Eikenkai @ Wakayama Butokuden 第二回英剣会武徳際 in 和歌山武徳殿 (英剣会の特別版)

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).

An old picture in the original location

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).

Higashiyama sensei

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.

Weekend musha-shugyo and research trip 週末武者修行・研究旅

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.

Homepage: Shinmeikan, Hashi-ichi dojo
Related people: Yonai Mitsumasa | Suzuki Zenko | 八角三郎

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).


Hanamaki Butokuden

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.

Related links: Iwate prefecture kendo association | Ito Sukebumi



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).

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.


Bonus

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.

Remember and support kenshi 24/7 by sharing this site, our facebook page, or picking up one of our publications, available at kendo-book.com. Cheers!




Addendum: video

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

Kendo: a detailed explanation of its essence and teaching methodology (1935) 剣道:神髄と指導法詳説

A couple of years ago when I was visiting Tokyo for some kendo, I stumbled upon a chunky kendo book from 1935 in a second hand bookstore. What immediately caught my attention was name of one of the most fearsome kenshi of the 20th century on the cover: Takano Shigeyoshi (adopted son of Sasaburo). Another name on the cover suggested it was co-written, but that person I had never head of: Tanida Saichi. Of course, I immediately bought the book, took it back to my hotel room, and had a closer inspection. It was at this point I noticed that Tanida was the principal author whereas Takano served as a proofreader/mentor for the project.

I couldn’t uncover any information about Tanida at all other than what was written in the introduction (where it mentions Takano was his sensei and that he has studied kendo for over 20 years) which is very frustrating! At a best guess – based on the content of the book – I’d say that he was some sort of professional school kendo teacher. The fact that Takano was his sensei suggests that he was either a student of Takano at the Urawa Meishinkan between 1900-14 or in Manchuria sometime after 1914. Perhaps it was a bit of both.

Anyway, an extremely detailed book, it goes into a lot more detail and covers a much larger scope than any other kendo book I have seen, pre or post war. To give you a clue as to just how comprehensive it is, here are the chapter titles:

1. The nation and athletics
2. The social position of Budo
3. The development of kendo
4. The significance of kendo
5. The purpose of kendo
6. Kendo and discipling the body
7. Kendo and discipling the spirit
8. Kendo and technical skill
9. Where does the essence of kendo lie?
10. Kendo and calligraphy
11. Kendo and character
12. Kendo is dignity
13. Kendo and the military
14. Kendo and bushido
15. The holes in modern kendo
16. The steps in kendo
17. Things to prepare about in your kendo shugyo
18. The process to walk the path of kendo
19. What we can apply from the life of self-improvement led by Confucius to our kendo shugo
20. Dojo
21. Things we should be careful about during practise
22. Kendo bogu and uniform
23. Basic movements
24. Kamae
25. Basic striking
26. Other ways to strike
27. Things to be careful about when striking
28. Basic drills
29. How to move the sword
30. Special training
31. Musha shugyo
32. Attacking strategies
33. Defending strategies
34. Keiko
35. Types of keiko
36. Tsuabazeria
37. Dealing with jodan, nito, naginata, or other types of weapons
38. Men techniques
39. Kote techniques
40. Dou techniques
41. Tsuki techniques
42. Kendo in school
43. Discussion on teaching kendo
44. Discussion on how to help others improve
45. Discussion about competitors
46. Kendo teaching material
47. The steps in designing kendo teaching material
48. The conventions for teaching material
49. Things you should be careful about as a kendo teacher
50. Grading kendo
51. Dai nippon teikoku kendo kata
52. Shinpan
53. Shiai
54. Types of shiai
55. The style of “Kokutai yusho taikai”
56. Kendokai (keikokai)
57. Kendo seminars
58. Size/weight of shinai
59. How to improve technical skill
60. How to forge the spirit
61. Taking stock
62. Kendo and women
63. Iai
64. Eishin-ryu iai
65. Shizuka-ryu naginata
66. Setsunin-to, katsujin-ken
67. Shuriken
68. Things you should know about the katana

Whew!! I don’t think I translated the chapter titles 100% accurately, but I think you get the gist: the book is super comprehensive. In fact, I think I’ll have to wait for retirement before I’ll ever find the time to sit down and read it from start to finish.

I contemplated translating a small part of this book today, but I think I’ll leave that for another time. Instead, please enjoy some pictures/illustrations from the inside of the book itself.

btw, when doing some online research about the book I discovered that it was re-issued in modern format a few years ago. I haven’t seen the new version, but if you are interested you can pick it up here at amazon.jp.


Gallery

Nito-ryu kendo – a brief discussion 二刀流について

A serious discussion of nito-ryu kendo is something I’ve deliberately avoided over the last few years but the passing away of the most famous nito-ryu kenshi in the country in late December, Toda Tadao hanshi, I thought it was time to tackle the subject… at least very briefly as well as share some pictures. For a more detailed discussion on the matter you have to sit down with me in the pub!

