Mei-shobu: Oshima Jikita vs Nakayama Hakudo 名勝負:大島治喜太対中山博道

It was a relaxing Sunday autumn morning in Kyoto when the school dormitory’s door was flung open:

“Everyone! Nakayama Hakudo and Kawasaki Zenzaburo are practising at the Gojo police station!!!!”

The Butokukai’s bujutsu kyoin yoseijo (martial arts training school) was established in 1905 and was the direct forerunner to the legendary Busen. All five of the future kendo 10th dans came from the initial bunch of students who trained here directly under the father of modern kendo, the very strict but gentlemanly Naito Takaharu sensei. In these early days there was no keiko on Sundays, so the students had free time.

Hearing the news, a young 19 year old student immediately sprung to his feet. Quickly changing into his keikogi and hakama, he stuffed his bogu into a bag and grabbed a shinai:

“I’m off!” he declared.

Nakayama needs no introduction here. Kawasaki, however, is less well known in kendo circles today. Born to a kenjutsu instructor of the Tosa domain in 1860, Kawasaki was a highly skilled swordsman 12 years senior to Nakayama (slightly older than both Naito Takaharu and Takano Sasaburo).

When the out of breath student arrived at the dojo he was out of luck: keiko was already over. Both sensei had removed their bogu and were sitting down relaxing with a cup of tea. This didn’t stop the zealous young man! Sitting in seiza in front of Nakayama he bowed deeply:

“Sensei, onegaishimasu!”

Nakayama eyed the youngster carefully.

“Keiko is already finished. Maybe some other time.”

“Sensei! My name is Oshima Jikita and I’m a kendo student at the bujutsu kyoin yoseijo. I heard that you were here and came running. Please, even if it’s only for one ippon, please, keiko onegaishimasu!”

Oshima’s ardour was apparent on his face.

“Ha ha ha, ok! Your youthful zeal has beaten me! C’mon then, let’s do 5-hon shobu!”

The year was Meiji 41 (1908), and the 36 year old Nakayama was at his physical peak.

Both kenshi put their bogu on, picked up their shinai and faced each other in the middle of the dojo. The people that participated in the earlier keiko session sat down in a line and watched with anticipation.

“Eeeeeiiiiii!!!”

“Yaaaaaa!!!”

Standing up from sonkyo both kenshi immediately let out a loud kiai. Slowly and carefully the distance was closed. Ai-seigan. Nakayama’s kensaki moved just a little and suddenly Oshima flew in…

“Meeeeeeen!”

“Oh!” said one of the spectators, “Nakayama sensei has been struck!”

Everyone was surprised. In the earlier keiko session nobody had managed to strike Nakayama anywhere, and yet here was this young lad who managed to do so without much fuss. And it didn’t stop there: Oshima next delivered a strong thrust and then a kote. Oshima beat Nakayama 3-0.

“Eh…. ?!?! Nobody can hit Nakayama sensei three times!?”

“It’s a miracle!”

The spectators were shocked.

Kawasaki stood up from where he had been watching the bout, and moved towards where his bogu was lying. Starting to put on his tare and dou he suddenly said:

“How about me next then? 3-bon shobu.”

“Sensei, onegaishimasu!” replied Oshima.

The result was the same: Oshima struck men, then delivered another thrust to win the bout.

Taking off his men, Kawasaki turned to Nakayama:

“This one has got something.”

Even if it’s highly probable that both sensei were humouring the enthusiastic youngster by only lightly sparring with him, the fact is that Oshima was skilled enough to land strikes and thrusts on them, a difficult task for even the most seasoned of kenshi. A month earlier, in what was one of the first country-wide competitions for youths (under 25s / kachinuki style), Oshima defeated 23 people in a row taking his team to victory. He was still only 19 years old at the time.


Oshima (white) vs Ueda Heitaro in 1934
Oshima (white) vs Ueda Heitaro in 1934

A brief bio

Oshima Jikita (kendo hanshi, iaijutsu and jukenjutsu kyoshi) is one of the early giants of the kendo community. His untimely death at the early age of 51 is probably why he is mostly forgotten today. Had he lived through the war, however, it is probably that he would have been awarded 10th dan at the same time as his long-time kendo friends and fellow bujutsu kyoin yoseijo students: Saimura, Mochida, Nakano, and Ogawa (and later, Oasa).

