I often get potential new students who ask about Kendo. I explain that we do Kenjutsu, not Kendo, but that often is very confusing to people who are not familiar with the differences in various martial arts. I will attempt to explain some simple differences between the two. Kendo mean "path of the sword" but today it typically refers to Japanese fencing. Originally Kendo was used to describe any sword style, and Gekiken "hitting sword" was used to describe the sport of fencing. Nowadays, Kendo refers primarily to fencing. Kenjutsu means "art of the sword" and refers to a martial art that predates the 1800s and teaches how to use the Japanese Samurai sword, either Tachi or Katana or both (our dojo learns both).
Fencing is not actual sword fighting. There are many things that morph from the original styles when they are adapted to sport fighting. One is the striking of the Shinai (bamboo stick sword) against the opponent. The method of swinging is different from how a katana or tachi is actually swung, and the striking targets certain parts of the armor worn. In Kenjutsu the goal is to defeat the armor by cutting where the joints are, not hitting the armor itself as is done in Kendo. Also, a Kendo practitioner may never pick up an actual sword, whereas in Kenjutsu the shape, weight, and balance of the sword are very important so metal or solid hardwood swords are primarily used.
So, depending on your interest, you would search out the style that matches your interest. If you want to do the sport of Japanese fencing, then Kendo is the style you are looking for and we do have Kendo clubs in the Treasure Valley area. If you are looking for training with an actual sword and to learn how to properly handle and use a Japanese sword and how it is used to get around armor (the curved shape of the Japanese sword is very important for this, a straight stick can't replicate it), then you are searching for Kenjutsu. In the Treasure Valley, our dojo is the only one teaching Kenjutsu in the old style as part of an actual Samurai heritage passed on to today through direct transmission for 1,000 years.
In Japan they do celebrate Christmas as a holiday in the country, however it has some different ideas and meanings than in the west since the country developed independent from the rest of the world for a very long time. クリスマス, pronounced Kurisumasu, can mean to "reveal your true inner-self," or "dive deeper in emptiness."
This year our theme of focus will be from Ku no Kata of the Sanshin, the void kata. So, whether you are working on getting to know your true inner-self, or working on the philosophy of Ku no Kata in your Taijutsu (body movement) with our dojo, this is a great time of year to not only celebrate Christmas with family here in the U.S. and improve yourself as well. I am really looking forward to this year and doing an in-depth study of Ku no Kata and to see how everyone in the dojo improves from this. If you haven't yet, come check out a class.
There is a concept in Japanese that is essential for someone to begin a martial arts journey, or starting a new martial art. This is Shoshin: The Beginners Mind. The reason this concept is so important is it requires a person to approach training as a beginner, so they can learn.
As a sensei, it is very hard to teach someone who doesn't want to be taught. They may want to learn, but don't want to be taught. The unteachable person thinks they can learn on their own, or that what they have already learned is the ultimate thing there is and thus no one can teach them differently.
I'm not sure why they even go to a new dojo with this mindset. Even though I have over two decades of martial arts training, 20 of those years in the Bujinkan, when I visit someone else's dojo, I take the attitude of a beginner. If for no other reason than because it is polite. It's like the proverbial question: What is the best kind of cup? An empty one. One must empty their cup in order to fill it with something new.
If you are fortunate enough to visit Japan sometime, you will notice a general attitude of hospitality towards visitors, especially if you are polite in their country. The reason for this is a philosophy in Japan called Omotenashi. Often this is translated as "everyone is my guest," but it goes deeper than this. Omote means "outward," or it can mean "public face." Nashi means "nothing." Combining them in a philosphy about hospitality gives the minds eye the illustration of "providing service from the bottom of the hear, honest with no hiding or pretending." So, don't be surprised if Japanese people randomly offer you directions just in case you are lost, or offer to take your picture for you so you can be in the shot. The Japanese are a very kind people towards visitors, particularly if you are polite. Politeness is extremely important, so much so they have a separate aspect of their language for polite speak. So, spend a few minutes learning public etiquette in Japan so you will not inadvertently act rudely and then you will find Japan to be even more fun to visit.
