In 1952 the Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei (ZNKR) was formed with the object of trying to re-organise kendo on a national level (iaido and jodo would come under it’s aegis in 1956). Kendo was in a sorry state at that time: the Dai Nippon Butokukai (the overarching organisation in control of kendo before WWII) had been forcibly disbanded in 1946 due to it’s use as a tool of the military government during the war, budo was banned in public institutions (including schools and the military), and a new sportified form of “soft kendo” called Shinai Kyogi (national organisation started in 1950) was causing all sorts of concerns for orthodox kenshi.
Five years later, kendo was still lagging behind judo in terms of popularity, both at home and abroad. Part of the catch-up strategy was to establish a grading system on par with judo, that is, one that awarded grades up to 10th dan. In 1957 the fledgling organisation awarded it’s first four 10th dans by special committee.
This post and the pictures below are taken from an article published in the February 1958 edition of the Asahi Picture News. Supplemental biographical information or links to prior kenshi 24/7 articles are added below the translated sections.
Note that the article itself also features three judo 10th dans as well. I’ve omitted the judo parts.
The first kendo 10th dan’s have been born. Ever since the ZNKR was established in 1952 they have been looking at re-organising the grading system used by the now defunct Butokukai. This summer they explicitly set out their new system: grades up to 7th dan will be earned through examination, while those 8th dan and above will be awarded via recommendation and committee selection. The ZNKR has enthusiastically fashioned this renewed grading system in part because “compared to judo, kendo is relatively slow in reviving itself (after the post-war years).” Like this, it has awarded four 10th dan’s, five 9th dan’s, 48 8th dan’s, and 375 7th dan’s.
We visited the new 10th dan sensei at the height of the kangeiko season, please listen respectfully to their words.
Nakano Sosuke (74 years old)
“The purpose of kendo is to cultivate the spirit. It used to be that dojo etiquette was very strict, but it’s not that way nowadays. This is bad. I always tell the Chikuho high school kendo club students that I teach that they should be model students for their whole school.”
Nakano sensei, originally from Nagasaki, graduated from Kyoto’s Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseijo (the forerunner to Busen) when he was 21 (1906). He went on to become a kendo shihan for the Kyoto Police Department before moving to Fukuoka and taking the post as a prefectural Budo shihan. In 1935 he was awarded 9th dan and moved to Manchuria (55 years old). He returned to Japan during the war years.
His vocal cords were cut out due to throat cancer and now he cannot speak at all. His wife Kazyo-san spoke for him:
“The hardest thing for him is that because he has no voice he cannot kiai. However, keiko for him is what makes him most happy, if he couldn’t do keiko there would be no pleasure in living.”
Even now he gets up early every day at 6am and goes to teach at Chikuho high school kendo club.
This picture shows him thinking silently about his past.
His eldest son Munekatsu (50) is 6th dan, and his 2nd son Masakatsu (38) is 5th dan.
1898: Began kendo under Takao hanshi in Nagasaki before going to Kyoto to study at the newly formed Butokukai HQ in Kyoto.
1905: The Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseijo started and Nakano was sent as a student of the first class.
1906: Graduated from the Yoseijo and appointed an assistant instructor.
1910: Awarded seirensho
1911: Becomes assistant instructor at Busen.
1916: Awarded kyoshi
1927: Awarded hanshi
1929, 1934, 1940*: Took part as shinpan and selected competitor in the specialist section of the Showa tenran-jiai.
1931: Becomes kendo shihan at the Japanese government in Korea.
1957: Awarded 10th dan by the newly formed ZNKR.
1963: Passed away.
* Nakano sensei demonstrated kendo with Saimura in 1934 and Mochida Seiji in 1940 at the tenran-jiai.
Ogawa Kinnosuke (73 years old)
At about 173cms and over 75kgs Ogawa sensei is very robust:
“Even if I’m feeling a little bit under the weather I go to keiko and sweat it out. Nine years ago I unfortunately suffered from a bout of pneumonia but I’m in sound health now. When I went to the doctor he told me I was as healthy as someone in their 40s.”
Like this, you can see that Ogawa sensei is a very healthy senior citizen.
Ogawa sensei started to learn kendo when he was 13 years old at a dojo in his home town (Aichi prefecture, Iwakura-cho) called Seishinjuku. He studied there for 4 years.
In 1929 he was appointed the chief kendo instructor of the Butokukai in Kyoto.
After the war, in 1946, in addition to holding a public office, he became the kendo shihan of the Kyoto branch of the Imperial Guards. He still teaches there today.
During his career he has taught over 3000 students.
“Although people say we are entering a kendo boom nowadays, this is not the kendo that we developed before the war, it’s a sportified version. Those of the next generation that do proper kendo do not desire to practise in this manner.”
Even now Ogawa sensei doesn’t miss a days keiko and manages to do an hour of keiko without his breath becoming laboured.
“As you age you will lose to those more physically powerful than you. Use your partners power against them, and win through technique.”
Ogawa sensei’s only daughter Yukiko is a tea ceremony instructor and her husband Masayuki is kendo nanadan.
