SEME #3 and 4: Nishikawa Kiyonori and Sueno Eiji

The following is a short translation of a couple of famous sensei’s description of SEME.

SEME #3: Nishikawa Kiyonori

“With the extension of your kensen aimed between your opponents throat and chest area keep your kamae in the center. Without hitting or striking the opponents shinai, lightly stick your shinai to theirs. If your opponent tries to take the center, slightly push your shinai back on theirs (and re-take control). If they continue to try and take the centre lower your kensen to around about the height of their solar plexus and check their shinai in place.

When you are driving in for the attack be especially careful of your footwork and hip movement, and ensure that your feeling (of attack) is expressed out through your kensen towards the opponent. When you get into striking distance you must not attack straightaway; rather, keep the driving feeling as it is and watch the opponent. In the instant that they start to move, strike them.”

Nishikawa sensei is the main teacher at Keishicho, the top kendo police institute in the country. He studied under many of the countries leading kenshi, including Morishima Tateo. He has won the All Japan Kendo championships 3 times (+runner-up once, third place 3 times), the 8dan senbatsu championship once, the World Kendo Championships (mens team) twice, the All Japan Police championships (team) 8 times and placed 3rd in the individuals 3 times. He was kyoshi 7dan at the time this article was published; he is now kyoshi 8dan.

Nishikawa sensei as a young 6dan (chudan):

SEME #4: Sueno Eiji

“With your body filled to the brim with ki, kamae in chudan. Keeping the extension of your kamae somewhere between the middle of your opponent’s body and their shoulders, without striking or hitting their shinai, and while moving slightly forward, back, left and right, strongly apply pressure (towards your opponent) with your ki.

If the opponent tries to strike, hit, wind, etc, your shinai keep your hands soft and absorb their interference; however, without letting any time open up, let your kamae return naturally to the center. This is not just about destroying their kamae, but about destroying the internal kamae of their heart/spirit; to do this you must be deliberate in your seme.

Its at this point where the principles (of kendo) come into play: when the opponents spirit or ki stops (due to confusion or doubt), when the opponent is just about to launch a technique, when they step back to retreat, or when an attack is spent, etc etc, it is here that you must strike.”

Sueno Sensei was a kendo tokuren member then kendo teacher at the police academy in Kagoshima before retiring. He trained under famous kenshi including Nakakura Kiyoshi sensei. He won the All Japan kendo championships once (came 2nd once), the All Japan kendo federation 50th anniversary 8dan competition, the world kendo championships (team) once, Todofuken taikai twice, the All Japan police championships (team) twice and individuals once. He was kyoshi 7dan at the time this article was published; he is now hanshi 8dan.

27th All Japan Kendo Championships 1979. Sueno Eiji sensei (6dan, white) vs Seme #1 Furukawa Kazuo (5dan, red).

Source

This small section is part of a much larger series of interviews called “Mei senshu, renma no hibi” (famous competitors and their day-to-day practise) published by Kendo Jidai between 1983-84. The series was compiled into 2 books and published as “Renma no hibi” in 1989. Most of the interviewed sensei were only 7dan at the time and are now renowned 8dan sensei.

剣道時代の「名選手、錬磨の日々」(1983ー84)からの抜粋です。「錬磨の日々」の本は1989発行。作道正夫。

Kendo 1925 – in pictures

I spent a lot of time reading about kendo and of course, preparing scripts and pictures for my own kendo projects and of course this website. By far the most fascinating thing for me is to get my hands on older kendo manuals, the well-worn the better. I especially enjoy looking through those books that include pictures.

The pictures below are all from a kendo manual entitled ‘Practical kendo for students’, which was published in Taisho 14 (1925). It was written by Tominaga Kengo and includes an introduction by his sensei, Takano Sasaburo. The book is full of interesting kendo pictures, a few of which I plucked out and have uploaded here as I imagine that many readers will enjoy them as well.

In particular, I like pictures that show changes in the shape compared to the kendo we do nowadays, including waza that have fallen or are falling out of use.

At any rate, enjoy! I hope to introduce more pictures at a later date.

As an added bonus here are some pics from an article series I published 4 years ago. This book was published in 1927.

