Eikenkai February 2014

Though a little bit chilly, yesterday was a beautiful day here in central Osaka. Arriving a little bit earlier than usual for keiko I decided to take a wander through the oldest shrine in the prefecture – Sumiyoshi Taisha. The budokan we are based at is right next to it… it’s so close in fact, that we usually walk through the shrine to get to the dojo.

After asking the gods for kendo-power, I headed next door to the budokan. Numbers were a little bit lower than usual (17 participants), but keiko was no less quiet or subdued. In recent keiko’s the numbers have been too large to effectively pratise dou-uchi during kihon!!

Today we were visited by old and new friends, and even had to say goodbye to one of our main members who is getting married and moving to Kanto. Personally, for me, the highlight of the day was being able to do kendo with some of my ex-students – after teaching them kendo for 3 years at high school they graduated and continued practising at university. Now – after turning 20 (the legal drinking age in Japan) – I was allowed to have a beer with them = great!

Keiko was the usual 45-30-45 format (45 mins kihon, 30 waza practise, 45 jigeiko) followed by the Osaka speciality Okonomiyaki and beer.

Check out this link for more information about Eikenkai, what you need to know before joining us, and to see this years schedule. Cheers!!

Shinsa – things to think about

The following is a translation of three very short pieces by Sakuma Saburo hanshi on the subject of gradings. Obviously there is some overlap between the articles. I don’t know about you, but I personally hate gradings and need all the advice I can get !!

Things to be careful about in gradings

  1. Improve your posture
  2. In other-words, ensure that you learn kendo-no-kata thoroughly.

  3. Kiai with a loud voice
  4. This serves not only to rouse your own spirit but intimidate your opponent.

    If I were to give an example from my past, there was a time I went on a 10-day gasshuku. By the 3rd keiko of the day my voice would be hoarse and dry and I couldn’t kiai anymore. Around about the 5th day my voice started to survive even the 3rd keiko session. Going through this pattern over-and-over you will finally develop a loud and sharp kiai that resonates in your opponents stomach.

  5. Attack with abandon (fervour)
  6. “Now!!!” – the very instant you think you see an opening for attack you should attack with full abandon irregardless of what your opponent may attempt to do to you or your shinai.

    If your strike doesn’t land then you should – in the same breath as your first attack – continue striking over-and-over until a valid yuko-datotsu is struck.

    To develop a nimble and flexible kendo style (so you can do the above) you should do intense kakarigeiko with your sensei or sempai (of about 50 seconds to a minute)

  7. Express zanshin
  8. If you think you have struck a valid yuko-datotsu then take an appropriate distance and express your confidence in that strike.

  9. Only do keiko with people better than you
  10. Never do kendo with people of lesser ability than yourself.

    If you are currently practising with the intent of taking a kendo exam then you have to be a little selfish and decline doing keiko with those that aren’t at your level. If you do kendo with these people then your focus will relax and your level will drop. If for whatever reason you can’t refuse, use the keiko as a chance to practise your techniques.

    Against a more senior opponent, first fight for the first strike (shotachi). After that is over continually attack them until the keiko is finished. At that time, be sure and get advice from them.

  11. Acquire various techniques
  12. Do lots of kihon and oji-waza practise. You will face many kenshi who have many different styles of kendo. It’s important that you learn enough techniques so that you can deal with any style of kenshi that you face (i.e. have a large repertoire of techniques which you can select and apply appropriately depending on your opponents style).

Ten points on gradings

  1. Sink slowly and composed into sonkyo. Resolve yourself to feeling “When I stand up I’m going to strike the instant you move (debana).” Stand up deliberately with this in mind.
  2. From the pit of your stomach kiai so as to rouse your spirit and intimidate your opponents.
  3. It doesn’t matter what happens during the shiai, never move back.
  4. Don’t attack recklessly – aim for debana.
  5. If your attack isn’t successful don’t stop and rest – continue striking until you land a valid yuko-datotsu.
  6. If you think your strike is successful take an appropriate distance, ensure that the extension of your kensen is aimed towards your opponents throat, and express zanshin.
  7. Aim for ai-uichi, that is, strike at a hairs-breadth before your opponent.
  8. Get out of tsubazeriai quickly.
  9. Don’t face your back towards the examiners.
  10. After doing the final bow move backwards 3 steps before leaving the area.

About kendo gradings

Some people thing that gradings should be approached in a special manner, but I believe that you should just do your normal kendo, nothing special. Just do what you have been taught by your sensei and sempai.