First, here is the highly popular picture I uploaded to Facebook in December to pay tribute to Toda sensei. I took this on the 5th May 2009:

Next, I will give a brief overview of the background and culture of nito-ryu kendo from a historical perspective, followed by a my personal comments at the end.


1. Nito-ryu before shinai kendo

There are a number of extant koryu out there whose curriculum includes simultaneous use of two swords. The most obvious is of course Niten-ichi-ryu, the style allegedly created and passed on by Japan’s most dramatised swordsman: Miyamoto Musashi. Other schools that include the use of two swords include Yagyu shinkage-ryu, Shingyoto-ryu, and Katori shinto-ryu. It is important to note that two-sword kata sets, even when they do exist, make up a very small part of a wider series of kata.

2. Nito-ryu in nascent shinai kendo

The prototypes of today’s shinai and bogu were developed and experimented over many years from at least the mid-18th century up until the very early 20th, where the shape was basically completed. The two schools often mentioned at this point in the discussion – Jikishinkage-ryu and Hokushin Itto-ryu – have no nito element in them at all. However, we can surmise that people may have tried to pick up two shinai and spar at some point, it sounds like fun after all!

Gekken Kogyo

3. Gekken kogyo

It is probably the mid-late 19th century, with the introduction of the short-lived and public pay-to-see Gekken-kogyo, where nito first came onto the scene. These shows included a variety of weapon combinations as well as female competitors.

After shinai-kendo was eventually introduced as a physical subject for the new Tokyo Police Force (Keishicho) all the truly skilled exponents found work there and Gekken kogyo, becoming a shadow of what it used to be, eventually faded out.

4. Early standardisation of kendo: Busen and Koshi

The early standardisation of kendo went through two main centres: the Dai Nippon Butokukai (it’s original training facility the Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseijo eventually became the Budo Senmon Gakko, or “Busen”) and Tokyo Koto Shihan Gakko (“Koshi”). The two most influential teachers were Naito Takaharu and Takano Sasaburo. Neither of these sensei practised, taught, nor really even discussed nito-ryu kendo, which of course influenced their senior students and facilities that grew from them.

Muto-ryu kenshi Nishikubo Hiromichi, became the headmaster of Busen in 1919. In budo circles he is often remembered as the man who forced the renaming of “jutsu” to “do” but there was one another strong influence he had on Busen: the hated one-handed shinai waza complaining that such techniques were “unrealistic” and “weak.” This was almost certainly Naito’s option as well (although Naito’s favourite student and Busen teacher Miyazaki Mosaburo was renowned for his super strong katate-men waza). When Naito became sick and passed away Ogawa Kinnosuke (whom Nishikubo was especially fond of) became the head teacher of Busen until the middle of WW2. In this environment it’s easy to see why Busen never produced jodan, never-mind nito practitioners.

Saying that, however, it’s important to note that one of the earliest and most senior Butokukai members, Mihashi Kanichiro, was renowned as a nito-ryu master. A student of Momoi Junzo, he was one of the skilled exponents who was scouted from the Gekken Kogyo for professional kendo teaching at Keishicho. In 1899 he became a Butokukai kendo teacher (the Yoseijo was not yet operation at that time) and was awarded the first ever “hanshi” title in 1903. Another famed nito-ryu exponent, Okumura Torakichi (son of another nito-ryu master Okumura Sakonta), trained under Mihashi from 1900 until his death in 1909. Tarakichi was both the successor to his fathers “Okumara nito-ryu” and Mihashi’s “Musashi-ryu.” Both of these (almost certainly shinai-centric) styles were new inventions based on experience, not something that was passed down from the past.

As far as Koshi is concerned, whereas Takano would force all of the kendo students there to learn jodan as part of the kendo curriculum, nito seemed to be something largely ignored.

* Note: it’s almost certain that kenshi who studied at both Busen and Koshi went on to experiment with nito, but they were not explicitly taught it by the senior teachers there.

5. Nito-ryu kendo appears: mid-Taisho/start of Showa

Competitive kendo was never a “thing” until the 1920s, and even then it was still a rare event. Kendo as a school subject had been an elective for a few years and had just started to gain popularity in universities at this time. Being young, the students also enjoyed the thrill of competition. Older, more seasoned sensei, however, continued to frown upon shiai. Busen, especially, did no shiai training nor actively competed in many shiai until after Naito’s death in 1929 (students would sometimes do shiai practise in secret out of ear-shot of the sensei!). Competition at this time then, was generally started and run by university students and people in those circles. It is here where we first see nito appear.

The vast majority of pre-WWII competition were team events in the “kachinuki” style, a style where, if you win, you continue to fight the next person in the opposing team. A particularity of this type of shiai is that a draw causes both competitors to step out in favour of the next person in their team. It is here that nito-ryu found a use: if the opposing team had a very strong competition you would use a nito-player to force them to a draw (easier to do as it is a more defensive by nature), thus taking that strong kenshi out of play. Reading kendo anecdotes in particular, you can see that this was a fairly common strategy at the time, so much so that, in fact, some university competitions banned the use of nito entirely.