Along with his teaching duties at bujutsu kyoin yoseijo/Busen he also taught kendo at various places around the country, e.g. Kokushikan, Keishicho, the imperial guards, Toyama military school, etc etc.

He practised keiko right up until the day of his untimely death.

oshima-jikita

Timeline

1889: Born in Saga prefecture.
1906: Graduated school.
1907: Attends the bujutsu kyoin yoseijo and studies directly under Naito Takaharu. Other students there at the time include Saimura Goro, Mochida Moriji, Nakano Sosuke, Hori Shohei, Miyazaki Mosaburo and Ogawa Kinnosuke.
1908: Graduates bujutsu kyoin yoseijo (November).
1909: Appointed an assistant at the bujutsu kyoin yoseijo.
1913: Awarded seirensho
1916: Becomes an assistant instructor at the bujutsu kyoin yoseijo.
1919: Awarded kendo kyoshi and becomes a full instructor at the bujutsu kyoin yoseijo.
1925: Awarded jukendo kyoshi.
1929: Takes part in the first of the Showa tenran-jiai. He was defeated by Mochida in the preliminary matches. Mochida goes on to win the competition. Awarded iaijutsu kyoshi.
1932: Awarded kendo hanshi.
1934: Faced Ueda Heitaro at a demonstration match of the tenran budo taikai (pictured above).
1939: Died of a cerebral apoplexy (51 years old).


Sources

皇太子殿下御誕生奉祝昭和天覧試合。大日本雄弁会講談社編。1934発行。
昭和剣士と名勝負。青木春三。1975発行。

Book collection 剣道書集(一部)

On the rare occasion I actually get some time to myself I like to engage in my hobby… no, not kendo, but rummaging around second-hand book shops for kendo and kendo related books. In particular I enjoy getting my hands on pre-WW2 books/manuals, or autobiographies/first-hand biographies of kenshi that lived during that period.

Over the last few years libraries and universities across Japan have started to slowly digitise their old catalogue, so you can actually find many older books online for free. Personally however, I much prefer to get my hands on a physical copy – preferably an original rather than a modern re-print. Sometimes they are signed, have notes in the corners, or perhaps have key sections underlined… that’s part of the charm I guess!!!

The reason I prefer older books is a combination of simply liking old things plus the realisation that most kendo books produced in Japan since the 60/70s have, in fact, pretty much the same content: there isn’t much originality of thought, and they all seem to repeat each other (even more so nowadays). There are a few excellent academic history of kendo available which are highly worth picking up, but manuals and general discourse (unless it’s personal experience they are recounting) tend not to be so interesting… at least to me.

Yesterday I went to a book market and picked up a nice little manual for 400 yen (post WW2 but written by a sensei I am interested in) which inspired me to root through my books this afternoon. This post is simply a rummage through part of my kendo book collection!


There are many Meiji (1868-1912) or pre-Meiji period books available in online university or library sites, but originals are obviously extremely hard to come by. Like most people I rely on these digital versions plus modern re-prints.

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The Taisho period (1912-26) period was when kendo became a school subject for boys, and can probably said to be the time when the development of modern kendo began in earnest. Due to this there are a number of highly interesting books floating around that can be picked up dealing with the emerging theme of kendo pedagogy. Getting physical copies can be hard, however, but not impossible. The second picture is a hand-made scroll showing Takano Sasaburo and Nakayama Hakudo performing Teikoku-kendo-no-kata.

btw, the tsuba keeping the page down in the picture below is hand made by Tom from Leather Tsuba (highly recommended).

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It is the Showa period (start 1925/6) when the amount of kendo books suddenly proliferate. It seems that hundreds of titles were produced and millions of books distributed throughout the expanding Japanese empire. There are probably four main reasons for this: the expansion of kendo teaching in schools, the maturation of the new batch of teachers, the increase of the popularity of kendo itself (brought on especially by the Tenran-jiai, starting in 1929), and the increasing militarisation of Japan herself. I am particularly interested in titles up to the end of WW2 (1926-1945).

Due to kendo’s popularity and the production of so many books, it’s relatively easy to get your hands on original copies of books from this time period.

