Attitudes to Shiai Part 1
Sotaro Honda 6th Dan & PHd, University of Gloucestershire
In this article and the next one, Shiai in Kendo is examined from various angles. Kendo can be either a competitive sport or a Budo according to a Kendo-kas understanding of Shiai, and his or her attitude to fighting, watching and supporting. Having a proper comprehension and attitude to the Shiai should bring about a better understanding to the essence of Kendo as a Budo and the wonderful relationship between you and other Kendo-ka. The purpose of this article (part1) is to examine 1) the purpose of Shiai in Kendo, 2) competitors attitudes, 3) spectators and team mates attitudes and 4) teachers attitudes towards Shiai.
1. The Purpose of Shiai in Kendo
Shiai literally means, to try each other. In Kendo, Shiai basically means to try skills, manners, attitudes and spirit learned and acquired in Keiko, with each other in a competitive situation.
Inoue (1994, p. 162) explains, The purpose of modern Kendo is to refine one’s heart which is invisible by training in Waza that are visible. Shiai in Kendo has to take place in line with this purpose. We, as Kendo-ka, therefore have to recognise Shiai as an important opportunity to develop our skills and personality and to acquire the correct attitudes to Shiai.
Attitudes of high school student’s to Shiai, whose only aim is to win at any cost, are quite often criticised in Japan. It is quite embarrassing to take myself as such an example, as my biggest purpose in Kendo was also to win competitions when I was a high school student. My Kendo at that time never deserved to be praised and I did not care what people really thought about my kendo, I only cared about winning. Of course, there is nothing wrong with trying to win in Shiai. You have to do your best to win, if you are taking part in a Shiai and it is also quite impolite to your opponent if you fight without doing your best. As mentioned earlier, however, aiming to develop the skills to win and to develop an understanding of the essence of Kendo and one’s personality is strongly related to the concept of Shiai, how to fight in the Shiai and the results of the Shiai. Moreover, there are manners which one is expected to follow when doing one’s best to win in Kendo as a Budo.
The following points discuss the various attitudes to Shiai that we are expected to take from the standpoint of competitors, supporters and teachers.
2. Competitors Attitudes to Shiai (before, during and after the Shiai)
It is not my intention to discuss how to fight in a Shiai. It depends on who you fight against and the particular situation. Also, all of the decisions should be left to competitor[s] once a Shiai starts. It used to be quite often the case that Japanese high school teachers were constantly giving their students advice or orders on how to fight before and during a Shiai. This is an act that ignores the student’s autonomy and hinders the smooth running and progress of the Shiai and the Taikai. From my experience, nowadays such acts do not seem to occur at official Taikai, but it can still be seen at practice matches. I would now like to discuss attitudes to Shiai that competitors are expected to take before, during and after the Shiai.
Irrespective of what the stage is in the Shiai, the most important thing is to control yourself. How can you control your opponent without controlling yourself? You need to calm your excitement to a certain extent before the Shiai. You need to focus only on the person in front of you during the Shiai.
You should again calm your excitement and reflect clearly on how you fought after the Shiai. You should also show gratitude and appreciation to the opponent who you just fought. It is important to be able to do all of these things if you are to be good at Shiai and learn something from the Shiai.
I will now describe these concepts outlined in more depth. The important point before Shiai is, firstly, to imagine your best Kendo, increase your confidence and start focusing only on your own individual match (in the case of a team fight, the team’s score also needs to be kept in mind). Here, if you think too much about winning, you will lose patience and also be lured by your opponent’s trickery and start attacking too hastily. Haste makes waste! Tell yourself that a satisfactory result will follow if you do your best and believe this, rather than thinking of winning. It is also important to know who you are fighting against and what your opponent’s Kendo is like. Undoubtbly there are some people who believe that it does not matter who they fight against and that just trying to do their own Kendo is the best approach. Thinking this way is also important, especially for beginners who can use only a few techniques and may not have much tactical ability. For others, I would still recommend to increasing their concentration, imagining their best Kendo according to the opponent’s type of Kendo and making tactics (but do not think too much and end up by confusing yourself) before the Shiai. By doing these things again and again before, during and after the Shiai, you will start realising what you need to think about before the Shiai and what tactics you need to adopt.
Secondly, during the Shiai, you are often driven by the necessity to modify your tactics and to control emotional stress. Off course this has to be done within a moment. The ability to cope with this is not something that you can acquire sufficiently in Ji-geiko, but you can acquire it by taking part in Shiai and gaining a lot of experience under pressure.
What competitors should concentrate on during the Shiai is: try to make the best decisions and perform to their best ability against their opponents in each particular situation.
An act, such as looking at Shinpan to confirm if you or your opponent has scored should not be done during Shiai. Even if you think that you made a perfect strike, you should concentrate only on your opponent until the opponent turns their eyes and Shinai away. In a high level Shiai, both you and your opponent will try to control each other and you can hardly see an opportunity to score. In this situation, the winner or loser can be decided by a small tactical error, made either by you or your opponent, such as dropping concentration during the match. It is important to develop the ability to keep your concentration for the duration of the whole match and to make appropriate decisions under pressure by gaining experience in the Shiai.
Thirdly, it is also important to get into the habit of reflecting on how you fought after each Shiai. In the case where you have your next match in a short period, it is recommended that you quickly and simply reflect on your previous Shiai and get ready for this next match. It is quite often the case that you do not remember how you fought if you were very nervous or you won in a very close and long match. It is very important, however, to reflect on how you fought when you were under a great deal of pressure. It would be ideal if you could watch a video someone taped. If this is not possible, ask people who were watching for their comments, and reflect again on how you fought.
