Lessons in Life from Budo

I would like to conclude with a few lessons in life that Budo taught me.

Katei Enman 家庭円満: a stable home front

The first lesson Edo Sensei taught me in 1979: if you want to continue a lifelong career in Budo, you need a stable and peaceful home front. Fortunately my wife and lifelong partner, Jolanda, was a fabulous Kendoka herself, so I had never any issue explaining why I needed to spend another weekend in the Dojo, teaching or refereeing. I have met many fine Budoka who did not have enough understanding in the family, which made them either quit completely, or drastically scale down their ambitions in Budo.

Heijoshin Kore Michi Nari 平常心これ道なり: a stable mind set

Although I have never been a great Champion in any of the Budo that I practiced, mostly because I never mastered the principle of Heijoshin in a proper way, I find this idea something that you can apply in both Budo and daily life.

In my Budo career it has helped me to achieve three 7th Dan grades, which I all took in Japan and which I all passed on the first attempt. It has also been a great help during the many finals of the World Kendo Championships that I had to referee. The pressure on these occasions is really beyond imagination, and only a few referees can really keep cool when Japanese and Korean teams are fighting each other.

Seme 攻め: how to read your opponent

The principle of Seme is very hard to translate with one word or to explain in short. Often it is mistakenly translated as “attack”, but it is much more complex than just that.

Especially in Kendo and Jodo it is a vital part of obtaining the higher grades from 5th Dan and up.

Instead of just jumping forward and hitting the target, it requires that you spend a split second of time in observing your opponent and then act accordingly. Basically what you are doing is communicating with your opponent without words, and observe him or her before you attack yourself or counter an attack. As a result of your Seme, you will discover the weak point with your opponent, and you will be successful.

Of course this whole process takes only a split second of time, and in order to make this work there is only one solution: many hours of practice in the Dojo! There is no shortcut, unfortunately.

In my professional career in Global Logistics at Nippon Express this has helped me the most. In the case of Kendo and Jodo you are actually attacking and defending with a real opponent. In my work I used to negotiate a lot, both internally and with customers. During negotiating with other people, basically you can apply principle of Seme. Finding out where the weak point is in the opponent’s reasoning, without showing  your own intentions, will give you the best result. Because I was able to apply this knowledge in real life, I was very successful in my job, and in the final years I was even promoted to Director Global Sales Europe of this giant multinational logistics firm.

Shuchu 集中: focus and concentration

In Kendo/Iaido/Jodo it is very important to be able to focus and concentrate. First of all you need it to be able to train the difficult techniques. Second, you need focus when you are facing your opponent. If you miss focus for a split second, you’ll get hit in Kendo, or you’ll miss a hit in Jodo.

If you develop this, of course you can use it in daily life as well.

Kento 健闘: fighting spirit

In Kendo/Iaido/Jodo we are fighting a real or imaginary opponent. If you want to be successful in a match or on a grading, you need to have a very high level of fighting spirit.

If you have a good balance of fighting spirit and Heijoshin, you can become very successful in Budo.

But this aspect of Budo can be applied in daily life as well. The best sample that I know of is Jolanda, who used her enormous fighting spirit after her stroke, during the two-year revalidation period.

Zanshin 残心: Awareness and Respect

The main difference between Kendo and other sports is the clearly defined concept of Zanshin.

There are the following elements in Zanshin:

  1. Migamae 身構 (physical posture). After hitting you need to move your body in such a way that you can prevent the opponent to make an easy counter-hit, and at the same time make it possible for you to observe the movements of the opponent.
  2. Kigamae 気構 (focus, concentration). After hitting you need to keep your focus and attention towards the opponent. If you stop looking at your opponent (and focus on referees for example), you will be hit easily.
  3. Sonkei 尊敬(respect). This is an important part of Zanshin. In Kendo we don’t shout “I won” or even make a victory gesture. We always have to realize that we are only able to practice our beloved Kendo because we have other people who are willing and able to practice with us. Without them there would not be any Kendo at all! It is also part of the Confucianist idea of Humility that still survives from old times. Bragging about our victories is not very welcomed in our Kendo Culture.

