Shugyo 修行

For perhaps the fifth year (or maybe it’s the sixth) I find myself going through ramadan. Well, not exactly ramadan, as I am an atheist (though not irreligious), but I co-opt the month to do my own sort of spiritual and physical discipline (for the same reason I have tried Lent before). During this period I fast during daylight hours, allowing myself only a banana and a piece of chocolate before 6am if I have asageiko on that day, otherwise I eat no food until 7pm-ish, or around about whatever time the sun sets. If I have keiko in the evening it means I may not sit down to eat until after 9pm. As I may do anything from one to three keiko sessions some of these days, I do allow myself to drink water or maybe a cup of black coffee. Even though it’s not ramadan proper, I do believe it still serves as a spiritual exercise meant to better me as a person. This is, to me, an important part of my personal shugyo, of which budo is a part.

Shugyo is a term you here a lot in kendo circles in Japan, sometimes with a wry smile or a chuckle, because most don’t actually go out of their way to do what’s perceived to be (probably rightly!) unneeded hardship. Younger kenshi will often go through very hard physical training, but that’s almost always because they are forced to do so by their teacher, not through volunteering. I’m sure any older raised-in-Japan kenshi you know has regaled you of stories of their high school days! Spiritual discipline is often an unconscious by-product of this process, even if will and intention are missing on the students side (as a teacher, I hope to instil it).

For me personally, I didn’t see the shugyo aspect of kendo until my early 30s when I started teaching at a high school club. It was through practising with the students day-by-day and year-by-year, that I finally started to feel a depth for, a … sense of the flavour of (I’m translating from Japanese here as I can’t think of an appropriate English word!) spiritual discipline. I also noted that most other kendo teachers practised less and worked at improving more casually than their students. In other words, they believed their kendo was somewhat “complete.” I, however, was (am) far from satisfied.

Just under a year and half ago I published The Shugyo Spiral, which included this (dodgy!) graph by yours truly where I tried to visualise the shugyo process (see above)

Note the use of the Japanese 「修行」 for “shugyo” in the graph above. There are actually two “shugyo” kanji combinations commonly used in Japan:

A. 修行
B. 修業

These are used interchangeably by native Japanese speakers but there is, actually, an important nuance in meaning that is relevant to todays discussion. You can probably guess that the nuance lies in the second kanji, not the first, but we have to define that before moving on.

修: discipline, conduct oneself well, study, master (this kanji is often used in dojo names)

The second kanji:

行: journey (to go)
業: business, job, art performance

I think you can interpret the difference quite easily. (B) implies something that you do, and that this activity has an end or can be completed; (A) on the other hand, is a path or road travelled down that has no end or final destination.

I believe strongly that it’s both the physical and spiritual pursuit of kendo as shugyo that defines the quality of the kenshi. Of course, the balance between the physical and the spiritual aspects necessarily changes as you mature (in body and in mind). On this topic Mochida Seiji said:

Until the age of 50 you must do your upmost to study and make the basics your own. You might think that you have already mastered the basics when you were still a beginner, but this is completely wrong. There are many people who think in this wrong manner. It took 50 years for my body to acquire the basics.


When you become 70, your entire body becomes weak. At this time, I focused on keeping my spirit unmoved. If your spirit is unmoved your opponents spirit will be reflected in it. I worked to make my spirit quiet and unmoving.

I will finish ramadan a day early this year because I am embarking on a Musha Shugyo in northern Japan for a couple of days. Musha-shugyo, are valuable “tests” of ones kendo, both physically and spiritually. I am excited to go.

Support kenshi 24/7 後援

After much convincing, cajoling, and arm-twisting from friends, I’ve set-up a Patreon page for kenshi 24/7. You may have already noticed the link in the sidebar, or after each post. Apart from those two links and this post you are reading now, I won’t particularly be doing much promotion, so if you are not interested please don’t worry, I won’t interrupt the usual posts with any hardcore sales pitch!

