by Minoru Kiyota. 1995 Kegan Paul Intl. ISBN 0710304749, 100pg.
Reviewed by Karl Friday, U. Georgia.
The following review was previously published in Monumenta Nipponica Vol 51, No. 3
(Autumn 1996 p392-4). Reprinted here with permission. MN is a quarterly publication,
subscriptions are $36 US. Contact Monumenta Nipponica, Sophia University, 7-1 Kioi-cho,
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 102 Japan. Fax 81-3-3238-3835 or email kw-
email@example.com for details.
Without doubt the bugei (military disciplines or, more popularly, martial arts) rank among the
most prominent of Japan's cultural exports and among the most widely pursued recreational
activities in Japan. Judo and kendo are taught as part of the physical education curriculum at
most Japanese schools and colleges; and virtually all junior high schools, high schools, colleges
and universities--as well as many companies--sponsor martial art clubs. In Europe and North
America judo, aikido and--more recently--kendo and iaido schools and clubs flourish, and the
association of Japan with bugei culture is pervasive. (Indeed, several friends have complained
to me that Westerners seem to believe that all Japanese are expert in one or more of these arts.)
Judging, moreover, from conversations and choices for term paper topics over the years, interest
in the bugei appears to be rivaled only by interest in business as a motivating factor drawing
students into my Japanese history courses.
Japanese scholars have researched bugei history and culture for decades--one can even
undertake formal, graduate level programs in martial art history or martial art theory--and yet,
curiously, Western academics have shown very little interest in these topics. Happily, however,
this situation is beginning to change; at least two American university presses have books
examining the history and conceptual structure of the bugei forthcoming, and I know of at least
two dissertations on similar subjects in progress at US universities. Minoru Kiyota's
long-awaited volume on kendo represents, therefore, both a harbinger of a new field of
Japanology and a milestone: the first book analyzing Japanese martial art culture to be
published in English by an established, academically-trained scholar of Japan.
English-language books on martial art to date have by-and-large fallen into two categories: how-to manuals and translations and commentaries on Japanese bugei texts such as Miyamoto Musashi's Gorin no sho, Takuan Soho's Fudochi shinmyoroku or Yagyu Munenori's Heiho kaden sho. Kiyota's work belongs to neither type. It is a sweeping assessment of kendo as popular culture.
Kiyota sees kendo as a unique physical activity that enhances both physical and mental growth.
It is, he observes, neither a fighting art--inasmuch as it embraces precisely defined rules and
special equipment--nor a means of self-defense--inasmuch as it requires a shinai(split bamboo
practice weapon) or sword, things few today carry about on the street. Nor is it a true Western-
style competitive sport, although it generally fits the modern definition of sport: "a structured
human activity carried out in leisure time for the purpose of recreating the human personality"
(p. 1). For while Western sports are oriented toward external challenges--defeating opponents
or breaking records--"the foremost concern in kendo is to tame the ego by internalizing
challenges" (p. 3). In kendo, Kiyota asserts, competitions and confrontations with opponents
are simply means to focus and discipline the conscious mind and free the true-self from
external distractions bred by the ego, "that aspect of the mind which takes the self as the
measuring stick of the world and ultimately seeks self-preservation" (p. 2), and the source of all
fear, frustration and confusion.
Kendo training, in Kiyota's view, cultivates alertness and direct cognition and, far from being an
archaic remnant of a feudal society, serves as the ideal means to augment, enhance and
complete a modern-style liberal education. The latter aims at exposing students to a variety of
subject matter, leading them to seek knowledge externally; the former at disciplining the
individual and seeking human values internally. Both, says Kiyota, are critical to personal
growth. "For seeking human values internally not supported by a liberal education, and a
liberal education not supported by human values can be exercises in futility. In the former,
there is a tendency to slight socio- political reality; in the latter, there is a tendency to slight
human values. The two need to be integrated" (p. 105).
Kiyota's book is less a methodical, academic explication of kendo history and culture than a collection of zuihitsu-style essays thematically clustered into chapters, and, he warns, the book "is not designed for specialists in Buddhist philosophy . . . [and] not designed for specialists in Japanese socio-political history" (p. x). Topics range from the general outline of Japanese history to biographies of famous swordsmen, the development of kendo, a discussion of Nitobe Inazo and his famous Bushido: the Soul of Japan, the influence of Zen and of esoteric Buddhism on traditional Japanese martial art, the integration of martial and liberal arts, and explanations of kendo terms and concepts.
