Considering the Concept and Purpose of Kendo
Most of us are aware that there is an official ‘Concept of Kendo’ (剣道の理念) and a ‘Purpose of Practicing Kendo’ (剣道修錬の心構え), which was set out by the All Japan Kendo Federation in 1975. In case you’ve never read it, here is the official translation from the FIK -
Now, I know it sounds like something of an idealistic purpose, and as I said above, many of us are aware that it exists. However, many of us probably have given it little deep and meaningful thought.
I certainly had never thought about it very much, I had certainly heard about it, and read it on the website - but I never really gave it any real thought. That was, of course, until the months leading up to my 5th Dan exam. As I was set to take the test in Japan, I had asked ahead if it would be possible for me to complete the written paper in English. They told me that it would be possible - however, the questions would be only provided in Japanese. Further, the first question was going to be a question on the Concept and Purpose of Practicing Kendo, and it would be written out in Japanese, with parts missing - and I would be asked to fill in the blanks. This meant that this question at least would need to be completed in Japanese…
Thus I was tasked with committing the text to memory - not just in English, but in Japanese! This was what turned out to be a fantastic opportunity for me, as it not only sharpened up my Japanese writing, but it gave me the chance to really consider why this text has been set out for us, and how it is supposed to be applied to our Kendo practice, and in turn, our daily lives.
‘The Concept of Kendo’ is a fantastic summary of what Kendo is in itself, and the emphasis is on the bit that says ‘discipline the human character’ (人間形成 in Japanese). This was something I had previously underestimated the importance of, but Kendo really does give us a means to become better people. We are provided with tools, and knowledge that help us in our daily lives, and we learn the compassion and kindness required to become helpful and successful members of society. ‘The Purpose of Practicing Kendo’ gives us more detail, and acts as a guide as to why we pick up the Shinai, and don the Kendogu at all.
Moulding the mind and body, and cultivation of a vigorous spirit come from the ‘correct and rigid training’ that is mentioned. We must apply ourselves entirely, to the best of our abilities, to every practice that we do. This will - of course - improve our physical fitness, however, it will also allow us to develop a strong will, and a ‘vigorous spirit’. This can only be developed by your own efforts, and the effects of it will be carried over into your everyday life.
It really is an extremely vital element of Kendo to ‘hold in esteem human courtesy and honor’, as these are the foundations of which Kendo is built. A well know phrase is ‘Kendo begins and ends with courtesy’. We cannot practice Kendo alone, and it is through the kindness and sincerity of others that we are able to have tournaments, gradings, Kendo clubs, or even be able to practice at all. Without these things, Kendo would not have blossomed into the beautiful art that it is today, and its future would be grim, rather than the bright and hopeful future that it now enjoys. This ties into the later statement that practicing Kendo according to these tenants allows us to love our society, and contribute to the development of culture. Again, I know this sounds idealistic, but actually it’s not really - we should treat our work colleagues, our neighbours, the people who serve us in the coffee shop etc with the same degree of decorum, respect and sincerity as we treat our fellow Dojo mates.
This is the purpose of why we practice Kendo - of course, it is fun, and enjoyable to practice Kendo - but beyond that we must remember that the lessons we learn, and the standards that we adhere to in the Dojo should not be behind left there. They should be applied to all aspects of our life.
After all, Kendo is not just a sport. Kendo is life.