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Zen in the Kata practice of Kendo (Japanese swordsmanship)

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Professor Frank Stajano.

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Why is Kendo substantially linked with Zen or Shinto spiritual practice in Japan? In general, Japanese martial arts exact of their practitioners their mental and spiritual improvement if they keenly seek to attain to the highest stage of Budo. In sports, this is not the case.

Zen is a representative of such mental and spiritual training in Japan. Because of this premise Eugen Herrigel, the author of “Zen in the Art of Archery” and a thorough thinker of Western logic, believed that he could write about Zen only by describing his experience of studying Japanese Archery (Kyudo). In Kendo there were many prominent masters who reached the great height of perfection, that is, the stage of “No opponent”, through Zen practice; or, in the recent past, through Kenjutsu practice only. In the latter case, Kata-training played a most important role. I will show a movie giving a representative instance of Kata practice of Jiki-shinkage-ryu and I will discuss the aim of the true Budo.

Speaker’s biography

YUKAWA Takahiro is a Professor at Denkitsushin University (University of Electro-Communications, Chofu-shi, Tokyo, Japan), where he is also Director of the University Library. He is a philosopher from the comparative perspective. He studied the existential philosophy and Neo-Confucianism at Tokyo University. His main subject is consistently what is and should be the “philosophy” for the Japanese. In this aspect he has researched the thought of Nishi Amane, the father of Western philosophy in Japan, by whose philosophical terms the Japanese (and also Chinese and Korean) philosophers can philosophize; and then the literature on Budo, especially Kenjutsu (Kendo). At the same time he has been practicing for 33 years in one of the oldest schools of Koryu-Kenjutsu, the Kashima-shinden Jiki-shinkage-ryu (鹿島神伝直心影 流). His papers are on the validity of Existential “ought” of Jaspers, on the logic of Ch’eng Hao and Ch’eng I and on Nishi Amane’s understanding of Western philosophy through the Neo-Confucian concept of Li.


Professor Yukawa will be visiting Cambridge for a few days, with another 30+ kendoka from his university, from young students to 7-dan masters, to cross swords with the members of the University of Cambridge Kendo Society . He will be practicing at Kelsey Kerridge from 16 to 18 September and spectators are welcome. The Kendo Society will have an open day and an introductory course for new members in October. For further information on how to join, contact the Society’s secretary Junko Takata (see contacts page).

The University of Cambridge Kendo Society came on top of all other competing British Universities in the 2009 national championship and also won the 2009 Varsity Match against Oxford.

Kendo is a modern martial art inspired by the principles and philosophy of the Japanese samurai. It can be practiced by both sexes and all age groups. The University Society devoted to it is open to all, whether university members or not. The next beginners course will be in October 2009.

This talk is part of the University of Cambridge Kendo Society series.

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