We tend to think that what we know is how it has always been. This isn’t true, as they say, the only constant in the universe is change. And perhaps the speed of light for the physicists out there.
Research Journal of Budo Vol. 21 (1988-1989) No. 3 p. 41-48
ON STANCE AND FOOTWORK IN KENDO DURING THE MEIJI AND TAISHO ERAS
Koichi HASEGAWA 1)
1) Aizu Junior College
There is an old saying in Kendo that states: “First, the eyes; sencondly, the feet; thirdly, courage; and fourthly, strength. ”Thus, stance and footwork are the very fundamentals in Kendo. Since the standard of stance has been changed with time, it is difficult to give a definition of the correct stance. Therefore, the historical changes in length and width of the stance, especially in the chuudan basic position (Chuudan no Kamae) during Meiji and Taisho eras, have brought to a focus in the present paper. The results are as follows:
1) The length of a step in natural walking, namely about twice of foot length, is taken as a standard of stance in Kenjyutsu from the end of Edo era to the beginning of Meiji era.
2) In the latter half of Meiji era, a tendency toward a shorter stence is in evidence, because of setting a standard form of Kenjyutsu (Kenjyutsu-Kata) and movement of changes toward the both hands sword method in the army.
3) The army adopted the both hands sword method in the fourth year of Taisho era. Then, the length of stance came shorter approximately to one and a half of foot length in police, army and school.
4) As a result that both players stand face to face with their back straight, they are supposed to move forward and backward quickly both in offense and defense. And such a kind of techniques with quick motion came to be prevalent in Kendo.
If we say that the stance shortened from the Edo to the modern period, that would give us a lovely point of discussion to try and find the differences between kendo and kenjutsu. But half a foot length? I’m not sure that would be due to any technique changes rather than an emphasis on faster technique execution. The authors do speak of the army going to a two handed sword style and this would be from the one handed sword they purchased in quantity from the west. The Japanese army went to, if I remember correctly, the french sword style for the army, lots of moulinettes (circular movements of the sword) then moved back to a more linear style (lift straight up as per kendo rather than circle it over) but retained the one handed sword since they had plenty in the armouries. Finally they went back to the katana style sword. In all this I could see the stance being wider during the one handed era than both before and after.
Regardless, the point is that techniques have changed even from the Meiji to the present day. Granted that’s very close to 150 years but for those who believe things never change (those who have been in the arts for less than a decade perhaps) this could come as a surprise. We have had photography for a little bit longer than that 150 years, so an examination of old photos ought to yield some interesting finds for those who want to spend some time on the net. Prior to that time all we have are scattered writings that usually did not include detailed descriptions of techniques.
Thus we really can’t say much about what the founder of an art was actually doing four hundred years ago when he invented the art. So we probably should not.
To this point. I have been reading a textbook of my iaido koryu from a teacher in another line. This book is not illustrated, but contains quite readable descriptions which I read and went through in my head quite carefully. It was after I read these that I saw video of the lineage concerned and I must say that I was somewhat surprised at the exaggerated way in which they performed the points of difference I read in the book. Reading truly is not the same as seeing, even if, perhaps especially if, one fills in the visuals from one’s own style while reading about another.
On further investigation of the same lineage I noted that there was a broad range of style from the exaggerated version I mentioned, to versions that were much closer to my own lineage. The variation within the same line of practice was quite large, even though they all must have had the same root a generation or two before. Having recently been involved in a discussion of the supposed variations done by several instructors in the same club, I am tempted to show the concerned students these videos just to watch them fall over in shock.
Half a foot length is perhaps not something I would say was a notable change in stance. One vs two handed swords and techniques on the other hand would be something of significance.
Underlying this physical variation are the principles of the sword art concerned, and it is these that one can see uniting the various styles of the iai lineage I mentioned. It is these principles that are also represented in the textbook, and you can see through the various shapes of cut and timings to a unified theory. This next paper discusses one of these theoretical points.
Research Journal of Budo Vol. 16 (1984) No. 2 p. 1-7
Examination of “Ma” in Kendo
Mamoru TANAKA 1)
“Ma” is a concept which covers all regions of traditional culture of Japan, and is one of the important concepts called “riai”, which is relevant to all the techniques of kendo; that is, the techniques which are made in the interactions with the opponent, are all considered to be related with “ma”. “ Ma” in kendo is generally explained as a distance to the opponent and a timing of hitting or thrusting. The definition of this concept is, however, given quite intuitively and vaguely, and furthermore, this concept is interpreted in many ways and therefore is a “riai” which is difficult to understand readily.
Thus, this paper is intended to examine mainly the concepts of “ma” which are found in the books of kenjutsu in the Kinsei period, and to clarify the inherent significance, characteristics, essentials, and so forth. Moreover, we try to examine the change of the understanding of “ma” in relation to the change of techniques by comparing the notions of “ma” which are found in the books of kendo of today with those of earlier periods.
And that is the extent of the abstract. It is unfortunate that the author did not include further descriptions or his conclusions in the abstract. Doubtless some kind soul will soon translate this paper for idly curious fellows such as myself. Or beter yet, translate the books upon which the paper relies for its data.
Having little realistic hope of any of that, I put this reference out there for those who wish to read it themselves.
July 10, 2015