The last Busen graduate

Furuya sensei executing tsuki at the Kyoto Taikai in the 1970s.

As every kendoka knows, Busen (Budo Senmon Gakko) was – along with Tokyo Koto Shihan Gakko – the premier place for training kendoka before the war. It was run by the Butokukai and was based in the legendary Butokuden in Kyoto. People who graduated from here went on to train kenshi all over the country. The schools impact on modern kendo cannot be underestimated. During the post WW2 occupation the school was renamed and its martial arts practice banned.

The first teacher and most senior instructor at Busen was the legendary Naito Takaharu. When he passed away suddenly in 1929 the reigns were taken over by Ogawa Kinnosuke who continued to lead the school until it was closed down after the war. The amount of famous and influential kenshi that were involved in Busen in one way or another are too numerous to list, but include Monna Tadashi and Saimura Goro.

The subject of this article is about the person who was said to be the last graduate from Busen – Furuya Fukunosuke hanshi. Furuya sensei was well known in the Kansai area and taught at a few different dojo, including my own one in central Osaka – Yoseikai. I managed to do keiko with him only a few times before his health deteriorated to the point where he could not practice. Even after that point he still came to the dojo and attended a couple of gasshuku, thus I luckily had the chance to learn something from him. unfortunately, at the relatively young age of 81, Furuya sensei died last December.

My sempai and sensei reacted sadly at his death – not only because of his young age nor due to his impact in the kendo of the area – but his passing is also hard evidence that the kendo world is changing for ever. Gone and going are the sensei who learned kendo at legendary places such as Busen. Can we live up to their legacy? Well, only time will tell.


My ardour, posture, and sword were cultivated by breaking through the opponents kamae during keiko (相手の剣を割っていく稽古で気勢、体勢、剣勢が養えた)

I am the last graduate from Busen. This was a special school aimed for people who wished to pursue kendo as a professional career. At that time, training there was completely different from normal dojo. First of all, everyone was treated as a beginner, and kendo was taught to you from the start, no matter if you were experienced or not.

At the beginning – as is well known – all we did was kirikaeshi and uchikomigeiko. Many people, however, talk as if all we did was keiko all day long – that wasn’t the case. We studied things such as Japanese, Kanbun (Chinese Classics), Budo history, and we only did keiko for only 1.5 hours a day (editors note: I assume that this changed depending on the season/school year).

At Busen, footwork was deemed as the most important skill to learn. However, nobody taught anything in detail, the teachers always shouted “go forward, go forward, more, more!” as you were attacking them. I have no idea how much uchikomigeiko we did everyday, but I know it was a lot. We attacked straight and big, but the mododachi never once let you hit them by opening up their kamae. This meant that you would run into their kensaki. Knowing this we had no choice but to overcome your fear and drive in with force anyway. Keiko was continually like this.

“Why did we have to do this?” you may ask. At the beginning it was very scary and difficult, and your body would have no force behind it. But if you continued if for a while, bit by bit the fear disappeared and your srikes became bolder, straighter, and you went forward with vigour, until it became almost natural. By learning kendo in this difficult situation we got not only the shape of kendo, but we learned what “uchikomigeiko” really is by training our body and mind.

By learning this way, in jigeiko we were able to attack with the feeling of abandon and react to our opponents actions immediately without thought. In otherwords, we trained to attack without hesitation and with force. If you have this spirit and power then your body will follow. This was the point of Busen’s uchikomigeiko.

This is not the style of kendo where you move into your opponent, see how he reacts, then hit him, but one where you simply aim to break their kamae and hit him on the shomen. Of course during jigeiko or shiai there are other waza such as harai, suriage, etc, but these waza are often used with the object of attempting to “win” which is different that what we learned at Busen.

In recent times the aim of kendo for the majority of people has become shiai. The ZNKR realizing this has tried to make amends by creating and revising shiai rules continually, and also with the publication of the Concept of Kendo in 1975. However, its hard to go back and grasp kendo’s original spirt. My feeling is that the way to do this is to abandon all thoughts of winning and losing, and concentrate on “correct” kendo. Don’t be afraid of being hit, just concentrate on hitting correctly and straightly, and from this you will polish your ardour, posture, and sword.

