Respect is not – Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan Iaido and Roukudan Jodo

It’s the Canadian Kendo Championships this weekend, they are being held in not-Toronto which is what folks say to me when I say it’s Toronto. The actual city is Markham but you really do have a hard time telling where one place stops and another begins from about Pickering to Hamilton. Big place, lots of roads. At the CKF annual general meeting this weekend I had a short conversation about manners and respect and what they were. Then the President gave his address to the meeting and said that, as kendo moves from the first generation, trained in Japan, to the next, who have been trained entirely in Canada, we will maintain and strengthen our uniquely Canadian kendo. After all, we are not Japanese, nor are we European, we should be what we are.

Of course that sent me off down a rabbit hole where I thought a bit about what that meant. It’s a very important statement, one that could guide Canada for a generation. It’s also one that may upset some of the membership. Curiously, I have found that the Japanese issei kendoka are mostly in agreement with this. Probably because they are not in awe of things Japanese. It’s the westerners born in Canada that are the biggest Japan chauvanists. Not, by any means the majority but certainly a few.

The CKF bylaws contain a statement of purpose which more or less states the federation has the promotion of Japanese kendo, iaido and jodo in Canada on a nationwide basis and as it’s exclusive purpose and exclusive function… including

– Maintaining traditional Japanese martial arts culture of proper etiquette and self-development through rigorous training

– Fostering the technical growth of these arts amongst its members

This is a little different than the statement in the previous bylaws which included something along the lines of developing new techniques. This would be included under fostering technical growth I suppose, but the present statement could, along with “maintaining traditional Japanese martial arts culture” be interpreted as “train your members to copy Japan”

The thing is, while you might argue that iai or jodo kata should be done exactly as they are done in Japan, this doesn’t bode well for competitive kendo. If Canada is only going to copy Japan they will never pass Japan. Our training must be different, our techniques must be “ours” if we are to beat the Japanese. The student who simply copies will never surpass the teacher. Respect for the teacher doesn’t mean your forehead is dented from bowing to the floor, it means learning from your teacher and making him proud of a student who goes beyond. I was once told that to have one’s students ranked higher than oneself is a worthy goal indeed. It proves you are a good teacher which is a higher thing than being a good technician.

Canadian kendo should be it’s own thing.

The statement about maintaining Japanese martial arts culture could be read as promoting Edo-era samurai behaviour or promoting the current Japanese culture of those who do budo in Japan. In or out of Japan, you’re going to end up with a mix I suspect. If we say “Canadian kendo” we could mean “act as you should in a match, no music playing as you come to the court, no arguing with the ref, no fist pumping and acting like you’re some kid winning his first MMA bout. Since one can lose a match for such impolite displays, I think I’m on the right track there.

If I take the statement of purpose and the President’s statement together, I come up with some ideas on what respect is not.

Respect is not bowing, scraping and grovelling. It’s being polite, as anyone can be. One does not have to research Japanese history trying to figure out how to bow like a samurai, one does not have to invent some sort of subservient culture for modern Japan either. Modern Japanese bow and shake hands. I’ve seen some of them hug their students. I once hugged a Japanese sensei as he arrived for a seminar. I then jumped away, appalled at my impropriety, but the sensei just laughed and hugged me back.

Sincere behaviour in any culture is usually easy to spot. If one acts properly in one’s own culture and is mindful that other cultures are not the same but equally respectable, one can’t go too far wrong.

Now, imagine a Japanese student of western martial arts showing up for a seminar in Canada. He arrives with puffy sleeves and leggings, he whips off a massive hat with a feather, sticks out a leg and bows saying “greetings my lord”. Do you laugh? Are you shocked at the insult? Just what does this kid think Canadian culture is? Is he making fun? Perhaps the best thing is to give him the benefit of the doubt, he’s trying, and have a quiet word at some point. Something along the lines of “it’s fun, I appreciate it, but perhaps not quite so 16th century if we’re not in the salon?”

In other words, unless they’ve got self-esteem problems, your sensei probably don’t want students falling all over themselves to fall all over them.

I’ve watched irritated Canadian-Japanese sensei wave away students who are running to fold their hakama saying “sensei-sensei-sensei” like Tits. (That’s a kind of bird!)

Respect is not slavish copying either, as mentioned. A student is not inferior to a teacher, nor is he identical. A student brings what he has, and learns respectfully and if possible, goes beyond his teacher. To simply copy is to make sure the art will diminish, which is disrespectful to the teacher and the art.

Respect is not being expected to buy beer for sensei. While I don’t mind if they do, if I’ve got a job and I’m out with a bunch of students who can hardly pay for their meal plan, I might just pick up the tab. When I do I don’t want those students to feel they are failing somehow, I want them to remember and pick up the tab for their own students someday.

I could go on but I suspect the message is clear. Be Canadian budoka, respect is mutual, not one-way. It’s also earned, not purchased with money or rank or an accident of birth.

Now the calking gun is calling out “the sink needs sealing, the sink needs sealing” like a Booby (another bird!)

Kim Taylor
August 6, 2017


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