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Books produced in the immediate couple of decades after WW2 tend to be of three kinds:

1. Historical overviews of kendo;
2. Discussion/instruction of the new kendo-as-sport pedagogy;
3. Biographies of famous kenshi that have passed away or semi-auto-biographical recollections by older, senior sensei (some lamenting the loss of “traditional” kendo).

I have a lot of the number 2 type books above but, in all honestly, they are all pretty much the same and are quite boring really. I much prefer number 1 and 3 type books!

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There are a couple of books I have that, although post-war, require a special mention. Both are beautifully illustrated coffee-table sized books that can easily be found and – this is why they get a special mention – can be understood without Japanese ability (with language ability is preferred of course!)

* Zusetsu Kendo Jiten, 1970, Mochida, Nakano, Tsuboi (pictured top) : a comprehensive overview of kendo with lots of pictures and diagrams.

* Nihon Kendo Kata, 1977, Shigeoka (bottom) : an authoritative and highly detailed pictorial guide to kendo kata. This book is the foundation of the modern version of the kata we practise today.

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Last but not least, I have to of course mention the English translations of pre-WW2 Showa era books that kenshi 24/7 publish. These are the only translations (in to any language) of pre-war kendo books that I know of.

* Teikoku Kendo Kyohon – The Kendo Textbook of Imperial Japan (1932, republished 1937).
* Kendo Tokuhon – The Kendo Reader (published posthumously in 1939).

Both these books and our others are available in both print and digital versions.

I really love handling and reading these old books, and perhaps I will translate another one in the future… but not for the time being.

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Basically, I wrote this post because I found myself with a rare free afternoon! As I was sitting on the floor going through some of my books I suddenly thought why not show kenshi 24/7 readers where a lot of the site content and inspiration for content comes from? I have a many more books in my catalogue, and am quite passionate about my collection. Soon I’ll need a bigger house though… !!


kenshi 24/7 publications can be found at kendo-book.com, please check it out!

Eikenkai @ Nara Butokuden 第一回英剣会武徳際 in 奈良武徳殿 (英剣会の特別版)

Eikenkai is the kenshi 24/7 led kihon-heavy keiko session that (usually) takes place usually every couple of months in central Osaka.

To mark the publication of the English edition of Ogawa Kinnosuke sensei’s Teikoku Kendo Kyohon (Kendo Textbook of Imperial Japan) we decided to hold a special Eikenkai session. Rather than use our normal dojo and do our normal format, we did something different: keiko took place in the historical Nara Butokuden and we did a Kyoto taikai styled tachiai-embu.

Jigeiko


Nara Butokuden

The original Butokuden in Kyoto was completed in 1899 and served as the HQ dojo for the Butokukai until after WWII. The Butokuden is still in active use nowadays, mostly known in kendo circles as the venue for the Kyoto Taikai. As the Butokukai grew and kendo gained in popularity, branch Butokuden were built throughout Japan, and even in Taiwan, Korea, and China. There was even another Butokuden built in Kyoto in 1914. After the original Butokuden, the next to be built was the Nara branch Butokuden in 1903.

Built in 1903, the Nara Butokuden served as the Butokukai HQ dojo for Nara prefecture up until the end of the war. Luckily the dojo survived the war completely unharmed (many, like the Osaka Butokuden, were bombed or destroyed during the war, whilst others aged badly or were simply in the way of modern development and torn down).

In 1961 the Nara Butokuden was dismantled from it’s original location in the centre of Nara city and moved to it’s current location in Kashihara city, just south of Osaka in Nara. There the dojo remains pretty much as it was when it was built in 1903 and is used by a local kendo kendo club. It’s also available to hire, which we did for this session.


Tachiai embu

Rather than our normal 40 mins kihon, 30 mins waza, and 40 mins jigeiko session, we decided to cut down the kihon time, extend the jigeiko time and, in the middle, add in some tachiai-embu.

33 people attend the session, 20 of which paired up for a 2 minute tachiai. In case you don’t know, the tachiai style is one in which there are no winners or losers – no ippon are scored – rather you are paired with an opponent of around about the same experience, age, and gender, and show your best kendo.

Right after the tachiai were finished we did about an hour or so of jigeiko:



Bonus #1: Shimatani Yasohachi

Three years after the Nara Butokuden was built, Shimatani Yosohachi was dispatched from the Butokukai’s HQ to serve as the dojo’s top instructor.

