Frequently in martial arts you hear laments about the changing nature of these arts and how particular styles were better years ago because they were more "traditional" or how they are better now because they are more "modern." But rarely does anyone stop to ask just what constitutes traditional and modern in martial arts or where the dividing line is that separates any particular art into its traditional and modern phases.
The 21st century is rife with technology. The newest software and latest gadgets surround us. However, as we stare at the seemingly endless number of progress wheels spinning throughout our day, we may wonder if modern ways and technology make life any easier. It is refreshing to know that martial arts are still proving that the old ways have much to teach us about life and ourselves. One of the oldest arts, Kendo, teaches combat with a sword, but it also teaches much more.
What made you begin studying Kendo?<p><em>When I was 19 years old a friend of mine gifted me a Shinai (bamboo sword). I was fascinated by it. I returned home, switched on my computer and dial-up modem, found the nearest Kendo club, and signed up for the beginner's course!</em></p>
How long have you been studying and teaching Kendo?<p><em>I've been studying Kendo since 2002. I started teaching basics to beginners after I got my 1st Dan, which was in late 2003. After moving to Japan in 2009, I returned to being a full-time 'student' of Kendo. In 2015 when my eldest daughter started Kendo, shortly after I got my 5th Dan, I started becoming more involved in children's Kendo in Japan, and in 2016 I was made an official teacher at the Dojo where we practiced.</em></p>
What do you think is the most important thing to consider when beginning Kendo?<p><em> When starting out, it is best to approach it with an open mind. It is likely very different from what you may be expecting – it certainly was for me – but it still has much to offer, many things that you don't even realize you are looking for, until you find them in Kendo.</em></p>
What do you think makes Kendo a great art to study?<p><em>In Kendo, physical strength and athleticism provide little to no advantage. Thus, people of all ages, genders, and physical conditions can enjoy and benefit from Kendo together. It is often observed that Kendoka become stronger as they age, and gain experience. Some of the most formidable Kendoka in the world are over the age of 60.</em></p>
With students pursuing ranks and competing, how can the goal of self-improvement be kept from getting lost?<p><em>The pursuit of ranks and the participation in competitive matches are key elements to development of the human character via the medium of Kendo. In the west, we probably put too much emphasis on the perceived 'status' granted by high ranks. But in Japan, 'what rank are you?' is a seldom asked question. Respect and status are granted generally by age and experience, rather than by ranks.</em></p><p><em>Competition is much the same. The goal of competition is, of course, victory – but on a deeper level, this victory is not necessarily victory over the opponent, but rather victory over the self.</em></p>
What are your goals for Kendo and for yourself?<p><em>I'd like to see Kendo practiced more internationally. The concept of Kendo is to train and improve the human character through the study of the principles of the Japanese sword – and by extension Japanese culture. It's something that can benefit all people, from all walks of life. I'd like to see Kendo become something that brings benefit to as many people as possible in this way.</em></p><p><em>For me, I hope to be able to continue my lifelong pursuit of betterment of my own understanding of the teachings of Kendo, as well as my own physical ability, so that I may provide others with a good example.</em></p>
Many years ago, a group of approximately 13 boys — one only 10 years old — and two young men allegedly beat a 36-year-old man to death. One teenager reportedly threw an egg at the victim, probably as a prank. The man retaliated by punching another teen in the mouth, knocking out a tooth.
The minute he did that, he was fighting a losing battle.
The youths allegedly lashed out, using improvised weapons such as broomsticks, crates and other objects to bludgeon him to death.
We all have egos. Usually the first instinct when someone calls you a name is to come back and do the same to the aggressor. The man probably thought he would just pick a fight with the guy who threw the egg while the other boys left him alone. Right. They were all friends; of course they would defend each other.
Unfortunately, there was probably very little the victim could have done to protect himself once that many people started to attack him. His fatal mistake during the altercation was that he tried to stand up to the kids in the first place.
The martial arts are fantastic for defending against one or two people, but when you're facing 15 attackers at once, forget it. In that situation, the best thing to do is swallow your pride and try to talk your way out of the confrontation.
You won't prove anything by beating up young kids, and pretending to be Billy Badass when you're facing 15 assailants will not stack the odds in your favor.
Even if the victim had been able to prevail, he would probably have gone to jail for assaulting a minor. He would have lost either way. However, if he had martial arts experience, he might have been able to talk his way out of an assault by simply backing down and saying, "Hey, I'm really sorry. You guys are right, and I'm wrong. Don't waste an egg on me. I'll just leave."
I think the reason I've never been in a street fight is I won't stand around and argue with people. A one-on-one fight is one thing, but if there's a gang of aggressors involved, they've got the advantage right off the bat. If I hit one guy, I can be pretty sure his buddies will help out. While I'm busy working on one or two of them, there is bound to be a couple more right behind me, and I will have no idea what they're doing.
If they jump on me and tackle me, I will have only two weapons to fight back with once I'm on the pavement: my hands. Legs don't work too well when you're on the ground.
Self-defense is about more than knowing which technique to use to fell an opponent. It's also about knowing where to be and where not to be so you can avoid getting in trouble.
If you're in an encounter that might turn ugly, you should get out of that area. There is no law that says you have to stay in a dangerous situation.
If you're ever attacked by a gang and cannot get away safely, maneuver so all the attackers are in front of you. Then you can use them against each other.
For example, grab one person, beat on him until he's weakened and then hold him between you and the other assailants. Use his body like a shield so the others have to get around him to get to you.
If a group surrounds your car, don't get out. Start creeping forward so they have to move out of the way. They might beat on the car, but at least you're safe inside.
One thing I do know is that the bunch of boys who allegedly attacked that man were wimps. If they really were tough guys, they would have decided which one in the group would take him on, or perhaps the boy who threw the egg would have challenged him.
But when 15 people jump on a single defender and they're using weapons, their purpose is to kill — and they should pay the penalty.
Photos by Darren Chesnut
About the author: Bill "Superfoot" Wallace is a former kickboxing champion and a Black Belt Hall of Fame member who now teaches seminars around the world. Visit his website here.
This is the final edition of an epic five-part series that details the beginning of world-renowned swordsman Dana Abbott's training.
The everyday practice and study of kendo in a climate where the temperature reaches and exceeds 90 degrees plus applicable humidity is stifling. Japanese call this "mushi atsui", but in New York City it is just known as "muggy". Hot thick air makes the practice of any sport difficult and energy zapping. Just imagine you are in heavy cumbersome kendo gear combined with this weather. After a few hundred strikes into a workout one's lethargic body becomes immune to its surroundings and that "can't get started" feeling is diminished. Soaking wet kendo gear combined with the stench of hundreds of students doing the same thing creates a thick pungent layer of air that you could literally cut with a sword.
This is the fourth edition of an epic five-part series that details the beginning of world-renowned swordsman Dana Abbott's training.
Over the course of my daily studies I was already warmed up and feeling pretty good about myself with a good mindset. Kinda like a cat waiting to pounce on a mouse. As I slowly step inwards, I eye my adversary. I seek an opening and begin my frontal attack. Then "crack" I get whacked with a deafening blow to the top of my head from my opponent's bamboo shinai, which really promoted my awareness. As Shizawa sensei repeatedly said, "don't blink your eyes...because it does not hurt any less".