Takano Sasaburo (1862-1950) 高野佐三郎

The following is a bio of the person that can be considered one of the fathers (if not the father) of kendo as it exists today. I spend a lot of my time either reading his books, or reading books of others that trained under him or were influenced him in one way or another. I think if most people trace their kendo history back a couple of generations they will find a Takano connection. Despite this, there is almost no information about him nor his writing available in English… save on kenshi247.net! Hopefully, over time, we can help spread more information about him and his influence.

Early life

Takano Mitsumasa

Takano Sasaburo was born in 1862 in what is now called Chichibu city, in Saitama prefecture. His family worked as local silk inspectors (i.e. duties and tax) and also provided lodgings for travellers. It was his grandfather Mitsumasa (Sakichiro) who would have the greatest influence on his life.

Mitsumasa was born in 1802 and became a top Ono-ha itto-ryu student of Nakanishi Chubei Tanemasa, who had been a direct disciple of the 4th Ono-ha soke, Ono Tadaichi. He received a menkyo in the style and worked as han kenjutsu instructor in a military encampment (Musashinokuni, Oshihan) for an unknown period of time. He also had a small dojo in his home, near Chichibu Shrine.

(Please note – at the time Nakanishi Chubei, Takano Mitsumasa, and Sasaburo, would refer to their kenjutsu as “itto-ryu” or “Ono-ha itto-ryu,” but at some point over the years the official designation of the style of Ono-ha passed through the Nakanishi family via Takano Mitsumasa/Sasaburo has come to be called “Nakanishi-ha itto-ryu.”)

As soon as Mitsumasa found out that his daughter (Sasaburo’s mother) was pregnant, he ordered her to come and watch practise at his dojo. Thus it could be said that Sasaburo’s training began at zero. Mitsumasa’s enthusiasm never faltered, and he began to train Sasaburo’s himself from the age of 3, often coaxing the young child into kata practise by offering sweets.

By the age of 5 Sasaburo was able to demonstrate all of the basic 50 itto-ryu kata in front of the domain chief when he came around on a tour of inspection.

Mitsumasa’s training of Sasaburo continued over the years, often with some unusual methods – putting beans on the dojo floor, practising on slopes, in the water, or at night, etc. Mitsumasa also demanded that Sasaburo face towards the sun in the morning and open his mouth widely so as to be able to drink in the heavens, believing that the power/spirit of space and the gods would soak into their bodies.

By the time Sasaburo was 10 years old he was able to beat older boys of 15 and 16, and by the age of 17/18 his ability saw him nicknamed “Chichibu no kotengu” (a literal translation of 秩父の小天狗 is impossible, but they basically called him the strongest youth in the area. Tengu were mythical creatures with supposed powers in swordsmanship).

The turning point

In 1879, at the age of 17/18, he took part in a kenjutsu shiai (as they were often called at the time) in his grandfathers place, and faced the 31 year old Okada Sadagoro. Okada was a renowned kenshi and had trained in both Araki-ryu and Hokushin itto-ryu, and currently served as a kenjutsu/gekkiken instructor in what is now Gunma prefecture. Sasaburo used his favoured 4.5 shinai (at that time there were no rules for shinai weight or length) and fought in one handed jodan.

By his own account, Sasaburo didn’t fear Okada, and attacked him many times. However Okada would never accept being struck and used every opportunity he could to tsuki Sasaburo again and again. Eventually Sasaburo’s hakama was covered in blood and the match was stopped. Many of the onlookers sympathised with Sasaburo so the match was declared a draw. However Sasaburo saw this as a humiliating defeat. By the time the young man got home he had decided on a course of action: go to Tokyo, train hard, then get his revenge on Okada.

After being in the capital for a short time, Sasaburo was introduced to and ended up training in Yamaoka Tesshu’s dojo, Shumpukan. After about 2 months of training Tesshu approached him and said:

“Well, you are a mysterious young man. Normally people who come to train here from the countryside don’t even manage to last a week. There must be something of significance bothering you. Spit it out.”

Takano replied:

“Its not that; I am just here for the strict keiko.”

Tesshu had lunch with Takano and the young boy explained the story in full. Tesshu told him that Okada was no longer his enemy (i.e. Takano’s skill now surpassed Okita), and he should seek his revenge immediately. Sasaburo called on Okada but was surprised to have his adamant demand of a rematch turned down politely. Try as he might there would be no rematch, and he returned to Shumpukan unavenged. This result was exactly as Tesshu expected.

Although Sasaburo only trained at Shumpukan for around 3 months, the whole episode proved to be a turning point in Takano’s life – had he acted out his revenge perhaps things would have gone from bad to worse. His meeting with Tesshu set the wheels for his future in motion.

(There is a slight break in the narrative here, as I can’t uncover information as to what Takano was doing in between this time (1879) and his grandfather Mitsumasa’s death in 1884. Sasaburo would have been around 18-25 during this time. Upon his grandfathers death Sasaburo took over Mitsumasa’s business (and presumably his dojo as well) and ran it until 1886).