I started kenshi 24/7 started way back in 2008 (almost 10 years ago!), and since then we’ve posted hundreds of kendo/kendo-related articles as well as a number of publications. The site itself has been run – and will continue to always be – free. Book sales have kept the site running over the past while, but I do want to spend a bit more on the site, particularly to do the following:

  1. Improve the website (e.g. better hosting, more security, etc);
  2. Allow the site to be self-sustaining;
  3. Fund research (e.g. source material, go on fact-finding excursions, etc).

If I amazingly get a million supporters then any left-over support will go to helping my expensive shinai habit… !!

Anyway, long term readers know the score with kenshi 24/7, so I don’t want to go into any long spiel here. If you are interested, please check out the Patreon page and consider supporting the site.



Teaching beginners 初心者の指導法

As many long-term readers of kenshi 24/7 know, I’m in a super rare kendo position here in Japan. This is something that I am keenly aware of myself, and am extremely thankful for. Because of this, I get a lot of people emailing/messaging me asking various questions. Some questions are easily answered, while others take some research. One common enquiry I get is about teaching beginners, specifically how I approach it, what type of exercises I do, and how long it takes. I’ve also had people asking for advice about starting up kids and university level clubs.

As teaching is something I am quite experienced in, I give advice as best I can, but always with an important caveat: teaching and rearing beginner kenshi in a Japanese high school environment is quite different to the situations they are in.

Now and again I’ve pondered about whether people would actually be interested in hearing about how I teach beginners, even if the situation I am is completely different from theirs, and so here today I have decided to take some time and briefly explain my process. I hope it’s interesting!

Assumptions about beginners who come to me

Age: 15 at starting time (all beginners are the same age).
Length of time under my instruction: about 2.5 years (until they “retire” to study for university exams).
Goal: nidan; participation in shiai.
Gender: both male and female.
Prior athletic experience: possibly none.
Reigi: probably have to teach from zero.
Keiko/week: 5 to 6.
Attendance: mandatory (absence must be explained).
Cost: after the usual cost of bogu/dogi, and shinai when needed, almost zero.

I’m pretty sure that you’ve noticed where the large differences between the situation I am in as a high school kendo teacher in Japan and the one you may be in. These differences, however, don’t mean that how and what I teach is not applicable to your situation, it just means that it probably takes more time and a little bit of ingenuity.

btw, It’s also important to note that as a professional educator, my relationship with my students is quite different than those between people who teach and practise at a general kendo club.

Note: When to put the students into bogu?

Due to the 2.5 years restriction in time I have with the students, I put them into bogu much earlier than I would actually like to: after about 6 weeks. This is mainly so that the beginners can have enough experience in armour before taking part in our summer gasshuku, held in late July or the beginning of August. In an ideal world (with 5-6 keiko’s/week) I’d prefer to wait until the 3 month mark.

Ok, so here we go. Remember that this run-down is brief.

Pre-bogu keiko

At this time in beginners development I keep things super simple:

  1. Reigi: how and when to bow, how to sit in seiza, terminology, etc. And yes, this Scotsman does have to teach Japanese kids how to sit in seiza and Japanese words!
  2. Kamae: I implant from day one the importance of having a beautiful as well as a strong kamae (including ashi-gamae of course). I constantly check and have the students check their own kamae, sometimes using a mirror.
  3. Ashi-sabaki: I start with ayumi-ashi before moving on to okuri-ashi. After about three weeks I start going for a light stamp, but the emphasis is on the fumi-kiri on the back leg, not on the fumi-komi of the front foot.
  4. Suburi: shomen-uchi, sayumen-uchi, and choyaku-suburi (slow but correct).

After the students have somewhat managed to get all this information in their heads I move on to actually striking. I do this in four steps:

  1. Striking each others shinai (one person holds above their heads, the other strikes).
  2. Striking me, or one of their sempai in the men. Focus on doing this carefully and accurately before moving on.
  3. Striking kote.
  4. Striking kote-men.