But where did these nito-ryu kenshi come from? Who taught them? I can make a good educated guess for both questions, but first I’d ask that you re-read the article about Fujimoto Kaoru that I published back in 2009 (apologies if it’s not up to current kenshi 24/7 standards!).

Although it’s pretty obvious, my guess is that at this time, similar to Fujimoto above, the vast majority of nito-ryu kenshi came from the young university kendo population (as apposed to professional kenshi) and were (surprise) self-taught. i.e. they were outliers. In professional kendo circles, nito-ryu was basically non-existent.

The success of two nito-ryu kenshi Fujimoto and Kayaba Teruo during the Showa Tenran-jiai (1934 and 1940) suggests that nito-ryu kendo was perhaps more popular than it actually was. Although there is no doubt that Fujimoto’s success in 1934 would have inspired others, by looking at lots of source material from the 30’s it’s easy to show that nito-ryu was – apart from kachinuki shiai for university level shiai – an afterthought. It wasn’t the business of serious kenshi. And anyway, as Japan fell into war in the 30s, kendo itself was forcibly changed to become more “realistic” which, needless to say, didn’t include simultaneous handling of two swords.

* Note: there were other nito-ryu kenshi that took part in the Tenran-jiai as well, these were just the two most successful.

Post-war

Once kendo restarted proper after WWII the newly incorporated All Japan Kendo Association decided to completely ban nito-ryu at school and university level shiai (it was also not part of shinai kyogi either). This ban remained in place until late 1991 and resulted in the almost complete eradication of nito-ryu kendo in Japan. Of course, the odd adult continued to practise during this time and even a tiny handful of high skilled practitioners actually competed in the All Japan Kendo Championships. These people were, as you can imagine, largely self-taught.


The current state of affairs: a mini rennaisance?

Over the past few years I’ve seen nito-ryu kendo explode. The explosion seems to be going on mostly outside of Japan than inside, but there are certainly more nito-ryu people around than when even I first came to Japan. What is behind this explosion?

1. Musashi-kai: for the first time in kendo’s history we have a group that actually practise and – more importantly – teaches nito-ryu in a systematic manner. The group first gained popularity in the early 2000s as a semi-commercial online dojo catering to the needs of scattered individuals in Japan, but has grown into a much larger organisation with a bunch if inter-connected groups and even students abroad.

2. Exposure: in 2007, for the first time in almost 40 years, nito-ryu kenshi Yamana Nobuyuki from Tokushima, took part in the All Japan Kendo Championships. Sticking out a mile, this caused a lot of (positive) debate and discussion about nito-ryu here in Japan. He also plays an important role as a good model for younger/aspiring nito kenshi to look up to which, I believe, is no small thing.

3. University level: the removal of the nito-ban on university level shiai has made it easier for students to take up the style but it seems like, at least initially, few bothered. With the combination of numbers 1 and 2 above though, there seems to be a lot more interest nowadays, and you can routinely see university level nito people competing. Perhaps the top nito-ryu sensei of the future, coached by Musashi-kai sensei, will come out of this generation.

4. The All Japan Kendo Association (ZNKR) textbook: there’s nothing like a textbook to make something official, and that was what the ZNKR did by publishing there own set of standards and rules. Although it doesn’t completely remove the stigma of choosing to do nito-ryu kendo, it does at least give a sheen of acceptability.

5. Interest from non-Japanese kenshi: I’ve left this point until last, but it’s probably one of the most interesting areas of discussion when it comes to nito-ryu kendo. It’s also an area that I’d prefer to tackle more in-depth at a later time… alternatively, you could buy me a beer!

Finally

Please note that this article is not some sort of comprehensive guide, but rather a brief look at nito-ryu, particularly it’s history, and a tiny discussion about the recent popularity of nito-ryu kendo from my perspective. I am not qualified to discuss the technical aspects, but it’s history is actually quite simply explained.

To summarise:

– Apart from a smallish boom amongst university level students in the 20s and 30s, nito-ryu kendo existed (barely) on the very fringes of kendo until very lately. One could argue that it’s still a fringe activity, but theres no denying it’s increased popularity over the last 10 years or so.

– Before the spread of the Musashi-kai group in very recent times, nito-ryu kendo practitioners were few and far between, and almost always self-taught.

And, one last point: at the very top of this article I stated that a “serious discussion of nito-ryu kendo is something I’ve deliberately avoided over the last few years.” The reason for this is not due to lack of interest, but because I suspected I would receive complaints from nito-ryu kendo practitioners who would resist my analysis. The fact of the matter is that, from the historical perspective, things are really quite as straightforward as discussed above.

Personally, I am glad that nito-ryu kendo is becoming more organised, less random than it has been in the past. It adds something interesting to the mix, and I am happy to engage in keiko with my nito-ryu friends whenever I can, because it aids me in my own shugyo.


Random nito-ryu pics