As I mentioned in my last post, I spent some time in the beautiful Scottish capital city of Edinburgh earlier this summer teaching a two-day kendo seminar (plus one regular keiko session). It was the fourth time I have been invited by my home dojo, Edinburgh Kendo Club, to teach there.
The summer holidays are over here in Japan, and it’s back to school for yours truly after a very busy few weeks of kendo. I am always running around doing kendo during this period, and so am quite used to it, but this year was slightly different in that I combined two events in to a single week… which normally wouldn’t be so bad except for the fact that the dojo were about 5,700 miles apart as the crow flies.
I’ll give a brief explanation about the two teaching environments I was in, and do a simple teaching-observation at the end to wrap-up.
I only came back to Osaka two days ago and I am still suffering from jet-lag as I type this now, so please excuse any spelling or grammar mistakes!
August 8th-9th: high school summer gasshuku in Nara, Japan.
Last year I wrote an article outlining my general approach to summer high school training camps. Here’s a quick quote from that prior article:
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.
Whilst still keeping all this in mind, however, this year I decided to do things a little bit differently. Over the last couple of years some newly minted teachers have started working at my school that have kendo experience. Being far more experienced in kendo and in teaching kendo than they are, I have started to taken on a sort-of mentoring role for these guys. I encourage them to teach, to explain things in their way, and to help with the keiko menu. Sometimes I say “no, we aren’t doing that,” or “I’m not having that!” but more often than not I allow them to teach and to experiment with different teaching drills and ideas. At the appropriate time I step in and say “why don’t you try it this way?” or “next time, why don’t you try explaining it this way instead?” and so on. As part of this, I decided to hand the entire role of teaching the summer camp to two of the young kendo teachers. My role was to do all the bookings, handle the money, organise the paperwork, and to step back and allow them space to experiment. And yes, I do feel old!
Even though I only advised students on a one-to-one basis, and gave the younger teachers some input now and then, the general style was kept the way I like it, i.e. lots of physically demanding keiko rather than overly technical content. This basically meant almost entirely a diet of kirikashi, oikomi, uchikomi, and kakarigeiko. Before breakfast the students had to go jogging and do some core strength training as well.
This years gasshuku was in a valley in the mountains of Nara, not too far away from Osaka. We had planned to do a two-night-three-day camp, but a typhoon made us cut it down a day, leaving us only one night and two days. Things were a bit rushed due to this sudden shortening of time, but the students (and young teachers) managed to get through everything without much mishap.
Arriving home after the gasshuku on Wednesday night at 9pm, I realised that I had to fly out at 10am the next day, so I started packing my bags…
August 11th-13th: Kendo seminar in Edinburgh
Bleary eyed and tired, I got up on Thursday morning early, ate some toast, and headed out to Kansai international airport. One super-long journey later (14 or 15 hours, I forget) I found myself in the beautiful city of Edinburgh, Scotland. Not long after arriving I was sitting in a nice pub with a beer!!
I was here to teach a kendo seminar at the invite of Edinburgh Kendo Club, where I started kendo in the early 90s. This was the fourth such seminar that I have done for them (see 2010, 2012, and 2014).
Over the three days I taught a regular Edinburgh kendo club Friday night session, followed by two 5-hour days of seminar on Saturday and Sunday. In contrast with the summer gasshuku I had attended just prior, I took on all the teaching duties myself.
My focus for the three days was on, to put it simply: “hands and legs.” Tenouchi, grip, loosening of the wrists, followed by footwork and a focus on body movement. I didn’t explicitly state it like this to the participants, but I think most understood what the focus was without having to go in to my whole battle plan up-front.
The seminar this year, like the others I have done, was mainly invite-only, just friends and friends-of-friends, focusing mainly on the Scottish kendo clubs, so we had around 40-ish people turn up in different combinations over the three days. Some friends came over from Sweden, someone from Spain, and a few drove up from the middle and northern England as well. Next year, however, will be the 30th anniversary of kendo in Scotland, so I am planning to take a guest over with me and make it public. Given the busy summer kendo seminar schedule in Europe, I’ll let kenshi 24/7 readers know the details as soon as everything is organised, so hopefully we can meet and do kendo together next year in Edinburgh.
Different teaching environments, different approach?
As you may imagine, teaching high school students an intensive summer training camp in the middle of the melting hot Japanese heat and teaching a seminar in Europe to people of all ages and different backgrounds in a cool climate can seem like different beasts. They are in a way, but there is much more in common than you might imagine.
