Kendo Inspiration for Wednesday Keiko

kendo inspiration

Have a great week, kenshi friends!

Until next time,

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8 Simple Steps for a Tidy Tenugui

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We had a request yesterday for a guide to wearing the tenugui, which was a great idea! Here today to help us demonstrate is none other than KendoGirl.com CEO and President, Lot. She is excited to take us through the steps in her pink leggings … claiming she didn’t want to have to re-fold her hakama, insert eye roll.

1 . Take a look at your tenugui

While sitting in seiza, look at the tenugui, holding it by the top corners. For two sided tenugui, make sure any calligraphy or design is facing you. For one sided tenugui, make sure the pattern or words are facing away from you. Or in Lot’s case, since her tenugui is two sided and has no calligraphy, either side facing you will work just fine.

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2. Pull it over the top of your head

Pull the tenugui over your head so the edge is against your hair line / nape of your neck and then pull the corners forward.

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Here is a view from the back …

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3. Pull first corner across your forehead

Starting with either corner, pull the tenugui across your forehead, right above the eyebrows. It is helpful to keep your elbows up to give yourself enough room to maneuver.

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 4. Do the thumb tuck (optional, it’s a “Lot” thing)

Before you bring the other corner around the forehead, Lot suggests holding the first corner against your head with your thumb. When you bring the second corner around, slowly wiggle your thumb/hand out, and the other side of the tenugui will now be holding the first corner in place.

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5. Pull second corner across your forehead

The second corner will wrap around the forehead the same way as the first. Try to keep the fabric tight enough to stay secure, but not too tight as to cause discomfort.

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6. Pull the tenugui upwards so you can see!

Now you can pull the corner by your chin upwards and toward the back of your head carefully, which will tuck the second corner into place.

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7. Tidy up a little

Do a little straightening if need be, along the sides or back. Sometimes you need to fold the little flap on top under itself, so there is no “chicken tail” flapping out the back of your men. Also make sure the tenugui is not riding too close to your eyebrows, so that when wearing men, you cannot see the tenugui through the mengane.

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8. If need be, try again!

If it feels weird or you make a mistake, just try again! You will find that pretty soon, you will be able to put it on with no problem at all, similar to this goofball.

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Thank you to Lot for being an excellent instructor for the low, low cost of a $5 bribe. If you are interested in the tenugui in this demonstration, you can find it by clicking here.

Until next time, happy keiko!

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5 Kendo Tenugui Tips and Tricks for Beginners

5 Kendo Tenugui Tips and Tricks for Beginners

5 Kendo Tenugui Tips and Tricks for Beginners

I have a borderline unhealthy obsession with tenugui, the cotton towel we all wear under our men to make sure our polytails don’t get caught up in men himos (Right? That is why we wear them?) Tenugui are a type of cotton towel that will be one of the first kendo accessories you will likely own. They are customarily given out at tournaments, to friends, and guests. Some teams wear matching designs, and some even have a lucky tenugui. As you progress in your kendo career, you will accumulate so many tenugui that the bottom of your bogu bag will undoubtedly be covered in a thick layer of them.

kendo tenugui prettyHowever, as a beginner, you may be on the hunt for one online and it is difficult to really tell much about the fabric without holding it in your hand. Types of tenugui and fabric vary incredibly, and some tenugui are better for kendo than others. Below you can find the 5 do’s and don’ts  associated with finding a tenugui that will feel great and be one less thing to fret about when starting your kendo journey.

1. Fabric

Something that beginners may not be aware of is that not all tenugui fabric is created equal. When looking online, the variability of colors and patterns is endless (and exciting!) and you may be inclined to pick your first tenugui based on looks alone. It is important to read into the type of fabric a little closer to make sure the tenugui you are purchasing will work well for the specific purpose of kendo. What may look beautiful hanging on your wall may not work as efficiently for wearing during kendo practice.

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You may notice some tenugui are fairly inexpensive and available commercially through amazon or ebay. Although most tenugui are advertised as 100% cotton, the fabric’s weave will make a big difference in how the tenugui feels and how well it absorbs sweat. If the fabric is course, and upon zooming in, you can see the weave of the fabric, it may not serve as an optimal kendo tenugui. Not to say it does not have a good purpose, or is not beautiful, but it may be used better outside of kendo.

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Loosely woven tenugui will look like this when inspected up close

It is hard to tell, admittedly. Tenugui are divided into several types according to the fineness of the cloth, smoothness is desired.  The finer the cloth, the higher the absorption and comfort. In addition, the smooth texture of densely woven cotton dries quickly and prevents odor. The higher quality tenugui are washable without shrinking, and become softer the longer they are used. They can be ironed as the sides begin to wrinkle over, and then can be recycled into home décor when their kendo lifespan has concluded.

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2. Edges

For comfort, the short edges should be unfinished. Most commercial tenugui are already created this way – the fabric woven on a loom that is only a foot wide. Therefore the two long edges are finished and the two short edges are unfinished. The unfinished sides will unravel a small amount over time, only about 3-5 mm, and the threads should be cut with scissors and never pulled on to avoid causing runs in the fabric and ruining the tenugui design. Some tenugui come with a sewed hem, which is alright as long as the hem is flat. If you see it is rounded, it could cause discomfort around the temples when men is worn.

