The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Sunday, October 28, 2018

Promotion Test Jitters

Have you ever found yourself nervous about taking a promotional test? Have you ever really thought it through to figure out what you could do about it?

Our friend Zacky Chan at Green Leaves Forest had a very nice post about just that. An excerpt from that post is below. The whole post may be read here.


I’ve been running myself down a dark little tunnel in my training lately.
I’ve got the shinsa shakes.
“Shinsa” are tests in kyudo, and when you’ve got one coming up, it’s going to start messing with your brain sometime. Some people get them on test day. Some a week earlier. Some maybe midway through the test.
I can just imagine someone standing up just before they make their shot, realize all of the judges are sitting right in front of them staring at them, and say, “Holy crap, this is happening right now!”
For me I got the shakes about 5 weeks before the actual test, and I’ve got two weeks left until the day. Which I’d say is pretty long. Perhaps the time gets longer as the stakes get higher. I’m planning to move back home in the near future, and this may be my last chance at 6-dan before heading home. This means I only have two arrows to try my chance at this goal of mine. I’ll probably still be a number which puts me at the very beginning in the first sitting (No. 1, No. 2, or maaaaybe No. 3 or No. 4, I assume), which means if I don’t hit both arrows, then there’s no chance at passing.
I can only imagine the kind of stress that goes with taking tests from abroad. Taking time off work, spending hundreds or thousands of dollars, being jet-lagged, shooting in an environment completely different from one’s own, in a whole different country. Shooting your best under such conditions is really something special.
There may be a lot of different things that come up with the shinsa shakes, but I would bet the number one topic that comes up for everyone is …
hitting the target.
“Don’t worry, you’ll pass if you just hit the target.”
This is one thing you’ll often hear from other training partners. I think it’s meant to help you relax and stop worrying about all the little things you can worry about. Or maybe they really mean it, and that you’re shooting is good enough just the way it is at this level, and all you need to do is do your best shot and hit the target. Surely everyone has the capability of doing this, be you ikkyu or hanshi.
But that’s just another piece of poison that can mess with your brain.
“Maybe they’re right. All I have to do is hit the target and I’ll pass.”
And so you start either trying too hard to hit the target, throwing off your form and making it even harder to hit the target. Or you let up all your energy and don’t put enough effort into your shooting.
So what should we do?!
What is the best way to prepare yourself mentally and physically for a test?
What is the best way to train?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. And you know what?
It’s different for everybody.
And what works for you will continue to change with your experience and progress.
Because you’re a living being! And change is the only constant.
But here I’d like to finally start talking about what I set out to talk about, and that is the importance of hitting the target in kyudo, and finding a practice that includes this without focusing only on hitting the target.
So, my reaction to all these shinsa shakes has been extremist. Since 5 weeks before the test, I decided I was only going to practice zassha (ritual test-style shooting that takes a lot longer than normal shooting practice) with the kimono, and shoot at the makiwara (practice hay bail).
My reason for this was to get my body so used to the movements and kimono and shinsa atmosphere, so that when the day came for the test, the only shooting I would know would be that of the shinsa atmosphere and I could shoot my best arrows without any question. I also thought that by doing such a practice would allow me to put my entire focus into each arrow … since each one took so long to shoot, and the mental stakes of a shinsa are so high. With the makiwara, I could make sure that my shooting form was as close to perfect as I could tell with my own eyes.
My very first teacher told me to do only zassha shooting for the week before the test when I first started. At that time I thought it was overkill, but I’ve kept with that tradition since then and I think it’s helped me immensely. This is the first time I’ve extended that time, and perhaps I’ve gone overboard … way overboard.
I’ve been doing this for 3 weeks now, and sure there are lots of benefits, but you know what?
I’m getting farther and farther away from hitting the target.
When missing, I don’t curse myself, and instead move on to the next shot anew. This is also good mental practice. But yesterday I thought,
“I hit the target so infrequently now … and I don’t feel like I’m getting any closer. In fact, I think I’m getting worse!”
I’ve had good intentions, but maybe I’m really sabotaging myself!
What is happening is that I’m just hoping that my hard work pays off and I will naturally hit the target when the time comes. It’s all “hoping” and “praying.” It’s putting me in a position of weakness, when what I really need is one of confidence. I need to go into the test with the confidence that I can hit both arrows in the target.
For a while now I’ve really been thinking a lot about the importance of taihai (all of the movements other than shooting like walking, standing, sitting, etc) and how they must be done to the best of your ability every time in order to help your shooting and art. I’ve thought a lot about the mental strength to not worry about hitting the target and always remaining relaxed, unaffected by the temptations around. I’ve thought about making the best of our shooting, and trying to fix our bad habits instead of just forgetting about it all and caring only about hitting the target.
But what about hitting the target?
Hitting the mark?
Achieving the goal of what you set out to do?

