March 29, 2011

Shinsa (Rank Testing) thoughts from Tsuyoshi Inoshita-sensei (7.dan)

Dr. Tsuyoshi Inoshita-sensei

Dr. Tsuyoshi Inoshita -- for those not in the know -- is a long-time friend of Memphis Kendo.  He is a board-certified physician, having practiced medicine for more than 35 years.  He also happens to be a Kendo 7.dan, AUSKF Officer (Recorder), President of the GNEUSKF, and founder of the Cleveland Kendo Association, which hosts arguably one of the largest and best-known perennial kendo tournaments in the country. 
During the weekend of the 23rd Annual Cleveland Taikai (March 26-27, 2011), Inoshita-sensei sat on the grading panel for Sunday's rank testing (up through 4.dan).  He recently offered his personal insights on shinsa, as an examiner, and has graciously granted his permission to have them re-posted here.

Kendo Shinsa - by Tsuyoshi Inoshita on Monday, March 28, 2011

Some questions were raised regarding kendo shinsa this weekend.  Although I am not a kendo expert by any stretch of the imagination, I often sit on the examining board at the local level.  My ideas about kendo shinsa are as follows:
For the shodan/nidan level, the mechanics of strikes with the shinai, body, and spirits in unison, especially with the proper posture, is the most important aspect.  For the sandan/yondan, you have to be able to apply what you have learned into an actual keiko situation.
You can call it understanding of riai of kendo (reasoning behind kendo movements).  It is essentially like moving up from the basics to applications, trivium to quadrivium, or from 教養 to 専門. 
Although it may not be appropriate, let me use the card game, Blackjack, as an example.
In Blackjack, you have to learn the basic rules of the game and be able to hit cards as close to 21 as possible without going over the number.  After this phase, however, you have to learn how to play in relation to the hands of the dealer.  If the dealer has 6 and you have 11, you have to double-down.  If the dealer has an ace and you have 12, then it would be silly to double down.  You cannot just [keep] hitting cards without paying attention to the dealer's hands.
The same thing can be said about kendo.  You have to learn the basics of kendo strikes, but eventually you have to know when and how to use those strikes in relation to your opponent.  Although we cannot overemphasize men strikes -- as they say, kendo starts with men and ends with men --, you cannot keep hitting men.  You have to look at the situation and may have to react accordingly with ojiwaza [counter-attack].  Of course, ultimately we want to reach the level where you make your opponent move with your strong seme and strike your opponent accordingly.
The other important aspect of kendo is that it is an art -- you have to show grace, beauty, elegance, and composure as well as strength.  Incessant, brutal strikes would not make you a sophisticated kendoist.
Let's practice kendo more and harder to make ourselves better kenshi!!
Memphis Kendo Club gratefully thanks Inoshita-sensei for allowing his insight to be posted here for thought and reflection, and congratulates him and the Cleveland Kendo Association on yet another successful taikai!

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