My 3 ideals of kendo (三つの剣道の理想の姿)

真 (truth) : learn and think about kendo in a logical manner;
正 (honesty/correct) : do keiko with the correct approach, this includes not only your heat, but your body and sword as well;
情 (emotion/passion) : even in the most difficult and hard keiko you must not lose your feeling towards your opponent.

The last one – 情 – is the part that I want to keep/protect in kendo the most. You must never do keiko with someone with the feeling of wanting to beat them but with “lets have a fair and correct keiko” and you must have thanks after, despite the result/content of the keiko.

Recently I have seen teams who, having won a particular fight, raise their arms in celebration in front of the losing team. Being happy about a win is fine, but celebrating without considering the feelings of the other team is bad for us as people, and the concept of kendo will slowly disappear.

kata1

After the war: Yoseikai (戦後:養正会)

I wrote at the beginning that I was the last graduate of Busen. However, when the school was shut down I was still a 2nd year student. Getting into Busen was quite hard – there were Japanese, Kanbun, and a physical kendo test as well. Out of 500 applicants only 40 of us were selected to enter the 1st year. I studied in Busen as detailed above for 2 years, then Busen was shut down, kendo removed from the curriculum, and reopened with a new name. I continued to study Japanese and Kanbun (no kendo) in the new school and eventually graduated from there However, we were adamant that we were Busen Graduates and petitioned for the right to be seen as so. 5 years after graduating we received an official Busen graduation diploma. This is why we are deemed to be the final graduates of the school.

Even though my time at Busen was short, other graduates, sensei, and sempai continued to practice in the Busen manner after the war, even while kendo was still banned. We started a dojo called the Nankai Dojo (it was under Nankai Railway) in 1949 and all the sensei from the area came to practice here. In 1955 the dojo was moved, Ikeda sensei (also a Busen graduate) became the shihan, and it was renamed to Yoseikai. When Ikeda sensei passed away, I became the 2nd shihan of Yoseikai and continue to teach kendo in the Busen manner as I was taught.


Furuya sensei passed away in December 2008.

Yoseikai is an active dojo in central Osaka. We have many members and often have people from abroad visiting us. Please check out the website.


Published by

George

I'm the founder and chief editor of kenshi247.net. Amongst other things I am a high school kendo club coach, an avid practitioner of classical swordsmanship, a history student, and a vegetarian.

16 thoughts on “The last Busen graduate”

  1. Well, I hope i didn’t disappoint you both!

    Soon I will have a couple of more posts with stuff from Furya-sensei (plus there is a book being released about him soon, so I will fill you in on that at the time).

  2. Robin, the picture shows Furuya sensei at the Kyoto Taikai in 1976 (the pic is from Kendo Nippon I believe). Apart from that, I dont know anything about the picture.

  3. George, this is excellent…really moving stuff and it helps to shed some more light on why we should uphold those traditions and mentalities that the old boys show such fervour towards. Thank you!!

  4. Thanks for the article George.

    Sorry to hear about Youseikai’s loss.

    michael

    (I was guy from melbourne who trained with you in November last year.)

  5. The most recent comment is dated April 2009. I have read this article many times. I am currently head instructor at our dojo, Santa Barbara Kendo Dojo. My sensei, Mikio Hattanda, passed away December 2012. He attended Busen. This article gives perspective on how he trained me. I studied with him for almost 30 years. Since we are 100 miles away from Los Angeles, our dojo was more like an outpost of kendo. Many times at practice, it was just Hattanda sensei and myself, and since my kendo was so inferior to his, practice could be frustrating. He taught me big kendo, with a sliding forwards fumikomi where the right foot moved forwards only an inch above the floor. He taught that raising the foot high was a waste of effort. His instructions were enigmatic. Regarding raising the shinai, he would say, “Just goes up.” When my kendo improved, he would raise his intensity at times, and begin to circle me, hitting with large waza which I learned to counter without thinking as necessity. When I was able to press against his seme, when we reached tsubazeriai, he would say, “Atta boy.” All his friends from Busen had achieved Hachidan 20 years or more before Hattanda sensei passed. I asked him if he regretted not taking the Hachidan exam. He said, No. He knew the quality of his kendo. We also spent much time doing kata. He would say, “Kendo and kata are the same.” When sensei like him pass from this world, their knowledge passes also. He did not train us for shiai, but trained us to do kendo the way he learned at Busen.

