Kendo: Obsession with “aligning” — does it really matter? If so, are you doing it right?
Frankly, I don’t really get the obsession with “aligning” in the Kendo community — standing in perfectly straight and evenly distributed lines, aligning your Men with everyone else’s, lining up in order of grades and putting your Tenugui in your Men if everyone else is doing so and otherwise if everyone else is doing otherwise, etc.
Don’t get me wrong. I do value discipline. I do believe discipline helps us have more efficient and safer training. I do believe discipline is an important part of Kendo.
However, discipline is not about aligning things. Things being aligned may be a result of having discipline, but not the other way around. Discipline should be established and maintained by a few essential principles and motivated individuals who think and do what really matters, but not by hundreds of meaningless rules.
And not only are those micromanaging-rules meaningless but also harmful for the community, because they are practically the tools for wrong-minded trainers (of course I’m not talking about all or even many, but unfortunately there are some) to make you obey whatever they tell you. They can easily make the community a hotbed of harassment because you’re well-trained to follow nonsense and even enforce them to the others.
Enforcing those mini-rules is another thing.
Here’s an example.
Once I was in a training with dozens of other fighters. Before the training, we stood in a perfectly straight line by simply standing on a straight line on the floor and then sat down as we always do. After putting our Men on the floor, someone told me to align my Men with others (I don’t know who it was and it’s not at all important). I looked around and everyone else seemed to be circa. 10cm ahead of me even though we’d been standing in a perfectly straight line.
This actually happens very often here in Germany, although I don’t remember even a single occasion in Japan (except for those when I was a kid). And I started wondering why this happens and started observing what I and others actually do.
It’s as simple as this; I step backward with my left foot and then go down on my left knee, while most of the others step forward with their right foot and then go down on their left knees.
Here’s a fact: AJKF states that when you sit down (Seiza), you (half-)step backward with your left foot, go down on your left knee and follow with your right foot. (I couldn’t find the original article online, but I found a paper which quotes the lines. Please find the link at the bottom of this article)
If you really want all the knees and Mens to be aligned, that’s how you should do. Here’s why;
Assume you’ve lined up on a straight line.
- You step forward with your right foot and then go down with your left knee.
In this case, your knees will likely be ahead of the line and the distance will be proportional to the length of your legs. Then you put your Men within your reach yet far enough so you don’t have to smell at your Men when you do Rei. The distance between your knees and your Men will be proportional to the length of your upper body and arms.
Imagine a very tall person and a very short person doing it.
- You step backward with your left foot and then go down with your left knee.
In this case, your knees will likely be right on the line, no matter how tall or short you are. The distance between your knees and your Men is still proportional to the length of your upper body and arms (that’s why I don’t think it’s important to align Mens in the first place), but at least you can offset the line-knee distance by first stepping backward.
Simple, isn’t it?
Cognitive ability is another thing; it’s hard to percept straight lines when you are actually in one. You’d feel like you’re behind others, thus you might want to step forward, which actually curves the line.
All the details aside, my point is “Think twice if the rules or the conventions make sense. If you feel an urge to enforce them on others, think twice again and make sure you’re doing them right before doing so.”