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  • Writer's pictureDaniel Laverick

The meaning of Kei-ko

Written by Phill Whitfield sensei

For years I understood the Japanese word “keiko” (or sometimes geiko) means “practise”. We say keiko-gi to mean practise clothing, uchikomi keiko is cutting practise, kakari keiko is attacking practise and so on.

Actually it means no such thing.

It can be a girl’s name, but with different kanji. If a Japanese woman says to you “watashi wa Keiko desu” she’s introducing herself to you, not asking to have a kendo bash. But more importantly, keiko is quite literally an example of a Chinese whisper.

Ozawa sensei writes that the two kanji kei and ko (above) are Chinese characters imported into Japanese in the 10th-11th centuries. So from Chinese to Japanese to English we end up with the meaning kei- to think about and ko- the past. Another translation version is “to reflect upon the things in the past or learn their logic by reading old books and referring to ancient matters”, or perhaps “to think of those who have gone before (ancestors)”.

How do we apply this thinking about the past or our predecessors?

Kendo is a chain of teaching, in modern times from about 1910, but derived from hundreds of years of teaching. Each teacher was once a student of a teacher. The techniques, philosophy, traditions are passed on and each inheritor, whether you are a teacher or student, must learn, understand, and yes, practise them faithfully. We look at the past and think of what we should do. To consider what came before. This is keiko.

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