First, kendo is simple. It really is. Once the basic body mechanics (“hands and legs”) are acquired to a decent level, most people come to realise that almost all kendo techniques work the same way. For example, men, kote, kote-men, and tsuki basically become the same thing (which is why I make dou the last thing I teach beginners). So it follows that everyone’s keiko should be focused on acquiring good kendo mechanics, irrespective of environment, situation, or experience.
The main difference between the two groups is simply one of keiko volume. My high school kendo students do keiko on average 6 days a week, whereas for the vast majority of seminar participants that is an impossibility (of course, the students have the added bonus of being young as well, which doesn’t hurt!). So, I basically taught the same things at the Edinburgh seminar that I teach my kendo students in Osaka. However, whereas I generally drill points relentlessly into my students through daily repetition, I have no such option when it comes to a weekend seminar. Necessarily, in order for seminar participants to understand the goal of the drills or activities I was doing I had to break down and explain things in a little more detail than I usually would do. This meant that I did more chatting than hard physical repetitive work which I prefer doing with my students (i.e. kirikaeshi, oikomi, uchikomi, etc.). Still, I kept chat to as little as possible which allowed participants to explore and experiment as they saw fit (which is something I allow students to do as well, but usually only after months of drilling).
To sum up quickly, although both environments were on the face of it completely different, I generally treat instruction goals and methods the same, whatever the level and experience of kenshi. Pretty obvious really!
The jet-lag is wearing me down, so I’ll wrap things up here for now. I hope I will have the chance to meet some kenshi 24/7 readers next year in Scotland, cheers!
In August of 2015, my fiends and I got together and held one of my Eikenkai sessions at Nara Butokuden. After the main HQ Butokuden was built in Kyoto in 1899, the next to be constructed was this Nara one in 1903. Little did we know, however, that when we visited it in 2015 there was already plans to knock it down: this historical and beautiful dojo is scheduled to be demolished this very summer. The reason? Cost. It costs too much money to maintain and keep it up to anti-earthquake standards of the modern age. Such is the money-centric world we live in today.
Not having the resources to buy the land and the building, there’s nothing I can do but share some pictures and information about it. However, I am glad that I got to keiko there before it was destroyed (unlike the Shiga Butokuden, where I didn’t manage to practise, or the Kyoto branch Butokuden, which is now re-purposed). What a waste.
With this experience in mind, I decided that I would try and visit, practise in, and study about the Butokuden and older dojo that are within travelling distance from where I live here in Osaka. Which brings us to this recent Eikenkai keiko-kai, held in Wakayama Butokuden on the 30th of July 2017.
Wakayama Butokuden: a brief history
As mentioned above, Wakayama Butokuden was built in 1905 but, unlike most Butokuden, survived throughout the war years (when many buildings were lost to American bombs) and the 60’s and 70’s (a time when the old parts of the culture were being ignored or simply disposed of). The current building is located in a small park just south of Wakayama Castle, where it was relocated to in 1961. It was moved from it’s original location, just 1km to the east, due to the construction of a road. We are lucky that it wasn’t in it’s current position in 1945, for if it had been it would’ve been destroyed or burned down due to bombing along with Wakayama Castle.
Finding information about who taught and was active at the Wakayama Butokuden has been difficult, but let me tell you about an important character in the dojo’s history today (more to be added as research continues).
Higashiyama Kennosuke sensei
Higashiyama Kennosuke was born in Wakayama city in 1893, and began keiko at Wakayama Butokuden. In 1913, at the age of 20, he went to the Butokukai HQ in Kyoto and became a koshusei (like a “part-time student”) at Busen, where he would have studied under Naito Takaharu sensei. Five years later, in 1916, he retuned the Wakayama Butokuden as a kendo instructor. He was awarded Seirensho in 1918, and Kyoshi in 1927. After this his status increased and he became the head kendo instructor for Wakayama Police Dept., the Butokukai Wakayama Branch (and thus, for the Wakayama Butokuden), as well as various other kendo and sports education roles.
In 1940 he was somehow involved in a train accident, causing the loss of one of his legs. Since his house and the Butokuden were next to each other, a corridor was built between them to allow him to move between both buildings with ease. It’s interesting to note that after the war (50s/60s) another one-legged kenshi – Gordon Warner – visited Higashiyama sensei and Wakayama Butokuden (I have a picture, but it’s not clear).
There is no information available about exactly who ensured the preservation of the dojo (by having it moved in 1961) but I think we can safely bet that Higashiyama sensei was involved.
