Merry Xmas! メリークリスマス

Mini-update

Back in May I announced that I was having a re-think about what to do with kenshi 24/7 and then in September I posted a notice saying that I was semi-retiring posting content… at least for the “time being.” I tried to start a more casual blog on the side, but things in life (work!) are moving at warp-speed at the moment and my energy soon exhausted itself. Perhaps, if I can get myself organised properly, I’ll try to make another attempt at either a re-boot of the main site or some other side project next year.

Still, despite the hectic work schedule I haven’t stopped doing kendo… just not at the 2〜3 keiko/day rate I have managed over the past decade or so. I continue to post original media and share quality content to the Facebook page, so be sure and like it if you haven’t already.

Lastly, thanks to everyone for your continued support over all these years. Whether you’ve read an article, shared something, or bought a publication, I hope we can have the chance to do kendo sometime in the future. Cheers!


My favourite posts from 2016

Browse through all the 2016 articles here.


Media

Just to prove that I am still active, here are some images/vid that I have taken since September. Enjoy!

Notice

kenshi 24/7 began life as a private kendo-life-in-Japan-blog way back in 2003 before being unleashed to the public in 2008. In the years since then close to 500 posts were published as well as seven publications, three of which are still available on our publication site kendo-book.com. As I write this at the very end of the summer in 2016 I am happy in the knowledge that kenshi 24/7 has achieved far more than I ever planned or imagined, for which I am thankful.

However, it has been very hard and even stressful work at times, and, with increased responsibilities at home, work, and in the dojo, it is with much reluctance that I must be selfish and, for the foreseeable future, hit the brakes.

This doesn’t mean that the website will disappear, nor will I stop blogging. kenshi247.net will stay as it is today, but I don’t plan to write any more long and involved articles… at least for the moment. I have a couple of books in-process (and some other ideas as well), but I can’t see any serious progress being done on those until I retire or win the lottery, whichever comes first.

My plan for now is to treat the current site as an archive, and in the near future begin a smaller, more casual blog with general kendo content. I will also continue to update the Facebook page with interesting links and pictures, and upload the occasional video my YouTube channel.

Thanks for your support over all these years, cheers!!

– George

Shinai placement 竹刀の置き方

The following is a slightly revised and renewed essay from kenshi 24/7’s now unavailable mini-publication “Kenkyu and Kufu” originally published in 2014. Current publications can be viewed at kendo-book.com.

If you watched the final of the All Japan Kendo Championships last November (2013) you might have watched the two finalists put on their bogu and stand up prior to the match. Did you notice that – soon to be 3rd time winner – Uchimura Ryoichi picked up his shinai with his right hand first before switching it to his left as he stood? Years ago I was told that the Tokyo Metropolitan (Keishicho) police kendo squad did this to deliberately differentiate themselves from others, sort of like saying “we are special, better than you.” Of course, this is not the reason at all.

In almost every kendo club you attend, whether that be here in Japan or abroad, everyone places their men and kote on their right hand side when sitting in seiza, and their shinai on the left. The direction the kote point differ depending on the dojo, but in general things are orientated in this manner. There is nothing explicitly said about which way the tsuru on the shinai should be facing, but most people tend to point it down.

As some may have already realised, this is completely different to the way we are taught to handle bokuto (or kata-yo katana) in kata training: in seiza, bokuto are placed on our right hand side with the blade facing inwards. The reason often given for this is that it’s a non-threatening posture and, indeed, seemingly it was common that samurai did this with their weapons when sitting.

If the shinai is meant to represent a conceptual sword, why then do the majority of kendo practitioners sit in the way they do? Why don’t we place the shinai on the right (with the tsuru facing outwards) and our bogu on the left?

I’ve read two anecdotes about how this situation occurred. The first is that the Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei (ZNKR) first made it standard to place the shinai on the left hand side and the bogu on the right after World War 2. It was deemed less difficult for young kids to master, which of course may be true (confusingly, the child-orientated Bokuto Ni Yoru Kihon Keiko-ho that was introduced in the 2000s uses the standard bokuto-on-the-right arrangement). Another story is that it became an issue during the 3rd World Kendo Championships. When the Japanese team lined up 2 members were from Keishicho, the other 3 were teachers. Naturally the 2 Keishicho kenshi placed their shinai on the right whereas the teachers placed it on their left. “Shouldn’t we all be doing it the same way?” one Japanese competitor asked the manager. “Well, just for now place the shinai on your left.” After the competition was over the issue was raised back home and the ZNKR sensei took a vote. It was decided – by a margin of a single vote – that the shinai should be placed on the left.

I’m not sure of the extent of the truth behind either anecdote, but the fact of the matter is that we seem to have different reigi depending if you are holding a shinai or a bokuto. I think it would not only be less confusing (for all involved) but also in line with the shinai-as-a-sword concept if we handled our shinai as we do our bokuto, assuming of course that this concept is indeed important.

