曲者 – Kusemono

In the Hagakure, a book written by the samurai official Yamamoto Tsunetomo in the 17th-century, the author writes about the different characteristics of people that make up society. He points out that the most valuable person is the “kusemono.”

Translators of the Hagakure point out that the modern meaning of that term is that of a “ruffian” or an eccentric. So why was the kusemono so valuable? According to the Hagakure, a kusemono is a person who avoids trouble, keeps to themselves, and only appears when needed. Not unlike the solitary hero of samurai movies in the 1960’s, a kusemono eschews high honors and recognition and prefers to keep to their own devices until duty calls. Then, when the job is completed, they return to their solitary ways.

In short, a kusemono is like a friend.


Waza & Sincerity (誠)

sincerity_kanji_by_bexikaSensei has been very consistent in his advice around jigeiko and the execution of any kind of waza. In effect, he says that less is more and that our attacks should be less in number but done with full commitment. With full commitment comes the requirement that we invest ourselves completely in that action, going through the stages of gamen, seme, and then sutemi when we engage with our partner.

Done this way, there is no chance that you will be able to do a series of meaningless attacks, exhausting yourself and putting yourself at risk of injury. Instead, you will funnel yourself into engaging in an authentic way with your opponent, training yourself in the deeper principles of individual combat as well as having a far more meaningful experience.

A recent article in The New Yorker covered the old concept of whether or not practice makes perfect. My takeaway from that article was that simply doing 10,000 hours of practice in itself does not equate to success. Genetics and environment play a key role and, while we can’t change genetics, we can certainly ensure that our environment is one that supports positive results.

This means that we should collaborate with each other, ensuring that we give the best of ourselves so that we get the best of each other in return. This kind of environment is the kind found in successful companies, musical bands, and artistic groups. It puts the “art” in the term “martial art.”

In Kenji Tokitsu’s book on Musashi, he talks about the transition of swordsmanship from pure combat into a more personally reflective practice as Japan under the Tokugawa Shogunate entered a period of peace and order that lasted 250 years. “The way of the sword itself proposed a meaning to life, an existential direction…”

During that period and now, sword schools focused upon both the technical skills of swordplay as well as on the mental and spiritual training required to go beyond the physical element and to be prepared for actual combat.

Part of that process was engaging fully in what one was doing. This was actually quite common in all levels of life in Japan as in other countries of the time. Before the rise of technology and the myriad ways of quickly communicating using multiple channels and methods, people in that time were restricted to more simple and personal communication methods.

The quality and sincerity of a bow to a customer or verbal communication to a person of higher rank were important in the excellence of that simple action. Having less to use, people put more effort into what they had.

In that same way, kendo affords us the opportunity to step out of our complex and busy lives and engage in a way that is both simple and yet provides a much more in-depth experience.

Something to consider next time one is in the dojo.


Le Myth de SisyphusAlbert Camus penned an exploration of the absurdity of life titled The Myth of Sisyphus. In it, Camus examined the essential absurdity of life (that we look forward to tomorrow even though tomorrow brings us closer to death).

One of the 4 chapters of the book covered the Greek myth of Sisyphus who was consigned to punishment in the underworld of rolling a boulder up a hill until, right before he reached the top, it rolled back down. Forcing him into a perpetual punishment of never completing his hellish task.

Camus essentially argued that, despite the unceasing toil, Sisyphus would actually be contented because he recognizes the absurdity of his fate and is thus able to reach a state of acceptance. This is similar to the theme found in many religions in which the acceptance of death is the precursor to satisfaction in that it removes all vanities so that one can focus on the joys of life.

Royal-Guercino-Sisyphus-1636We each need our mindless task, a continuing struggle that makes us confront our vanities and fears. This is not a call to sink into negativity but, rather, a call to action. Mine is kendo, specifically suburi and hayasuburi. In my daily practice each swing is done fully with as much as focus as I can muster until I can almost smell the wood of the shinai or bokken and the sound of the strike.

“The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”





Starting Your Engine At the Same Time

In kendo there is an emphasis on group unity in the warm-ups and initial drills. In my dojo (NW Kendo), our sensei is looking for us to have loud and powerful kiai in unison early on so that, by the time we are in jigeiko (individual bouts) our spirit is powerful and the kiai remain loud and sharp because that keeps one’s energy up so as to maintain performance and have a tactical edge over the opponent.

If that sounds esoteric or just not compelling enough, consider this lesson on group unity from Jocko Willink (@jockowillink). When his unit was deployed in Iraq and were going out on a patrol or assignment, they had a tradition of starting up their truck and jeeps at the same time. According to Willink, that sound created a powerful feeling and sent shivers down their spines; creating a sense of power over their enemy.

So start your engines!

Sumi Sensei instructing on kiai:


Jocko & Louis

Life. It’s full of questions and the answers can be approached in multiple ways. In my search I am open to those multiple approaches and this is why I am hooked on a few podcasts and the FX show, Louis. My podcast of choice right now is the Jocko Podcast with Jocko Willink and Echo Charles.

Jocko_EchoWillink is a retired Navy SEAL but his show covers everything from the expected to the unexpected. Case in point, his recitation and review of the WWI memoir by Ernst Junger, Storm of Steel, was both insightful and touching. Willink discusses a lot of subjects including his military experience, his life now as a consultant, and his love of fitness and MMA.

Polar opposite to that is Louis C.K. who tackles the same subjects through his portrayal of an insightful schlub who embraces and yet hates his life and his persona.

Despite the huge difference between the two, both Jocko and Louis tackle issues that range from the singularity of human existence to the mundane. Their shows help me answer my questions and I enjoy them in the process. Really can’t ask for more than that.

Though Louis really should consider going to a gym…


the_musketeers_headerBBC is running its 3rd, and final, season of Musketeers. It’s an enjoyable series to watch and it can be found on Hulu and is worth your time if you want a fun diversion and if you like swords and leather. I know I do.

The show quickly moves away from the original book which is good because it allows for more exploration and creativity and it allows one to be surprised.

The female characters are given more agency than their book counterparts (except for the character of Milady who was already a powerful protagonist in Dumas’ version) but it doesn’t get to the point where we lose sight of the core of the story, which is the friendship and travails of 4 close friends.

Ryan Gage Louis XIIISupporting actors are all quite good, including Ryan Gage as Louis XIII and Hugo Speer (awesome name!) as Treville.

The settings and filming locations in the Czech Republic are simply beautiful and you can tell that this is a European production. One gets a fine backdrop to an adventure story and I hope there are more like this.

Some images below and closing with an illustration of what actual Musketeers looked like.

location musketeers dobris chateau 1 White Palace







French Musketeers