In 1886 – by the recommendation of Tesshu – the then 24 year old Sasaburo became a gekkiken (kendo) instructor for the fledgling keishicho, and was stationed at at Motomachi police station. This station master at Motomachi loved gekkiken and made all of the 180 officers practise. They would be split into two groups of 90 each and made to practise in rotation everyday. Members at this time included kenshi who had been involved in the Bakamatsu period disturbances, and had fought in the Satsuma rebellion, i.e. kenshi that had been involved in real sword fighting. Keiko was therefore severe. Sasaburo would remark “it was rare to go to asageiko and be able to eat lunch” (i.e. the training was so violent that you physically couldn’t eat).

Once a month all the police stations in Tokyo would get together and compete (gekkikenkai). Sasaburo not only made a name for himself during these shiai, but also won competitions in front of the Emperor (Tenran Shiai). Due to his success at these competitions Sasaburo would rise to become one of the foremost kenshi in keishicho.

In 1888 he was ordered to work in Saitama police HQ and moved to Urawa city with his family. The next year he began to teach kendo in a police training institute.

In 1890 he built his dojo, Meishinkan, on the grounds of his fathers business and left the police. The Urawa Meishinkan would serve to be the HQ dojo for a network of branch dojos in the prefecture.

(Note that I found two dates quoted for the building of the first (Urawa) Meishinkan: 1888 and 1890. I think the latter is probably correct. I read a figure of between 39-41 Meishinkan branches, and student numbers ranging from 6-10,000 (including school/university students and police), though I am not sure how accurate these figures are.)

In 1895 the Butokukai was founded and Sasaburo entered the first Butokusai (Kyoto Taikai) as a Tokyo representative. He fought and won 2 shiai against Izawa (Kyoto) and Takagi (Tokushima). The following year he beat Asano (Fukuoka) and Koseki (Shiga), and was awarded Seirensho, a mark of his ability (only 15 people had the honour).

In 1897 he used a substitute school building and opened the “Kendo kyojuho kenkyujo Meishinkan honbu” (Kendo pedagogy and research institute, Meishinkan HQ). The first keiko took place on the 16th of October 1897. Keishicho gekkiken instructors Horikawa and Tokuno started by demonstrating some kata, after which 10 bouts of demonstration matches were held before keiko began.


In the 1902 Butokusai Sasaburo’s performance was so good he was awarded a famous katana. 100 kenshi were selected to take part in a large All-Japan Bujutsu Taikai the next year in Osaka, and here Sasaburo was elected MVP, earning a gold medal and bogu from the emperor. His fame was spreading.

In November 1907 it was finally decided that judo and gekkiken (kendo) would become a school subject. There was a distinct lack of teachers of both at this point, so there was a need to train more quicker. At this time, Tokyo Shihan Gakko’s principle Jigoro Kano (the inventor of Judo) asked the gekkiken department boss – Minegishi – to find an instructor for the school (“shihan gakko” or “higher normal schools” were schools that educated male school teachers). Minegishi sat down and wrote a list of the top kenshi in the country, and invited each to the school to fence the gekkiken students. If they passed this physical test, they would be invited to sit a more formal interview. Sasaburo came to the school on the 19th of March 1908 and was selected almost immediately 3 days later on the 21st (an indication of the impression he made). At the time Sasaburo was 47 years old and kyoshi.

Due to the popularity of kendo in universities and schools at this time Sasaburo would also go on to teach at other places, including becoming the shihan of Waseda University in 1910. It was around this time that he began his research into creating a kendo curriculum to be used in schools and universities. The culmination of his research would be be published in two books, “Kendo” (1915) then “Kendo Kyohan” (1930). His impact on kendo teaching pedagogy cannot be rivalled in the history of kendo.

In 1911, after working hard on it for 10 years, Saitama Butokuden was finally completed behind Saitama prefectural office. The same year he was selected to be part of the committee to begin research on creating a standard kendo kata (the kata was unveiled in 1917).

In 1913, at the age of 52, he was awarded HANSHI from the butokukai. This was normally restricted to those over 60 but occasionally exceptions were made for those with talent (e.g. Naito Takaharu).

In 1915 Sasaburo became the department head of the kendo section of Tokyo Shihan Gakko, and would become a professor the following year. In 1916 he was the only “normal school kendo speciality professor” in the entire country.

In 1918 he built the first Shudogakuin, a kendo institute that would spawn branches around the country and where many influential kendoka would pass through (Nyui Yoshihiro, Mochida Moriji, Takizawa Kozo, etc). He chose the name Shudogakuin (修道学院) as it reflected his desire to train people in “Bun bu ryodo” (文武両道), or physically and mentally. i.e. his aim was not just to create strong kenshi, but good/educated people too. Secretly, it is said that his ideal was Saito Yakuro’s Renpeikan (a bakumatsu period dojo in Edo).

Sasaburo continued to work at Tokyo Shihan Gakko until 1936 (75 years old). Even after he quit being a professor there, and despite his age, he kept teaching kendo at the school’s dojo until forced to stop by impending war.

