Naito Takaharu 内藤高治

Naito Takaharu (1862-1929) was one of the most influential kenshi to pick up a shinai. Born as as Ichige Takaharu in Mito in 1862, his Samurai parents were of budo stock: his father an archery instructor for the domain and his mother the daugher of the Hokushin Itto-ryu shihan Watanabe.

At the age of 7 he began the tradition study of Japanese as well as kenjutsu and swimming. At the age of 12 – in 1874, just 3 years after the end of the more traditional domain system – Takaharu joined what was to become one of the most renowned dojo in Japan: the newly constructed Mito Tobukan. There he learned shinai kendo and Hokushin Itto-ryu kenjutsu. Tobukan had been built by the head kenjutsu instructor of Kodokan (the domain school) Kozawa Torakichi (a student of Chiba Shusaku). It was here that he met what would be a long-term acquaintance, Monna Tadashi.

When he was 20, he was adopted by a relative (a common practise at the time) and became ‘Naito’ Takaharu.

In 1883, at the age of 20/21, Naito went to Tokyo and studied under the Jikishinkage-ryu swordsman and Kobusho instructor Sakakibara Kenkichi, the progenitor of pay-to-watch kenjutsu shows, Gekken Kogyo. These shows were started as a means for out-of-work budo exponents to make a living in a society that was hurtling towards modernaisation (Western style) at full pace.

After a year with Sakakibara, Naito went on a Musha-shugyo around the country. Upon his return he was said to have faced the strong Keishicho kenshi Takano Sasaburo (Ono-ha itto-ryu) and Kawasaki Zenzaburo (Kyoshinmeichi-ryu/Itto-ryu), defeating both.

In 1888, at age 26, he then joined Keishicho as a policeman (Monna Tadashi then joined him). 6 years later he was sent (with Monna) to Korea to take part in the Sino-Japanese war (as kendo instructors).

1897 was a busy year for Naito:

1. he was awarded Seirensho in 1897 by the newly formed Butokukai;
2. He opened a dojo called Yoshinkan;
3. He became the shihan of Tokyo Senmon Gakko (later to become Waseda university).

(he was still working at Keishicho at this time)

On the completion of the Kyoto Butokuden in 1899 (then inside the grounds of Heian Jingu) he was asked to become one of five kendo teachers there (Budo Senmon Daigaku – Busen). It was here, as the head instructor, that he taught the countries future kendo specialists, including all five future 10 dans.

At the 1901 Kyoto Taikai he had a rematch with Takano Sasaburo. The result was a hikiwake (1-1) and the shinpan Mihashi Kanichiro (in the first group of both Butokukai seirensho and hanshi awards) said : “From the start to the finish, I’ve never seen a higher quality shiai than this.”

In 1911, he was on the executive committee for the creation of the Dai-nippon Teikoku kendo no kata (the future kendo-no-kata). Long-time friend Monna Tadashi (by then teaching at Busen as well) and rival Takano Sasaburo were also members.

Naito was said to be against the change of kendo into a sportive form and his teaching reflected this: a strict diet of kirikaeshi and kakarigeiko. He was also against holding Tenran shiai, but was ordered to comply by the imperial household.

He died suddenly in 1929 due to a cerebral haemorrhage.


Source

This article is mostly a quick translation from the Japanese wikipedia article. I will append more pictures and information at a later date.

Men no tsukekata

In the kendo that we do nowadays there are two styles of tying the men: the ‘Kansai’ or the ‘Kanto’ style. The second of the two tends to be the most common. The difference in attaching the chichi-gawa (leather straps) to the men, and tying the men is as follows:

‘Kanto’ (pictured below) – both chichi-gawa are attached to the fourth bar from the bottom of the men, on the left and right sides. You then tie the men to your head by winding the the himo (strings) around your head once and threading through the top of the grill before taking around to the back of your head and tying. This style is the easiest of the two and it takes little time for the experienced kenshi to get their men on and be ready for action.