Shiga Butokuden 滋賀県支部武徳殿

This time last summer I gathered a group of friends together for an Eikenkai session at the beautiful Nara Butokuden. A lovely little dojo with over 100 years of history, I was delighted to be able to do kendo in such a place. I felt even more happy in the knowledge that the dojo was being safely being kept for posterity and was looking forward to doing keiko there again someday. That was, until a friend told me recently that – despite it holding a special cultural status due to its architectural worth – it was going to be knocked down. The reason: it’s too expensive to earthquake-proof it to modern standards (translation: “It doesn’t make us money”). This is also the excuse given in regards to another Butokuden in the Kansai region, the Shiga Butokuden.

Built in 1937, the Shiga Butokuden was closed sometime between December 2008 and January 2009 for the exact same reasons mentioned above: worries about its ability to stand up to a large earthquake. It has been dormant since then and now the word is that the decision has been made to dismantle it, again, because the cost to bring it up to modern safety standards is too restrictive. The pessimist in me wonders whether the fact that the building is located in a large piece of prime real estate directly opposite the Shiga prefectural government building has something to do with it.

Note that it has been hard to find out accurate information about the building as well as find pictures of keiko, so if you have any information or any pictures you are willing to share, please get in touch. Cheers!


Background

The original 1901 dojo
The original 1901 dojo

The Dai-Nippon Butokukai was founded in 1895 and the original Butokuden was completed in Kyoto in 1899. Shiga prefectures Butokukai membership rose quickly, so in 1901 a request was made to build a branch dojo. The branch dojo was completed in October of that year and is pictured above. However, due to the increasing popularity of kendo over the following decades, the dojo was deemed to be too small, and plans were made to collect money and construct a more fitting building. A new, two storied building, much larger and more impressive than the original, was built in 1937, and it become the official Shiga prefecture branch Butokuden. It is this building that I visited for this article.

Makoto Seiichiro
Shimizu Seiichiro

As a side note, my research into who were the teachers at the dojo during it’s early years are still ongoing, but I did discover that Busen graduate Shimizu Seiichiro was awarded the head teaching position in 1929. All I know about him is that he went to Busen in 1915, became a school kendo teacher in 1923, and was awarded kyoshi in 1932. Who were the teachers before him and whether he taught in the new, larger building featured in this article is still a mystery.


The new building
The original design
The original design

Rare for this type of building, it was constructed mainly in concrete and steel, with the more traditional wood being used only in parts. Despite using more Western design elements, it still looks Japanese in construction. It is also two-storied: 1st floor, changing rooms, reception area, office; 2nd floor, dojo space (usually split between kendo and a tatami-area for judo).

Directly after the war budo was banned by the occupying American forces so the building was renamed a “culture centre” and used for non-budo purposes. It didn’t take long for it to revert to it’s original purpose: it was used for judo as early as 1946, and by 1953 Shiga police department was practising kendo there. Three years later in 1956 the entire building was taken over for use by the police and again renamed, this time as a “physical eduction and cultural centre.” In 1964 money was collected to re-contruct the original kyudo-jo as well, though were it was originally located and where it went in the meantime is a mystery.

At some point over the years (in the 1960s I think), although still the property of the police department, the building was opened for use to the general public, with a local kendo club using it regularly. Various shiai (kendo, judo, karate, etc.) were held there over the years as well.


Goodbye?

At least I got to touch it!
At least I got to touch it!

I have no idea what the schedule is for demolition, or whether there will be some last ditch effort to save it (looking at the state it is in at the moment I reckon there has been no serious effort made), but I hope that something can be done somehow. It would be such a waste to see yet another Butokuden disappear.

BTW, as I mentioned at the end of the introduction, I don’t really have many concrete details. I intend to do some more research and update this post with any more information as I get it. I am also planning to ask for permission to go inside and take photographs. I’ll let you know of any updates if/when I post them.



Gallery

I couldn’t get inside the grounds or the building itself as it was fenced off and locked… actually, I probably could’ve easily climbed over the fence and roamed around inside the grounds, and perhaps even managed to get into the dojo itself, but it was broad daylight and I value my job! Anyway, here are some pictures I took from my visit for you to check out. The last three pictures are not mine, one shows a small ariel picture from 1963, and the other two are from an online pamphlet about the building. Enjoy.


Video

I took some rough video of the outside with my iPhone and uploaded to YouTube:

Here is some footage (not by me) from 2011 showing the inside and the floor:

Summer gasshuku 夏強化合宿

As the majority of kendo practitioners here in Japan are students (ranging from primary to university age) it follows that summer holidays tend to be pretty busy kendo-wise. This busyness is not just due an increase of keiko-time and sessions, but it also includes shiai (the largest competitions of the year are held during this time), visiting other schools for a spot of renshu-jiai or godogeiko, and summer strengthening gasshuku. Today I will briefly discuss the last one.


