March 17, 2005

>The Heart of Kendo

The aim of Kendo, and all Japanese martial arts ( Budo ), is not the perfection of a physical technique but the development of a flowing, flexible mind – a mind that is able to react to anything it confronts, instinctively, fearlessly, and without hesitation, regardless of the situation.

Harutane Chiba Sensei ( Hokushin Itto Ryu ) had a parable about water as it relates to training. “When you practice kata (forms) or shiai (free fight), the mind should always be the same: calm as a pond of water. Still water is like a mirror: it gives a picture of everything that is around it. But when the pound is disturbed, it reflects only the turmoil within its depts. One should always approach shiai with a composure like the reflection on water in a pond, so the mind is relaxed, ready to see the slightest movment of your opponent.”

To understand Budo properly you must coordinate your mental spirit with your physical body. The smallest movement in Kendo requires this coordination of body and mind. The body has no feeling without the five senses of the mind, yet the mind cannot exist without the presence of the physical body. If you do not coordinate these two elements, it would be like one hand trying to clap. Only when you both palms together will you produce the sound you seek. Only when you learn, through constant practice, to coordinate the body and the mind will you be able to realize their true function.

“The Heart of Kendo”
-Darrell Max Craig with /qv. of Chiba Sensei

March 11, 2005

Breath Control in Kendo

Originally printed Kendo World Magazine, Vol. 1 Issue 1, 2001.
by Steven Harwood.

So what is different about breathing in kendo? In kendo you are sometimes taught to breathe through your `belly' or to use abdominal breathing a term used widely to denote a method of breathing that utilises the abdominal muscles (largely the diaphragm) in contrast to typical chest-based breathing in which the main respiratory muscles are the intercostal muscles. However, the abdominal breathing taught in kendo is rather different to conventional abdominal breathing. For instance, in conventional abdominal breathing your abdomen swells out when you breathe in and `deflates' when you breathe out. However, in Kendo you are taught always to keep some tension in your lower abdomen with the result that the abdomen never `deflates' during exhalation and some kendo teachers advocate `reverse abdominal breathing' in which the lower abdomen actually swells during exhalation. Kendo's abdominal breathing has aims that go beyond simple respiratory gas exchange and is intrinsically connected with kendo's transfer of emphasis, not only physically but also psychologically, from the upper body to the lower body a holistic transfer of centre downwards.

The traditional oriental link between psychological state and breathing is now well documented and supported by scientific research. When you are in a calm psychological state your breathing is, of course, controlled and regular. It also tends to be deep abdominal breathing. When you are stressed and panicked your breathing will tend to `rise' becoming shallow and rapid, the extreme being hyperventilation. This idea of stability being `low' ("calm down") and excitement being `high' ("temper rises") is present in the West also, but the relationship between psyche and breathing is two-way. Breathing is affected by psychological state but can also effect a change in psychological state. Although breathing usually functions unconsciously it is one of the few such bodily functions that can be adjusted consciously resulting in the concept of breath control. This has long been utilised in the East where meditation technique usually attempts to replicate the breathing pattern of calmness, i.e. abdominal breathing, to attain a calm psychological state.

Indeed, that most Japanese of ascetic training, Zen, posits training of body (posture), breathing and mind as its essential elements. This extended essay will not attempt to explain kendo in terms of Zen Buddhism. I intend to keep the focus for the large part on breath control in actual technique. However, the principles of Kendo as laid down by the All-Japan Kendo Federation stipulate that its aim should be, through training in the techniques of kendo, to change you as a person. Kendo is said to be comprised of three types of training: physical; mental and ethical; it is a path, a michi, which should transform you not only physically but also lead to a different way of being psychologically, this is its stated purpose.

Therefore, as breath control seemed to be an important element in other Japanese ascetic training methods, it seemed to me that it might be equally important in kendo. If it were, then a study of it would reveal much not only about technique, the so-called physical aspect of the art, but also about the psychological content needed to attain the very highest levels. At the same time, if, through the medium of breath control, technique functioned simultaneously on both physical and psychological levels, it would shed light, in very concrete terms, on the oriental concept of mind-body unity, and lend credence to the martial arts' claims to be something more than physical exercise.

Over the next few issues I will examine how abdominal breathing is manifested in kendo starting from basic posture and clothing; footwork, basic striking actions and training patterns such as kiri-kaeshi and kakari-geiko. I will look at the relationship between abdominal breathing and ki-ai (vocalisation). I will consider its role in seme-ai (mutual probing for weaknesses prior to the strike); and look at how it can be taught in kata (form practice). Finally I will look at how some very senior kendo practitioners use it to enhance their training and consider its function at the very top level of the art.

March 09, 2005

The Sword Is the Person

Always remember that your style and behavior in Kendo will accurately reflect your personality. A quick-tempered player will produce quick-tempered Kendo. Likewise, a casual attitude will produce a casual style of Kendo. It goes without saying that you must have a large-scale personality to practice large-scale Kendo. One who performs particularly splendid Kendo will be the product of everything that he has lived and experienced. Your experiences and your life will inevitably affect your Kendo. You must cultivate both your mind and your body if you are to grasp the true essence of Kendo.

Enthusiasm and single-mindedness are the two most important qualities required for successful Kendo. In his Academic Learning as Work, Max Weber writes: “People who do not have the enthusiasm which enables them to feel no regret over the thought of spending a whole lifetime investigating one missing letter from an old moth-eater manuscript are unsuited to academic learning.” In Kendo, too, there are people who say “I perform keiko in order to strike just one perfect men.” The idea behind this is fundamental to Kendo, and shows that if the purpose is not to achieve fame, neither is to boast. A single-minded enthusiasm, with no expectation of material reward, is vital.

“The definitive guide of Kendo”
-Hiroshi Ozawa

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