‘Kansai’ (pictured in the title) – a single long chichi-gawa is threaded through the top of the men grill and attached securely. To tie the men to your head you then wind the himo around your head and cross over in front of the tsukidare before winding back up and through the top grill. You then finish by winding to your back of the head and tying. This is the more complicated style and as such it often takes longer to tie your men, though once done its a lot more secure than the first method mentioned above.

Both styles are equally as orthodox and each is as correct as the other (at least nowadays).

Of course, all this is commonly known to kenshi, even relatively inexperienced ones, so why bother mentioning it now? Naturally sceptical by nature, I’ve always been bothered by the ‘Kansai’ and ‘Kanto’ appellations. They just don’t make sense (I’ll explain my rationale below). Why are they actually called this? What are the origins of these naming conventions?

Apart from a small piece of first hand information from Nakayama Hakudo, I’ll admit that I don’t know precisely. I’ve kept an eye out for more information regarding this, but I’ve never (yet) found anything even semi-conclusive (save Nakayama’s words). I suspect there may be some Butokukai manuals somewhere with more information, or some early ZNKR rules detailing whats ok and whats not, but I’ve yet to see them. At any rate, here is my conclusions on the matter (at this point of time. If any kenshi247 reader has more information, please get it to me!).

Please note that this is highly speculative and hardly a scientific study. I have more of a ‘gut’ feeling on the topic more than anything academically convincing!

What Nakayama said

A couple of years ago when I was researching a different matter (see The white hakama of Yushinkan) I stumbled upon the only real information I’ve seen on the matter: in the text referenced in the above article Nakayama clearly states that using shorter men-himo and tying from the bottom-up (i.e. the ‘Kanto’ style) was his invention. He says that he made all his students tie their men like this but when they visited other dojo they’d stop using it (replaced with what he doesn’t mention). He goes as far as to mention that there was a time where the Butokukai took up this style as their official method, but that they too eventually stopped using it (no reason was given).

Please note that I have no date for what was said above.

Evidence in media

We basically have three areas that we can look at: film, photography, and books.

Looking at pre-WWII film and photography (on the net or ZNKR videos for film and in books for photos) we can easily see that there was a wide variation in men tying styles, enough to seem random at times. This suggests a lack of standardisation or, perhaps, no application of any standards that might have existed (at least, for those who weren’t professional kenshi). Written description in a number of older books, however, tend to have (the ones I own at least) descriptions of the top-down style.

You can easily find pre-WWII film and photos on the net.

Regional evidence – Kansai viewpoint

I live in Kansai. I can honestly say that the ‘Kansai’ style is the minority method nowadays. I suspect its the same in Kanto as well. So why may the style have been called ‘Kansai’? Thinking about this, the only rational explanation I can come up with is because the Butokukai’s HQ was in Kyoto, which is in Kansai. It makes perfect sense to me that the Budo Senmon Gakko (Busen, the Butokukai’s school for teaching kendo instructors) would have a set method for tying the men. Even though students would come from all over the country (and most go back to teach in their respective areas), I’d assume that they’d be drilled with the ‘correct’ way of tying the men, as they would have been with men-cutting, kirikaeshi, etc.

But then I got to thinking – who were some of the main teachers at Busen, and where did they come from? Of course, the name that pops up first is Naito Takaharu… a Mito Tobukan kenshi (Ibaraki prefecture – Kanto) who spent time at Keishicho (Tokyo – Kanto). One of his senior aids was of course Mona Tadashi, who also went the Tobukan-Keishicho route. I suspect that they would have taught the men-tying techniques they were schooled in (i.e. Tobukan).

Why the popularity of ‘Kanto’ over ‘Kansai’ in modern times?

Again, I have no academic answer to this, only speculation, but I suspect it was something that happened as a result of the de-militarisation of kendo after the WWII, in particular its promotion as something that was neither violent nor nationalistic, and its new ‘sport-like’ veneer. The largest impact of this was the opening up of kendo to participation of women and children.

Two points:

1. The addition of women and children to kendo meant that some of the rough and tumble moves were eliminated.
2. The top-down ‘Kansai’ method is much more difficult to learn, thus the ‘Kanto’ style became the favoured/defacto tying method to teach children (though perhaps not explicitly stated). Its future popularity was a by-product of this.