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Miyamoto Mushashi: Maxims

Below is an excerpt from the excellent blog of Sam Yang at Must Triumph. The full post may be read here.


Often it is a warrior like Miyamoto Musashi (c. 1584 – 1645) who is more applicable to the everyday person than a philosopher or monk. It is not that we need a more adversarial viewpoint or that Musashi gives us better insight than German philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein or Taoist poet Chuang Tzu. Warriorship is philosophy delivered through a code of living—which is much easier to implement. Especially for a generation that no longer sets aside time for deep thinking, rules work better. Then it is not surprising that we are naturally drawn to the words of the warrior class. They demand we follow their code, whether we understand it or not. But it works better if we spend some time reflecting. After all, quoting Musashi is not the same as thinking like Musashi. This is bunbu ichi, the samurai concept of swordsmanship and intellect in equal accord.

Miyamoto Musashi's 30 Simple Maxims on Living

Spend one day meditating on each of Musashi's maxims and their deeper meaning. Then after 30 days, you'll know more about thinking like a warrior. (And how you come to think of warriorship will be that much different than what you thought of it on day one.)
*Note – Musashi was a lover of poetry, philosophy, and the arts. Fighting and swordsmanship are only metaphors for Musashi. Then pay special attention to what he means, not what he says. He did not write this book for other swordsmen. He wrote it for everyone else.

Day 1





“There is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, richer, stronger, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself.”

Day 2





“Respect Buddha and the gods without counting on their help.”

Day 3





“If you wish to control others you must first control yourself.”

Day 4





“Really skillful people never get out of time, and are always deliberate, and never appear busy.”

Day 5





“All things entail rising and falling timing. You must be able to discern this.”

Day 6





“Today is victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men.”

Day 7





“You should not have a favorite weapon. To become over-familiar with one weapon is as much a fault as not knowing it sufficiently well.”

Day 8





“I dislike fixedness in both long swords and hands. Fixedness means a dead hand. Pliability is a living hand.”

Day 9





“You can only fight the way you practice.”

Day 10





“Be detached from desire your whole life long.”



Monday, October 22, 2018

The Passing of Taijiquan Master Ben Lo

On October 12th, Taijiquan Master Ben Lo passed away. He was in his 90's.

Below is an excerpt of a tribute to Master Lo from the Taijiquan Journal. The full post may be read here.

A few years ago, we had a guest post on Cook Ding's Kitchen by a long time student of Master Lo, describing what his training was like. That older post may be found here.

One of the leading figures of late twentieth-century taiji, Benjamin Pang-jeng Lo, has passed away. Born in 1927 in Mainland China, Ben, as he was called by his students, was one of Professor Cheng Man-ch'ing's earliest students in Taiwan after both of their families had resettled there at the end of China's civil war in the late 1940s.
In his early twenties, Lo was not well; his father sent him to see Cheng Man-ch'ing, who was a well-known artist and traditional doctor, as well as a t'ai chi master. Lo was not able to consume the prescribed herbs, so Cheng recommended he study t'ai chi to build up his body strength. Lo began training with Cheng, and never stopped. He studied literature in college, and then got a masters in public administration. After working in the government, all the while continuing his t'ai chi studies, he moved to San Francisco, and with Cheng's encouragement, began his teaching career.
Over the years, Ben Lo taught thousands of students, both in his San Francisco studio and in regular camps and workshops in many cities around the United States, Europe, and elsewhere. He was a regular visitor to the Shih Chung T'ai Chi Association when visiting Taiwan. Lo, along with Robert Smith, was a staunch defender of Cheng's teachings and reputation. 

Friday, October 19, 2018

The Tang Dynasty Poems, #69: A Poem on the Stone Drums

The Tang Dynasty was a high point of culture in ancient China. Especially esteemed were poems. There was no home coming or leave taking; no event too small to not be commemorated with a poem.

Some of the best poems of that period have been collected into an anthology known as The 300 Tang Dynasty Poems. A online version of the anthology may be found here. Today we have #69: A Poem on the Stone Drums.