Shimatani sensei was born in 1870 to a Satsuma-han samurai and began his study of kenjutsu at an early age (Jigen-ryu and Itto-ryu). Moving from Kyushu in his early 20s he became a member of the police force in Nara, eventually becoming a kenjutsu instructor there. Due to this role he was sent to the Butokukai’s new school for kendo instructors in 1905 (the Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseijo, forerunner of Busen) which he graduated from only a year later. After graduation he became the head kendo teacher for the Nara Butokuden.

Other students of the Yoseijo around about that time (pictured below) were Nakano Sosuke, Ogawa Kinnosuke, Mochida Seiji, and Saimura Goro amongst others, all of whom were later to be awarded 10th dan.

For a little bit more about Shimatani sensei please check out this previous article.


Bonus #2: Kashihara Jingu

The dojo is right across the street from Kashihara jingu, a Shinto shrine built in 1889 at the spot where Japan’s first emperor, Jimmu, is said to have acceded the throne. Despite the rain a few of us wandered over after keiko for a spot of sightseeing.


Eikenkai Banzai!

Our next keiko session will be held on the 13th of September at our regular location of Sumiyoshi Budokan. If you are interested in coming along (after reading and understanding the “Points to note before joining a session”) get in touch. Cheers!

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Tokyo Musha-Shugyo お江戸の武者修行

At the very end of July this year I took some time out of my normal schedule and headed to Tokyo for a Musha Shugyo, that is, I went on a “warriors pilgrimage,” with the aim of polishing my kendo.

In the short time I was there (I stayed five nights in Tokyo) I visited five different dojo, practised eight times, fought six hachidans, and visited the graves of four famous swordsmen (and a monument of another), as well as meeting some old friends and having the odd beer. It was a jam-packed few days!! There were many more places I wanted to practise at and more historical locations I wanted to visit, but I just didn’t have the time (or energy!) to arrange everything. Despite that, I think I spent my time in Tokyo quite fruitfully!

In this post I will briefly introduce the dojo to kenshi 24/7 readers (some of which you may have visited) and give contact information – where possible – so that you yourself can go sometime in the future. Dojo will be listed not in order visited, but in length of tradition.

Below that I will also introduce the famous swordsmen’s graves that I went to visit and pay my respects to. Although none of them are major tourist attractions they evoke – for me anyway – a much more… what’s the word… emotional response and cause me to reflect more about my own shugyo, none of which the usual tourist-traps offer.

I hope that this post will inspire your own Musha-Shugyo in the future!



Saineikan : budojo of the Japanese imperial guards

The original Saineikan was built in the grounds of the Imperial Palace in 1883 by order of the Emperor Meiji. The name “sainei” comes from a phrase in the Classic of Poetry traditionally ascribed to Confucius and refers to someone who is of fine and noble character (“kan” of course just means “hall”):

世之不顯、厥猶翼翼。
思皇多士、生此王國。
王國克生、維周之楨。
濟濟多士、文王以寧。

They shall be illustrious from age to age,
Zealously and reverently pursuing their plans.
Admirable are the many officers,
Born in this royal kingdom.
The royal kingdom is able to produce them, –
The supporters of [the House of] Zhou.
Numerous is the array of officers,
And by them king Wen enjoys his repose.

Over the years the building was subject to reconstruction and renewal, most significantly it suffered massive damage during the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake causing a temporary dojo to be built in 1924. This temporary building was used for the first of the Showa tenran-jiai in 1929 (a competition in front of the Emperor himself) and a tairan-jiai in 1930 (a competition in front of an imperial family member). The building was completely reconstructed in 1933 and used for a tenran-jiai held in honour of the birth of an imperial son (the current Emperor) in 1934. This is the building that still stands today and that I visited last week.

Famous kendo people who have worked as teachers, studied kendo, or simple fought here include: Yamaoka Tesshu, Watanabe Noboru, Ueda Umenosuke, Matsuzaki Namijiro, Shimoe Hidetaro, Mihashi Kanichiro, Naito Takaharu, Takano Sasaburo, Nakayama Hakudo, Mochida Seiji, Saimura Goro, Haga Junichi, Nakakura Kiyoshi, Takizawa Kozo, etc. etc. Too many to mention!