Sasaburo died on the 31st of December 1950. He was 89 years old.


高野佐三郎剣道遺稿集 (剣道日本プレミアム) 。堂本 昭彦 (著)。


Please remember I am not a professional translator, nor have studied Japanese at university nor in an institution. Any errors in fact, misunderstandings in the reading of the text, errors in translations, etc, are all my own. I can but apologise in advance.

Takizawa Kozo hanshi

“Commencing in a moment, the final of the 70th imperial guards competition. The competitors: Takizawa Kozo kyoshi, Abe Saburo kyoshi; the shinpan: omote shinpan Mochida Seiji, ura shinpan Saimura Goro and Ogawa Kinnosuke.”

At the same time that the announcers voice rang out in the packed Saineikan dojo, the two competitors and the three shinpan faced the throne and bowed deeply to the emperor and empress.


Both competitors stand up and kiai with all their might. The small Takizawa adjusts his kensen slightly up to make up for the difference in height between him and the taller Abe, who lowers his for the same reason. With their kensen moving rhythmically, they slowly close distance. You can feel the pressure radiate out from both mens shinai, like electricity.

Takizawa brothers in Barcelona

Over a few years, Takizawa Kenji sensei (kyoshi, 8dan) has been making trips to Europe, and has met a few of my friends (and probably lots of kenshi247 readers) while abroad. Although I don’t know him personally (yet), I have been training with his younger brother (Takizawa Masaya sensei, kyoshi, 7dan) for the past few years. Recently both brothers went to Barcelona for a kendo seminar and this inspired me to introduce something about their highly influential father to kenshi247.net readers.

Please note that I got Takizawa Kenji and Masaya sensei’s permission to write this article, including translation and use of published as well as private material.

Takizawa Kozo: a short biography

Takizawa Kozo was born as the third son into a farming family on the 20th of October, Meiji 43 (1910), in Atsugi city, Kanagawa prefecture. He started kendo with a local group whilst still in primary school. Despite his short stature, from a young age he began to be noticed for his kendo ability (he was only 160cm’s as an adult). At the age of 19, he was taking part in a competition and defeated 14 opponents one after another (kachinuki shiai were commonplace at that time). This caught the eye of one of the shinpan – Wada Yoshiharu. Wada was a student of Takano Sasaburo’s at Shudogakuin and – impressed by the young mans ability – asked him whether he would like to take up kendo seriously at Shudogakuin. Kozo immediately replied “onegaishimasu!”

Although he started travelling back-and-forward to Shudogakuin at 19, he was forced to suspend this for 2 years, so it wasn’t until he was 21 when he entered the dojo officially as a live-in-student. For 4 years he lived in the dojo (cleaning, washing, and cooking as well as practising) and studied kendo and itto-ryu under Takano Sasaburo. Keiko at the dojo was rough, with people being routinely shoved to the floor violently and water thrown over them to be revived. Many kenshi that came from the outside to practise (i.e. not full-time, live in students) were shocked at the roughness of the dojo and fled.

In 1936 (presumably due to Takano’s efforts) Kozo entered the Imperial guards and his main place of practise became Saineikan in the imperial grounds. This time in the imperial guards kendo history is referred to as its renaissance period, as they had a group of strong kenshi and had lots of shiai success. Although he now practised at a different dojo he would remark years later that it was his years at Shudogakuin that he forged his basics.

After many years of working as an imperial guard, he was transferred in 1953 to Police HQ with the job of re-formulating police kendo for the new period.

Just prior to being transferred out of the imperial guards, he had his three sons start kendo at Saineikan. At that time they were 9yrs old (Takizawa Kenji, now kyoshi 8dan), 6yrs old (Takizawa Masaya, now kyoshi 7dan), and the third was still in kindergarden. His sons continued practising at Saineikan almost daily up to and through junior high school (15 years old).

In 1956, he took part in the 70th Imperial Guards shiai, which was marked as being the first tenran-shiai after the war. This story – which opened this article – continues below in the next section.

Around these years he took part in two consecutive olympics as coach of the Japanese marksmanship team. A member of his team would get a medal in both competitions (more on this below).

From the mid-60s Kozo became a highly sought after teacher, and took up kendo teaching posts at Tokyo University, Kanagawa prefecture kendo association, and the police academy, as well as other places.

In 1969 he was appointed the leader of a group of sensei that travelled to Europe in order to popularise and spread kendo. He was influential in starting the European Kendo Federation and served as the vice president of the British Kendo Association for a time, and influenced a generation of Europe-based kenshi, not in the least France’s Yoshimura sensei.

In 1970 he built and opened his own dojo in his home town of Atsugi city called Shiseikan Takizawa dojo (思斉館滝澤道場). The name “Shisei” was given to Kozo sensei by the first president of the All Japan Kendo Federation, Kimura. The meaning comes from a phrase found in the Analects of Confucius – 見賢思斉 (けんけんしせい) – “if you see something/someone good or wise, you should strive to do or to become the same way.”