Personally, I think point 2 is more important than point 1 when it comes to men tying methods. Point 1 is sometimes mentioned in reference to this by assuming that people stopped doing the top-down ‘Kansai’ method when pulling-men-of rules were stopped… but I’m not so sure that explains it fully. Point 2, for me, explains easier the natural and steady displacement of one over the other (with the other, or variations of it, almost certainly being the common of the two pre-war).

FYI, Japanese kenshi themselves call these tying styles ‘Kansai’ and ‘Kanto’ yet almost no one can give an informed (i.e. researched) answer other than ‘Kanto style was popular in Kanto and Kansai style in Kansai’… even some 8dans (yes, I’ve asked… but only after a few beers). I think this is evidence of point 2 above.

Example of men tying styles from 1925

Its all getting confusing!

Yes it is, very much so… but that won’t stop me from making an educated (if speculative!) wild stab:

– In the early days of kendo there were no set-in-stone men tying styles;
– The ‘Kansai’ appellation perhaps derives from what was taught at Busen (HQ’ed in Kansai);
– However, the term ‘Kansai’ is a misnomer because it was the style promulgated by people from Kanto (i.e. the Busen teachers);
– This top-down ‘Kansai’ method was probably the most popular style pre-war;
– The ‘Kanto’ method likely derives originally from Nakama Hakudo, though he never called it this;
– The bottom-up ‘Kanto’ method slowly displaced the other post-war as it was taught to the next generation and is now the defacto standard.

As far as all this wild supposition goes, and if I were to rename these tying styles to something more appropriate, then I’d do something like this:

‘Kansai’ should be renamed the ‘Busen’ or perhaps the ‘traditional’ style;
‘Kanto’ should be renamed the ‘Nakayama’ or ‘modern’ style.

Alternatively – like some bogu manufacturers do – we could just call them style A and B…. problem solved!!!

Re-discovery

I was lucky to spend my university years in the U.K.’s most beautiful city, Edinburgh. A city with a long and interesting history, unique architecture (‘Athens of the north’), and host to Europe’s largest cultural festivals, its a great place to be when you are young. And smacked right in the center of this wonderful town is the imposing Edinburgh castle. For 4 years I wondered about the city looking at the castle everyday. For my first few weeks in the city I used it as an orientation tool… was I facing north or south? Which way should I walk towards my flat? The castle was so ubiquitous that – unbelievably – in the years that I studied in the city I didn’t once set foot inside. ‘Its for the tourists’ I thought.

After graduation I moved to America for a few years. I used to pop back to Edinburgh pretty often, but it wasn’t until I took my then-girlfriend back to the motherland for a visit that, because we were doing touristy things, I actually decided to go into the castle. I was amazed. The place was great, full of history, and had an amazing 360 degree view over the wonderful city. ‘Why on earth hadn’t I bother to come before?’ I wondered.

In Osaka I have access to top level sensei, am able to watch top level competitions/competitors at close range, and can keiko 2 or 3 times a day – everyday all year round – if I wish. It would also be pretty easy for me to go and watch the national level 6th, 7th, or 8dan tests if I wanted to, but – until yesterday – I never bothered going to see any of them. ‘I can go anytime’ I thought. I am not saying all this to show off btw, its just a fact of my kendo situation.

Yesterday – just like my realisation when I first visited Edinburgh castle – I ‘rediscovered’ my forgotten (or misplaced) luckiness. I went to support a good friend at his first attempt for 7th dan. Because he is in his 30s, he’s put in the first court with the youngest group (under 40). Right from kick-off my jaw dropped: the level of kendo on display was phenomenal. Of course, people attempting 7dan in their early to mid 30s are those that started very young and that didn’t stop after entering the work force. i.e. policemen, SDF members, teachers, and company players… in other words, most of them are, for want of a better term, elite kenshi. The most uplifting thing about this was that the kendo on display was not ‘competition’ orientated kendo… there was no blocking, head bobbing, pushing and shoving, time wasting, fear of being hit, flashy moves, and so on… just pure, orthodox kendo. Inspired I thought: ‘This is the way kendo should be done… all the time.’

I guess my point with this post is that I learned something this weekend: to remember and be (constantly) grateful about the situation I am in. I suppose that this point can be extended to mention having good health, a decent job, nice friends, and money enough to buy kendo equipment as well. I’m sure that this applies to kenshi247 readers as well, though maybe with slightly different context. Consider this post a reminder!!


In fact, I’ve had a ‘rediscovery’ kendo moment before.. back in 2008: I went to see the Tozai-Taiko, the large East-West shiai. The level of the competitors and the quality of the shiai is awe-inspiring… much more so than the more renowned All-Japan Championships. If you are in Japan – and you have the chance – go and see it.

Small things

Sometimes I come across people in the dojo that have a certain sense of ‘something.’ This is nothing to do with physical ability per se, but more to do with their manner, how they naturally move, and the way that they approach keiko. Often, its hard to say what exactly makes them look (feel?) good, but for the sake of this small article I will try and verbalise – from my perspective – what some of these things may be.

This list is of course completely arbitrary, and I don’t go into full explanations exactly…. allowing you to construct your own interpretations. Feel free to add to or discuss points raised here in the comments (on the site or facebook).


1. A respectful demeanor in the dojo

This generally means not being loud, noisy, or attempting to be the center of attention, but arriving and preparing for keiko quietly and without fuss.

2. Awareness of their place in the dojo

This ‘place’ is physical position and role, as well who you are in relation to others. People with the sense I speak of above know that anything below kyoshi is still ‘student’ and – even if they are hanshi, they never put on airs.

3. Appropriate instruction

Teaching happens infrequently and without overly verbose instruction. Although kendo has a certain mainstream ‘style’ nowadays, its traditionally a no-no to instruct people that aren’t your students.

4. Learning from the person in front of you

If you are in a sensei’s line, waiting to do keiko with him/her, are you actually watching their kendo or are you looking at other sensei on the left and right?

5. Wearing the dogi/bogu correctly

Some people simple look right wearing their dogi and bogu. This has nothing to do with the value of it or how fashionable it is, but the way it fits their body.

6. Attention paid to receiving

Stress on becoming a good motodachi is something that sets some kenshi apart from run-of-the-mill people.

7. Meaningful rei (Sonkyo)

Performing bows and going into sonkyo sincerely are important parts of the kendo tradition. Any contraction (or removal) of them is to negate an important part of kendo’s culture, and is the start of kendo’s relegation to mere ‘stick fighting.’

8. The shinai as a symbolic sword

The shinai is not actually a sword, but it does (or is meant to) symbolise one. The people I mention above often (not always) pay attention to some/a combination of the following items:

a. placement of the left thumb when in taito;
b. an emphasis on the importance of shotachi;
c. show awareness of the use of hasuji and shinogi during various waza.

9. Humility

There is no shame in being struck and admission of it is not a weakness. Instead, we should be happy for our opponent. Kendo – if it can teach us only a single thing – then hopefully it will be humility.

10. Mutual respect and gratitude

Theres nothing better than having a fierce keiko with someone and coming away smiling. Why would we want it any other way?


There’s a lot more I could potentially add to this list (I have some in mind right now), but I will leave it there.

Kendo is physically and mentally hard but most people, given time, can get over the initially awkwardness and get somewhat proficient. However (and this happens more often that we’d like to admit), no matter how skilled some become, their kendo still lacks ‘something.’ So you hit me, now what? In the dojo they may be strong, but outside it their skill counts for little. What a waste of effort for nothing.

The 10 items that I listed above are what I have recognised in others, its not about what I do. I admit that I do try to act in this manner, but I’m very much a work-in-progress. I hope something in this article has some resonance with you! Cheers.

Old geezer

A couple of weeks ago in the dojo a young kohai of mine, about 24 years old, attacked and knocked over one of the older sensei in his late 70s (needless to say, it wasn’t deliberate). The sensei fell backwards and knocked his head on the dojo floor. Keiko stopped and everyone rushed to him. He was a bit dazed but seemed alright. We took him to the edge of the dojo, removed all his bogu, gave him some water and generally made a fuss over him. The rest of the dojo resumed practise. In the end he was fine, just a bit embarrassed.

Over the years, I have come to believe that one of the most valuable benefits of kendo (budo) practise is that it allows me to mix with people over a wide age range. In my dojo alone, we have kids of 6 and below, all the way up to sensei in their late 70’s/early 80’s. Specifically, I am glad to have the chance to keiko with those whose age is far above mine.

Before I started serious practise of budo, I never sat around and talked to any older people – there was no chance to mix and, honestly, I never really had any interest. Even when I started kendo, I remember laughing at some older peoples kendo: “Look at that old guy…. he doesn’t deserve to be 6dan! I’m better than him and I’m only shodan!” etc. Back in the mid-90’s I was given a video of a 8dan tournament to watch but switched it off after 20 minutes; “boring” I thought. Its embarrassing to admit it now, but that’s how I thought.

Nowadays, I find myself surrounded by older sempai and sensei. I no longer feel the gulf in lifestyle nor disrespect for their physical abilities (I’m not yet 40 btw). I’ve come to realise that they to have been commuting to the dojo (as I do) for years and years, for a much longer span of time than me (50 or 60 years in some cases). I also realise that people do physically change for the worse over time, but that this doesn’t necessarily impact on their skill per-se… and even if it did, I am a lot more understanding of it and the frustration that can often accompany it.

One of my main sensei is in his mid 70s. During keiko I attack him as best as I can but he still hits me and pushes me back. My heart rate rises quickly and I feel myself on the back foot at all times. He just keeps coming… like a Terminator! He’s in the dojo almost every time and he pushes everyone to do their best kendo. He has my utmost respect. Recently, however, during post-keiko beers, some of my sempai have been wondering exactly how long he has left at this pace. I had never thought about that until it was mentioned.

Kendo (budo) are physical ‘arts’ that are passed down from generation to generation by physical contact. Its only natural that the guard changes, like the seasons do only at a slower pace. When the conversation turned to that above I felt anxious. If he wasn’t in the dojo I think i’d feel uneasy, almost groundless. But its bound to happen someday. I realised anew that its important to spend time with your elders, to listen to their stories and learn from their experience. After all, one day you will be one of those ‘old geezers / grandmas’ as well !!!!

While I was pondering the above, I got an invite to a facebook group celebrating the life of Takeshi Walter Yamaguchi sensei from California. I never had the chance to meet him (so perhaps it wasn’t my place) but I spent time looking at the pictures and reading peoples stories about him, his kendo past, and his teaching. I realised that he was someone that had many admirers and was deeply respected by his students and kendo colleagues. “Something to aspire to” I thought.


As an added bonus – with reference to the above – here is an excerpt from Honda Sotaro sensei’s Attitudes to Ji-geiko article available on the British Kendo Association website:

4. Ji-geiko with the Elderly

Here, difference in age is considered rather than the difference in grade. This section is about attitudes to Ji-geiko with someone elderly. It is strictly prohibited to do powerful Tai-atari and Tsuki to an elderly person in Ji-geiko. However there may be some elderly people who are bigger and have more power than you. In that case then, it might be okay, to some extent, to use your power and weight against them. If that is not the case, then, direct physical contact using Seme and Waza that rely too much on strength should be restrained. This does not mean cutting corners in the Ji-geiko. It is still important to try to complete your strike and to strike again in response to your opponent when their first strike is inadequate [but without Tai-atari or relying on physical power]. It is up to you to decide whether you can have a worthwhile Ji-geiko with an elderly person despite the age difference

Elderly Kendo-ka who have great experience may not be able to use many types of Waza and their speed and power may be inferior, but they have a brilliant ability to read the situation (their opponents intention, movement, Waza and so on) Elderly Kendo-ka are models of lifelong participation in Kendo. By observing in particular elderly high grade Kendo-ka doing Ji-geiko and by having Ji-geiko with them, we will receive many suggestions on how we should tackle Kendo, just like them, we will be able to enjoy it throughout our lives.