Although I could have probably visited Saineikan anytime in the last few years I waited patiently for a gap in my schedule to appear where I could take part in keiko at this highly prestigious dojo. After suppling information about myself and going through a connection, I rolled up on the promised Monday morning and was checked into the imperial grounds (you cannot enter without permission – they were expecting me). I took part in a 40 minute keiko session with two of the current sensei and a bunch of the tokuren (full-time kendo professional imperial guards). Needless to say it was an awesome experience, and one of the highlights of my kendo career to-date.

Some of you might wonder why I didn’t add newer photos to this post… basically I was allowed to take pictures for private purposes but was asked not to share them online (for security purposes I assume).

Ogawa Kinnosuke sensei vs Saimura Goro sensei in the 1939 tenran-jiai held in Saineikan:


Eishinjuku Kobukan : kendojo run by Ozawa Hiroshi sensei

Eishinjuku Kobukan is a dojo in Nakano-ku led by Ozawa Hiroshi sensei, and is a dojo that I think many non-Japanese people have visited. However, few know much about its origins, or about the Hiroshi sensei’s grandfather (Aijiro) or father (Takashi). It’s not for me to expand on that fully, so I’ll just be brief here.

Aijiro sensei (1863-1950) was an accomplished swordsman who attained the highest levels of Ono-ha itto-ryu, Kyoshin-meichi-ryu, and Jikishinkage-ryu. He studied under such famous kenshi as Yamaoka Tesshu, Watanabe Noboru, and Sakakibara Kenkichi. He originally founded Kobukan in Saitama prefecture in 1891. He was also a successful politician, and was involved in ensuring kendo’s addition to the school system.

Aijiro sensei’s son, Takashi sensei (later hanshi kyudan), began to learn kendo whilst still a child, but it wasn’t until he went to study under Takano Sasaburo at Koto-shihan-gakko his serious study of kendo began. Takashi sensei would go on to have a long career as a kendo teacher at the high school and university level (and eventually in the police), and published many books related to kendo instruction in the education system.

In 1977, due to the wear-and-tear of the original dojo, Takashi sensei tore it down and rebuilt a new dojo in Tokyo, renaming it “Eishinjuku Kobukan.” This is the dojo that stands today and that I visited last week.

Takashi sensei:

For more information on Kobukan check out their homepage here: http://koubukan-kendo.com/


Noma Dojo : a privately owned dojo

Pretty much the most famous dojo in the history of kendo, Noma dojo was built in 1925 by Noma Seiji, the founder of Japan’s biggest publishing company Kodansha. The dojo served as a hub for kendo in Tokyo, especially from the 1930s when Mochida Seiji was appointed the head kendo teacher. Another of its famed kenshi was Seiji’s son, Noma Hisashi.

Mochida sensei defeated Takano Shigeyoshi (below) to win the 1929 Tenran-jiai held in (the temporary) Saineikan and was recruited by Noma a couple of years later in 1931. Mochida sensei was renowned not only for his kendo, but his demeanour, and as such many people from different dojo flocked to Noma dojo to receive instruction (at that time it was common for people to practise only in their own dojo). After the war it continued its job as one of the country’s kendo centres.

The original dojo
The original dojo

Despite this – and against the voices of many kendoka (not to mention the spirit of Noma Seiji) – the dojo was unilaterally knocked down by Kodansha in 2007, ostensibly to build a tower block on the site. After the dojo was destroyed the surveyors found that the ground wasn’t strong enough for the original plan, and now a small 3-storey bank sits in the space the old dojo used to sit. This is – to my knowledge – one of the worst disasters in the history of modern kendo. Luckily, I visited the old dojo before it was destroyed (picture above).

In 2007 a new dojo was built on the 5th floor of a nearby building, and it’s this that continues the tradition of Noma and Mochida to this day. Although the original dojo is gone, the new one is quite impressive for a modern build. Still, it doesn’t match the original dojo at all in grandiose or tradition.

To my knowledge the dojo requires an introduction before you can attend. However, after keiko on the first day I attended, myself and a long-time member had coffee together: casually, during conversation, it was mentioned that if you wanted to attend all you need to do was email the website (i.e. you don’t need a personal introduction anymore). If this is true – even though the current dojo is a shadow of the former one – I highly recommend that you go.

Please note that although I suggested that the current physical dojo itself is a shadow of the former one, the membership includes some very accomplished people.