Here are things that you should be doing as a matter of course:

  1. Wear your uniform correctly.
  2. Act respectfully (i.e. proper emphasis on reigi).
  3. Fight energetically and with a strong spirit.

Here are some extra points worthy of note:

  1. Don’t just attack men.
  2. Some teachers say “Strike men, strike men… who cares about dou etc.” but following this advice can make it difficult for you to pass.

  3. Strike gyaku-do.
  4. There are people that don’t strike gyaku-dou even when it is wide-open. Left and right dou hold the same value in kendo.

    In competitions sometimes shinpan haven’t read the rule book carefully on this point (and thats why they don’t award it and hence why people don’t do it in gradings). Some people, however, end up hitting the floor after striking gyaku-dou, that shouldn’t be considered ippon.

  5. Sometimes I see people strike ai-uchi and then they turn and look at each other as if they are mutually resting… I have no idea why they do this.
  6. (editor: little bit hard to understand this point)

    If your opponent seems to be resting, strike him immediately. If the distance is relatively close people tend just to strike men, but at such a distance it’s simple to defend against. At this time you should tsuki your opponent back, breaking their posture, then strike.

  7. Half-baked strikes are minus points.
  8. Don’t strike randomly.

  9. People often lose (fail) because their movements become ‘stuck’ or their kensen is often off-centre.


About the author

Sakuma Saburo was born in Fukushima prefecture in 1912 and started kendo in primary school. Before the war he taught kendo in various places. After the war he trained under Mochida Moriji at the Mitsubishi dojo before opening his own. He held a senior position in the Tokyo kendo renmei. He passed away at the age of 84 in 1997.



Raw Kendo

Digg is probably the news aggregator app that I use most on my iphone to get news stories/information for reading when I am on the train or in the coffee shop (I don’t always read kendo books!). The other day I randomly picked a story about something I had never heard of before: Raw Denim. This is defined by wikipedia as “a denim fabric that is not washed after being dyed during its production” or by rawdenim.com as a “denim that has been unwashed, untreated, and virtually untouched to the extent that it remains in its pure form.” Basically, people into the fad purchase cotton jeans and try to wear them as long as possible before giving them there first wash. When they first wash them the dye comes out in an uneven manner reflecting the wear-and-tear of use, creating individual patterns and shapes. One pair of jeans on the rawrdenim site had been worn for 15 years without a single wash!

As someone who constantly wears jeans I was fascinated by the article and – you know whats coming – I immediately drew parallels to kendo.

Like almost every kendo person, I have never washed any of my bogu… ever. The oldest piece of equipment I have is nearly 20 years old (a tare and dou). Keikogi usually get a wash when I buy them, and then again every few months (though the last few years – because I practise 10-12 sessions/week – I’ve usually wash them once/month). Hakama never see the inside of a washing machine – the most they get is stamped-on in the shower. Like the raw denim jeans discussed above, both the bogu and the dogi’s colour change over time and, depending on how often you do keiko, the shape may change as well.

A certain sense of… something

Ok, I’ll confess: I love it when my bogu starts to look well-worn and my keiko-gi gets a wee bit dishevelled around the fringes! My favourite dogi has patches on the shoulders and the colour has faded just enough to still look like I mean business. A men that I have used almost daily for the last 10 years has literally been hammered into shape on my head receiving uchikomi and it’s uniform colour lost (pictured at the top of the article).

I’m not sure why exactly I like this type of look, but I do. I guess it’s a kind of like saying “I’ve been working hard!!”









BONUS: You look cool, but you stink… !

The minute you say “kendo” to a non-kendo person here in Japan they immediately say “臭い” (stinky) such is the notoriety of the kendo smell!! Because it’s nearly impossible to get rid of the smell, we all tend to get used to it somewhat (our smell and others). However, there are things you can do to help.

Here are 2 things I actively do nowadays:

Juban – an undergarment (usually white) for wearing underneath your keikogi. I wear one constantly and wash it every couple of keiko’s. As my keikogi doesn’t get as sweaty as it normally would I can increase the time between washes. In winter, the juban also makes you feel warmer!

Gloves – for wearing underneath kote. These are now a must for me. They absorb sweat and definitely increase the life of your kote. Although wearing gloves won’t eradicate kote smell, being able to wash them helps tremendously.

Other possible strategies (I don’t do these):

Men pad/lining – there are a few different options for this: using a cloth chin-piece, a men-pad at the top, or even a completely removable/washable inner-ring. Of-course, tenugui help a lot.

