Gordon Warner

Gordon at Tobukan

Often when an individual thinks of influential characters in kendo, more likely than not, that individual will think of Japanese kenshi like Mochida Moriji or Takano Sasaburo, or even present day heroes like Eiga or Miyazaki (rightfully so as these people have left a tremendous mark). However, few would think of an American named Dr Gordon Warner. Little information is readily available about Dr Warner and therefore his contributions go unnoticed for the most part. Dr Warner was a pioneer and is largely responsible for bridging the western world to Japanese kendo. In the following post I want to share what I discovered about Dr Warner and encourage those with personal knowledge to contribute below (and please correct any mistakes I may have made!).
 

As a young boy growing up in Southern California Dr Gordon Warner enjoyed watching chambara movies with his nisei friends, which at that time was very rare due to the absence of cultural understanding. Dr Warner often believed the people in the community thought he may have wandered into the theaters by mistake. It was this early exposure to Japanese culture that sparked his interest in Japanese history and eventually budo.

Dr Warner, a social studies major at the University of Southern California, was a large athletic man. Standing at 6’4″Dr Warner was on the varsity swim team. During this time he also decided to pursue judo and kendo at a local dojo. After graduating in June 1936, Dr Warner entered the United States Marine Corps as a 2nd lieutenant. It was during his time in basic training that Dr Warner met two officers Colonel Biddle (at the time a renowned fencer and foremost hand-to-hand combat instructor) and Captain Puller, who both encouraged him to continue studying budo, noting that kendoist were adept at parrying attacks during bayonet drills.

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The last Busen graduate

Furuya sensei executing tsuki at the Kyoto Taikai in the 1970s.

As every kendoka knows, Busen (Budo Senmon Gakko) was – along with Tokyo Koto Shihan Gakko – the premier place for training kendoka before the war. It was run by the Butokukai and was based in the legendary Butokuden in Kyoto. People who graduated from here went on to train kenshi all over the country. The schools impact on modern kendo cannot be underestimated. During the post WW2 occupation the school was renamed and its martial arts practice banned.

The first teacher and most senior instructor at Busen was the legendary Naito Takaharu. When he passed away suddenly in 1929 the reigns were taken over by Ogawa Kinnosuke who continued to lead the school until it was closed down after the war. The amount of famous and influential kenshi that were involved in Busen in one way or another are too numerous to list, but include Monna Tadashi and Saimura Goro.

The subject of this article is about the person who was said to be the last graduate from Busen – Furuya Fukunosuke hanshi. Furuya sensei was well known in the Kansai area and taught at a few different dojo, including my own one in central Osaka – Yoseikai. I managed to do keiko with him only a few times before his health deteriorated to the point where he could not practice. Even after that point he still came to the dojo and attended a couple of gasshuku, thus I luckily had the chance to learn something from him. unfortunately, at the relatively young age of 81, Furuya sensei died last December.

My sempai and sensei reacted sadly at his death – not only because of his young age nor due to his impact in the kendo of the area – but his passing is also hard evidence that the kendo world is changing for ever. Gone and going are the sensei who learned kendo at legendary places such as Busen. Can we live up to their legacy? Well, only time will tell.


My ardour, posture, and sword were cultivated by breaking through the opponents kamae during keiko (相手の剣を割っていく稽古で気勢、体勢、剣勢が養えた)

I am the last graduate from Busen. This was a special school aimed for people who wished to pursue kendo as a professional career. At that time, training there was completely different from normal dojo. First of all, everyone was treated as a beginner, and kendo was taught to you from the start, no matter if you were experienced or not.

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Kendo Places #4: Butokuden 武徳殿

Founding of the Butokuden

in 1895 on the 1,100 year anniversary of the transferring of the Japanese capitol to Kyoto (Heian-kyo), and as part of the building of Heian-jingu, the Butokuden construction began. It was originally meant as a demonstration platform for the Butokukai. It was completed in 1899 on the north-west side of the Heian-jingu complex. If was then also designated as a school for training Martial Arts teachers (later it would become the Budo Senmon Gakko).

At that time it was said “in the east there is Kodokan (built 1841), and in the west the Butokuden” such was its place in the center of Japanese budo circles.