This zuihitsu-esque structure at once serves and detracts from the book's worth and appeal. Kiyota comments on a piquant array of subjects, an array far too broad to be attended under any other organizational scheme, particularly in a book of this length. Readers already conversant with the issues he raises will find his insights engaging, informative and thought-
provoking. At the same time, his discussions are often terse to a fault, and many build on
historical misinformation likely to inveigle and misguide the unwary or the uninformed.
Readers new to the topic seeking a stolid, scholarly introduction and overview of kendo history and culture should approach this book with caution, for Kiyota's views on what kendo is are polemic, and some are problematic for specialists in samurai or bugei history and culture. Among other things, Kiyota minimizes or ignores the differences of pedagogical philosophy and mission that separate the classical (koryu) swordsmanship of the
premodern and early modern eras from modern kendo. Kiyota's treatment is premised on the
notion that kendo evolved more or less directly out of traditional forms of swordsmanship; it
downplays the significant and purposeful discontinuities in conceptual structure and objectives
introduced between classical swordsmanship and early twentieth century kendo, between this
early kendo and that of the Pacific War era, and between pre- and post-war kendo.
Nevertheless, read as an editorial (or series of editorials) on kendo-related topics rather than a reference work, this book is a valuable and exciting contribution, particularly for kendo enthusiasts and bugei scholars. Kiyota has produced a concise, enjoyable and provocative volume that should interest experts and aficionados alike.
Reviewed by Robert Stroud
A bit of luck allows me to pass this on to everyone. Saturday afternoon while trying to kill the
last hour in Japan before returning to Oregon I stumbled upon a new English language kendo
book. I very surprised to see it. Details are;
The author does a good job of covering history, basics, waza, kata and even provides a listing of
dojo around the world. I found it comforting to see that he had used the US dojo listing that I
maintained for years to cover the US kendo scene. Most of the technical discussion is reinforced
by nice illustrations with some photos.
Besides the main chapters of Basics, Stretching Exercises, Waza, Nihon Kendo Kata and Keiko
the appendices cover judging with the complete current set of rules and procedures for shiai.
Mr. Ozawa added sections on proper warm up and stretching something that is usually missing from this type of kendo book. I believe that this book will help satisfy the hole in everyone's collection left by the Fundamental Kendo book that we all want but is no longer in print.
by Hiroshi Ozawa, translated by Angela Turzynski with illustrations by Tamiko Yamaguchi. Tokyo, New York, London: Kodansha International, 1997. ISBN 4-7700-2119- 4. 173 p., hardcover. $35.00 US
by Ray Sosnowski, NH
I picked up a copy of this book at one of my local Barnes & Noble last night; so, let me give you
my initial impressions.
The title seems a tad presumptuous given the content -- for those of us who believe in truth in book titles, it might be more appropriate to be called *Kendo, The Definitive, English
Introductory Guide*. This book is at the level of *Kendo* (in Japanese) by Matsunobe,
Yamazaki and Nojima (1994, Seibido Sports Series), and *Kendo Kyoshitsu* (in Japanese) by
Tadakatsu Nojiri (1994, Junior Sports Series of Seibido, Inc). A definitive guide would be at
the level of *Kendo: Kihon o Manabu Tame ni* (in Japanese) by Nobuo Hirakawa (1993,
Baseball Magazine Sha). (This is a minor quibble.)
By the way, this book was originally published in Japanese (original title not given) in 1991 by
Baseball Magazine Sha; the English version in 1997.
The contents are:
The History of Kendo.
1. The Basics.
2. Stretching Exercises.
3. Waza (Techniques).
4. Nihon Kendo Kata.
5. Keiko (Practice).
Competition & Judging.
The Introduction is a short, crisp section addressing *What is Kendo?*, *Why practice Kendo?*, *Adopt a generous and liberal attitude toward your opponent*, and *Women and Kendo*. However, The History of Kendo is another misnomer; *The Prehistory of Kendo* would be more correct, and, of course, it has the
requisite section on *Miyamoto Musashi and Go Rin no Sho* -- just skip it (another minor quibble); if you want the history of Kendo, see the relevant chapter of the late Donn Draeger's *Modern Bujutsu & Budo* (1974, Weatherhill, NY) or the relevant section of the classic *This is Kendo: The Art of Japanese Fencing* by Sasamori & Warner (1964, Tuttle, Rutland, VT).
