Is the kendo sensei from Japan “strong”?
Sam Tsai, December 2009
Every time we get a visiting sensei from Japan, we inevitably get the question, “Is the sensei strong?”
Naturally, it was no different when Ozawa Sensei came to visit us this time.
There’s a simple perspective I would like to share regarding this matter: “sensei” and “senshu (active competitor)” are not the same thing.
When you practice with a “senshu” (someone who is actively training to compete), perhaps it makes sense to treat the practice like a shiai where you win or lose.
But when you practice with a sensei, the focus should really be on what you can learn from the experience be it during or after the practice.
Of course, for some of the more senior practitioners, during their practice with the kodansha sensei, there can be elements of “gokaku geiko”. That would naturally be based on the difference in skill and experience.
In kendo, the two major elements are shinsa and shiai.
Shinsa is like a criteria check. If you meet the bar for a certain amount of knowledge and skill, you can possess the associated rank with those requirements. It is about meeting minimum requirements, not necessarily exceeding the bar.
Shiai, on the other hand, is a performance check. You are competing against your opponent on speed, conditioning, strategy, and technical proficiency. This is more about the relative strength and weaknesses between the two players.
Thus, it would be a real shame if your goals in practicing with the sensei are something along the lines of “being able to hit the sensei” or “beating the sensei”.
The purpose of the sensei should not just be helping the student “win trophies”, it should be about helping the student do proper kendo well.
As time got closer to his visit, people would ask me if Ozawa Sensei is strong.
It is honestly a bad question and it is very hard for me to answer this kind of True/False question.
In my mind, the more important thing is that I see from him not only the demonstration of “proper posture, abundant spirit, and valid striking”, I also see his beautiful tai-sabaki and more importantly the attitude of of “wareigai minagawashi” (everyone but me is my teacher) through which he encourage himself and others to grow.
Thus, the real question is, “Are you trying to beat others with the sword, or are you trying to beat yourself with the sword?”
- - -
Replies from the thread:
When practicing with Ozawa Sensei, I feel like it would be possible for me to “touch him” at least if I compromise my posture and strike more often in a manner almost like kakari-geiko. However, even if I can touch him in this manner, does that mean I’m good?
What I want is Ippon. Even though I am being destroy by him, I am learning where I am insufficient as well.
I need to improve be it in mind/spirit, technique, or body.
If I have clarity on what kind of strikes I can make while being pressured by Ozawa Sensei in practice, then I know what I need to work on.
More than a decade ago, I remember watching Ozawa Sensei being dominated by a hachidan hanshi. However, what I saw was not one sided. Not only was there a conversation back and forth in the exchange, a lot of his strikes were only missing by a little bit with excellent timing. Bear in mind this was a hachidan hanshi that won the hachidan tournament that he was facing.
The blog article above was originally written in Chinese in December 2009 by Sam Tsai Sensei.
Facebook popped out this article as a memory in December 2020. Attention and discussion were raised again and one important comment replied to this blog article was made by Chen Sensei from Taiwan.