Rei is not just a bow to be polite, to display one’s sanctimony – rei is a codified set of behaviors to a) not give offense to armed individuals who, if offended, may not only be a danger to you, but to the cause that you are allied b) to properly handle weaponry so that it is safely managed, both in your own hands, and in passing it on to another person.
One’s behavior is determined by that of one’s instructor – if he or she is relaxed, so, too, you should be. But in the fraction of a moment that the instructor is focused, serious or otherwise in kamae, you should flow into the same state without hesitation – indeed, without conscious intent. You have failed – absolutely – if your instructor is focused and you are still joking or otherwise casual.
If the instructor indicates something, it is always important. You shouldn’t need explanations for everything, or even direct orders. If the instructor, for example, states, “It’s a good idea to be further apart when the kata start” – this should become an obsession! You should never be corrected on this again.
Weapons handling. I have seen people hand a bokken over to another person grasping it by the blade; I’ve seen people untangle the chain of the kusarigama (admittedly an unwieldy instrument) clasping the blade in the crook of the arm or hanging the blade on their shoulder or neck; I’ve seen people casually stand with their hand on the blade of the naginata. The blade edge should not touch your flesh. Ever! I’ve seen people propping themselves up with the tip of the sword on the ground like a cane. I have seen people casually stepping over weapons on the floor. My question: Are you doing stick-fighting with oddly shaped pieces of wood, or are you doing kenjutsu? Naginatajutsu? Kusarigamajutsu?
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