Gasshuku

There are many styles of gasshuku, and although not all run during the summer period, practising hard for a few days on end in the intense heat and humidity of the Japanese summer is considered a particularly gruelling challenge, and thus they hold a type of special status. I’ve attended many gasshuku over the years, including ones aimed at adults (where large quantities of alcohol are the mainstay), but what I want to describe briefly here is my experience at running and teaching high school level summer training sessions, which I have done for quite a few years now. In fact, I just came back from this years gasshuku yesterday!

School gasshuku tend to be of two broad types: godo-gasshuku, where a number of schools train together, or tandoku-gasshuku, where a school club practises by itself. I have participated in both, but prefer individual gasshuku over group ones, because the latter tend to spend too much time doing practise competition (something that could easily be done at another time). I’d rather use that time to do extended periods of kirikaeshi, uchikomi, and kakarigeiko.

A gasshuku is not a gasshuku unless you travel somewhere as a group and stay together for at least a couple of nights (the further the better.. although some shonen kendo clubs that have a privately owned dojo may sleep there rather than travel). Although not always possible, I much prefer to hold gasshuku in a proper dojo rather than in some modern sports hall or centre of some sort, preferably sleeping in the dojo. Also, the less people there are around, the more isolated the location is, the better.

The purpose and the content of a George-styled gasshuku (and many other kendo teachers too I suspect) is pretty simple:

Through multiple challenging keiko sessions students will become motivated (even inspired) to work hard not only as individuals (which is important), but as part of a team. By battling through physically and mentally demanding keiko together the students can build stronger bonds of friendship which will, hopefully, last their entire lives. They should also learn that working to overcome difficulty (i.e. not quitting when things are hard) is not only worthwhile, but highly rewarding as well. The gasshuku experience is thus much more than kendo itself.

Needless to say, the students stamina, endurance, and technical kendo ability should also benefit from a hard gasshuku, but these are – at least for me – secondary goals.

Gasshuku

Example gasshuku training menu

As an example of what I am talking about here is a rough sketch of the menu that my students just went though with me:

Day 1.

– Travel to the dojo (approx. 2.5 hrs).

– Short morning session (approx. 1.5 hrs): clean the dojo; warmup; suburi 20 mins; ashisabaki 15 mins; extended kihon 30 mins; kirikaeshi 10 mins.

– Afternoon session (approx. 3 hrs): clean the dojo; warmup; suburi 30 mins; kirikaeshi 20 mins; uchikomi 20 mins; break; waza geiko 40 mins; break; uchikomi 30 mins; kirikaeshi 10 mins.

– Evening: kendo lecture (history/culture).

Day 2.

– Before breakfast: up at 6am for a 2km running session up and down a steep hill.

– Morning session (approx. 3 hrs): clean the dojo; warmup; bokuto ni yoru kihon keiko-ho 20 mins; suburi 30 mins; ashisabaki 15 mins; kirikaeshi 25 mins; uchikomi 25 mins; break; oikomi 30 mins; kirikaeshi 10 mins.

– Afternoon session (approx. 3 hrs): clean the dojo; warmup; suburi 30 mins; kata 90 mins; break; kihon 20 mins; uchikomi 20 mins; kirikaeshi 10 mins.

– Evening: kendo discussion (aims).

Day 3.

– Before breakfast: up at 6am for a 2km running session up and down a steep hill.

– Morning session (approx. 3 hrs): clean the dojo; warmup; suburi 20 mins; up and down kirikaeshi 20 mins; up and down oikomi 20 mins; break; circular kirikaeshi 15 mins; diagonal oikomi 15 mins; break; suri-ashi game 15 mins; break; mini kihon 10 mins; 5-person consecutive kakarigeiko 15 mins; aikagarigeiko 15 mins; kirkaeshi 10 mins. Haya-suburi 5 mins.

– Short afternoon session (approx. 2 hrs): kachinuki shiai 60 mins; jigeiko 30 mins; uchikomi and kirikaeshi 20 mins; award giving; clean the dojo.

– Pack and go home!

Yours truly at this years gasshuku
Yours truly at this years gasshuku

Gasshuku are demanding for the students but at the same time they can be tough to organise and teach as well. One of the most difficult things is to ensure that you balance the hard sessions with enough breaks for rehydration, and to ensure that nobody gets injured or collapses due to heat stroke. On top of this, every year I also take on the job of making sure that the students eat enough (especially the girls), get to bed early, and get up in time to go running…. none of which falls within the usual realm of “kendo teacher.” This year I had the added bonus of dealing with the fallout of a bet gone wrong: one of my students ate a whole tube of wasabi and got sick !

Although this years gasshuku is finished, I’m already looking forward to the next one… though I may ban wasabi.


Gallery

Lastly, here are a handful of snaps from summer gasshuku I’ve taught over the years. Enjoy!