27 March 2011

新有段者 - Nanseikan's first yudansha

Congratulations to Geoffrey who today passed his 1st dan exam, making him the first Nanseikan yudansha, or dan-grade holder! It is a great achievement for Geoffrey and the result of years of dedicated training on his part. It's also a great milestone for our club as Geoffrey started kendo with Nanseikan.

Dan grades in kendo

Kendo as most of you know does not have belts to signify rank. However 1st dan, or more correctly sho-dan, is roughly equivalent to 1st degree black belt in other Japanese (or Japanese-derived) martial arts.

It is known as sho-dan (初段) which means "starting level" or the level at which you start the serious practice of kendo. It is not a level that gives the holder the right to be lord and master over those ranked below, as in some other martial arts. On the other hand, unlike some other martial arts there are no "junior" black belt rankings. No matter their age, each kendoka is being judged on the same criteria.

The test for sho-dan is not some kind of physical ordeal. It is the same format as every kendoka will face in their grading from that point on: 1) two separate jitsugi (matches against someone of similar level), 2) kata, and 3) a written test or paper on an aspect of kendo theory. The only difference between a 1st-dan test and a 7th-dan test is that, in the latter, the grading panel is looking for candidates to show "7th dan kendo". Exactly what that is, most people in Australia don't really know until they get to 6th dan!

Lastly, it is an interesting fact to consider that to attain sho-dan takes more years of training in Australia than it does in Japan.

Geoffrey has expressed a desire to specialise now in fighting from jodan no kamae. With the achievement of his sho-dan, Geoffrey has shown that he is ready to start on this new path, and that he has the discipline to do so with success.

23 March 2011

Making a tsuba

Here's a short film about a South African metalsmith named Ford Hallam and his task of making a reproduction tsuba 鍔. It's a really amazing look at the techniques and efforts needed to make such a "simple" item. In fact during the times where samurai still existed, craftsmen often specialised in making only tsuba and nothing else.

Tsuba were originally made in pairs (for the long and short sword) and this one had lost its partner, so Hallam was asked to remake the missing tsuba from photographs.

It's in two parts. Enjoy! b

13 March 2011

地震と津波 Earthquake and tsunami

The path of the tsunami across the Pacific Ocean

The destruction caused by the earthquake and tsunami that hit the east coast of Japan has been unfolding over the last few days and I'm sure everyone has seen some of the terrible footage.

Now, problems with damage to one of the nuclear power plants in Fukushima have added another emergency, even before the clean-up can begin. As Satoru Orihashi (former member of Melbourne Budokai now living in Japan) said via email:

I am busy to recover our business and to deliver rescue goods.
It looks people have no time to be sad.

Fortunately all the Australian kendoka living in Japan, including Nagae sensei and his wife, are safe.

However there is still a hard time ahead for those in the affected areas. Many people are still missing, or they are homeless and have lost all their possessions. Still others are safe but don't know the fate of their family and friends.

The only positive thing that one can say about this is that the Japanese people have faced such disasters many times throughout their history (they invented the word tsunami, after all. BTW it means "harbour wave"). Earthquake, tsunami and volcanoes are to the Japanese what fire, flood and drought are to Australians. They practice evacuation drills regularly and have some of the best early warning systems and search-and-rescue teams in the world. So let's hope that the majority of people were able to get to higher ground before the tsunami hit.

If you wish to help, the Japanese Red Cross are accepting donations. Google has set up a page here where you can donate online.

6 March 2011

For those who were at training last Saturday...

... we were talking about gyaku do (逆胴 – "opposite or unorthodox do"), now called hidari do (左胴 – left do).

Well here is the video I mentioned. Koyama sensei (Kyoshi 7 dan) in white representing the East, versus Ishida sensei (Kyoshi 7 dan) in red representing the West, 2002 East-West Championship.

Look closely at the technique and how he does it. I think there is something very interesting that he does (or rather that he doesn't do) which makes it successful.

Enjoy! b