These steps are split into two stages:

  1. Striking in a single step.
  2. Striking and then using footwork to go through.

The very final thing I teach before putting the students in to bogu is, of course, kirikaeshi:

  1. Kirikashi by themselves (to learn the pattern).
  2. Kirikaeshi with me or a sempai in bogu (non-blocking).
  3. Kirikaeshi with each other (blocking).

Note that I don’t teach taiatari until much later. Instead, I have the students perform the initial cut and move forward two steps while the motodachi moves back before beginning kirikaeshi.

It’s important to note here that it’s when the students start striking things that you should teach them to look at their shinai for splinters often, and how to deal with them when they occur.

I aim to get this far in about 5-6 weeks of daily training. Whew!

Bogu: first steps (5-6 weeks after beginning)

So, generally speaking, here in Japan beginners buy introductory kendo sets, which includes bogu, dogi, shinai, zekken, bags, and sometimes bokuto. So, once the ordered sets are arrived the very first thing I have to do is to teach them how to wear their dogi. Well, I don’t do that myself, but have other students teach them — and then I strictly check to ensure that the beginners are able to wear their uniform correctly.

So, the dogi is on nicely, and the beginners have learned some basic movements. What’s next? Donning the bogu? Not quite yet…

Next, I teach them what the correct fit of the bogu should be. Where their chin goes in the men, and how tight the kote should be. Their first job is, once they understand the basic fit, the cutting and fixing of their men and kote-himo. I can’t stand dangly kote-himo, and men-himo must be cut so that they is not too long and flying everywhere. Oh, I forgot to mention: tying the tenugui. This is much more difficult than it seems, and many people struggle with it at first.

So, finally, it’s time to put bogu on! The first thing I do is demonstrate myself how the tenugui is tied and the bogu worn (I use none of the experienced students as I want the beginners to do it super-correctly). After that, I spend the start of the first few sessions having the students do two things repeatedly:

  1. tie and re-tie their tenugui and men.
  2. check each others knots – are the men-himo twisted? are they looking out of the monomi? is the tenugui flapping out of the back? etc.

I literally have the students do this over-and-over again until they somewhat master the process.

Bogu: it’s finally on! (6-7 weeks after beginning)

At this point I still teach the students in a group separate from the other experienced students. I wear my bogu and practise with them with the aim of being their model for not only reigi, but also so they can start to learn how to be struck by someone with decent tenouchi. I tend to:

  1. have the students move around in a circle when swapping partners; I remain in a fixed position.
  2. be strict with reigi and perform sonkyo before and after every rotation.
  3. emphasis kiai.
  4. have the students check each others knots after every 10 minutes.

From now on things accelerate quickly:

Day 1-3: for the first couple of days I use the kirikaeshi pattern but make all strikes shomen, and no blocking. There should be fumikomi on the first, middle, and last men, followed by a follow through. At this point the beginners are still struggling to tie their men and get used to being struck.

Day 4-5: move on to sayu-men strikes on kirikaeshi, but still no blocking. I start to add men cutting and going through.

Day 6-7: start teaching blocking on kirikaeshi.

Joining the other students (7-8 weeks after beginning)

After a week of being in bogu in their own group, I then add the beginners to the main group. The beginners will do the basic kirikaeshi exercises as everyone else: three sets of non-blocking kirikaeshi followed by three normal kirikaeshi. Of course the beginners will be slower than everyone else, and unfamiliar with how to move around etc, but they soon get it. After kirikaeshi, the experienced students move on to men, kote, kote-men, dou, tsuki, hiki-waza, etc., but I make the beginners – and whomever is partnered with them – practise men cutting. Partners with experience are told that they must demonstrate their best kendo so that the beginners can learn properly.

I continue this pattern – six kirikaeshi followed by nothing but men – for about one week〜10 days. Only once I am happy that the students can tie their men securely, know the reigi, are able to rotate correctly, and can endure up to an hour of wearing bogu without break, will I start adding kote and big kote-men strikes.

Throw them in at the deep end: sink or swim

So, this brings us almost up to the summer where I begin to have three-hour keiko sessions per day, so start to introduce new techniques quickly and in succession: small men, small kote-men, tai-atari, tsuki, and hiki-waza. Dou is the final technique I teach but it is not a down-the-centre attack. It is also this point where I force the beginners to do uchikomigeiko (easy) and oikomigeiko (very hard).