Check out the kenshi 24/7 publication by Ogawa Kinnosuke sensei: Teikoku Kendo Kyohon, The Kendo Textbook of Imperial Japan.
Mochida Seiji (73 years old)
“My father was the headman of a small village in Gifu prefecture and had his own dojo. He’d gather the local kids around and teach kendo in the dojo that he owned. Due to my father I started kendo when I was 6 years old. I didn’t really enjoy kendo but somehow I ended up on this path….”
In May 1929 on the grounds of the Imperial Palace 32 of the country’s elite kenshi competed in front of the Emperor. The final was between Mochida sensei and Takano Shigeyoshi sensei.
“Luckily I was able to win the fight but I will never forget that intense bout for the rest of my life. As a prize I was given a Bizen Osafune crafted sword from the Imperial Court.”
Mochida sensei get’s up at 5am everyday and goes to the nearby dojo for an hour of keiko. Even if 7th dan’s come to keiko with him he makes short work of them.
“Recently novels featuring strong swordsmen have increased in popularity, however they are filled with exaggeration. The primary secret to reaching the inner depths of swordsmanship is found in the cultivation of the soul and the spirit.”
Mochida sensei graduated from Kyoto’s Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseijo and is currently an honourary kendo shihan at Keishicho (Tokyo Metropolitan Police).
1902-1907: Studied kendo at the Gifu prefecture sub-branch of the Butokukai. Trained for a short time in 1902 at Takano Sasaburo’s Meishinkan and Nakayama Hakudo’s Yushinkan.
1907: Sent to the Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseijo from the Gifu Butokukai.
1908: Graduates from the Yoseijo.
1909: Appointed an assistant instructor at the Yoseijo.
1911: Awarded seirensho. Becomes assistant instructor at Busen.
1919: Awarded kyoshi. Appointed head kendo teacher at the Chiba prefecture sub-branch of the Butokukai.
1922: Becomes a kendo teacher at Jigaro Kano’s/Takano Sasaburo’s Tokyo Shihan Gakko.
1925: Becomes kendo shihan at the Japanese government in Korea.
1927: Awarded hanshi.
1929: Took part as shinpan and competitor in the specialist section of the tenran-jiai, winning the specialist competition.
1931: Became the shihan of Noma dojo.
1934, 1940: Took part as shinpan and competitor in the specialist section of the tenran-jiai.
1957: Awarded 10th dan.
1964: Demonstrated kata at the Tokyo Olympics
1965: Awarded the Order of the Rising Sun
1974: Passed away.
Saimura Goro (71 years old)
Saimura sensei graduated from Kyoto’s Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseijo when he was 20, later becoming a kendo instructor at Busen, Kokushikan, and the Tokyo Imperial Guards. Currently he is an honourary kendo shihan at Keishicho. When he was younger he was famous for being strong willed and was feared so much he was nicknamed Kaminari Goro (“lightening Goro”).
“I was a bit rowdy when I was younger, so much so that I got kicked out of school for drinking too much (he infamously put a classmate in hospital after a fight). Afterwards I made amends and was lucky to be allowed to graduate….”
His family were shihan of the Kuroda clan (Fukuoka) and it’s this that inspired him to pick up the sword when he was 15.
“For the last 20 years I’ve been getting up every morning at 4:30am (3:30am during kangeiko season) and heading to keiko. However, recently my health hasn’t been so good so the doctor has told me to stop.
Young people nowadays don’t like to do anything difficult. I want to say to them that if you don’t try and experience something then you will never understand what it is. If you overcome difficulties through severe discipline it will definitely add something positive to your life. To those that are living in university lodgings and working hard at kendo, I guarantee you it will be worth it after you graduate.”
In 1962 a further – and what was to be last ever – 10th dan was awarded: to Oasa Yuji sensei. Like the other sensei mentioned above, he too studied kendo at the Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseijo directly under Naito Takaharu sensei.
1909-10: Entered the Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseiji
1915: Awarded seirensho.
1921-45: Instructor at the Saga prefecture Butokukai sub-branch.
1922: Awarded kyoshi.
1929, 1940: Took part as a competitor in the specialist section of the tenran-jiai.
1930: Sent to America for 6 months by the Butokukai to research sports education.
1936: Awarded hanshi.
1955: Became Saga prefecture kendo renmei president.
1962: Awarded 10th dan.
1974: Passed away.
In February 1974 the last two remaining 10th dans – Mochida and Oasa – passed away and after that it was never awarded again. It was not until 2000, however, when the ZNKR finally revised their rules and stopped the possibility of awarding either 9th or 10th dan.
Check out related article posted 5 and 1/2 years ago: A brief investigation into the SHOGO system
Pictures from the Asahi Picture News article.
Luckily we have video of the demonstration matches of all 5 of the sensei introduced here. These videos show their matches at the 1940 Tenran-jiai.
Nakano (l) vs Mochida (r):
Saimura (l) vs Ogawa (r):
Oasa Yuji can be seen on this video on the right vs Hotta Sutejiro (sorry, it can’t be embedded).