Journal: Kristi Peterson
While in Nagasaki at Gaikokugo Tank Daigaku (The Nagasaki Junior College of Foreign Language), we watched at demonstration and listened to a lecture on Kendo. Kendo is normally classified as a martial art and looks like fencing, but it is less self -defense than an exercise in Zen principles living in the present.
We watched a professor from the college, Professor Marra, and her sensei demonstrate the basic moves of Kendo as well as some mock fighting. Kendo involves either a wooden sword or a bamboo sword ( or even a real sword) with protective gear. A Kendo student wears dark colored kimono styled shirt with skirt like pants. The kimono is folded over in the way a person is prepared for burial, symbolizing the Samurai's knowledge that every battle could be their last. For protection, practitioners wear protective face masks made of horizontal metal bars and a helmet covering the top and sides of the head. They also have a chest and stomach covering with a five flapped belt to represent the five confusion virtues of humanity , justice, etiquette, knowledge, and righteousness. They wear mittens to protect their hands and wrists, but practice with bare feet.
Kendo rises out of the Samurai traditions of duels. Kendo has only been a sport tradition for about 120 years. Its ties into both Confucianist and Zen Buddhist thought. There is a strong emphasis on putting the entire self into what you're doing. Not only do you concentrate on the whole of the other person to know when and where they may strike, but you must be totally in the present and concentrated with all of your own body otherwise you' II never be able to react fast enough.
Their demonstration included the four basic blows. In a structured, precise, and respectful fashion the bowed and readied their swords before with blow. The basic moves are a blow to the top of the head, one across the abdomen, one on the wrist and one stab to the throat. For these moves, they used bamboo swords consisting of bamboo split into five strips and tied together. It makes a loud noise on contact, but not much pain (although Prof. Marra did show us the bruises on her arms later). The practitioners yell before during and after each strike so show their preparedness before and after the hit.
After the basic hits, they did some mock fighting where you use combinations of the basics to create an intense but eloquent sequence of attack and retreats. To score a point in fighting, one must not strike correctly, the own self must be in the blow. A point comes when you can meld into the one moment of attack.
Kendo is an intense sport/non-sport that was especially interesting from my Taekwondo perspective. There is a lot of ritual in everything from bowing to touching swords before an attack to the proper way to remove one's gloves. I asked Professor Marra where they start when you learn Kendo and she responded that you learn how to move your feet properly and how to take care of your equipment and other basic things like that. You can't just dive into sword fighting without knowing all the "simple" aspects first.