ultranos: kendoka in full bogu, possibly positioned for dô strike (kendo)
This is a little late to the party, but well, life's been crazy and better late than never, right?

Anyway, [personal profile] rydra_wong asked me like three weeks ago if I could write about kendo and American Jiu-jitsu. So here we go.

First of all, I feel as if I should begin by describing what kendo and AJJ are and are not. We'll start with kendo, as it's the one I've most recently gotten into.

Kendo is a martial art, but it is not self-defense. It's not designed to be self-defense, not anymore. It's derived from traditional Japanese swordsmanship, Kenjutsu, but has about as much in common with actual swordfighting as European fencing does Western swordplay.

Kendo is a sport, much like fencing, but the patterns and movements are all martial art. There are only a few acceptable targets in a match, and those are the parts covered with the most armor. Personally, I have not advanced enough to have the right to wear the bogu, so I spend a lot of my time on footwork and using my instructors as human targets.

There exist the 10 Nihon Kendo Kata, to be performed with a bokken, and they are a set of moves (attacks, counter-attacks, and movement) taken as representative of different kenjutsu schools. In the past, when kendo was kenjutsu and a tool of war, a practitioner would work to perfect one or two kata, and that would be their signature move with an actual sword; if it worked, you didn't need more. If it didn't, you were probably already dead.

There still exists some of that "do or die" mentality in kendo. Movements are all about staying centered and grounded while moving. Movements are quick and precise, no hesitation. Unlike fencing, which I did in high school, you are at a disadvantage if you stand and watch for an opening in your opponent's guard. You must make one. You must be deliberate in your movements and attacks, which is where the idea of the ki-ya comes in. If you've ever seen a kendo match, there's a lot of shouting. That's because you're supposed to ki-ya with every strike. It's designed to psych-out your opponent ("why is this crazy person screaming at me while they swing a sword at my face?!"), but it also has the benefit of making you breathe correctly while swinging.

I've missed the last few weeks of practice due to thesing and paper-writing, and I've found I really miss it. Maybe not the developing blisters on my feet. (In kendo, the basic stance is that your feet are parallel, left toes aligned with your right heel. The left heel is elevated, and your weight is distributed so that at least 50% is on the ball of your left foot. You move by sliding your feet forward and back, so that it looks as if you are gliding across the wooden floor. If said wooden floor is even slightly damp, overly clean, or sticky, this will hurt after 1.5 hours until you develop callouses.)

AJJ is a very different story. It is a self-defense martial art. It was designed so that anyone, regardless of age, size, or physical ability, would be able to be a practitioner, or at least gain some use out of it. Trust me, there's nothing quite like seeing a tiny Chinese woman grapple and pin a man at least 4 times her size. And then later on, see her throw him to the ground. All because the art is all about using your opponent's momentum against them.

Well, that and the joint locks and pressure points.

There's a certain comfort to knowing that you can be a threat even when standing nonchalantly in a room, completely relaxed. And while it's not exactly being fearless (because that's just stupid), there's a certain comfort to knowing that, if someone attacked you when you're walking home alone at night, you can at least probably make their lives miserable or very difficult for a couple of seconds. (Weapons training, and how to defend against knives, sticks, bats, etc are all critical parts of AJJ. Basic knowledge of this are considered white belt techniques.) Like I said, it's self-defense first, and never aggression. In fact, you are taught to first attempt to diffuse a situation with words or walk away whenever possible. However, when you're in danger, the techniques are designed to be as effective and efficient as possible. If that means breaking your attacker's elbow and slamming their face into your knee three times, well, so be it.

AJJ is considered to be what is known as a "living art". This basically means that O-Sensei, the founder of the school, is still alive (and he lives in NYC, by the way). One of the benefits to this is that the techniques are not set in stone and are constantly being refined. That and you get to see the founder of the school come and preside over black belt tests, which is never not cool.

I injured myself (broke a toe by getting thrown wrong) prior to my test for yellow belt years ago. By the time that healed, I'd missed too much mat-time to feel comfortable testing so sat out that test. Due to workload and a serious injury involving a prior dislocated knee, I haven't actually made it back to AJJ. I've found myself recently missing it a lot.

I've been reading The Unfettered Mind, by Takuan Sōhō. It's a series of three essays and letters from Takuan to Yagyū Munenori, of the Yagyū Shinkage-ryū school of swordsmanship (I may be wrong, but I believe at least one of the 10 kata for kendo is derived from Yagyū Shinkage-ryū). Takaun was a monk, and the book is about applying Zen Buddhism principles to the martial arts. It's quite fascinating, because it puts these tenants to examples of movement and thinking. I highly recommend it. It was recommended to me by a friend when I was mentioning picking up another copy of The Book of Five Rings (trans: Go Rin No Sho) by Miyamoto Musashi. (Also a good book, if you haven't read it. It's not only for warfare or the martial arts.)
Date/Time: 2010-05-16 18:01 (UTC)Posted by: [personal profile] rydra_wong
rydra_wong: Aimee Mullins crouches to sprint on carbon-fiber prosthetic legs. Text: "3 weeks 4 Dreamwidth." (3W4DW -- mullins)
Oh, thank you! I'm interested in picking the brains of anyone involved in strength training/martial arts/dance/climbing right now; I suppose it's something about disciplines of movement and how they relate to our minds which I'm pondering at the moment, though I find it hard to articulate.
Date/Time: 2010-05-17 17:50 (UTC)Posted by: [personal profile] holdouttrout
holdouttrout: not your ordinary fish (Default)
Oooh. Cool. I have recently been thinking about taking up a martial art. I did a little tiny bit of Taekwondo in college, but have been thinking I should research different types and see what might suit my temperament a little better.


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