The four kendo sicknesses

This weekend was our organization’s semiannual promotion exam and I took the ni-dan test.

Part of the exam was to discuss the four kendo sicknesses. I’ve posted my essay below:

The four kendo sicknesses

One of the ultimate goals of kendo is to obtain a state of mushin or “empty” mind. This occurs when one is able to instinctively respond to your opponent without any conscious thought. Without having to consciously think one is able to instinctively respond quickly and without hesitation.

There are, however, four sicknesses or “shikai” (“shi”-four “kai”-prohibitions”) which prevent us from having an empty mind. These are known as “kyo-ku-gi-waku”.

“Be prepared…the meaning of the motto is that a scout must prepare himself by previous thinking out and practicing how to act on any accident or emergency so that he is never taken by surprise”.
– Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts

The first sickness is “kyo” or surprise. To be surprised is the symptom of an unprepared mind. If you have been surprised by your opponent you will not be able to respond in time. You will freeze and not be able to act.

“Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little death that brings obliteration.”
– Frank Herbert, Dune.

The second sickness is “ku” or fear. Fear is the natural response to an oppressive force or of the unknown. The fear of losing a point or getting hit may cause hesitation or loss of initiative which in itself may result in losing a point or getting hit.

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.”
– J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

The third sickness is “gi” or doubt. If you are unsure of your abilities or worry you won’t be able to get a point, you will have already lost the battle before you have even started.

“The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision.”
– Maimonides, philosopher

The final sickness is “waku” or confusion/indecision. If your mind is not settled or indecisive, you will be unable to respond effectively to an opponent. You will be too worried about what to do next that you will be unable to do what comes next.

The only way to free your mind of the natural responses of surprise-fear-doubt-confusion is through repeated basic practice. Similarly, the four sicknesses are symptoms of a lack of practice. Kihon practice will eventually lead to the calm-resolute-confident-decisive (heijoshin/fudoshin) and ultimately empty mind.

Finally, one must always be ready to take advantage of kyo-ku-gi-waku in your opponent.

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