A POEM ON THE STONE DRUMS
Chang handed me this tracing, from the stone drums,
Beseeching me to write a poem on the stone drums.
Du Fu has gone. Li Bai is dead.
What can my poor talent do for the stone drums?
...When the Zhou power waned and China was bubbling,
Emperor Xuan, up in wrath, waved his holy spear:
And opened his Great Audience, receiving all the tributes
Of kings and lords who came to him with a tune of clanging weapons.
They held a hunt in Qiyang and proved their marksmanship:
Fallen birds and animals were strewn three thousand miles.
And the exploit was recorded, to inform new generations....
Cut out of jutting cliffs, these drums made of stone-
On which poets and artisans, all of the first order,
Had indited and chiselled-were set in the deep mountains
To be washed by rain, baked by sun, burned by wildfire,
Eyed by evil spirits; and protected by the gods.
...Where can he have found the tracing on this paper? --
True to the original, not altered by a hair,
The meaning deep, the phrases cryptic, difficult to read.
And the style of the characters neither square nor tadpole.
Time has not yet vanquished the beauty of these letters --
Looking like sharp daggers that pierce live crocodiles,
Like phoenix-mates dancing, like angels hovering down,
Like trees of jade and coral with interlocking branches,
Like golden cord and iron chain tied together tight,
Like incense-tripods flung in the sea, like dragons mounting heaven.
Historians, gathering ancient poems, forgot to gather these,
To make the two Books of Musical Song more colourful and striking;
Confucius journeyed in the west, but not to the Qin Kingdom,
He chose our planet and our stars but missed the sun and moon
I who am fond of antiquity, was born too late
And, thinking of these wonderful things, cannot hold back my tears....
I remember, when I was awarded my highest degree,
During the first year of Yuanho,
How a friend of mine, then at the western camp,
Offered to assist me in removing these old relics.
I bathed and changed, then made my plea to the college president
And urged on him the rareness of these most precious things.
They could be wrapped in rugs, be packed and sent in boxes
And carried on only a few camels: ten stone drums
To grace the Imperial Temple like the Incense-Pot of Gao --
Or their lustre and their value would increase a hundredfold,
If the monarch would present them to the university,
Where students could study them and doubtless decipher them,
And multitudes, attracted to the capital of culture
Prom all corners of the Empire, would be quick to gather.
We could scour the moss, pick out the dirt, restore the original surface,
And lodge them in a fitting and secure place for ever,
Covered by a massive building with wide eaves
Where nothing more might happen to them as it had before.
...But government officials grow fixed in their ways
And never will initiate beyond old precedent;
So herd- boys strike the drums for fire, cows polish horns on them,
With no one to handle them reverentially.
Still ageing and decaying, soon they may be effaced.
Six years I have sighed for them, chanting toward the west....
The familiar script of Wang Xizhi, beautiful though it was,
Could be had, several pages, just for a few white geese,
But now, eight dynasties after the Zhou, and all the wars over,
Why should there be nobody caring for these drums?
The Empire is at peace, the government free.
Poets again are honoured and Confucians and Mencians....
Oh, how may this petition be carried to the throne?
It needs indeed an eloquent flow, like a cataract-
But, alas, my voice has broken, in my song of the stone drums,
To a sound of supplication choked with its own tears.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

2018 Birthday Post

Today is my birthday. Won't you help me celebrate?




Life IS a circle sometimes and that can be appropriate.


Over 35 years ago, I began learning the Cheng Man Ching (Zheng Man Qing) version of Taijiquan from Carol Yamasaki, who was a direct student of CMC from his New York days during the late '60s and early '70's. After a year or two, life took me in other directions as it sometimes does.

A few years ago, I decided that dusting off that form practice and polishing it was a worthy pursuit of a man my age, and so I began practicing again, to the best of my recollection and with whatever references I could find.

Earlier this year by chance I made the acquaintance of a current student of hers. It turned out that she had a class in the evenings during the week that was not all that far from my office! In May of this year, I started learning from her and my practice has blossomed.




Running was a bust this year.

I like to run but I draw the line in certain places. Since I usually run in the dark, at least during the beginning and end of the seasons, I don't like to run when it's wet or slippery out. I don't like dodging puddles and not being sure where I'm stepping. At my age, healing from injuries takes longer these days.

I also need the temperature to be at least in the mid 40's before I'm going to step outside. I've run when it's colder, but that's something I'm not really fond of.

Winter had hung on for a long time. Where I would normally get started around the end of March, we were heading into April before conditions were leaning my way. But before I could get on the road, I had three weeks in a row of work related travel.