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Very cute edge, but might give you a headache   😦

3. Size

Tenugui are generally in the same ballpark for size, but it is important for a kendo tenugui to measure at 33 cm wide by 95 cm long at the minimum. If a tenugui measures less than this, it will be difficult to wrap correctly around your head and may come loose during practice. Think about your head size or hair style, too. A little longer tenugui can make a huge headed person like me a little more comfortable. Try not to exceed 110 cm in length, to avoid the tenugui bunching on the sides and hurting your ears and no wider than 40 cm in width, or it may ride too low on your forehead, being visible when wearing men, something to avoid.

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4. Technique

There are two different types of ways tenugui are dyed or printed, and choosing one or the other is just a matter of personal preference. I wanted to include this information just as an FYI instead of a do or don’t.

The first technique is more traditional and is referred to as the chusen technique. This is distinguished by the design pattern appearing on both sides as mirror images of one another. Chusen is a traditional method of dyeing using stencil paper. Since the dye infiltrates the cloth, the design appears on both sides. When the tenugui is used for a long period of time, the dye fades, making it more beautiful and soft with use.

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The more common technique is fabric printing technique. Compared to chusen dyeing, printing can produce patterns or characters that are more detailed, as they are printed using a silkscreen. Since patterns are printed on just one side, the back side is a solid color, unlike chusen tenugui. On the other hand, it is difficult to color the entire surface through printing, and by doing so will make the fabric stiff and undesirable for kendo use.

5. Translation

As a last note, make sure that if you purchase a tenugui with calligraphy that is not in your native language, you inquire with the seller or an individual you trust to translate it. Without naming names, I will share with you that one of my teammates inherited a tenugui from the club pile, decorated with Japanese kanji. One day, one of our kendo moms timidly remarked that the tenugui said “kendo kids club” which was entertaining given the fact that the kenshi wearing it was not only an adult, but well over 6 feet tall. Avoid embarrassing moments such as this (sorry, friend) by taking steps to ensure you know what message you are wearing on your head.

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When it comes down to it, your choice in tenugui should be based on what you like best and what is the most comfortable for you. In any case, tenugui are fun and functional, making the perfect gift for friends, family, special dojo visitors, and sensei alike. Or in my case, just collecting for collecting sake … they are sooo cute, all of them, I can’t stop!!

Until next time, happy keiko!

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Kendo, the perfect patchwork quilt

One of my favorite type of shinai bags to make is the quilted shinai bag. These are really one of a kind, and I love making them because I was a quilter before I was a kenshi and it brings back good memories of lazy, quiet days before kiai and stomping became the norm. So even though it takes all day (as quilting projects should), I really love making these bags more than any other. And here I will explain why!

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The way that I make these bags is very fun for me. As I make other bags, whether it be iaido, kendo, naginata or other accessories like tenugui or furoshiki, I inevitably have left over fabric, scraps, or remnants that I put in a specific tote next to my sewing table. When I notice the tote is beginning to overflow on to the ground, I dump it out on my expansive table in the workshop and organize the pieces by color.

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If any of you are crafty like myself, you know that this is a very fun project indeed. So many colors and patterns that I had forgotten existed. And a reminder that I don’t necessarily need to buy any more fabric (but will anyway!)

Whichever color is the most plentiful (in kendo usually navy blue takes first place) is the color of the day, and I begin sorting them out, deciding which patterns go together – really my favorite part of the quilting experience (if you don’t count the final product!)

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Breaking out the less-often-used quilting accoutrement, I set about cutting squares, fussing over patterns, and the normal quilting ins and outs. I must admit, I adore this part, because with every scrap and fabric remnant, I am reminded of what bag or item it came from. Was this the shinai bag I sent to New Zealand, for the birthday party? Or perhaps my first iaido bag, when I didn’t even know what iaido was? Maybe it was the shinpanki bag I made for my own sensei birthday party, or one of the (many) shinai bags I have made for my daughter as she, and her shinai, grow faster and faster before my eyes. It is like a trip down memory lane.

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I have been very lucky to make items for friends, family, for sword artisans all over the world and I like to remember each one as I fuss and fret over lining up corners and struggle to find the fabric I swear I just had in my hand a second ago (oh there it is, under the massive mountain of similarly colored fabrics!)

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I think there is something very cool about how not only are the bags completely unique, but they include pieces of fabric from another kenshi’s bag, sometimes across the world. I wonder if someday two of these people will run into one another and notice that one square of their bag matches the entirely of someone else’s. How cool would that be?

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At the end of the day, making these bags really reminds me of what is so wonderful about kendo, in that every time we share keiko with others, whether it be beginners, high ranking sensei, visitors, or team members, we take pieces of knowledge from our fellow kenshi. And they have taken pieces of knowledge, just like pieces of fabric, from others along their journey. Our kendo becomes a patchwork quilt of skills and lessons learned, and we are all unique, but all have tiny pieces that are the same.

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And that thought to me is very lovely indeed.

Until next time, happy keiko!

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