A lot has been written and told about the ancient Japanese samurai. Originally, the samurai were a military nobility of pre-industrial Japan. Most people perceive the samurai as being fearless warriors. However, for those who have seen the movie The Last Samurai with Tom Cruise, it becomes apparent that the samurai is much more than simply warriors. It is their way of life, which makes samurai truly unique.
As many martial arts have developed over centuries and find their origin in pre-industrial Japan, much martial art incorporates specific principles and rituals. When practicing modern martial arts today, you will still encounter rituals, and a way of thinking, or rather a way of ‘being’, which is being taught in dojos around the world. These principles not only ensure success while practicing martial arts, but can also be transferred to modern life, and aim at personal development and strengthening the mind and soul.
One of the most popular martial arts practiced in Japan today is Kendo. Kendo derives from ancient Kenjutsu, and it is translated as ‘way of the sword’. Kendo is practiced with a shinai, a bamboo stick that resembles the sword. Additionally, practitioners are protected at the head, hands, and wrists, as well as the waist, in order to minimize bodily injury. Kendo is a competition sport, so the blows with the shinai are fierce and strong.
Usually, the first person to achieve 2 out of 3 points wins the battle. But in order to win, there are 5 specific events which must happen. These points are explained below. Try to see for yourself, how you could translate that into your day-to-day life.
With every move, the Kendoka is supposed to shout. This shouting has two purposes: first of all, it releases tension and it allows us to move quicker and stronger. But second, it is also meant to intimidate the opponent and to make oneself heard. It symbolizes strength, willpower, and confidence.
Fumikomi (stamping the floor)
Similar to shouting, with every hit the Kendoka are supposed to stamp the floor with his right foot. The purposes are similar to that of shouting, whereas additionally, it gives the Kendo practitioner the chance to stabilize his stance while hitting his opponent.
Hitting the opponent
There are many different ways to hit the opponent; straight on the head, sideways on the head, on the hands, at the waist, perhaps using a combination of defensive and offensive techniques. Each hit, however, has to be made with the first third of the shinai, and it has to be precise.
When people start to practice Kendo, and once they have learned the basic moves, they will do various exercises simulating a real fight. Often beginners will fight against more experienced practitioners, and thus hitting the opponent is not that important. What is much more important, is to find a gap in the opponent’s posture, and simply conduct the attack without hesitation, without fear, without a feeling of being at risk.
It is this feature which is being said the samurai are notorious for; they do not fear death. In fact, the samurai do not seek death or defeat, but they realize that they will never be able to achieve success when they hesitate or experience great fear.
After the hit has been conducted, the last element is to keep control of the opponent, and to ensure that he or she does not strike back, and to be certain that he or she has been defeated.
There are many things we can learn from the samurai, and from martial arts. From the lessons above, we learn that we need to make ourselves noticeable and present. As soon as we see an opportunity, and we have carefully calculated the risks, our only chance to succeed is to make a move without hesitation, and without fear. Additionally, we need to monitor all aspects of what we are doing and keep control as much as we can.