I find that it's hard enough to maintain any good habits when I'm traveling, much less running, so we were into May before I could lace up my shoes and get going.

I dove into it, running perhaps a little too far, too quickly after not having run since last October or November. But wait! There's more to it.

For some stupid reason, I decided to may last year's shoes last a little longer before using my newer shoes. I don't know what I was thinking, but the result was that I badly bruised up the soles of my feet.

I tried letting them heal up and trying again, but it became very clear, very quickly that they needed to heal up over a longer period.

I decided to let it go for this year and to pick it up again next spring. In the meantime, my taijiquan practice has benefited from the break.

-

You take the bitter with the sweet.

One of my sisters in law was diagnosed earlier this year with brain cancer. There is no known cure yet.

She's relatively young (51), in otherwise good health, and is neither overweight or a smoker. She's got those things going for her while she endures the year long chemotherapy regimen.

She's had a great attitude in facing the long odds against her.

Her husband has been remarkable in how he's been all over everything and has been finding options for her, for any eventuality.

The support that they are getting from family and friends is heartening.

I hope that I will be able to report next year that her cancer is in remission and a cure has been found.

-

For the rest of us, we have no complaints; how could we?

My wife works three days a week which allows her to help care for her sister two days a week. This year she and I will be celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary.

To celebrate her 60th birthday, which is the day before mine, She and I, together with our two daughters took a look weekend trip up to Mackinac Island. We had a great weekend.

The older daughter has visited a number of national parks this year. 

My youngest daughter is going to Iceland on vacation next spring.

And I am just fat, dumb and happy at age 61,

Books that I enjoyed over the last year:


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Correct Zanshin

At Kenshi 24/7, there was a post about what is correct Zanshin, what isn't and also a surprising definition of zanshin.

An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

The common meaning of ZANSHIN nowadays is exactly as the kanji suggest – 残心 – “remaining spirit.” In other words, once you have struck you have to remain aware of your opponent in case they attempt to strike you back and, if they do so, you should be in a position to counterattack. In modern kendo this usually (for men) takes the physical form of turning around, facing your opponent, and going into kamae after a strike. I’ll explain why this can be slightly odd behaviour further down.

Coincidently, Andy Fisher just recently made an excellent video describing and showing what zanshin is (how it’s supposed to be) today. He also clearly shows postures that can be described as “zanshin-less” (but that we commonly see in shiai, more on that below). His textbook description and demonstration is spot-on, saving me both time and effort! Specifically, please watch the video between 1:27-6:18:



Going back to our topic of discussing what “zanshin” is, did you know that there is an older, more classical, and almost unknown definition of the term? This is something I have puzzled over for years, but I have avoided introducing it on kenshi 24/7 because of both the potentially confusing nature of the definition, and (mainly) because it flies in the face of pretty much everyone’s idea of what “zanshin” is. A recent edition of the magazine Kendo Nippon mentioned it, re-fueling my thoughts on the matter and supplying the impetus to talk about it today.

So, what is this other definition?

Zanshin and Sutemi

Here we go:
“Zanshin is the consequence of striking with full spirit (without attempting to leave anything behind).”
In other words, ZANSHIN IS THE RESULT OF SUTEMI. If you do not attack with full spirit (sutemi), that is, if you try to force “zanshin” or try to keep something back, then not only will you not have any real zanshin, but your attack will be half-baked.
“If you imagine you have a cup full of water. In one swift motion you flick your wrist and the water flies out at speed. Looking in the cup you will see a little bit of water left. This is zanshin.”
By attacking with sutemi…
“… not only will you naturally be ready to face any counter-attack by the opponent but, in fact, no opening for your opponent to strike will appear.”
So, our two definitions might look different, they might even seem like they are saying the opposite thing, but the end result is more-or-less the same.


Thursday, October 11, 2018

The First Duel


The Duellists was a terrific movie. Based upon a pair of actual antagonists, which Joseph Conrad used as the basis for his short story The Duel (AKA "Point of Honor), it chronicles two French officers during the Napoleonic era who had a beef with each other and fought about 30 duels over a period of about 20 years.

From Wikipedia:

The Conrad short story evidently has its genesis in the real duels that two French officers fought in the Napoleonic era. Their names were Dupont and Fournier-Sarlovèze, whom Conrad disguised slightly, changing Dupont into d'Hubert and Fournier into Feraud.