In a Shiai there are always a winners and losers. What we aim for is to become a good winner and a good loser. As the author (2003, p. 141) discussed elsewhere, a good winner means one who fights with the spirit of Sei-sei-doh-doh (fair and square), is modest and has an understanding of the meaning of Shiai. Even if one wins a Shiai, one is aware of the loser’s feelings and never shows off one’s victory.A good loser is a person who did not win the Shiai, but still displays the same attitude and understanding as the good winner. On the other hand, a bad winner is someone who shows off his or her victory and a bad loser is someone who shows off his or her frustration as the result of losing and cannot praise the opponent’s victory. These are people who have forgotten the essence of Shiai in Kendo.
We are only able to do Shiai and learn something from Shiai because there are other competitors who we can fight with, Shinpan to judge our Shiai, people who support our Shiai: recorders, timekeepers and ribbon tiers. We should never forget the purpose of the Shiai and show our gratitude to these people.
3. Spectators and Team Mates Attitudes to Shiai
At a Taikai, we are not supposed to give competitors vocal support and advice, or to make sounds to cheer them up; we are instead supposed to support them by only clapping our hands. Spectators and teammates should be considerate so that competitors and Shinpan are able to focus only on the Shiai in the Shiai-jo and enable the management of the Taikai to proceed smoothly. It is quite understandable that everyone wants to give competitors as much support and encouragement, cheering and giving advice. However, as described earlier, all decisions should be left to the competitors once the Shiai starts. Moreover, competitors are expected to show mental strength by coping with all stressful situations by themselves as they experience the Shiai.
The most annoying thing for Shinpan in Shiai is a camera flashlight. It is again understandable that you want to take photographs of your club members fighting and that you want someone to take photographs of you fighting, but the Shinpan might miss a critical moment if you take a photograph with a flashlight as the competitors attack.
Competitors, Shinpan, spectators and Taikai officials should all have the feeling that they want the Taikai to be a wonderful experience, which they can all enjoy. The clapping of hands with all your heart and showing consideration to the Shinpan are the attitudes, which spectators should adopt.
In team fights, the correct etiquette is for team members, the manager and coach to watch or wait for their match in Seiza. It would be awkward, however, to do a Shiai if you kept sitting until it was your turn and kept rubbing your numb feet again and again while you were watching and waiting. This also does not look good. Nowadays, it is usual for team members, manager and coach to do Seiza only when Senpo and Taisho fight (and when there is a fight-off as well) and the member who fights next will wait in a standing position (of course this does not apply to people who have difficulty in doing Seiza). In team fights, it is important to feel totally involved when you watch your team mate’s fighting. Although I previously stated that competitors are expected to cope with all situations by themselves, when all team members become as one and support their team mates, it’s as if they were also fighting, the competitor will feel the strength of this support behind them and this gives the competitor both courage and confidence. If you really feel as if you are also fighting, you will find yourself moving your hands and upper body in spite of yourself as you observe your team mate’s every action. One’s own victory is everyone’s victory in team fights.
4. Teachers’ Attitudes to Shiai
It is the responsibility of teachers to make their Dojo members fight fairly, encouraging them and giving them feedback. The important thing for teachers to demonstrate during Keiko in their Dojo is how to fight and support in the correct manner. When giving feedback, teachers should consider giving the appropriate amount of feedback according to the members level. According to Aoki (1996), it is the most effective if feedback is given immediately after each performance in the practice. In the case of Shiai, however, feedback needs to be given at an appropriate time when their members are ready to accept it, taking into account the result and content of the Shiai, each member’s personality, situation and so on.
It should be now be fairly evident that Shiai is not everything in Kendo, but another part of it. The results of Shiai do not show everything about a Kendo-ka. What is important is the way in which a Kendo-ka deals with their Keiko, fights in the Shiai, reflects on the Shiai and approaches the Keiko again, aiming to score the Ippon he or she dreams of. It totally depends on each Kendo-ka’s attitude whether they develop character through doing Shiai. I would also like to mention that it is important to try to enjoy your Shiai without thinking too deeply about what I have discussed in this article. Shiai is fun and exciting. There is nothing wrong in thinking that.
We feel like we are in seventh heaven when we score the Ippon we have dreamed of. One who has experienced this would dream of having this same feeling again and again, doing Keiko very hard, repeating the same practice hundreds of times or even thousands of times.
It is my hope that many Kendo-ka will become interested in taking part in Shiai and that Taikai will become fascinating events, when lots of Kendo-ka will have the opportunity to learn and experience many valuable assets to add to their kendo.
In the next article, I would like to introduce some ways of doing Shiai practice in the Dojo. I would also like to introduce some forms of Shiai practice that take place at squad training and explain the aims behind these Shiai practices.
Aoki, T. (1996) ¡®Sports to Kokoro ¨CShinrigaku-Shiten- (Sports and Mind ¨CPsychological Views)¡¯, in S. Nisugi et al (eds) Sports-Gaku no Shiten (Views of Sports Study), pp. 114-128. Kyoto: Showa-do Publishing Co., Ltd.
Honda. S. (2003) Budo or Sport? Competing Conceptions of Kendo within the Japanese Upper Secondary Physical Education Curriculum. Ph.D. Thesis. Unpublished Paper.
Inoue, M. (1994) Kendo to Ningen Kyoiku (Kendo and Human Education). Tokyo: Tamagawa University Press.