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Kendo Places #3: Disposable – The End of Noma

“The night bus to Tokyo: a nine hour hell ride in a muggy sardine can, with an interior that is all too reminiscent of a cheap airport hotel, and a smell to match. This is the chariot of thrifty foreign travelers, poor university students, and gassy old men who snore throughout the night. After an evening of being folded up in a tiny bus seat, breathing in re-circulated air you emerge from the bus greasy and disorientated. You are displaced. It feels like have you just stepped out of the bar to be greeted by the morning sun coming up over the horizon (in this case it will be streaming in between the buildings in Shinjuku) after a long night of drinking. In short I hate the night bus and while I am at it I might as well note that I’m also not particularly keen on Tokyo either. Never-the-less here I am on my way from Osaka to Tokyo. If I am going to subject myself to this kind of abuse then there must be a damn good reason. I’m a man with a mission; I am going to catch wreck at Noma.”

I scratched the above into my journal in the black interior of the night(mare) bus somewhere around 3 AM on May 14th, 2007 on my way to Tokyo. Every serious kenshi knows (hopefully!) about Noma dojo. For many years it was a sort of Mecca for people coming to Japan to train. Flipping through the guestbook one could find signatures from people not only from all over Japan but worldwide. In fact during my first day there, there was also one fellow visiting from Turkey and another from the U.K. Living in Japan it seemed that it would always be accessible,  I always said to myself “Someday I am going to take my bogu to Tokyo and train there”, so there was no rush. Then I heard the unbelievable news; Kodansha ltd., a publishing company whose books (on Japanese culture no less!) make up good quarter of my library, was planning to tear down this historic building. I was angry with myself for dragging my heels and never actually making the trip. So with less than a year to go and fire burning bright under my ass I made my pilgrimage to Noma. It would be my first and my last visit.

I stepped off the bus bugged-eyed in Shinjuku. From there I eventually made my way through Ikebukuro and to Gokokuji where I met up with Paul Martin at the nearby subway station. Paul was gracious enough to show me the ropes the first day. I would have been totally lost without his help (Cheers Paul!). We wormed our way through and around the back of the Kodansha corporate head quarters, up some stairs and under a construction site, all the while up a steep hill (the only hill I think I’ve ever encountered in Tokyo). And there it was; I could hear screaming and the crashing sound of bamboo. If practice was not in session one could easily walk by the dojo without ever taking notice. Although its location was not one that people were likely to go wandering by. It was a very rustic building surrounded by corporate storage and shipping facilities (likely that of Kodansha ltd.), hidden by cherry blossom trees and shrubs. All about trucks were coming and going, while just a few meters down hill the noise of jackhammers and all sort of equipment was coming from the construction site of a new office building. This unrefined building with its weather-beaten exterior and surrounding greenery, was very much out of place in the tangled urban mess that is Tokyo.

Before entering, one was supposed to bow to Gokoku-shrine, which was located directly to the right of the dojo entrance (the shrine which was built by Noma Seiji had already been relocated once for the construction of a highway), and once again to the building itself. The interior was dark and dank; it had familiar mildew smell that would have been identical to that of my grandmother’s home if she had kept numerous sets of bogu hanging here and there. Despite all the windows, skylights, and fluorescent lights the training hall it was very dark inside. Participants entered just to the left of the shomen and followed an open corridor that runs the length of the west side of the hall, with sliding glass doors on the right looking out over the garden, and the training hall floor was on the left. Many of the window panes on the doors are cracked and broken, from what I can only imagine were flying shinai as there were many flying about. Hanging all the along this corridor near the ceiling were countless sets of crusty old bogu. 

In the back was more bogu hanging and on racks, stands overflowing with shinai and a massive taiko drum. On the opposite side (east side) of the hall were some open rooms, raised about 35 centimeters above the dojo floor. Half the rooms were matted with tatami, and the other half was hard wood floors. The sliding doors that divided these rooms from each other and the hall were removed to provide maximum airflow. This also revealed decorative calligraphy from men like Mochida Moriji hung inside. The shomen was a very large but simple. On the north wall directly in the center a kamidana was fixed above a small room (also raised above the floor). Inside a single scroll hung in the center with another small taiko drum to the left and an offering of sake placed in front of it.  Around the inside of this room, on either side of the scroll, magnificent old photographs of Noma Hisashi (author of the Kendo Reader), his father and founder Noma Seiji, Mochida Moriji (10-dan; one of the most famous kenshi of the 20th century), Masuda Shinsuke, and Mochizuki Masafusa (*listed in order from left to right) lined the walls. Under the watchful eyes of the men who made a name out of Noma Dojo, the room was exploding with men and women pouring their hearts into morning practice.