What about jigeiko and Kata?

The entire first three months is completely kihon-based. Only after the students get this far are they allowed to do jigeiko, and at first that can only be with me or senior students. It is at our summer gasshuku where they will first be allowed to jigeiko freely, and also do a little bit of shiai practise. It is also at the gasshuku where they will start to learn the bokuto ni yoru kihon keiko-ho (as someone who is a firm fan of kata, and practises kata more than most, this might seem surprising).

The future

From beginning kendo in mid-April, I expect the students to get their shodan the following January or March, and their nidan the year after that. Those that make an effort never fail in reaching this goal.

In summary

This article was just a brief explanation of how I teach beginners here at my high school kendo club. To summarise the steps simply:

  1. Pre-bogu: basic movement, kamae, reigi, kiai, fumikiri/fumikomi, kirikaeshi.
  2. Bogu phase 1: tying the tenugui, bogu fit, wearing the bogu, rotating in a group.
  3. Bogu phase 2: join the other students, practise only kirikaeshi and big men.
  4. Bogu phase 3: start to learn other waza, uchikomi, oikomi, etc.
  5. Bogu phase 4: start jigeiko.

Even though I assume that my situation is completely different and environment than pretty much everybody who will ever read this post, I hope that there might be something useful in this article for you somewhere.

Feel free to share your ideas and experiences on this subject in the comments below. Cheers!

Remember that I have a kendo instruction manual available in both digital and print formats. If you haven’t picked it up already, please have a look:

Kendo Coaching Tips and Drills

Eikenkai (May 2017) 英剣会

After the flurry of kendo activity that was the Kyoto Taikai, it was nice to have a relaxed keiko with a bunch of friends. Whereas the last session was jam-packed, today’s was a more reasonably sized group of 15 people. Still, we had six countries represented (Scotland, England, Italy, France, America, and Japan), and people from grades nidan to nanadan.

The keiko menu was slightly different than usual, but still compromised mostly of kihon (kirikaeshi, basic cutting practise, uchikomigeiko), followed by a free waza practise, and a long jigeiko. A nice three hours!

My kendo and work life are quite chaotic at the moment (i.e. too busy) so it’s kind of been difficult for me to update kenshi 24/7 as much as I’d like to …. so apologies to all my readers. Please don’t mistake lack of updates for lack of keiko: I did five sessions over Friday, Saturday, and Sunday alone!

The next session will be held at the end of July. If you are interested in joining, please visit the Eikenkai page for more information. Cheers!

Kyoto Taikai 2017 第113回全日本剣道演武大会

Whew, another Kyoto Taikai done!

Again this year, I’ve tried to add some bonus historical information/insights to my usual Kyoto Taikai rundown, so I hope you enjoy this part as well as the photography.

Naito Takaharu sensei’s grave

The person I consider to be the most important in the history of modern kendo, Naito Takaharu, passed away in his house on the 29th of April 1929, and was laid to rest in Kurodani-yama, just to the north-east of the Butokuden. There are about 10 temples and scores and scores of graves on the mountain side, so I knew that actually finding Naito’s grave would be a bit of a struggle. The temple associated with Naito and his family is Eisho-in, a Pure-Land buddhist temple, so starting from there I walked around the adjacent cemetery area in search of Naito.

There were so many gravestones that I ended up walking around-and-around for about one and a half hours before finally giving up. I couldn’t find it. I was even armed with a picture of the grave, but the pic must be about 40-50 years old, so it’s possible the grave isn’t in the same place or even the same shape. Anyway, although I gave up this time, I will go back!

Myodenji: the birthplace of kendo kata

About a 7 minute walk south-west from the Butokuden there is a seemingly unremarkable Nichiren buddhist temple that originally dates back to 1477 (the current building dates from the early 1700s) called Myodenji. I say unremarkable because Kyoto is littered with thousands of temples, most far larger and more well-known than this one.