In The Encyclopedia of the Sword, Nick Evangelista wrote:

As a young officer in Napoleon's Army, Dupont was ordered to deliver a disagreeable message to a fellow officer, Fournier, a rabid duellist. Fournier, taking out his subsequent rage on the messenger, challenged Dupont to a duel. This sparked a succession of encounters, waged with sword and pistol, that spanned decades. The contest was eventually resolved when Dupont was able to overcome Fournier in a pistol duel, forcing him to promise never to bother him again.[2]

They fought their first duel in 1794 from which Fournier demanded a rematch. This rematch resulted in at least another 30 duels over the next 19 years, in which the two officers fought mounted and on foot, with swords, rapiers, and sabres.

The Duellists stands out for the realism of the fighting. Below is a clip of the first duel.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Aesthetics of the Dojo

Below is an excerpt from an excellent post at appeared at The Dragon's Orb, regarding the influence of Zen aesthetics on the traditional dojo. The full post may be read here.

In the training halls that come from the Japanese martial lineage we find what was once simple and crude acts of violence elevated to a a high art form that transcends the physical techniques and moves us towards a far deeper practice. These arts that have sprung from Japan emerge from a rich and formal artistic tradition. The formality of Bushido culture, the Zen artistic aesthetic and the rich religious and social philosophies of the East all shape the character of the fine arts that comprise 武道 budo - the martial way. Fredric Lieberman wrote, "To Occidentals, the physical world was an objective reality--to be analyzed, used, mastered. To Orientals, on the contrary, it was a realm of beauty to be admired, but also of mystery and illusion to be pictured by poets, explained by myth-makers and mollified by priestly incantations. This contrast between East and West had incalculable influence on their respective arts, as well as on their philosophies and religions."


武道 Budo was birthed from the Japanese artistic tradition and is directly shaped, like so many of the Japanese arts, by 禅 Zen aesthetic principles. Aesthetics can be seen as an attempt to define principles concerning what is ‘beauty’. I distinctly remember during my time in Japan a calligrapher telling me that in the art of the brush, one must often be taught "what beauty is." I feel strongly that the process of the study of aiki, we are not only learning a martial skill, we are being shown, "what beauty is." We are being educated in a physical embodiment of a philosophy. Everything from the formal training dojos, to the uniform, rankings, calligraphy on the walls, and yes, the character of the techniques themselves are in some large way shaped by the Zen artistic tradition.

Sokyu, in my opinion, writes the most succinct description about the Zen process and how it emerges in the practice of budo.

“Japanese Buddhism teaches the attainment of detachment by the removal of self-consciousness through spiritual concentration. A technique for this is the repetition of a kata (form)…. In essence…practicing an action a certain way, time after time, so that in the end we come into contact with our true nature.”

Despite Sokyu's wonderful insight, I still want to go deeper down the rabbit hole and take a look at the work of Hisamtsu Shinichi , who more clearly defines the characteristics of the Zen aesthetic. Hisamtsu Shinichi (久松 真一 June 5, 1889 – February 27, 1980) was a philosopher, Zen Buddhist scholar, and Japanese 茶道 tea ceremony master. He attempted to break down the aesthetic principles of Zen. These principles can be seen in all of the major classical 道 - do, spirituality through art form. Shinichi Hisamtsu wrote, “The seven characteristics (of Zen aesthetics) are not limited to art in the narrow sense, but rather they include the whole of human existence.”

Zen Aesthetic Principles
不均齊 Fukinsei - creating asymmetry "dynamic relationships"
簡素 Kanso - simplicity
考古 Koko - austere yet bare essentials, basic, weathered
自然 Shizen - naturalness, absence of pretense
幽玄 Yugen - subtly profound grace, not obvious
脱俗 Datsuzoku - unbounded by convention, free
静寂 Seijaku - quiet, calm

Friday, October 05, 2018

Martial Arts Terms

Below is an excerpt from a post at Kenshi24/7. The full post may be read here.


