiotoshi (spiralling entrapment of the other weapon) with a straight weapon at high speed, when it works it is great. When it doesn’t you try harder next time.

2015-05-24_DSC_0065One of our sensei from home in Nagoya, he has an 8 on his shoulder and can’t be my peer for these purposes.

2015-05-24_DSC_0054Sure he has no number on his shoulder but that, oddly enough, does not qualify him to be my peer either.

In the kata of bayonet vs gun half the time the bayonet wins and half the time the gun does. I like this as it feels like a rounded set of kata to me, you learn the important principles of attacking and countering, rather than just one side always winning for the same reason. Unfortunately the person that dies is always the same side and for some reason Ewa and Terada sensei both agree I should be the guy that dies normally. It was no different here with the senior chaps (no doubt egged on by Baptiste) deciding I ought to die. I guess when you are the best (by my definition), people get jealous and want to see you suffer.

Interestingly Jukendo has kata of sword versus gun. And again half the time the sword wins. I am not aware of any other mixed weapon kata involving a sword that allows the sword to win occasionally. These Jukendo guys are nice to the poor sword guys.

2015-05-24_DSC_0066Ewa’s favourite zanshin (preparedness after a strike). Sensei explained that if she thrusts too hard and fast and gets me in the throat she should most definitely say sorry to me. And next time I will move quicker.

We practiced the kata until the lunchbreak when the senior sensei announced something which sounded to me along the lines of “These Gaijin, Present them to me that I may judge them”. And so we did the kata in front of all the senior instructors and teachers to be. There was no stress involved in this at all. Maru all the way.

2015-05-24_DSC_0059Over the arm to the heart

2015-05-24_DSC_0061Under the arm to the heart. Ewa always knows the way to my heart.

2015-05-24_DSC_0062And sometimes I say stupid shit and a poke to the throat is required (or a glass of water if I have been drinking too much)

 I am lead to believe that Jukendo is looked down on by a lot of other martial arts because it is Too Violent and Aggressive. Certainly if you are an idiot (like me) and don’t tie your armour correctly you can get hurt but that requires a special skill (being an idiot and looking competent) which I find many people lack. Many people can be an idiot and many people can be competent, the art of combining the two seems to elude most however. This is probably why I am also told Jukendo has fewer injuries than most other full contact martial arts.

If this looking down on Jukendo is true all I can say is it doesn’t seem to affect the Jukendoka. As one person commented to me “It’s not like <another martial art> where everyone is pretending to be a warrior, these guys are military, they are warriors and don’t need no steenkin pretense (they do need badges though)”

All in all Jukendo and, to a lesser degree, tankendo feel immensely practical focussed to me. We were thinking of taking up Kyudo at one point but then saw just how much bowing and so on is involved, and the bit we considered important (hitting the target) was kind of not that relevant. Obviously with Naginata etc we do a lot of the etiquette stuff and I certainly don’t have a problem with it, but it isn’t my favourite part.

In Jukendo there are important things; 40% of power is the strike, 60% is removing the bayonet from the dead dude, this is important! Then there are slightly less important aspects; the angle of the gun when you are walking around is discussed occasionally, but if you aren’t getting the 40/60 ratio correct they seem to hold off on correcting “How to hold a gun when you aren’t fighting” for the time being. In light of this aspect of Jukendo, it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that a martial art with a seriously long history (started with the Prussians at least) has decided they need a new kata, it was announced, demonstrated and then everyone was told they could pretty much take it or leave as they liked. It could be a language skills thing (I still have none) but no one looked surprised at what would be quite weird for anything I have experienced before. A few people seemed vaguely interested in the new kata, a few wandered off to do something else…

2015-05-24_DSC_0077New kata involves striking to the wrist. I get the feeling it was “Hey the wrist is a target, why don’t we have a kata for that?” “Oh we don’t? bugger, here’s one in an old book, let’s do that” “Cool, let’s go”

2015-05-24_DSC_5234Baptiste likes being the underdog in a fight, he’s French, He’s used to it.

Anyway, we found this refreshing and a nice change of pace. So I think we will stick with this as a new Activity with Hats.

2015-05-24_P1120315The smiley people? Don’t be fooled!

1 Comment

  1. “They do not give out zeroes so we didn’t have a badge. ” – Honestly, this was the funniest, and most entertaining, article I’ve read on KW as of yet.

    To the author – keep ’em coming.

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