Washable bogu – never tried it so can’t really comment. Doesn’t seem to be very popular here in Japan however.

Go white – another option is to constantly use white dogi. I sometimes go white in summer, but the major problem is that your gi can easily be turned blue by your own bogu, himo, or the bogu of others. I sometimes go white in summer but, it’s just not as cool.


Crouching lion and the roar of sonkyo

A while back I stumbled on a poetic phrase while reading some kendo information: 獅子の気合 (shishi no kiai). In kendo-friendly English it becomes “The Lion’s kiai” – what a great image! I stumbled on it randomly again today so thought I’d google it’s origin. Unfortunately I found next to nothing about the phrase online, so I assume it’s not an old phrase but perhaps just some personal imagery used by some sensei (famous or otherwise I have no idea; it could even be a sumo reference). What I did find was almost the exact same quote online as I appears in the book I was flicking through… which probably backs up my supposition (if anybody has any extra information, please comment!).

Anyway, it’s a nice image so I thought I’d share the – very mini – passage about it with kenshi 24/7 readers. The translation is a combination between the book and online descriptions and is very loose/free.

At keiko later this evening I will have this in mind !


百獣の王たる獅子は、自分より大きい像と戦う時にも、グーッと引きつけておいて飛び掛る。小さい兎に対しても侮らないで、グーッと引き付けておいて、ウォーと気合をいれ、パーッと捕まえる (book+online)。獅子がうずくまっている。。。この理の修業が大切である (online)。

礼法と思料するが内面は構え、外面は礼法である。これが修行の土台になる理の修行である。剣道で一番大事なことは、試合でも、稽古でも蹲踞である (book)。

The lion’s kiai

Even when the lion, the king of all beasts, comes up against something bigger than itself – the elephant – he pulls himself up, roars, and jumps at it ferociously. When he faces something smaller than himself – the rabbit – he doesn’t make light of it in any way, he again pulls himself up, roars bravely, and pounces.

The crouching lion – this principle is important to pursue.

Giving the topic of etiquette (reiho) some careful consideration, you will discover that the interior is your attitude and the exterior how polite you act. This is the very foundation of the pursuit of the principles (of budo). In kendo, the most important thing, whether it be in shiai or keiko, is sonkyo.


Online reference.

1934 Tenran-jiai (illustrated)

On the 4th and 5th of May 1934, Saineikan – a budojo located in the grounds of Tokyo Imperial Palace – was the venue of the second of three Showa-period Tenran-jiai (a budo or sports competition held in front of the Emperor). This post was mainly written in order to share some of the pictures available of the event, but I’m also using it as an opportunity to bring together related kenshi 24/7 articles.

There’s still a lot more that needs to be written both about the event itself and the people involved, but there’s no point in hoarding all these cool pictures, so here they are… enjoy!!!

(Links to related articles are after the pictures.)

Emperor Showa watching the shiai:


Shinpan and competitors:

Kata (Nakayama Hakudo and Takano Sasaburo):

Competition winners (note Noma Hisashi on the right):

Finals of the professional kenshi division:

Finals of the prefectural kenshi division (Noma vs Fujimoto):

Special demonstration match (Mochida Moriji vs Ogawa Kinnosuke):

Special demonstration match (Oshima Jikida vs Ueda Heitaro):

Special demonstration match (Takano Shigeyoshi vs Nakayama Hakudo):

Special demonstration match (Saimura Goro vs Nakano Sosuke):

Special demonstration match (Jukendo):

Special demonstration (teaching children):

Various matches from throughout the two days:

Related articles on kenshi 24/7

Teikoku Kendo Kyohon – the book written by Ogawa Kinnosuke, a shinpan and special demonstration member.

The Kendo Reader – the book written by Noma Hisashi, the winner of the prefectural kenshi division.

Fujimoto Kaoru – a look into the life of the person Noma defeated to take the title.

Takano Sasaburo – the most senior sensei in attendance and head shinpan.

Saimura Goro – a shinpan and special demonstration member.

Nakayama Hakudo – a shinpan and special demonstration member.

Takizawa Kozo – information about post-WW2 Tenran-jiai and Saineikan.

(I’ll probably expand on this list as time goes on)


The following video is NOT from the 1934 Tenran-jiai featured here, but one held 6 years later. Although a different shiai, I think we can assume that the execution is pretty much the same:


昭和天覧試合 : 皇太子殿下御誕生奉祝。宮内省 監修。昭和9発行。大日本雄弁会講談社。