However, for kendo people this holds an important part in our history: it was here, starting in the summer of 1911, where 25 of the top kenshi in the country debated, discussed, and fine-tuned what were to become the Dai-Nippon Teikoku Kendo Kata (“Kendo kata of Imperial Japan”). The kata were presented to the public in October 1912.

The picture below shows the leaders of the committee: (front, l-r) Tsuji Junpei, Negishi Shingoro, (back, l-r) Takano Sasaburo, Naito Takaharu, and Monna Tadashi.

BONUS: Horiyo Hyohei (堀与兵衛), the person who took the pictures of the famed Bakamatsu era swordsmen, Kondo Isami and Nakaoka Shintaro is buried in this temple.

Kyoto taikai 2017

The first day of the Kyoto taikai there is no kendo, instead we are able to watch various koryu ryu-ha (mainly kenjutsu, but also yari, naginata etc, arts not under the ZNKR umbrella), after which the rest of the day is filled with jodo and iaido demonstrations.

Unfortunately the 2nd of May is not a national holiday, so I was unable to either take part or watch properly this year. I popped into the Butokuden for about 10 minutes en-route to somewhere else, and managed to take a handful of naginata pictures. Hopefully next year I can re-organise my work schedule and attend properly.

The 3rd-5th is Golden Week proper, so the place gets jam-packed. This year I attended only the 3rd and 4th, taking time off on the 5th to sleep and relax. I spent the two days doing keiko, taking pictures, and drinking the odd beer. There were over 1,400 tachiai over the three days, which means over 2,800 people took part in the taikai.

Here’s a gallery showing some of my favourite pics.

One great part about the taikai is the sheer amount of keiko that is happening before, during, and after the event. Again this year I was invited to loads of different sessions but, as I was already run-off my feet, I decided to only attend a couple: one in Kyoto University, and another in the Budo Centre.


This years tenugui design was awesome, probably my favourite so far. It shows the gate to Busen (that I discussed last year) opened and the Butokuden in the distance.

A new book of kendo photos taken at the Kyoto Taikai was also published entitled “Kendo: densetsu no Kyoto Taikai (Showa).” The pics span from 1969 until the end of the Showa period in 1988. The book includes not only kendo pictures, but koryu ryuha, jodo, iaido, opening/closing ceremonies, as well as various pictures from around the precincts and other miscellany.

Unfortunately, the pictures themselves are not great quality, some even look like the editors didn’t have access to the original film negatives and just badly scanned some photos. All the photos were the work of a single gentleman, which I think was a bad idea as I am sure there are older photos out there by other people, and perhaps many better ones.

People shown in the pictures include Ogawa Kinnosuke’s son, Busen teacher Kurozumi, Ozawa Hiroshi and his father, famed naginata exponents Mitamura and Sonobe, Tobukan’s Kozawa Takeshi, Donn Draeger, jodo’s Shimizu Takaji, Asagawa Haruo, Nakakura Kiyoshi, Ogawa Chutaro, Ueda Hajime, Takizawa Kozo, Okada Morihiro, Matsumoto Junpei, Nakano Yasoji, Okuyama Kyosuke, Ikeda Yuji, Nakajima Gorozo, Chiba Masashi (and wife!), Gordon Warner, Morishima Tateo, Iho Kyotsugu, etc etc., too many people to mention!

Even though the pictures might not be of the best quality, as a historical record the book itself is invaluable. For me, the most interesting part were the undated pictures of the precincts showing the second dojo on the site (originally built in the 30s) as well as the office building. I had seen pictures of these buildings before, but I had assumed they were knocked down in the 40s during the American occupation (or when it was in possession of other groups). It seems, however, that these buildings may have survived much longer, perhaps until the renovation of the Butokuden in 1981. There was also a separate building space for the sensei, and the original kyudo-jo was on the opposite side it stands in now. I need to do more research on the matter!

Aaaaand, that’s that! This years taikai is finished but I am already looking forward to next years.

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Addendum: video

I’ll update this section as new video becomes available.