For more information on Noma dojo check out their homepage here: http://noma-dojo.my.coocan.jp/


Shinjuku Dojo : a public dojo in the centre of Tokyo

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To tell you the truth I don’t know much about this dojo at all other than what’s written on the homepage: the group started in 1952. The dojo itself is in a public city ward facility and keiko sessions are available Tuesday through Saturday (evenings are Tue, Thu, Sat, and mornings are Wed and Fri).

I attended a morning session on Wednesday at the invite of an old kendo friend. Due to the time, most of the members were housewives, retirees, or people on shift work. Still, the warmup and kihon-geiko session in the stifling heat nearly killed me!!! A very friendly and open dojo worth a visit.

For more information on Shinjuku dojo check out their homepage here: http://shinjukukendo.com/


Seimeikan : a privately owned dojo

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This is a completely privately owned dojo built in the basement of a private residence in 1993. Although lacking in tradition compared to the dojo mentioned above, it does have as it’s shihan a three-time All Japan Champion, which is something. Although small (similar in floor space to Kobukan above) the level of the members is very high. The post-keiko beer session in the dojo was great as well! After beating me down without breaking sweat, the sensei kept pouring beer into my glass and smiling.



Ono Jiroemon Tadaaki (1569-1628) and Tadatsune (1608-1666)

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The story goes that when the famed swordsman Itto Ittosai, progenitor of the Itto-ryu style of kenjutsu and student of Chujo-ryu under Kanemaki Jisai, came to pass on his sword-style he had his two top students battle for the honour: Mikogami Tenzen and Zenki. Tenzen won, eventually changing his name to Ono Jiroemon Tadaaki, and becoming kenjutsu instructor to the Tokugakwa Shogunate. Tadaaki’s line of itto-ryu would pass to his third son Tadatsune, and eventually (due to it being passed through the Ono family) become to be known as Ono-ha Itto-ryu.

The picture above are the graves of Tadaaki (on the right) and Tadatsune (on the left).

The distinctive Oni-gote of the Itto-ryu style.
The distinctive Oni-gote of the Itto-ryu style.

Getting there

Location: Yokoji temple (allegedly!)
Address: 286-0022, Chiba-ken, Narita-shi, Teradai 574
Nearest station(s): Narita-shi or Keisei-Narita
How to get there: Yokoji temple is a short 20 minute walk from the station area. However, don’t do what I did and go to the temple itself… the graves are not located in the temple per-se or its immediate precincts. Rather, when you walk past the high school take an immediate left turn and walk up the steep hill at the side of the school. About 1/2 way up you’ll see a narrow set of stairs heading up to a wooded hill. The graves are up the stairs on the top of the hill.


Chiba Shusaku (1793-1856)

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Chiba Shusaku is a legendary figure in the annals of kendo history. He studied Ono-ha Itto-ryu at the Nakanishi dojo, a dojo which at the time was at the forefront of the new shinai-centric (rather than kata-centric) “shinai-uchikomi” revolution. Other students of that dojo included Terada Muneari, Shirai Toru, and Takano Mitsumasa (Takano Sasaburo’s grandfather). Eventually Chiba went his own separate way and created his own style called Hokushin Itto-ryu. In 1822 he built and started teaching his style at what was to become one of the most popular dojo in Edo: Genbukan.

Reasons that Genbukan was so popular include: 1) it focussed mainly on the more exciting shinai-uchikomi rather than the slower paced kata-centric keiko; 2) it was much easier and faster to progress to the top levels than in a more traditional dojo (remember also that it was a business); 3) Seemingly Chiba taught shinai-uchikomi in more logical manner than some other places. On point number 3, Chiba made what was maybe the first list of shinai-kendo techniques known, and a modified sub-set of these were later used by Takano Sasaburo when he published what was to be (and remains today) one of the most important references in early modern kendo’s history.

Check out Hokushin Itto-ryu as passed directly by Shusaku and his sons to swordsmen in Mito-han at Kodokan and then down through Tobukan where it is still taught today. Tobukan is of course the home dojo of that giant of kendo history, Naito Takaharu.

Getting there

Location: Honmyoji temple
Address: Sugamo-ku, Tokyo
Nearest station(s): Shin-koshinzuka (tram)
How to get there: Basically a 20 minute walk from the tram station. It’s a bit awkward to find so you’ll probably need to use google maps. Once you get to the temple there will be no instructions in English at all… so good luck!