Higashiyama sensei died in 1968 (he was hanshi 9th dan at the time).
Wakayama Butokuden today
Today, amazingly, the dojo is still actively used: iaido, aikido, and shorinji-kempo groups use it on a regular basis… but what about kendo? Unfortunately, it seems that kendo people stopped actively using it perhaps one or two decades ago, though we did meet someone who said they remember using it once about 15 years ago (but were unsure). Although I am glad that it is being used, I’m sad that it isn’t being used for kendo, which is what it was built for after all.
I used the word “amazingly” above because the dojo is not a registered cultural asset and thus could easily be written off by the current owners, Wakayama City (which is what happened to the Nara Butokuden and many others). So, although kendo people aren’t using it, I’m happy that it is being used and kept for posterity.
However, a wooden building of this age isn’t particularly earthquake-proof, so perhaps it will only take one or two semi-large earthquakes to make the thing unsafe. As it is at the moment, the roof is sagging.
Standing in this beautiful dojo in a lull during keiko I wondered what it would take for me to buy it, dismantle it, and move it to Scotland ….
The pictures here are from a short reconnaissance mission to make sure we could hire it, and that the floor was useable.
Eikenkai keiko at the Wakayama Butokuden
(30th of July 2017)
So, we rented the building, called a deliberately small handful of friends, and gathered at 1pm on a sweltering hot Sunday afternoon. First thing was first: as it’s not used for kendo nowadays we had to lift the tatami up then clean and inspect the floor. The floor was not in a perfect state but, despite not being fumikomi-ed on for a decade or two, it was a proper kendo floor, unlike most modern builds.
Like all old Butokuden, the floor space itself wasn’t generous. In fact, most Butokuden had to expand over time as kendo became more popular during the 1920s and 30s, so it’s amazing that this one is still the original 1905 size. It made keiko a little bit awkward, but nothing we couldn’t handle.
For the session today I only called a handful of friends (because I knew floor space would be at a premium) plus their kids. It was stifling hot and super humid, so we did a shorter session than normal: 35 mins of kihon, 15 mins of waza, and about 45 mins of jigeiko spread over about 2.5 hours.
I must be totally honest with you: I totally love this building. Floorspace is limited, but what there is of it is great. The design, all the wood, the history … THIS is the kendo-jo of my dreams!!!
After keiko we cleaned the floor, put down the tatami, and tidied up the whole dojo. There is no doubt in my mind that we left the dojo in better/cleaner condition than what we found it in! I hope the people that use the building constantly do so with a little bit more … love!
I’m pretty certain I will do kendo in this dojo again in the future.
Last weekend I took some time out of my super busy schedule to visit a kendo friend in Iwate prefecture, in the north of Japan’s main island. I’d been promising to go for years, but with this and that, I’d never managed to quite find the time and make good my promise. Realising I’d probably never have a weekend when I wasn’t busy, I just picked a weekend that was good for my friend, booked my flight and hotel, and went. And I’m glad I did! In theory the weekend was mainly about hanging-out, but I ended up doing three keiko sessions over two days, and got in some good research about kendo-related places as well. There was also plenty of dai-ni-dojo time!
What follows is a brief rundown of kendo-related experiences that weekend. If you are interested in doing kendo in Iwate, please keep reading to the bottom. Cheers!
Shinmeikan, Hashi-ichi dojo
Shinmeikan is a dojo located in Iwate prefecture’s capitol town of Morioka. Built by Tanifuji Shinkichi (d.1999) in 1965, it was the first privately owned dojo in the prefecture. Although not particularly old, it does have an old feel to it, partly, I think, because of the colour of the wooden floors. It has, btw, a few planks of the original Noma dojo in the floor.
A large, spacious dojo, it’s not only beautiful, it is completely open for practise by anyone who comes along.
It would be easy to write more about this dojo, but I’d prefer if you were to go along and visit (see below) and ask about it’s history and experience the dojo yourself.
BTW, Shosho-ryu is a jujutsu-based koryu that is based in the dojo. Originally they had their own building (built in 1940 called Kobukan), but due to it being dismantled, they moved their practise to Shinmeikan in 1971. Check out the video below.
Also ->> this dojo is featured in the super-famous kendo manga “Musashi-no-ken….”