Shugyo 修業: devotion to training through study

In the dictionary, Shugyo means study or learning. But in Budo it has also a deeper meaning. As Edo Sensei described in his book, when I studied in Japan for a year, it was called “Musha Shugyo” 武者修行. It refers to Samurai (Musha) who traveled around to learn (Shugyo) from teachers from various schools. It also means that you have to devote yourself completely in order to learn as much as possible during a young age. At the same time it also means that the learning process never ends. In Budo you learn the most when you are young, especially learning with the body is important. But this is of course true for all things in life, be it work or sports. At a later age, you can still continue the process of learning Budo. It will be less physical, and will focus more on mental stability, concentration, reading your opponent and of course how to maintain a healthy body! Finally, when you start to prepare for the final Dan exam, the Hachidan Grading, you will find out that there is a whole new world in the Budo that you thought you already knew very well. I learned this during a Hachidan preparation seminar at the Shunpukan Dojo in Tokyo under Iwatate Sensei. Small details that I could ignore before, are now vital in passing this exam. Even though I have no realistic hope that I will ever pass Kendo Hachidan, I still study for it, as if it would be possible. This study gives enough motivation to keep training Budo, even when I’m approaching the age of 60 now.

Shogai Budo 生涯武道: Lifelong Budo

One of the nice features of Budo is that you can practice it as long as your arms and legs are basically working. I started Kendo and Iaido 42 years ago, and Jodo 37 years ago, but I am still not finished learning. Although young Kendoka and Jodoka are much faster than me in their movements, I can still practice with them, and not even get hit so many times. Because my insight and experience is much better than the younger people, I can still keep up with them. Of course I could not get very far in a Kendo tournament, but in our regular training in the Dojo I can still train together with people who are 30 years younger than me.

Basically I recognize three levels of practice.

Fundamental Phase.

The first few years of Kendo/Iaido/Jodo training you need to establish the fundament of the rest of your Budo career. Depending on your age and talent, this phase could last between five years and ten years.

The Sports Phase.

If you are interested in competition, Kendo/Iaido/Jodo can be applied as a Budo Sport as well. There is enough possibility to participate in various tournaments, and depending on your age and talent, you can train on very high level and try to join international tournaments as well.

The Cultural Phase.

If you are not interested in competition but still want to pursue a study of Budo, Kendo/Iaido/Jodo also has a lot to offer. Just training the arts and try to achieve higher Dan grades is a very nice way to pursue a hobby.

Also, when you have reached an age at which competition is not suitable anymore, you can simply switch to the Cultural Phase and start to learn about the cultural aspects of our Budo. Since a few years I have pursued this path, and the first thing I learned was that there is no end to learning Budo. Maybe I’ll never win a big tournament again, Maybe I never achieve 8th Dan ever, but the fact that there are always teachers in Japan who can teach me new things, I will always be motivated to keep training and teaching Budo.

Keisho 継承 Inheritance

Now that Edo Sensei (80) and Ishido Sensei (75) are getting older, their thoughts are not so much focused on how they can practice Budo, but on how they can make sure that their legacy is handed over to the next generation correctly.

In April 2019, I spend many hours in Japan with both Sensei talking about this. Since both Sensei appointed me as their Deshi in The Netherlands, I’m responsible for making sure that their teaching is handed over in the best way.

For Edo Sensei it is important that we keep the tradition of his style of Kendo alive, even though no one of us can copy his kind of Kendo of course. Modern Kendo has lost many of the old techniques, such as, but not limited to:

  • Hanmen (one handed Men strike hit from the side)
  • Nito Ryu
  • Katate Jodan Migi & Hidari (left and right Jodan with only one hand on the Tsuka)
  • Combinations such as Hanmen followed by Gyaku Do
  • Men Kaeshi Do with Taiasabaki to the left instead of to the right

I will make sure that my Deshi will learn these techniques, as long as I can still demonstrate them.

Jacket with [KEISHO] presented by Edo Sensei to his main Deshi, such as Iijima and me

For Ishido Sensei it is important that the organization of his affiliated Dojo in Europe is working properly. Besides appointing his direct students in Europe (Jikimon), we have decided to set up the organization in a transparent way, and make sure that all the Dojo and individuals (more than 800 by now!) know the rules of engagement in practicing Iaido and Jodo in the Ishido family in Europe. For this we have created the “Shinbukan Ishido Dojo European Network” and a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) which will be signed and acknowledged by all Jikimon and the respective Dojo Leaders.

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Geplaatst in Louis Vitalis & Jolanda Dekker.