In May 1987 Kozo sensei was awarded his 9dan at the Kyoto Taikai and exclaimed:

“ok, now its time for real kendo to begin…”

In July of the same year, just 2 months after receiving 9dan, he died of cancer.

“I only graduated primary school and look how far I’ve come. Its been an enjoyable life!”

70th Imperial Guards shiai, Showa 31 (1956). The first post-war tenran-shiai.

(Continued from the introduction, this is a liberal translation of an account of the final by the chronicler Tanabe)

As the final was happing I was speaking to Takizawa’s defeated partner from the prior round: “What about this Takizawa, he seems to have enough ability, but he’s unlucky in shiai and sometimes loses to people he’s stronger than?” He replied “If he thinks about that he’s done for.” Actually, looking at his kendo today there seems to be something different than usual.

After the shiai I spoke to Takizawa about it and he said: “Actually, I’ve been training athletes for the pistol event in the olympics and of course attending gasshuku with them. I do the same warmups as the guys, and so I’ve become a lot more flexible than I have ever been. This made me think “I can do it.”

Watching the shiai now, you can see that this new flexibility has given him confidence… but we can’t forget the youthful vigour that makes Abe as strong as he is.

Both competitors are out on the dojo floor exchanging men attacks. Suddenly, Takizawa feints a men attack and changes to dou… at what looks at the exact same time Abe strikes a large men… “DOU!” “MEN!”

“MEN-ARI” calls Mochida sensei; its Abe’s ippon.

With Mochida sensei’s call of “NIHON-ME!” both kenshi press forward. Takizawa’s kiai is as load and strong as ever. The atmosphere in Saineikan is electric and you can see both competitors faces are red with concentration, almost as if they are on fire.

As the match continues you can see that – whilst Takizawa remains concentrated – Abe’s tiredness shows through. Takizawa’s concentration is great. However, if things are left as they are, time will run out and he will lose. He pushes forward, advancing, pressuring Abe, who has now resorted to protecting himself more and more.

3 minutes… 4 minutes…
30 seconds left… 20 seconds left…

With Abe only having to last a few more seconds Takizawa drives in and attacks… MEN…

“MEN-ARI” shouts Mochida sensei; with only seconds away from defeat Takizawa takes an ippon back to equalise the score.

The shiai goes into encho, but Takizawa has already climbed over a difficult mountain to get this far, and is now going down the other side. Tired, Abe is continually on the defensive. Where did such energy come from such a short kenshi? Takizawa presses on his attack and attacks… KOTE!

“KOTE-ARI” shouts Mochida sensei, and the winner is decided.

Today was Takizawa’s victory. As everyone stood up for applause the kenshi bowed to each other then faced the emperor and empress. As they bowed low to them, the emperor and empress stand up to offer their appreciation.

The time was 3:06pm, on 12th of May 1956.

Tenran shiai: epilogue

(the following are Kozo sensei’s own words, translated liberally by myself)

For two days and nights after winning the competition my sempai and my friends celebrated with me, and everything was like a dream. On the evening of the third day after the shiai, I got a call from the Police Medical Clinic asking me to come down immediately for a consultation. They didn’t say anything about holding any celebration for me, so I found myself standing in front of the doctor with a dubious look upon my face. A few days earlier had been our annual medical checkup and they had found something strange in the results. They showed me the x-ray from the day and tried to explain what they found: tuberculosis. I didn’t shrug off their explanations but I wondered if someone with such a disease could win a tenran shiai. I was shocked at what he was trying to tell me, but I didn’t say anything.

The next day the clinic called again: “since it seems that you don’t believe what we told you yesterday, come down today and we will do another x-ray. The results of this 2nd test we will report to the police hospital.”

6 days after I won the tenran shiai I found myself in the main police hospital facing a doctor holding my x-ray and explaining. Even though my body was rigid, I found myself shaking: “We have found an erosion/cavity of about 1 centimetre, we need to take care of it” was the sentence handed down. Against the weight of evidence that the doctors gave, even though being stubborn and strong willed, I had nothing to do but hang my head. The light feet I walked on until recently suddenly became heavy, and I trod home wearily. There I faced my wife and told her about the diagnosis. She was surprised and sad, and kept quiet for a while. Finally she said:

“Humans can only be what they are…. lets look after your health”

With these words it was decided.

Here was I, still drunk on the win of the tenran shiai a few days earlier suddenly yanked into a different world. I started thinking about my recuperation, my family, my job, etc and I realised I was buried in troubles.

Four days before I had been called to the police bureau director’s office and was given a monetary gift for winning the tenran shiai. Now I went to the same bureau, and from the same director was ordered to take medical and recuperation leave.

(Kozo sensei underwent an operation and was in recuperation for a year before re-starting work – and kendo – with the police)

Olympic sports pistol and kendo

Most people who seriously study kendo have no interest in seeing the art as part of the modern olympics. Its surprising then to find that a hanshi 9dan like Takizawa Kozo sensei could be said to be the first – and possibly the only – person who coached someone using kendo pedagogy into getting an olympic medal.

