Mrs. Bonnie Lindsay Tulsa OKLAHOMA USA
I do not practice kendo, but as my husband has done kendo for several years I have had the ability to see much kendo in America and in Japan. As I am basically just a spectator, I would like to report what I observed and hopefully what I can share with others who were not able to share in my experience. I recently had the opportunity to visit Japan and Shi Ku Kai dojo and was really amazed by what I saw. Iwanami sensei presents the basic elements of kendo in a way that is different from that which I have experienced before. For one thing, I have not seen suburi practiced with bokuto regularly as a standard part of practice. However, this makes a great deal of sense to me. While the bokuto has a different balance than a true sword, it is closer than that of a shinai and thus helps the student gain a greater understanding and feel for the proper mechanics of men. From this foundation, the understanding of kote, and do can grow.
> One of the concepts that I think I personally found most enlightening is the concept of circles and their application to kendo. Iwanami sensei drew a circle then divided it into four equal parts as you would cut a pie or pizza and then more and then more slices. He explained that it didn’t matter which line you started the cut as long as the outside angle was maintained. If you imagine it similar to the face of a round clock and you think of the tip of the shinai moving from 12 to 9 over and over and moving along the outside curve of the clock, it may be easier to picture. If you were to start at 11 instead of 12 with your strike, it wouldn’t matter as long as it moved along the same curve.
> This was very interesting to me because it made so much sense given the physics of a curved sword. if the tip is constantly moving on a perfect circular curve, than the cutting area of the sword would always hit the point at the same cutting angle and with a great deal of force behind it without more effort than necessary.
> In keeping with the circular concept, if you imagine more circles added to the first until it looks more like a wireframe ball around the person, you can see that the tip can move on different circular planes while still keeping the same focal point. In this case it would be a point at your center to which your left hand will still come. So, your sword is still moving in essence on the same circle, it has only slightly tilted its position.
> Another concept that really stood out to me, was the focus on posture. It seems to me that the proper posture is with a straight back and with momentum appearing to come from the small of the back and forward. This bears a notable difference from leading with ones stomach or hips too much which I have noticed sometimes makes people lean their heads forward too much to balance or offset the motion without thinking. Keeping the back straight and moving from the proper point seems to minimize bouncing and leaning to extremely forward which I have also noticed can be a common problem for many kendo-ka.
> Finally, the idea of wanting the proper ippon strike and not the “point” was very important but this is difficult for me to describe. I think that sometimes people’s competitiveness can get in the way of their kendo. They compete and want to win and want the point. They want the hit too much. Iwanami sensei calls this the “wish.” You wish too hard to make the hit and then soon your body starts to move in such a way that is not in keeping with the points afore mentioned. You will reach too far forward for men or point areas out of reach because you wish for it too much. You might find that your not moving on the circular planes because you are trying to get your tip to the target too quickly and aren’t focused on the path it needs to take to get there. This is a difficult concept. The mind says that if you try to strike for men and miss, then it was a failure. However, if you try to strike for men and miss, but completed the strike properly, then it is my understanding that you are doing kendo. You are learning the way to hit and your are understanding the foundation of the hit. If you find that you are hitting men properly but your opponent is out of reach, then you need to work on your footwork and the concept of mae, but you are doing good kendo. You are learning and maturing and sometimes all things don’t come together at the same time. That is okay. Progress is still being made and you are still enduring and moving forward. It seems to me that the true kendo-ka should focus more on the art of kendo and the strengthening of his character through his art.
>Finally, I would like to personally thank everyone at the Shi Ku Kai dojo who made our entire stay (in and out of the dojo) wonderfully memorable, educational, and fun. If you have the chance to go, you should. Be ready to come with an open mind and humility and your kendo will improve.