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What We Can Learn from Kendo – “The Way of the Sword”

Few knew I’d practiced Kendo (劍道) during a period of my life. It all started with a Manga (Japanese comics) I read when I was little during a school holiday. I was intrigued by the self-discipline of this martial art and the tenacity of the main character. Years later, when I was working and living in France, my Italian colleague reignited my interest when he told me he was able to practice the sport in Italy.


If you had met me in person, it is hard to believe from my physique and demeanour that I have my set of kendōgu (armour), shinai, and bokutō (bamboo and wooden swords) hidden in my closet. Indeed, I used to go twice a week to the dōjō for my practice, and I still regularly swing my shinai at home as my exercise regime.

Most think martial art is aggressive, not until when they start practising. Kendo is a high-impact sport, but esteem courtesy extended to others is also part of it. As a kendōka, it is of utmost importance that you respect your opponents as much as yourself. Kendo – “the way of the sword” is a path to pursue one’s cultivation. It is about self-improvement and self-mastery. It has helped me align many aspects of my being (mind, sword/tool, and body), discover my inner strength, and increase my respect for those around me.

Please watch the video clip below to have a glimpse of Kendo. By the way, if you are a Star Wars fan, it may be interesting to know that Kendo has very much inspired the Jedi’s Lightsaber sparring techniques!

Kendo video
“Observation and perception are two separate things; the observing eye is stronger, the perceiving eye is weaker.”

– Miyamoto Musashi 宮本武蔵, Japanese swordsman, philosopher,1583-1645

Many business executives in Japan read “A Book of Five Rings” by Musashi, the legendary swordsman, so that they can gain insights into his winning tactics in strategic battles. The book has since become one of the international bestsellers besides Sun Tzu’s “Art of War.”

Musashi’s quote above emphasizes the importance of not letting our biases tint our judgement before we act. Lest, our tinted sight may lead us to our downfall (in which case, there can be terrible consequences for a samurai.) Our biases (conscious or unconscious) will influence how we see things, forming our perceptions. Often, these can be the root causes of conflicts and the barriers to conciliation. Musashi’s insight certainly is a good reminder to many of us.

If you are young and/or physically fit, perhaps you may want to consider Kendo as a sport. Don’t let the physical aspect fret you; it is really about character-building, i.e., the discovery of one’s inner strength, self-mastery, and respect for others.

And, if you ever come across an applicant with Kendo (or martial art) listed in his/her resume, take a closer look at it. In sports, where there is an individual (one-on-one) “combat” while in a team setting, often, the individual would have cultivated personal endurance and respect for others —a trait of a good addition to a team.

I hope you find the story interesting. Beneath the appearances of those we meet, there is always something new to discover.

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