Only a week after winning the tenran shiai mentioned above, Kozo sensei came down with tuberculosis. After undergoing serious surgery and a year of rest, he restarted his work in the police as a teacher in the Education branch. Here they taught kendo, judo, taihojutsu, pistol, etc. Around that time the olympic rifle association of Japan contacted the police and asked them if they would be willing to train athletes for the pistol event of the olympics (pistols can only legally held by police in Japan). Despite there being no current programme for this in Japan, the police readily took up the task, and Kozo sensei was tasked with the job.

From this time, Kozo sensei could be spotted every morning reading and studying foreign language pistol manuals (there were none available in Japanese at the time). He also collected policemen from around the country who were said to be good with a pistol and organised gasshuku’s. It was here that the 21yr old policeman from Fukuoka, Yoshikawa, was discovered. At one time, the young Takizawa Kenji sensei was told this from Yoshikawa:

“(At training camps) your dad keeps talking about kendo and Miyamoto Musashi etc… ask him to teach us how to shoot!!”

Kozo sensei would give his “shooting” advice like this:

“Its not about just pulling the trigger and hitting the target.”

“What happens before you pull the trigger is the most important thing.”

“You must have a good kamae”

During training Kozo sensei would ofter remark:

“That was Musashi thinking”

Yoshikawa was selected for the Rome olympics in 1960. The pistol discipline requires athletes to shoot their 60 shots within 3 hours. After taking time and shooting about 30 shots, Yoshikawa wasn’t on good form. At that time an official slipped him a note: it was from Kozo sensei. Opening it, it read: “That was Musashi thinking.” With this one note from his coach, Yoshikawa took 4 or 5 breathes, relaxed himself, and re-focused. He came away with the silver medal in the event (it was the first time a Japanese person was awarded a medal in the event).

In the 1964 olympics, the emperor came to watch the pistol event. Under pressure to perform Yoshikawa’s timing went astray. At that time the official slipped him a note: “That was Musashi thinking.” He imagined Kozo sensei berating him strongly: “Give up trying to get a medal? What the hell have you been trying so hard this last 4 years for anyway? You have 30 shots left; show them your true self.” Furukawa reports that he couldn’t remember anything about his last 30 shots. It was almost as if he were a robot. In what he claims is a miracle, he was awarded a bronze medal.

Yoshikawa still has the note(s) that Kozo sensei passed to him.

Kozo sensei said this on pistol-kendo connection:


“It’s not just about hitting. If you don’t prepare your spirit and a good a kamae before, you will never hit your target. In this way, there is not a single difference between shooting and kendo. This is why I taught marksmanship using kendo pedagogy. “

A couple of teaching anecdotes

The young Takizawa brothers were taught this from their father as children:


“When attacking a castle you shouldn’t attack only the main gate. If the main gate is strong you should go round to the rear and attack there, then you will gain victory easily. Thus its said that the rear-attack is the window to victory.”

Since the young brothers practised kendo in the grounds of Edo castle (or what remained of it) it was easy for them to imagine the scenario. Put in kendo terms it means rather than relying on strength alone to attack your opponent straight on, you could seme kote and attack men, or seme men and attack dou, use small movements to seme but attack big, seme to the omote but attack to the right, etc. In other words, allow your body and spirit to move freely and at will.

When Takizawa Kenji sensei was compiling Sheiseikan’s 30th anniversary book he stumbled on the following teaching of this fathers:


1. Don’t think about winning, just fight with mushin.
2. Whatever happens don’t retreat. Look for the chance and attack.
3. Don’t even be defeated by your kiai, always have a loud shout.
4. If a shiai/fight is long and drawn out then attack with abandon (sutemi).

A finally interesting anecdote comes from Takizawa Kenji sensei after he passed his 6dan. He approached his father to ask for advice: what books should he read to advance his understanding of kendo? Kozo sensei read a lot of books and pulled a pile out to give to his son. At that time he gave this advice:

“Rather than read books, you’ll understand (kendo) better if you you just practise. First is keiko !”

Takizawa Kozo sensei timeline

Meiji 43 (1910) – Born in Atsugi city, Kanagawa prefecture;
Showa 7 (1932) – entered Shudogakuin and Takano Sasaburo became his sensei;
Showa 11 (1936) – awarded 4dan at Shidogakuin (July); entered the imperial guards and started practising at Saineikan (November);
Showa 12 (1937): awarded renshi;
Showa 15 (1940) – became the dept. head of the imperial guards;
Showa 18 (1943) – awarded kyoshi;
Showa 28 (1953) – transferred to the police with the mission to
re-formulate police kendo;
Showa 29 (1954) – he started an olympic marksmanship speciality course and
trained its athletes. From his work here he was selected at the
Japanese team marksmanship coach for two olympics – Rome and Tokyo. In
both of these Olympics one of his athletes got a bronze medal in the
free pistol event;
Showa 31 (1956) – awarded 7dan; won the 70th imperial guards shiai held
in front of the emperor;
Showa 42 (1967): awarded 8dan; became shihan for Tokyo University’s athletic dept. (later, its honourary shihan), as well as becoming a lecturer at the police academy, Kanagawa prefecture police shihan etc;
Showa 44 (1969) – awarded hanshi; he was leader of a group sent by the ZNKR to Europe
in order to introduce and popularise kendo there (he was to be
influential in the founding of the EKF, and served as the first vice
president of the BKA)
Showa 45 (1970) – he opened up his own dojo called Shiseikan in his home town;
Showa 62 (1987) – awarded 9dan (May); he died of cancer at the age of 76 (July). He was hanshi, kyudan.