Local kendo club
My friend’s family is ALL KENDO: husband, wife, son, and daughter. All of them! On Saturday morning I attended a small super-local kids club a few minutes car ride from my friends place. His daughter and son both attend the same dojo…and what a dojo it was!!! Locals raised the money themselves about 30 years ago, and built this wonderful little building in the grounds of a local junior high school. I say little, but it’s actually quite a large size, as I’m sure you can see from the photos. It is also situated with rice-paddies all around it, which makes it a great environment to learn kendo. If I ever win the lottery, this is the type of dojo I’d build…
The picture at the top of this post is my friends daughters’ dou (l) next to my one (r).
Ok, so this is where things start to get interesting from a kendo researchers point of view.
When my friend told me there was a Hanamaki “Butokuden” a while back, my interest was immediately piqued. Hanamaki is a small town in Iwate prefecture, located outside of the capitol Morioka, and there never was a Butokukai Butokuden built there before the war, so why was there one now?
The Iwate prefecture Butokuden was built in Morioka city (the capitol of the prefecture) in 1908 and survived, against all odds, through WWII. It was used for kendo practise once it was reinstated but – this is where things go awry – it was demolished in 1982 for dubious reasons at best (see the next section below for more info). Upon hearing about it’s demolishing, a noted educator and judo proponent called Ito Sukebumi (d.1990), proposed the construction of a new building for local budo practise. A wealthy individual of Samurai stock, he donated about half of the construction costs for the new building (the rest coming from the city) and Hanamaki Butokden was built.
It’s important to note that Sukebumi’s father, Ito Jukan, had been the Hanamaki Castle bujutsu instructor before it was demolished (in 1891), which probably had a strong influence on him.
Morioka Butokuden -> Morioka Budokan
Morioka Butokuden was built in 1908, as one of the early Butokukai branch dojo. The first was the HQ Butokuden (there was also a Kyoto branch butokuden), followed by Nara, and Wakayama. As mentioned above, this beautiful building survived all the way up until 1982 as a working dojo, only to be dismantled for a crazy reason – it blocked the view of the old castle walls. Can you believe that!?!? I’m not completely sure that was the entire reason though, as according to a local it was a time when Japan – on the verge of mass wealth in the bubble era – was disposing of the remnants of the past. An old wooden dojo in the centre of the city used for some smelly old traditional martial art wasn’t at the top of the agenda I think.
Anyway, like it or not, the building is now gone. Parts of it, including bits and pieces that were inside, can be seen in the modern Morioka Budokan (an ugly concrete monstrosity).
Research is currently ongoing on this building, so there will be more added to this article as it develops.
( btw, Morioka Butokuden also appears in Musashi-no-ken )
Interested in practising in Iwate?
If you are interested in practising at Shinmeikan, Hanamaki Butokuden, or Morioka Budokan, then please get in touch with my friend Jon (originally from New Jersey).
I’m glad to announce that a project that I worked on with the Japanese kendo magazine “Kendo Jidai” has finally made it to daylight. This is their first ever product aimed specifically at the non-Japanese market, and if everything goes well (i.e. good sales) then hopefully they will go on to produce more English language products (DVDs and hopefully books) in the future.
Check out the introduction, front and back covers, as well as a biography of Kamei sensei below.
You can buy the DVD from the Japanese Amazon site here (you can change the language to English).
KAMEI TORU SENSEI’S KENDO LECTURE
Kamei sensei discusses some of his ideas about how to acquire good kendo.
This DVD includes the English subtitles of “Kamei Toru sensei’s kendo lecture.” The Japanese only version was originally included with the March 2015 issue of Kendo Jidai magazine.
Lesson 1 THE BASICS OF SEME
Lesson 2 HOW TO STRENGTHEN THE LEFT FOOT
Lesson 3 MEN WAZA
Lesson 4 KOTE WAZA
Lesson 5 TSUKI WAZA
Lesson 6 KEIKO METHOD
Name: Kamei Toru
Rank: hanshi hachidan
Kamei sensei graduated from Kyushu Gakuin High School before moving to Meiji University. After graduating university he returned back to his hometown of Kumamoto and joined the Kumamoto Police Department. At the time of recording he is currently the top police kendo teacher in the prefecture.
Past competition experience includes:
All Japan Kendo Championships (runner-up)
All Japan Inter-prefectural Championships
World Kendo Championships
All Japan East-West Championships
National Athletic Championships
(first place team competition)
All Japan Police Championships
(first place individuals)
All Japan Hachidan Championships (runner up)
Kamei sensei passed hachidan in November 2000
and was awarded Hanshi on May 2009.
Please note that I receive no payment or percentage of any sales on the DVD, I am promoting it because not only do I think it is a good DVD, but also because I hope that it will inspire Kendo Jidai to produce more English language material in the future.