Mastering the Manners and Aiming for Beautiful Kendo

There are all kinds of sports in our world, but a big difference between kendo and other sports it the approach toward “manners”. Many people have the image that if you take up kendo you will learn good manners,. Why is kendo so strict on manners? Here I will write about the reason for manners, the specifics of manners, and how fine manners can lead to beautiful kendo.

From the old days, kendo is said to “begin and end in manners”. That is how much manners are valued in the sport. It is a sport where you face an opponent, and it is also valued as a way of training yourself and improving your skill as well as your mentality. To start with, most training as well as the matches will not be possible without an opponent. You can only pursue kendo in confidence by having a caring heart toward the other and the acknowledgment that you are relying on that person in order to practice kendo.

Mokuso meditation in Kendo Dojo facility

Having an opponent is extremely important, and it is crucial to have a sense of gratitude and respect. The “mannerisms” are ways in which those inner feelings are reflected visibly. During practice and in matches, you show respect toward you opponent who has worked hard in training to be there, and also gratitude for giving his/her best in matches. Manners are important in order to create beautiful kendo that includes a heart of sincerity, respect, and dignity at all times.

There are many times when you bow (in Japanese the word for “manners” and “bow” are the same: rei), so let us check them. You bow when you enter or leave the dojo; you bow to your superiors or your trainers; you bow toward the upper seat before and after practice; and before and after matches. There are two types of bows: the standing bow and sitting bow.

Image of a bowing dummy

The standing bow is done when entering the dojo. Bowing toward the dojo signifies a heart of gratitude that acknowledges the fact that you can practice or hold matches at that dojo. When you first enter the dojo, you give the greeting, “Onegaishimasu!” before bowing. As a guide, straighten your neck and back and slowly bend your hips to about 15-30 degrees down. There are also deeper bows where you bend to about 45 degrees. The 45 degree bow is done toward the master, the upper seat, and your instructors. You also have to be mindful of your gear bags. Recently there are carry-type kendo gear bags, but you should lift them up when entering the dojo. From the perspective of manners, dragging your gear back inside the dojo is not recommended.

The sitting bow is done before practice. Sit with your knees folded under, straighten you back, and slowly bend your hips until both of your elbows are touching the floor and your upper body is bent to the floor. Create a triangle with your two arms, and fit your nose inside that triangle. The sitting bow done toward the instructors, your superiors, and masters. Usually it is done in the following order: bowing straight in front, bowing toward the instructors, bowing to each other. When bowing in front, if there is a household alter bow toward that. If not bow toward the upper seat.

As written above, kendo is a sport that “begins and ends with manners (bows)”. This is true not only during your practices but also when you have matches or enter tournaments. When you have a match, you bow facing your opponent before taking your position. When you finish, players must also bow to each other before departing. During the match, even if the umpire calls you out for an infringement, you bow toward the umpire. The match is only made possible because of the opponent and the umpire, so the bows both before and after the match must not be done carelessly, but with dignity and style. This mindset makes kendo stand out compared to other sports.

Rei - salute; greeting; bow; salutation

Manners/bowing are a vital part of your mentality toward kendo. A neat bowing posture is achieved by bending your upper body from your hips in front at about a 30-45 degree angle. Keep your head down for about 3 seconds and fix your eyes on the floor in front. If it’s before a match, look your opponent in the eye and bow with the thoughts: “I will play cleanly and do my best” and “thank you for this opportunity”. The bow after the matches is a measure of thanks shown to the opponent regardless of the outcome. Please remember this in order to keep a sense of neatness during kendo practices and matches.

As you pursue kendo, it is important to have your heart right and also your postures right. As it is a sport that “begins and ends in manners/bowing” having a neat mannerisms not only counts in promotion examinations, but enables you to develop a sense of maturity as a kendo player and earn respect from other players.

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