思斉館滝澤道場 創立30周年記念誌。平成12年発行。非売品。 初代館長藩士九段瀧澤光三。
Permission was granted from Kozo sensei’s sons, Takizawa Kenji and Masaya sensei to write this article.
Contents used with permission of Takizawa Kenji sensei.

What Is the True Meaning Of Gratitude?

As a follow-up/tie-in to the popular I am a Deshi translation I would like to present the following piece to readers. Although both this article and the deshi one were written by children, I believe there is something worthy of study for all kendoka, irrespective of age. Enjoy!

What Is the True Meaning Of Gratitude?

Written by Furukawa Rei (14 years old)
The Best Award at the All Japan Dojo renmei Junior high school kendo speech contest
Translated by George Owaki and passed to kenshi247.net by Jeff Marsten

It has been 7 years since I started kendo. Over these years I have met many people including teachers, seniors, juniors, my family, friends, and my kendo coaches. They all taught me something and I really appreciate it. But I started to wonder if it is enough to just appreciate them and not return my gratitude back to them. It was very hard questioning how I could return their gratitude. This question was especially difficult when considering my coaches- even though we receive many things from them, I could not come up with a way to express and show my gratitude.

This summer, I heard a comment from a high school player who was on the national high school baseball championship team. He said “we were able to return to our coaches and teachers our gratitude by winning this tournament.” From this comment, I thought that I could do the same for my supporters by demonstrating my appreciation for them by winning the tournament. This was because they are responsible for our success by teaching us so many skills and techniques to be successful.

Last year I placed third at the kendo tournament and the coaches seemed really happy about the result. At the time I was really happy because I thought I could finally demonstrate my gratitude to the coaches who worked really hard to train us. I began asking myself how those people who lost in the tournament would also be able to return their gratitude to their coaches. If returning gratitude can be expressed by only winning tournaments, then those people who lost cannot return their appreciation to their coaches in this fashion. At that time, I recognized a friend who was also participating but was not fortunate enough to win. He expressed sadness because he lost and was not able to return the coaches the appreciation, although his thoughts and feelings seemed to have been the same as mine.

Summer came and I still couldn’t find an answer to my question. At the time the kendo club’s senior members were practicing really hard for their final junior high school tournament. They also were practicing at home. As a result, they exhibited great skill and teamwork. The advisor said with satisfactory smile- “thank you all for working hard from the beginning of junior high, showing effort and supporting each other with great team work.” Even though the final result was not as expected, the senior kenshis’ hard work touched my heart and it made our coaches happy. By looking at the advisor’s expression, I think I now understood what it meant to return gratitude. The coaches in the club were not just teaching us techniques in kendo. They were also teaching us how to grow to be good, upstanding and moral citizens of the future.

I made a resolution that returning gratitude can be accomplished by achieving success, but that this is just one part of the ultimate goal. Isn’t the true meaning of returning gratitude to work really hard to achieve and grow to become a good person of character?

I have learned many things about life from kendo. This includes taking things seriously and actively participating, always trying to keep promises, always performing duties as requested, working hard to accept and get along with others, contributing to the world by helping the other people, and not forgetting to show appreciation.

By looking back at myself, I think I still have a long way to go. Even though I started kendo seven years ago, I think I just now recognized what I was learning from kendo. I might make many mistakes in the future but I want to try to learn something from the mistakes. I would like to try hard to be a good person of character and return true gratitude and appreciation to those who supported me.

Pursuing the spirit and modern kendo (part 5)

This is the final part in a five-part series that translates a lecture made by Morishima Tateo. To see the rest of the published series plus a bio on Morishima sensei, please click here.

Pursing the spirit and modern kendo


4. The essential mechanism for striking

Lastly, I would like to discuss the mechanism for striking. It doesn’t matter how technically able, how physically strong you are, or how much speed you have, if you mistake the chance to attack then you will not be successful. It is a steel rule of kendo not to attack when people are fully concentrated and have no openings, and to attack when they lose concentration and leave themselves open (虚実 Kyojitsu). If you don’t apply this rule, you cannot defeat your opponent. During the cut and fray of keiko, when you are open this is kyo (虚), and when your opponent is open it is jitsu (実). This situation rapidly goes back and forth between you and your partner. During changes in your and your opponents movement small openings for attack will appear (虚). If you overlook this opening it won’t happen again. During an intense battle, with you fully concentrated and without an opening (実) you must strike instantly at your opponents opening if/when it appears (虚). Chiba Shusaku taught this as 「剣は瞬息、心気力一致」(ken wa shuniki, shinkiryoku itcchi. “you must use your sword in an instant, with mind, spirit, and body in unison”).