  6. Howard, thanks for your comment – I used it as reminder to change some of the pics and edit the text here and there!!

    Wow, sounds like you were very lucky. Hattanda sensei must have been very old… when was he active at Busen? I assume it was around the same time – or before – Furuya sensei?

    EDIT: I have a list of names of the graduates and the dates when they were there. Hattanda sensei entered a year after Furuya sensei so they almost certainly had the same experience. He would’ve done only 1 year of the school proper, then continued kendo (in secret) outside of the school. A quick scan of the names shows that only 10 students (including your teacher) were enrolled that year.

    The only other “American” teacher listed is Omoto sensei from Hawaii (he graduated 4 years before Hattanda sensei).

    Of course, I use the term ‘graduated’ loosely here. I don’t think Omoto sensei actually graduated (because he was drafted), and Furuya sensei graduated from a re-named/re-imagined school – did Hattanda sensei also go this route?

  7. George,
    I started kendo in Santa Barbara under Hattanda sensei (Howard is a very good friend and mentor). I did not know how lucky I was as a kid. Hattanda sensei would pick me up and drive me home and always explained what we did at practice to me–and also why we did it. In my early 20’s he encouraged me to move to Seattle to study with a younger sensei up there that he thought was good. He also told me to go and practice with Omoto sensei as they went to the same school in Japan (Nobuto Omoto lived in Tacoma and was the sensei at the Tacoma kendo club). We would often go down to Tacoma to practice with Omoto sensei. When I first met Omoto sensei I was shocked at how much his kendo resembled Hattanda sensei’s kendo. After Omoto sensei learned I started kendo with Hattanda sensei he would talk with me after practice when everyone went out for dinner. Again, I was shocked at how much his talks sounded like the talks I used to have with Hattanda sensei driving home when I was younger. Reading this article was like sitting in Hattanda sensei’s truck or having dinner with Omoto sensei. I want to thank you for posting it. It brought back a lot of great memories for me and makes me realize how truly lucky I was to meet and spend time with both of them.

    best,

    Scott

    PS–Here is a link about Omoto sensei and there is a link to some of his thoughts on kata.

    http://faculty.washington.edu/kendo/omoto.html

  8. This is from Hattanda sensei’s application to take the hachidan exam in the U.S. (The exam was never given)

    ALL UNITED STATES KENDO FEDERATION
    RANKING/SHOGO EXAMINATION APPLICATION
    November 22, 1998

    Personal Kendo History of Mikio Hattanda

    Mr. Hattanda was born March 24, 1929 in Kumamoto prefecture, Kyushu, Japan.

    Mr. Hattanda began studying kendo in Japan in 1934 at 5 years of age.
    He entered Dai Nippon Budo Kai Budo Senmon Gakko (Busen) at the age of 16. He told me that only 1 in 100 who tried out were accepted. He studied there for 1 ½ years. Usually students would be there for 4 years. There were 30 students in each class. His studies ended because of the American victory, and kendo was banned for 7 years. But he was able to practice kendo during the time it was banned because he worked for the U.S Army. Among his duties was serving as a bodyguard for the Japanese Prime Minister.

    He received the rank of 4 Dan in Japan. After immigrating to the United States of America, Mr. Hattanda became a sensei at Santa Barbara Kendo Dojo in 1960. Masaharu Shimoda Sensei was head instructor at that time. Mr. Hattanda became head instructor of Santa Barbara Kendo Dojo in 1980, and continued to serve as head instructor until his death at age 83.

    Mr. Hattanda received the following ranks from the Kendo Federation USA (KFUSA).

    7 Dan 11/22/87 KFUSA
    Kyoshi 11/06/83 KFUSA
    6 Dan 11/22/81 KFUSA
    Renshi 11/10/68 KFUSA
    5 Dan 12/12/65 KFUSA

    (Also, he never failed a shinsa) – This is my addition to the above.

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