Yamaoka Tesshu (1836-1888)

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There’s a vast amount that could be said about Yamaoka Tesshu. Here I’ll just briefly mention his budo background and skip his political life.

Yamaoka Tesshu, born Ono Tetsutaro, was born into a Samurai family in Edo in 1836. He studied swordsmanship from a young age (Jikishinkage-ryu and Ono-ha itto-ryu), and was recognised as having a precocious talent (at calligraphy too). In 1855 (at 19 years old) he entered the Kobusho, a government-run military training facility for the sons and dependants of senior samurai. There he studied many types of weapons including, it is said, kenjutsu under Chiba Shusaku (i.e. shinai-uchikomi rather than kata based practise). He became a junior helper at the facility before moving on and taking up a role as a direct Shogunate retainer.

In the early 1860s his swordsmanship shugyo took a sharp turn after meeting the renowned Itto-ryu kenshi Asari Matashiro. Accepting the young Yamaoka’s request for a match Asari went into gedan no kamae and Yamaoka took jodan. Asari’s strong pressure pushed Yamaoka back and back, eventually to the wall of the dojo (other sources say that he was pushed out of the dojo and Asari shut the door on him!). Defeated, Yamaoka became Asari’s student.

Probably the most pivotal point for Yamaoka was in around 1881 when, suddenly during meditation, Yamaoka had a spiritual awakening. Heading to the dojo he asked his sensei, Asari, for a match. Taking up kamae Asari immediately sensed something different: “You are enlightened.”

In 1883 he founded a temple to honour those that had sacrificed themselves during the Meiji restoration. This temple – Zenshoan – is the one where Yamaoka is buried and that I visited. It was in this year that he started teaching kenjutsu from his own dojo, Shumpukan. Many famous swordsmen would practise here including Takano Sasaburo (though it’s unknown to what extent Takano learned directly from Yamaoka). Also in 1883 Yamaoka was amongst the first ten martial arts instructors appointed to the newly built Saineikan.

In 1885 he inherited Ono-ha itto-ryu with which he combined his knowledge and experience of the other branches of swordsmanship he had mastered (not forgetting his enlightened state), and created something he believed closer to the original essence of the art: Itto-shoden Muto-ryu.

He passed away in 1888 of stomach cancer whilst, it is said, sitting either in seiza or the lotus position (depending on the source), facing the direction of the imperial palace.

Tesshu's calligraphy: "MUSHIMIYOKU" (selflessness)
Tesshu’s calligraphy: “MUSHIMIYOKU” (selflessness)

Getting there

Location: Zenshoan temple
Address: 5 Chome-4-7 Yanaka, Taito, Tokyo 110-0001
Nearest station(s): Sendagi or Nippori stations
How to get there: An easy 7 minute walk from Sendagi station. Zenshoan is signposted in English, as is information about Yakamoka Tesshu.


Takano Shigeyoshi (1877-1957)

takano-shigeyoshi

Takano Shigeyoshi was born in Mito in 1877 (family name Chigusa). When he was 14 he enrolled in Tobukan and began to study kendo under Ozawa Torakichi. His father, himself a renowned swordsman, died the same year and Shigeyoshi ended up being looked after by the dojo. Eventually he was given some money and, with a pat on the back, told to go to Tokyo to continue his pursuit of kendo. This led him to Takano Sasaburo whose student he became in 1895.

In 1900 Shigeyoshi was adopted by Sasaburo and took over the teaching and running duties of Urawa Meishinkan. In 1914 he accepted a kendo teaching position in Manchuria where he remained until after WW2. He took part in the 1929 and 1934 Tenran shiai, as a competitor in the kendo specialists section of the former (he lost the final to Mochida Seiji), and shinpan and special-shiai embusha in the latter (his partner was Nakayama Hakudo). He died in 1957.

What I visited last week is not Shigeyoshi’s grave, but a eulogy monument erected near the graves of Ono Jiroemon Tadaaki and Tadatsune.

Takano Sasaburo (l) and Shigeyoshi (r) performing kendo no kata
Takano Sasaburo (l) and Shigeyoshi (r) performing kendo no kata

Getting there

It’s in the same location as Ono Jiroemon Tadaaki and Tadatsune’s graves above.



Bonus: Bun-bu-ryodo

books

No Musha-Shugyo would be complete without making an effort to read and study about kendo as well. This time I brought Alex Bennet’s new book “Kendo: Culture of the Sword” with me, and picked up a couple of super old Kendo Jidai magazines from a second-hand book shop in Jimbocho.

I devoured Alex’s book pretty quickly because a lot of the information I knew and many of the conclusions reached were similar to mine, so it was a sort of affirmation in a way for me if you will. There were, however, parts of the book that tackled areas that I’m only very vaguely familiar with (in particular the workings of and connections between the government and the Butokukai during the war and the machinations of SCAP in regards to budo after the war) which was an eye-opener.

The best part of this book for me is that Alex puts kendo in its wider cultural context, something that is missing in most people’s comprehension of how modern kendo formed, what it is today, and where it might possibly go. A close second is that he dares to condemn (although gently) the accepted idea that kendo is some sort of ancient tradition that is possessed – and can only be understood by – Japanese people. This thorny subject is something I’ve touched on lightly here before (and in my publications) and everyone who lives and practises in Japan for a long time realises. Needless to say the book is highly recommended, so please check it out.

The two old kendo-jidai magazines were picked from a pile basically at random, and are awesome! I will probably translate something from them, or post pictures from them in the near future.



Final comments

edo-02

Whew, what a long post… I think it took me almost as long to write as I spent in Tokyo!

Although seemingly random, a lot of the places I visited are in some way or another connected: Saineikan (Yamaoka and Mochida) and the tenran-jiai (Mochida, Takano), Kobukan (Ozawa Aijiro and Takano), Noma dojo (Mochida and everyone!), Ono Tadaaki and Tadatsune (Itto-ryu: Chiba, Yamaoka, Ozawa Aijiro, Takano), Chiba and Yamaoka, Yamaoka and Takano, Takano and Mochida… etc. etc. There are in fact too many connections to mention! I was actually planning to go to two other dojo as well, which would’ve made the already complex web of connections even more spaghetti-like. I’m pretty sure that if we trace our kendo roots back far enough, most of us will find that we are in fact connected to some of the same teachers and even some of the same dojo. Isn’t that a nice image!

For me, this Musha-shugyo was partly about visiting some places I’ve wanted to go to for a long time, but it was also partly about going out and facing random people in an unfamiliar environment. I guess it was an extension of my change in kendo mode I discussed a few months ago. You know, mixing things up.

I think that doing a Musha-shugyo in the same style as I did is probably unrealistic for many kenshi 24/7 readers (I live in Japan after all), but I do think that most people will in fact come to Japan for that purpose at some point in their kendo careers. But saying that, I don’t believe you have to come to Japan to change your kendo mode or to mix things up.

Anyway, I hope that this post can, in some way at least, inspire people to embark on their own Musha-shugyo (whether in Japan or not), and perhaps even gave some suggestions as to what dojo to visit and historical swordsmen to meet. Cheers!


p.s. Remember and check out kenshi 24/7’s publications at http://kendo-book.com/

Teikoku Kendo Kyohon – The Kendo Textbook of Imperial Japan 帝国剣道教本

The latest kenshi 24/7 publication has been released: a translation of Ogawa Kinnosuke sensei’s Teikoku Kendo Kyohon (The Kendo Textbook of Imperial Japan). I am a bit bias, but I have to say that the book is amazing, not just in content, but in format as well… I’m super excited to release it!

When this book was published in the 1930s, Ogawa sensei was the head instructor of the Budo Senmon Gakko (Busen), the school run by the Dai-Nippon Butokukai, the largest and most influential martial arts organisation in Japan. Busen was a teacher-training college and the premier place to study kendo prior to the war. It’s graduates taught kendo all over Japan (before and after the war) and it’s not too much to say that what was taught there – about the philosophy of kendo as well as it’s execution – forms the basis of the kendo that we do today in the 21st century.

Here’s a sneak peak:


For full information including pictures and information about formats etc, please check out the books dedicated page on our publication website, kendo-book.com.

BIG THANKS to all of kenshi 24/7 readers for your continued support over the years, cheers!!

teikoku-kendo-09

Don’t forget that we have a suite of great publications available at kendo-book.com.