In todays kendo there is neither kyo (虚) nor jitsu (実), people attack indiscriminately. In some shiai I have seen people call “hajime!” and already people are jumping through the air to strike. There can be no thought of “Is my opponent open?” The person being attacked simply uses sanpomamori to block this (see part 1). In truth, if someone is attacking you when there is no opening they are actually opening themselves up for attack; you must counterattack in this situation. But you simply block and the shiai hasn’t moved anywhere. Because of this, there is nothing but hikiwake in university and adult shiai nowadays.

First, “if there is no opening, don’t attack.” If there is no opening and you attack, you are opening yourself up and may be struck yourself. Next, “if there is no opening, you must make an opening by breaking them (KUZUSHI), then attack.” In kendo today, there is no kuzushi (崩しい. This is where you open you opponent up by breaking their kamae, spirit, or technique. Although not a term common in the English speaking kendo community, most people will recognise the description via sansappo). There are many ways to do kuzushi, but today is not a seminar, so I won’t explain them here. Lastly, “if you see an opening, seize it.” As hinted at in Chiba Shusaku’s quote above, when you think “I should attack now!” you must already be attacking. Just getting to the point where you can see the opening and think “I should attack now!” in itself is difficult.

We need to think about how to know/recognise chances. A chance is a “symptom.” Making a chance is breaking your opponent (kuzushi) then attacking. When you see an opening you should commit with everything (the English kendo community would recognise this as sutemi).

If we are to work on changing kendo from now on, we need to think about the above principles and do “rational kendo” and “kendo without waste.” If you follow the principles, then you will be able to strike shotachi. If we say this in another way: in order for you to be able to strike shotachi, you should work out the principles through hard training and research (kufu), and bit-by-bit remove needless attacks. Nowadays we don’t stop your opponent during keiko and point out “those are needless attacks” because needless attacks have become part of everyday kendo. By removing needless attacks from your kendo bit-by-bit your kendo will grow. This is not only a technical growth, but you will grow as a human too. Isn’t this a good thing !!?! Our purpose is to strike shotachi, but aiming to remove needless striking is also important. Please pursue this.

Winning by striking simultaneously (aiuchi no katchi)

The essential points in kendo are “shotachi ippon” and “aiuchi no katchi” (winning by striking simultaneously). This is the same essential point as koryu schools like Itto-ryu and Yagyu shinkage-ryu, etc. If you achieve shin-ki-ryoku-icchi then you will be able to strike shotachi and win aiuchi. In other words, understanding the principles is extremely important.

There is an old kendo teaching that goes:


Looking from the outside you can’t tell who has won, i.e. the strike was decided by narrowest of margins (the thickness of a single piece of paper).

Let me give you an example. A long time ago Yagyu Jubei was making a visit to a feudal retainer when, by chance, he met a ronin on the road. “Please sensei, a match. Onegaishimasu.” The match was decided in Jubei’s favour by aiuchi. “One more time!” the ronin asked, and again the match went the same way. “I’ve made all this effort to find you, so one more time, onegaishimasu.” At this point Jubei answered “I have won. It seems that you can’t understand this, so theres no point in fighting again.” At this the ronin got angry and said “if thats the case, then lets use real swords and see.” Jubei replied “No. We only have one life, lets not waste it.” The ronin, ignoring these words, drew his sword and prepared to fight. The ronin attack with a slash and Jubei dispatched him with a single stroke. Although the ronin was dead and the winner was decided, Jubei’s sleeve was cut.

Surely this is the origin of the phrase “let him cut your skin, but cut his flesh” (fans of Kurosawa Akira’s ‘The 7 samurai’ will notice that there is a scene in the movie that is based on this episode). This is aiuchi. Striking when your opponents attacking feeling starts – having the ability to perceive this and to strike first – is the meaning of aiuchi. This is the real “aiuchi no katchi.” Technical skill goes without saying, but you must also have an unperturbed spirit when in kamae. This is mushin, If you do this, then your opponents striking feeling will be reflected in your heart. Shotachi ippon is the the passage way into auchi no katchi. Therefore, this auichi no katchi is the summit of Japanese kendo. In other words, there should be no simple blocking of your opponents attacks.

Thinking about the important points in kendo

This is the last thing I wish to discuss in this lecture. The following is the former chief justice of Japan and 2nd president of the ZNKR (he was also the 5th headmaster of Itto-shoden muto-ryu, the 18th headmaster of Takeda-ha hozoin-ryu sojutsu, and received menkyo-kaiden in Ono-ha itto-ryu from Sasamori Junzo), Ishida Kazuto sensei’s words:

Live when you are alive, and die when when you should die. This is indeed “life and death as one” (死生一如 from Confucius). “Live when you are alive” means to use up all your energy living life to the fullest, and “die when you should die” means that you should proceed to the end in calmness.