At the end of practice the hall was empty and quiet, quite a contrast to chaos that I originally entered. Standing there silently in the hall, exhausted from practice, under the dull glow coming from the skylights it was hard for me to believe that I was actually on the floor of the dojo built by Noma Seiji with the help of the famed Nakayama Hiromichi (or Hakudo). This building housed many of the most influential kenshi of the 20th century. Men like Mori Torao, nephew of Noma Seiji, who met up with Nakamura Tokichi (who already had over 5,000 pupils) in the United States to help spread kendo. Despite bad relations between the U.S. and Japan leading up to war, he continued his work, helped found the U.S. kendo federation, and became its first chairman. Noma dojo was also the location of the last ever Tenran-jiai (competition in the presence of the Emperor). The building itself stood as a symbol of strength and perseverance. Noma Dojo, which was built only two years after the Great Kanto Earthquake (and the firestorms that followed) had leveled most of Tokyo and the surrounding area, survived the bombing campaign of the Pacific war, and even more miraculously survived the ever-expanding urban sprawl of modern Tokyo up until 2007.

Those few days in Tokyo, practicing at Noma Dojo, is an experience I am not likely to forget. To set foot on the dojo floor, cross swords with many distinguished kenshi, and mix your spirit with all of those who have come before is something that is indescribable. I left the dojo the following Tuesday morning feeling melancholy; I was grateful that I would be welcomed back, however heartbroken knowing that the dojo would no longer be there. Many members, fellow kenshi, and other sympathizers protested its demolition hoping Kodansha would preserve the building their founder loved so much, but in October of 2007, eighty-three years after its initial construction, Noma Dojo was closed and then decisively wiped out. Along with it a substantial piece of Kendo history was demolished.

Visitors are still welcome at the new Noma dojo but now because it is located inside one of Kodansha’s office building visitors must apply for security clearance in advance. Bits and pieces of the old dojo were preserved and decorate the inside of the new dojo. Although the building is no longer exists, the members carry on the history and tradition everyday by putting on their bogu and practicing. Anything less would be an insult to the men of Noma who were such an important part in the development of kendo.


Please check out the kenshi247 moderated flickr group NOMA DOJO!


Showa no kensei (昭和の剣聖)

This small article intriduces the “Showa no kensei (昭和の剣聖)” or “The Sword Saints of the Showa period.” All of these kenshi are widely known within the Japanese kendo community, and abroad as well, but I thought a quick article in here would serve as a useful reference.

I hope to expand on this and write longer and more in-depth articles about various kenshi from by-gone years (and not limited to just kendo or renowned personages).

In particular, I feel that Takano Sasaburo’s impact on kendo is not fully understood by many modern practitioners, myself included. Doing research for these articles gives me the chance to learn more and clarify my own thoughts and ideas about kendo, which can only be a good thing!

Takano Sasaburo (高野佐三郎)
1862 or 3 – 1950. Ono-ha itto-ryu, kendo hanshi.

Notable events in his career:

1879 – Entered Yamaoka Tesshu’s Yubukan
1986 – On Yamaoka’s recommendation he was appointed as a kendo instructor at Keichicho.
1888 – Became a police instructor at Saitama prefectures Police HQ and built a new house and dojo (named Urawa Meishinkan) in Urawa City (now Saitama City).
1896 – Became a chief bujutsu instructor at Saitama Police Academy.
1899 – Established Tokyo Meishinkan (at this time there were 41 sub-branches of Meishinkan around the Kanto area, and he was said to be teaching around 10,000 people, including police and students).
1907+ – Took the lead in teaching kendo at various specialist institutes and universities: Tokyo Koto Shihan Gakko Gekkiken Koshi, Tokyo Koto Kogyo Kendo Shihan, Waseda Daigaku Kendobu Koshi, etc
1911-1917 – Was entrusted by the Butokukai as one of the people to help create/establish kendo no kata.
1913 – Awarded hanshi.

Continue reading Showa no kensei (昭和の剣聖)