Knutsen-sensei has set out some guidance below on how we might address the return to practice, when this becomes possible. At the moment, of course, the Government guidelines don’t allow normal dojo practice, but we hope there will be some relaxation in the coming weeks.
Reduced physical contact
There will be a need to reduce close contact, especially in group exercise, suburi, uchikomi, where close breathing allied with physical breathing recovery is the aim. This will need to be updated from time to time in the early weeks.
For several weeks training must be limited to work with the bokutō. This was always the emphasis up to the mid-19th century and, in some quarters, well to the end of the 20th century. Therefore, in this initial period emphasis will be completely on the handling and skill with the bokutō, both short and long. Iai will also make use of bokutō as well as iai-tō or live blade. As far as possible more waza will be introduced
As envisioned at this moment (end May 2020), we have a golden opportunity to re-establish, on a traditional basis, proper kendō based on the use of the real sword:- proper and in detailed familiarity with posture and movement leading to tenouchi and greatly improved awareness; correct striking forms; zanshin; etc. It will also give a chance to better understand tactics and strategy.
From the above it is hoped that all members of the Renmei will see a clearer path to understanding the spirit and nature of the Japanese bugei.
As and when we are able to return to shinai kendō, we shall, it is forecast, be fitter through swinging the bokutō, but all will have a better idea of ‘how to cut’ and how to do this correctly.
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.
One of the most troublesome of subjects in the proper martial arts is the best way to teach complete novices from their very first experience in their chosen dojo. The problem is not the new student but the method of teaching him or her and ensuring that those doing the teaching know what they are about. In other words, are these ‘seniors’ aware of what is required and how to go about it? It is of the greatest importance to the whole dojo membership that mistakes and errors don’t become established. Shakespeare put it quite clearly when he wrote: ‘When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions’ – and he was absolutely right. Mistakes not corrected from Day One will plague the student even thirty or forty years in the future – and will always be a handicap to progress. All the masters of Kendo and Iai-jutsu that I and my fellow seniors have had the good fortune to their instruction, have followed one set of principles throughout their own careers: basics – basics – basics – and when fed up with them – yet more basics!