The ability to show strong resolution and to make correct judgements during your entire life – it is my conviction that it is this, at the end of the day, where the true meaning of Japanese Budo lies.

The essential point is the removal of the attachments that routinely spring forth from within us, with the mind/heart neither stopping nor stagnating; in other words, by the cultivation of mushin (free from obstructive thoughts) and muga (selflessness, removal of the ego), and by being free of possessions (permeable or otherwise), you can arrive at a situation where your heart and mind are like a clear mirror.

I have not yet arrived at this destination, so for me to explain this to you is arrogant/disrespectful of me. To discuss it in detail is frivolous but at the end of the day you should be facing your opponent in kamae and have “arrived at a situation where your hear and mind are like a clear mirror” – this is the essence of kendo.

The part “This is indeed…. end in calmness” is Ishida sensei explaining the “essence/true meaning of Japanese budo.” To get to this point you need to train for the aiuchi no katchi, which I talked about before.

With reserve, let me look at the section “by the cultivation…. like a clear mirror.” The clear mirror reflects the subject as it is, and if the subject goes away, the mirror goes back to being clear. The mirror doesn’t wonder who or what the subject is or was. The essence/heart of kendo is like this. Yamaoka Tesshu sensei said:

In clear weather it looks great, in cloudy weather it looks great, Mt. Fuji.

In other words, in spite of the situation the essential nature or shape of the mountain does not change. Please transpose Mt Fuji into your heart and suppose this is your true self. “Winning is good, losing is good,” “adversity is good, favourable circumstances are good,” if we go extend this teaching further then we could go as far as saying “dying is good, and so is living.” Nowadays we can’t expect to go to this depth of understanding, but famous people and experts in the past had this purpose in sight when going through their arduous training.

If we look at modern times, there is only one kendoka that I could bring up without hesitation: Yamaoka Tesshu. In the prior paragraph I talked about seeking a depth of understanding, Tesshu went to this final destination. One time, one of his students approached him with a question: “Sensei, what is the secret/essence of kendo?” He answered, “Go and ask the Kannon (Buddhist deity) at Asakusa.” I heard this story when I was young and went to offer a prayer to the Asakusa Kannon. If you look up in the main hall there is a large picture hanging there. It was written by Tesshu. It reads 施無畏 (semui). Tesshu’s secret was the “elimination of fear.” If you can reach the place where “life and death are as one” (死生一如), then you have nothing to fear. At least, this is what I believe.

The reason why I respect Tesshu is that during the attack on Edo (Meiji restoration period), there was a famous episode where the “follower of the enemy of the court (Tokugawa shogunate), Yamaoka Tesshu” managed to slip over the loyalist forces line alone and unaided; he continued pressing forward until he met and negotiated with their leader – the result of which stopped the planned attack on Edo. He not only saved the residents of the city from a dangerous situation, but also put his life on the line for his country and the Shogunate. This is the spirit of kendo’s “aiuchi.” Its bushido. This exists within kendo. Kendo isn’t only just winning and losing. I want to make everyone aware that this amazing spirit is part of kendo, and for you to teach kendo with pride.

The departure point for the pursuit of kendo (剣道の修行) is “sutemi” (the act of attacking with 100%, without fear or hesitation) and the destination is “aiuchi.” You must do keiko with “sutemi.” Give up your body to your enemy. If you wish to pursue the discipline required to train the heart, even if your progress is small or slow, you must always be in this mental state – if we do this I we can get closer to having a heart “like a clear mirror” don’t you think? This is the “Concept of Kendo” – “To discipline the human character through the application of the principles of the Katana.” If the above is true, then you have to ask yourself the question: are you putting KIAI (i.e. your full effort) into your daily pursuit? If you do your upmost at all times then the mirror in your heart will surely open.

Today I talked about how to change “defensive” kendo into “positive/attacking” kendo. If we don’t make this change to attacking kendo, then there is no future for Japanese kendo. This is the danger that we encounter today. I am definitely not over-exaggerating this point. Please, everyone, be more and more diligent over this matter.

I’m sorry for taking such a long time over this matter, thank you for listening. Please have a good year, and lets all try out best this coming year. Thank you.

(this lecture was given on December 1st at Kudansha kaikan hall in Tokyo. Morishima sensei’s lecture was part of the “6th Kendo culture lecture”)

Editors comment

I don’t usually add comments to translations, except for my usual disclaimer, but I would like to add something briefly here. This entire lecture took up 9 pages and required quite a lot of effort for me to translate. I don’t mind making the effort (its education for me after all!) but I do feel slightly nervous regarding my translation ability. There are things that are easily said in one language which cannot be said as easily in another. There are also things in this lecture that fall out of my kendo experience (as yet). As such, I have been quite liberal with my translation in parts, and have had to guess at at the deeper meaning of the words at times.

With this comment/disclaimer in hand, I hope you enjoyed this five part lecture anyway, and that it causes some pause for thought, whether individually or in the pub after keiko. Cheers!