Beginners Instruction Guidance – part two

Continued from part one

In writing this article, we have been fortunate to have a number of translations from the wisdom of several very senior kodansha in both Kendo and Iai-jutsu All these masters and many others over the years, emphasise teaching the basics in a sympathetic and stimulating manner. These key skills are particularly important when we are introducing novices to what is exclusively a secretive Japanese culture, one deriving from the warrior tradition over the past fifteen hundred years.  The teaching skill is not based on finding fault with early errors but encouraging newcomers to absorb the principles naturally without the fear of harsh correction.

All this is in the very early stages , especially the first six months, but revised in many different ways before the student reaches two or so years. It is said that it takes two years to reach the standard that merits shodan – in a good regular dojo; the stage when the student understands enough to train himself. It is now that the deshi begins to ‘love the tradition’; a time when it is vital they find the correct way.

These masters realise from experience that there is no need for complexity. They repeat in their teaching, that Kendo is basically simple. It really has only one technique, the shomen-uchi, all the others depend on circumstances and intuitive decision. ‘Don’t think, just act‘; plain and non-technical. First the eyes to observe (evaluate) one’s opponent; then the feet, (to close the distance with proper posture). . . The sword use and spirit come last; after that the student begins to function.

Basics, basics, basics . . . a never-ending and narrow path to follow. Always re-assessing, always learning. There can be no resting back on laurels, no false pride, no ego-massaging; just plain determination to increase one’s ability as experience grows. This can be summed up in yet another old saying, this time from the West: ‘The Mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small‘.

This slow process of assimilating the basics continues throughout one’s life. It follows that the student must be guided right from the outset.

Here is a brief summary of the key points that may help all those who are entrusted with teaching in these traditions: They are all taken from Japanese sources.

  1. Body first, then the sword. (All the weaponed arts).
  2. Body, hands then sword to attack the opponent.
  3. Follow your teacher closely.
  4. Try to move the body well (correctly).
  5. Move body and sword naturally and smoothly.
  6. Never show any weakness nor overt strength.
  7. Develop zanshin – awareness.
  8. From the start study and practice proper deep breathing.
  9. Cultivate good posture.
  10. When standing in seigan-no-kamae – (chudan-no-kamae) – ensure that both knees face directly to the opponent.
  11. Always remember the feet.
  12. Keep arms and elbows relaxed.
  13. Study the correct grip with the hands.
  14. Attention to the kensen directed towards the opponent’s throat and eyes.
  15. Try to move from the seika-no-itten – the hara – the centre.
  16. Use the imagination.
  17. Encourage reading about Japanese history to increase understanding.

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