芸武両道: Practicing Kend?, Art and Music in the North       Stefan Maeder

   From the 25th to the 30th of July the Kendo-Club of the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music (Tokyo Geijutsu Daigaku) visited Oga-city in Akita prefecture to hold its’ annual summer-seminar. The group consisted of about 15 Kendo students and members of the university’s Kuro-mon (“Black Gate”) Kendo-alumni club. It was the 10th anniversary of an event with a unique concept: the latter consists of three main components. These are the practice and presentation of Kendo, an art and music workshop for schoolchildren, and an exhibition including a concert and other performances. Not only for the author, who was invited to join the seminar by Takahashi Toru-Sensei, Professor of Physical Education, the outlook on the benefits of Kendo for education within modern society proved an invaluable lesson. The following is a summary of personal thoughts and impressions resulting from the experience.

   When viewed superficially, the martial art of Kendo, art and music do not seem to have much in common. At Tokyo Geijutsu Daigaku however, Kendo is not taught with a main focus on its’ application within competitive sports, but as an integral part of the art and music-students’ curriculum. Some of the essential qualities necessary for training outstanding artists are furthered by the practice of Kendo. Examples will be shown below:

 The upright physical posture of Kendo is mirrored by the development of a straightforward inner attitude that helps us evade unnecessary movements and obstructing thoughts during practice and any art-related activity.
 Practicing sincerely in an atmosphere of mutual benevolence furthers not only respect for the concerns of others, but also self.
 there can be no Kendo without a partner and no art and music without viewers/listeners.
 Full concentration on the actions taking place during practice and artistic activity is highly required.
 The ability to discern an opponent’s intentions is applicable to the judgement of the essence of works of art and music.
 Taking decisions quickly with confidence and determination is as essential for Kendo as it is for inspired works of art and music.
 Flexibility of the body’s movements should lead to a flexibility of mind. This consequently allows for a suitable response to an opponent’s movements,based upon broad-mindedness that is essential for the reception and creation of art,literature and music.

   As words tend to fail in making the contents of underlying principles evident, it is well worth trying to experience them by thorough practice of Kendo. Turning away from analogies between the mindset necessary for Kendo and the arts, here begins a short diary of the event in Oga.

July 25th :
 Arrival and preparation of the exhibition by the Kendo-Club members within the town hall of Oga-city. Everybody is working effectively and concentrated. There is no haste and everybody’s good mood is very motivating, even for somebody who due to language-hindrances sometimes doesn’t understand what is going on (like myself). In the evening there is the first Kendo-practice with teachers and young members of local Kendo-Clubs. The newly built Sports Centre in Oga is very impressive. With its’ beautiful architecture and the extensive use of local wood the Kendojo somehow reminds me of a newly built and friendly church. In the evening we allreturn to our accommodation at Wakami Agricultural Training Center. There is an Onsen (hot spring) just across the road where everybody relaxes before an enjoyable dinner.

July 26th :
 First day of the workshop at Oga’s primary school. Around 60 children from primary and middle schools are divided into groups by the students and are invited to practice action-painting, charcoal-drawing, clay-sculpturing and percussion. I wander around, talk to the children, take pictures and enjoy the atmosphere. The children, whose age ranges from 6 to 13 years, obviously enjoy themselves, too. It is admirable how they are absorbed in what they do. There is no need of admonishing the groups for the students. How would a similar offer be accepted by children back home in Germany? In the late afternoon, there is Kendo-practice at the Sports Centre again. I get to practice with Meguro Daisaku-Sensei for the second time. It is an overwhelming experience also in the sense that I sometimes feel like being run over by a locomotive. In the evening we all relax and enjoy the next dinner which is expertly prepared by kind ladies from Wakami village.

July 27th :
 Second day of the workshop at Oga's primary school. Having not yet been to the beautiful north of the main island, Honshu, I ask Takahashi-Sensei for a day off to explore the Oga-peninsula. Near the top of Mount Kanpu-san I get off the bus and start hiking to the top and from there in the general direction of Cape Nyudozaki. The weather is fine with blue skies and a few white clouds: a huge contrast in light and air-quality to downtown Shibuya. The landscape with its mountains, plains, forests, rice paddies and the sea in the background is truly breathtaking when viewed from the mountaintop. After getting lost in a forest I turn back and decide to hitchhike to the Namahage-Museum, which is about 15 km from the central part of Oga. Meeting loads of the demon-like Namahage there and witnessing their immense effect on smaller children, my small journey continues to Cape Nyudozaki and from there back to Oga. However, having completely misjudged the distance and not being picked up by a car for two hours, I arrive in Oga too late for Kendo-Practice.
July 28th :
 The day of the concert, presentation and exhibition of artworks created both by the Geidai artists and by the school-children to the public. Everybody is very busy but there is no sign of impatience or short-tempered behaviour. After the opening-speeches the event starts off with a Concert for Cello and Piano, followed by the pupils’ percussion demonstration. Then a traditional dragon-dance is performed to the sounds of gagaku-music. The last point of the program is a demonstration of action-painting accompanied by piano and cello. The concert was very well received and ended with a touch of sadness, because the tenth time of the seminar was agreed upon to be the last. However, as the ties between Tokyo Geijutsu Daigaku and Oga-city have grown over the years, there might well be opportunities for further cooperation in the near future also.

July 29th / 30th :
 Kendo-seminar for primary- and middle-school-children at Oga Sports Centre. The seminar is opened by a speech from Meguro-Sensei and a short cello concert, which creates a very solemn atmosphere. Under the auspices of Meguro-Sensei (8th Dan, Hanshi), Masago-Sensei (8th Dan, Hanshi), Yoshizaki-Sensei (8th Dan, Kyoshi) and Takahashi-Sensei (7th Dan, Kyoshi) around 200 children from surrounding primary and middle schools are practicing Kendo. Taguchi-Sensei (8th Dan, Kyoshi) from the Akita Police department honoured the event as a special guest. In the morning Masago-Sensei demonstrates Shiai with some strong exponents from among the children. After the demonstration bouts the pupils are asked to describe their state of mind during the bouts with Masago-Sensei. He comments very favourably on their fighting-spirit and attitude. In the late morning there is Uchikomi- and Kakari-geiko-practice with the students and Kuro-mon members of Tokyo Geidai as Motodachi. In the afternoon Masago-Sensei gives us a practical session of Kendo, where some important waza (skills) are introduced to practice them actually with each other among the participants, and he also gives us some advice to practice Kendo without feeling too much body tension. The afternoon practice is concluded by Ji-geiko. In the evening there is a very merry party held at the Agricultural Training Center which is concluded by fireworks outside the building.
 On Sunday morning 9 courts are prepared to carry out a Shiai (competition) between the pupils. The students and Kuro-mon members act as referees for the high-spirited young Kendoka. The shiai was opened by Yoshizaki-Sensei giving a lecture on vital aspects of Kendo-practice throughout one’s lifetime. It was heart-warming to see the level of Kendo displayed by the pupils during the Shiai. To witness their commitment to Kendo gives me even more motivation to spread Kendo among school-children in Germany in the future. For a visitor from Europe it is astonishing to note the discipline of the children who are nonetheless very vivid. The second day of the Kendo seminar is concluded by the presentation of a painting by Shirakawa Yumi and three short animation movies on the meaning of Kendo by Natori Yuichiro, both artists representing the creative spirit that is pre-eminent at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. After the last practice on Sunday we return to Wakami-village and prepare for the journey to Tokyo. The present writer takes the night-bus to Tokyo. The snoring of my seat-neighbour sounds like a small sawmill so that there is not much time to sleep. After the enriching experience of an extraordinary Art and Kendo-seminar however, I arrive in Tokyo at 6 o’clock in the morning tired, but happy.


Profile; Stefan Maeder:

The author was born on December 12th 1968 in Freiburg,
Baden-Wuerttemberg-sh?, Germany.
He graduated from Albert-Ludwigs-University Freiburg
with an M.A.-degree in Prehistoric and Early Medieval Archaeology in 1996.
Gathering working experience on numerous excavations
and continuing studies on an intercultural comparison of sword-making
between Japan and Europe he obtained his PhD degree
in Archaeology at Humboldt University Berlin in 2001.
The outcome of the research was acknowledged in the form
of several government scholarships before and after the graduation.
The reason for the author´s interest in technological,
practical and cultural aspects of the sword resulted
from the practice of Kendo which was taken up in 1992 in Freiburg.
At present he works as a visiting researcher at Kokugakuin University, Tokyo.