wandered into the dojo a week or so back, and overnight my sensei had written and taped some kendo-specific kanji to the wall (see picture above).
The terms are very commonly used when talking about or describing kendo, but I thought I’d use this this opportunity to go over them here. As an added bonus, his handwriting is beautiful – enjoy!
For each term I will present the ‘official’ translations available from the Japanese-English dictionary of kendo where available (italicised), then supplement my own additions after that. The final version of my additions became somewhat larger than I intended, sorry!
The descriptions of the words are written below as the appear on the picture from top-bottom and right-left (the traditional direction of Japanese writing). Pay careful attention to the order that the vocabulary are presented in, as its not random.
HASSEI (発声)
The act of vocalising. The act of shouting at the opponent when facing each other. The act of shouting kote, men, do, when striking.
KIAI (気合)
The state where one is fully focused on the opponents move and one’s planned moves. Also, it refers to the vocalisations one produced when in such a state of mind.
The words hassei, kiai, and (not mentioned above) kakegoe, are three – at times – overlapping and interrelated words that we in the English kendo community commonly package (mistakenly) into single word: kiai. Why is this mistaken? Basically, kiai refers to a feeling of focus and determination, an internal will or drive to do something (e.g. desire to pass an exam, determination to ask a girl you like out on a date, etc). Sometimes (though not always) this is expressed vocally as a shout. We are in the habit of calling this kiai, but its probably more correctly termed kagekoe. Hassei is the act of doing kakegoe.
KIHAKU (気魄)
The strength of spirit to face any situation. Also called ki-gai. A strong mind capable of responding properly to a pressing matter or an attacking opponent.
To express kihaku in your kendo you would stand up and face your opponent without wavering. A power, both mental and physical, with which you face adversary. If your kendo lacks kihaku, its empty.
SAN-SAPPO (三殺法)
KEN O KOROSU (剣を殺す)
WAZA O KOROSU (技を殺す)
KI O KOROSU (気を殺す)
An important teaching concerning three ways to overwhelm an opponent. The three ways are ‘killing the ki (spirit),’ ‘killing the sword,’ and ‘killing the waza.’ Killing the ki means that one’s ki overwhelms the opponents ki, thereby forestalling his/her attack. Killing the sword means that one controls the movement of the tip of the opponent’s sword by restraining or deflecting the sword. Killing the waza means that one anticipates the opponent, giving him/her no chance to attack.
The order of the terms in the ‘official’ description above is misleading, and the descriptions simplified. The order that my sensei wrote it shows a flow of progression to maturity. When kenshi are in an immature stage they tend to attack their opponents by hitting their sword away, pushing and/or slapping it up or down, left and right, and jumping suddenly in to attack. As they become more experienced they start luring in the opponents attack and defeating them as they attempt to strike. The final stage of this progression, of the truly mature kenshi, is when they are able to overwhelm and control their opponent through mental power alone. It sounds a little bit fantastic but, as any experienced kenshi knows, it happens.
SEME (攻め)
SEME-KOMU (込む)
SEME-KIRU (切る)
SEME-KATSU (勝つ)
To take the initiative to close the distance with the opponent in full spirit. This puts the opponent off balance mentally and physically and prevents him/her from moving freely. This enables one to maintain a constant advantage over the opponent. In kendo its important to intentionally attack and strike, not to just strike by chance. The back and forth action of offense and defense involved in seme (attacks) and seme-kaesu (counterattacks) not only improves the skill of both players but also develops their minds and bodies. All of this leads to the mutual self-creation of both people and to the building of human character.
Here, my sensei has broken the act of seme into three parts. Seme-komu is the act of driving in for the attack. This can be in a physical or mental sense. Seme-kiru is the act of finalisation of the strike, and Seme-katsu refers to victory as consequence of the attack. Seme is not something singular but, rather, has its own progression. Seme without seme-kiru or seme-katsu leads to nothing.
KOKYU (呼吸)
The act of inhaling and exhaling. In kendo this term also means to predict the opponent’s movement and adjust one’s moves accordingly as part of the interaction with the opponent.
KI (気)
The basic energy which exists in all matter that is born, develops, and dies. In human beings, it is the source of the kinetic energy responsible for perception, sensation, and instinct. In kendo, it refers to the environment surrounding one’s self and one’s opponent, and it is the basic energy in making the functioning of one’s body and mind full and harmonious.
Breathing is taught little in modern kendo circles nowadays, mainly because even some of the most senior teachers aren’t schooled in the traditional breathing methods. AUN NO KOKYU is usually mentioned at this juncture. It is a method usually associated with zen meditation (and sometimes yoga) which refers to not only breathing, but a sort of mental harmony between you and your partner, with the goal being a unification with the entirety of existence.
Looking at the description of kokyu and ki above, you can see that kokyu’s function is to tap into ki. This results in gaining access to all the energy in the universe, becoming one with it. In other words, kendo is simply a physical activity (any activity would actually do) who’s purpose is to unite you with the universe. Your partner helps you with this… they are not the enemy, and winning/losing are irrelevant. Kendo’s final goal is revealed through kokyu.