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Balance Ki-ken-tai ichi & Give Life

Last Sunday I read from an excerpt on self-cultivation in kendo and coupled that with an action item: take out the ken and focus on the ki and tai - we need to restore the balance.

Ask anyone in kendo if they've ever heard someone ask, "How do you get faster?" and they'll probably say, "All the time!" Likely you've asked this question for yourself. This guy's fast, that guy's fast and so on. What our eyes see and perceive as fast is likely just a small part of the big ki ken tai ichi picture. On the surface, we see how fast the shinai moves to strike the men and wonder, "Dang, how did that guy hit so fast?" Too often even shinpan see the shinai move fast with such great timing and zanshin they call an ippon and we become accustom to believing that we mostly need to move our shinai fast to win! Don't believe that. Don't make so little of the fundamentals. When that happens for the sake of winning, we put our strength in muscle instead of in balance and this isn't martial arts, this isn't self-cultivation.

In terms of self-cultivation, it's harder to balance physical, mental, emotional and spiritual strengths and weaknesses than it is to rely solely on what's strong and neglecting to build up what's weak. Self-cultivation requires awareness of all states of being, knowledge, wisdom, coaching and action to forge an optimal alignment between all states. In kendo's case, we have to condition our spirit, know how to use our sword and control our body and balance all three elements in order to take life or give life. This notion of taking or giving life is crucial, too.

Have you ever noticed how satisfying it is to ji-geiko with someone who you can't touch while they strike you at will? After a keiko like that you actually feel enlightened, honored and awestruck at how gracefully and mercifully you've been beaten. They've just given you life. How? With "beautiful kendo." What's "beautiful?" Beauty is in the balance. Physical, mental, emotional and spiritual balance of kendo kihon. The deeper you go in balance, the greater life you give. Consider the flip side. You know the guy that you hate practicing with because you always leave the ji-geiko more heavily battered than KFC fried chicken? Or with more bruises than an innocent peach tumbling down a flight of stairs? That guy doesn't not have ki ken tai ichi in balance. He is not giving life. He is taking it. How do you know? You hate practicing with him, he hits too hard.

"Too much right arm" the sensei says. In terms of the balance, that means there's too much emphasis on the ken. That kenshi maybe be seeing physical kendo incorrectly and emulating it wrong, not on purpose, but because anyone can come to the conclusion that hitting faster is better, and more muscle means more speed. It's natural and I don't mind people making that mistake. I made that mistake, in fact I still do out of habit now. It's a normal mistake to make. It's human nature to see things superficially until asked to consider what's beneath the surface and to pursue the path of least resistance. Let me tell you, there's a lot of resistance in self-cultivation. So if you're doing kendo, get used to it. Pursuing balance is ever-changing as we are ever-changing, having to adapt to new influences, surroundings and times. But it's worth it because it gives life to all.

Balance! Faito!

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