The Basics is a *very* solid chapter with many line drawings; it covers Fastening Keiko-gi and
Hakama, Putting on Kendo-gu, Etiquette, Kamae, Ashi-Sabaki, Suburi, Maai, Kiri wearing
Bogu, Kirikaeshi, and Practice Striking with Various Apparatus. And surprize, the Kendo-ka in
these drawings is a young girl.
Stretching Exercises is a very short chapter concentrating on stretches for the legs and for the
arms, shoulders and upper back. It's a bit too brief for my liking because it neglects the lower
back, the neck and the wrists (this is more than a minor quibble, but not enough to be a major
one). The Kendo-ka in these drawings appears to be a young boy.
The chapter on Waza includes 35 techniques in three categories: Shikake- waza, Ooji-waza and
Waza from Tsubazeriai. They are Waza that every beginner should be familiar with. The
author makes a point of highlighting the criteria for choosing these particular Waza. There are
panels of line drawings keyed to associated text for each Waza. It's nicely done -- the drawings
are big enough to see what is going on, yet small enough to fit on one page along with the text.
The chapter on Nihon Kendo Kata is also well laid out, especially since some need more than
one page -- a lot of care was given keep the figures and text together. The text includes separate
instructions for Uchidachi and Shidachi. In the figures, motion is indicated with arrows and
Kiai appear in *spiky balloons* over the appropriate figure in the relevant segment of the panel;
the Kendo-ka are both men. All seven Odachi and three Kodachi Kata are included. A minor
quibble here -- the opening Reiho is not mentioned, and the closing Reiho is mentioned in
passing in the text only; how much effort would it have taken to include the requisite figures
and text? Since it is just a chapter, not a book itself, things like foot diagrams are missing too --
for those, see Michael Finn's *Kendo no Kata: Forms of Japanese Kendo* (1985, Paladin Press,
Boulder, CO) (however, he lumps the text together for Uchidachi and Shidachi which makes for
a very difficult read).
The short chapter on Keiko is primarily textual, and is actually a series of 19 short essays on
aspects of Keiko. What caught my eye are the last two: Basic Example of Practice Plan, which
includes a page-long detailed list, and Measurement of Force Generated during Fumi-komi-ashi
(the right foot making contact with the floor during Shomen-uchi and Kote-uchi) which includes
a table for various direction cuts by experienced men, experienced women, and inexperienced
The first Appendix, Competition & Judging, includes the
Regulations of Kendo Match and Its Refereeing (1 April 1995, AJKF). Material like this is a welcome addition -- it indicates a serious introduction to Kendo. The second Appendix,
International Kendo, contains the list of IKF Affiliated
Organizations in 37 countries, and lists of Dojo in English- speaking countries: USA, Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand. The third Appendix, the Glossary, appears complete, but is brief.
Given the dearth of Kendo texts in English, this is certainly a welcome addition to the other
three: *This is Kendo*, *Kendo no Kata* and *Kendo: The Way and the Sport of the Sword* by
Micheal Finn (1985, Elite International Publications, London). As I mentioned before *Kendo,
The Definitive Guide* should really be called *Kendo, The Definitive, English Introductory
Guide*; however, I believe, it is also a good reference book for the experienced player as well.
The Definitive Guide to Kendo, as such, has yet to be written in or translated into English.
Of the short sections of text I read or skimmed, the English translation is quite good -- it is not readily apparent that this book was not originally written in English; kudos to the translator, Ms. Angela Turzynski. Kudos also to the illustrator, Ms. Tamiko Yamaguchi; the illustrations really make the book.
Reviewed by Tom Bolling, Kenyu, the PNKF newsletter.
A nice new introduction to Kendo has just appeared, and is available in bookstores everywhere.
It's a translation of a book published in Japanese in 1991. It has well-illustrated chapters
covering the basics, stretching exercises, waza, Kendo Kata, and keiko. There are also
appendices on competition and judging, a directory of national Kendo Federations, a directory
of Dojo in the US, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, and a brief
glossary of a few Kendo terms. Unfortunately the book does not have an index, and does not
show the kanji and kana for any Japanese terminology. It also lacks any information about
Iaido. While it cannot really be called "definitive" in any sense of the word, it is nonetheless
very helpful, and goes far to take the place of the ZenKenRen's long-unavailable
"Despite passing through various stages of development, the essence (honshitsu) of Kendo has remained constant: one person faces another, ready with the shinai, mind meets mind, and the opponents strike. By training one's spirit and performing keiko correctly, honestly, and full of vigor, an ennobling of human nature takes place."
--Hiroshi Ozawa, KENDO: THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE.