Takano Shigeyoshi: A very brief bio
Takano Shigeyoshi was born in Mito in 1877 (family name Chigusa). When he was 14 he enrolled in Tobukan and began to study kendo under Ozawa Torakichi. His father, himself a renowned swordsman, died the same year and Shigeyoshi ended up being looked after by the dojo. Eventually he was given some money and, with a pat on the back, told to go to Tokyo to continue his pursuit of kendo. This led him to Takano Sasaburo whose student he became in 1895. In 1900 Shigeyoshi was adopted by Sasaburo and took over the teaching and running duties of Urawa Meishinkan. In 1914 he accepted a kendo teaching position in Manchuria where he remained until after WW2. He took part in the 1929 and 1934 Tenran shiai, as a competitor in the kendo specialists section of the former (he lost the final to Mochida Seiji), and shinpan and special-shiai embusha in the latter (his partner was Nakayama Hakudo – their shiai is picture at the top of the post). He died in 1957.
Renowned as a strong kenshi in his own lifetime, he was especially known for his fearless jodan. The loose translation presented below is from his own words.
Around about 1897 there was a match between Kaiho Shin (son of Kaiho Hanpei: student of Chiba Shusaku, Hokushin itto-ryu menkyo-kaiden, and Mito-han bushi) and Naito Takaharu which I watched with Shimoe Hidetaro (a famous and influential Meiji-era Hokushin itto-ryu kenshi). Kaiho, in jodan, was attacked fiercely by Naito from chudan. However Kaiho stuck to jodan kamae and acted undisturbed, patiently avoiding and dealing with the brunt of Naito’s attacks. His jodan was extremely impressive and I thought “Ah, this is what you would expect of the son of Kaiho Hanpei!”
After the match, while Kaiho was cleaning the sweat from his face, he turned to Shimoe: “Sensei, what do you think? Should I give up jodan?” Shimoe shook his head and said “Your jodan is different from others, keep practising in that manner.”
Although Shimoe sensei didn’t say to me explicitly, I had the strong impression that he believed that jodan kamae cannot be taken by just anyone – you need a certain dignity in both body movement and spirit, and perhaps must even come from a (blood) line of expert swordsmen.
The shape of jodan no kamae is one where there is many openings to be attacked, so you must have strong confidence over-and-above your enemies, and use this to proactively and aggressively attack them. That is to say, you must (spiritually) look down upon your enemy. Some people master this by hard training/discipline, others by being born with such a nature. Kaiho was someone who acquired this manner naturally – it was in his blood.
In the past, if you took jodan no kamae when facing a sempai you always said “Shitsurei saseteitadakimasu” (excuse me for being rude). This was an unwritten rule of etiquette. Nowadays this fine custom has been disappearing and – what is worse – I’ve started to see people that cannot even do kendo in chudan to a decent level take jodan unashamedly. Not only is there the phrase “Not knowing one’s own level,” but seeing people like this gives me a worried feeling.
I was initiated into the true way of jodan first through Shimoe sensei, then through Takano Sasaburo sensei. I acquired my understanding through hard discipline at the feet of these two sensei. I don’t want to sound pretentious, but the fact that my jodan was learnt in such a manner is something I can brag about.
The most essential thing required for good jodan is good use of the back/trunk (core). Whether its something like Sumo or Judo, one of the most basic elements is how you use this core area, especially so in kendo where use of the area is emphasised. From chudan, to move into jodan simply move your hands up without any specially effort. Recently I’ve seen people kamae leaning over, or even with the bottom of the tsuka sticking out from their left hands. People who strike from these situations cannot hit with power. I’ve also seen people who move their kamae up and down, subsequently their kensaki has no composure and they look undignified. People who kamae with a bent back are doing jodan (the word “jodan” here is a play on words between jodan 冗談 – a joke – and jodan 上段- the kamae – the point being that people who kamae in this manner are a joke). That there are many people doing this joke-jodan unabashedly while at the same time acting like they are some sort of strong kenshi is really a deplorable state of affairs.
In the final of the 1934 Tenran-jiai I used jodan, but it was never by plan to do so at the start (perhaps in front of the Emperor and in amongst such distinguished kenshi he felt it was rude to do so?) but on the first day – when I was up against Kondo kyoshi, the representative from Taiwan, in the preliminary rounds – I somehow injured my right knee. “This is no good” I thought and – having no other option – I went in to jodan. By concentrating on pressuring my opponents slowly and steadily I didn’t have to move so much, and in this way I was able to win my matches despite my injury.
By the way, watching shiai nowadays I notice that – even for people in chudan – that there are few people who attack when their opponent presents an opening, or who break their opponents posture then attack, that is to say, there are few competitors that follow the principles of the sword – they just shout out “Yaaaaaaa,” randomly attack their opponent, and touch them lightly. Disappointedly, these are awarded ippon. Real shiai are not like described above: before striking your first have to pressure and pull out the enemies weak point then execute the winning strike. If this strike is weak or light then you must move to the next strike and, if that is again light, the next. That is to say, execution of attacks should be smooth and effortless, like flowing water.
In my latter years when I was facing my students in jodan I would warn them before attacking and say “I’m going after your men!” or “I’m going to get your kote!” This isn’t something I learnt from Shimoe sensei, but rather – after years and years of kendo discipline, experimentation, and research (gaining a sense of dignity through this) – I discovered my own method of teaching my students.