For those interested in learning more about the culture of Japan and what it is like to visit Japan, these are two great Youtube channels. The Only in Japan channel has edited videos on specific themes and are very high quality. The Only in Japan Go channel is by the same Youtuber, but all of the videos are live streams from his life in Japan. I highly recommend both channels and enjoy watching the videos myself. The focus is more on Japanese culture, unique things about Japan, and things to do while visiting Japan, rather than martial arts like Karate or Aikido (although, there is a video on a naginata school).
In the Bujinkan we say "Shikin Haramitsu Daikomyo" at the beginning and end of each training session.
The word SHIKIN has four dimensions. The first dimension is a merciful heart, expressing love for everything. Second is a sincere heart to follow what is right. Third is a attuned heart in tune with the natural order (balance). Last is a dedicated heart, dedicated to a chosen path.
HARAMITSU is the combination of these four elements and means great wisdom.
Only from great wisdom and a pure heart can one obtain true enlightenment, DAIKOMYO, the goal of all great people. The enlightened person emits a powerful aura that transcends ignorance and shines forever.
There is a warrior verse, one of Japan's oldest known poems, that goes, "Chihayaburu kami no oshie wa tokoshie ni tadashiki kokoro mo mamoruran." Translated it means, if one does not have a pure heart, heaven will never permit pleasurable times. This is said by the instructor before each bowing ceremony in more of a whisper.
For the kids class in our dojo we bow in and out using the phrase Ninpo Ikkan. The Japanese character for Nin consists of two parts or radicals. The upper radical is called yaiba which refers to the cutting edge of a blade. The lower radical can be read either as kokoro or shin, both of which mean heart.
The character Nin is also used to write Nintai, which means perseverance or patience, implying the important thing for a ninja is to be patient under impossible circumstances and persevere when he/she cannot find a way to succeed on a mission. This form of thinking, the spirit of perseverance, is called Budo Seishin. If one receives an insult from another, one must be able to endure it without holding a grudge and then discard such feelings as anger and jealousy.
The essence of Ninpo is a pure heart through endurance. Ikkan means to pursue something with single and lasting purpose/intent. A simple way to translate Ninpo Ikkan then is "The essence of the ninja, to endure, is our primary focus."
During a weekend-long seminar that my Sensei taught for our dojo, he spoke about the Japanese character (kanji) 武 "Bu." 武 Bu is usually translated as war, or martial. He said this is a more modern definition for the word. An older use of the kanji 武 Bu means, "to stop war."
武 Bu is the first kanji in the name of our martial art, 武神館 Bujinkan. The kanji 神 Jin (or Kami) means divine or enlightened, it can even mean God. The kanji 館 Kan means a castle or hall. Typically, the Bujinkan is translated to mean the Hall of the Enlightened Warrior, or Hall of the Divine Warrior. With the understanding of this older meaning of the word 武 Bu, we can translate Bujinkan as: the dojo of stopping war with God.
Now, we can do a bit of word play simply using a comma. If we write the name of the Bujinkan using a comma so it reads: the dojo of stopping war, with God, then it means that with the aid of God we work to stop war. If we write it without the comma, we can interpret it to mean that we are learning to stop warring against God.
There is a high level of martial philosophy called Shin Gi Tai. Often these are referred to as their plain translation of Mind/Heart, Spirit, and Body. However, these can also be referred to as the divine techniques, techniques learned from heaven. If one is to ever reach this level in their training, they must stop fighting against the will of heaven, trust that heaven has better plans than we do, and follow the path of enlightenment. Then the Shin Gi Tai can be made usable in us.
So, no matter how you translate Bujinkan, our studies take us beyond the physical training of martial arts, or war arts. Our Soke of the Bujinkan has said, "I'm not teaching you how to fight. I am teaching you how to control evil." It is possible that the evil we control is not just from others, but also through improving ourselves. This is the essence of our training in the dojo.
Stay tuned, the dojo will be moving to a much larger and nicer facility in the next week. If you are looking for a karate or other martial arts school, consider our dojo. We have great tuition rates, no contracts, a head instructor who has trained regularly in Japan for several years, and some of the best students in the valley!
Shane Sensei is a licensed Shidoshi in the Bujinkan and member of the Shidoshi-Kai. He has trained in the Bujinkan since 1998 and regularly travels to Japan for training.