Sources

最も実際的な学生剣道の粋。富永賢吾。大正十四年発行。
剣道指南。小澤愛次郎範士。昭和二年発行。

Shoshin ni kaeru (初心に返る)

Even though I don’t post on kenshi247.net on a daily basis, I usually find myself linking cool videos, pics, and kendo what-nots to the facebook page every day, so I’m sure that some people were wondering whats been up with the lack of updates over the last 2 weeks. Basically, after a silly fall, I ended up breaking my ankle (left fibula). Not only that, but I had to get it operated on = a titanium plate and 6 screws. Boo. After just recovering fully from my last mishap (a broken back), I’m beginning to think I’m cursed!!!

The good news is that the surgeon, my rehabilitation guy, and friends who have suffered similar problems, have all assured me I will get back to keiko soon enough – I just have to be patient in the mean time, and concentrate on rehabilitation. Almost everybody also told me to use the time to think about stuff, not just kendo things, but the day-to-day things that often get forgotten (especially when on a 12 keiko/week diet).

Thinking about my friends advice, the phrase SHOSHIN NI KAERU (初心に返る) immediately came to mind. The phrase basically means “to go back to the time when you first started something” (i.e. when your thoughts were still untainted) or something to that effect. Obviously it’s a term that can be used for many different aspects of our daily lives.

Kendo-wise – for me – I’m taking this non-keiko time as an opportunity to re-evaluate not only the physical aspects of my kendo (which will have to re-start themselves very slowly anyway) but also the more metaphysical aspects of my kendo shugyo – Why am I doing it? Of what value is kendo to me? What benefit is there to teaching kendo to children? How can I become a better person through kendo? How has kendo changed me over the last 20 years? etc. etc. I also took a lot of time out to reflect on the story of Suzunosuke, in particular that I shouldn’t moan about the pain, the inconvenience of hobbling around in crutches, and that I should be thankful for my 38 years of life to date.

Another added bonus to all this extra time is that the next kenshi 24/7 publications release is now pretty much imminent! I have a test copy of the book front of me as I type this (it truly is beautiful!) and am just awaiting the last bunch of typo-edits to come in from a couple of friends before I update the pdf and publish. The content is still top secret, but I assure you that you will love it!

It took an accident and hospital stay to get me to ponder on some of the stuff above (and to finalise my book). Hopefully it won’t take as much for you to make some space in your day to consider your (kendo) life and to perhaps get things done that you’ve been putting off.

VAGABOND

The pic is from the manga Vagabond. I don’t really have time to r much anymoreh anymore, but a bunch of comics were conveniently placed in the hospital t The average age of the patients in my ward must have been about 70, so I was the only reader!!

Eikenkai September 2013

The second last Eikenkai session of the year was a quiet one, with 14 kenshi gathering at Sumiyoshi Budokan on the morning of September 29th. The session was a slightly different format than usual – but still kihon based – starting with a couple of hundred kirikaeshi.

Next years schedule is 90% set – if you are in town please consider joining us!! Remember and read our “Please note that…” section on this page.

2014 Schedule

– February 23rd
April 27th (not set 100%)
– June 22nd
July 27th (not set 100%)
– September 28th
– November 30th

The last session of this year is on December the 8th.

Please check the main Eikenkai section on this site for the latest news regarding schedule and joining. Cheers!

Remembering Suzunosuke

The following is an English translation of a Japanese article that I wrote and was published in the October edition of Kendo Jidai (on sale August 25th 2013). Its the story of my kendo student Kubota Suzunosuke who passed away in January of this year and that I introduced on this site back in March. The English version is of course slightly different than the original Japanese. Please note that I have his parents blessings to put this online.

kendojidai

First meeting

I first met Suzunosuke after the entrance ceremony for the high school that I work at back in April 2010. He came into the kendo-jo carrying his bogu and shinai and asked to join thie club. “No problem” I said, “get your stuff on and join in!” Keiko at my school is kihon-centric and can be pretty tough, but he took to it quickly and I realised even in that first session that I had some potential on my hands.

During short break between kihon and waza practise I saw him sitting at the side of the dojo by himself looking worried. “What’s up?” I asked “I was hit on an unarmoured place and it hurts” he replied. “Well, sometimes that happens, it’s not deliberate. High school kendo is a lot tougher than junior high school level, so you’d better prepare for it” I replied.

That evening I received an email from him: “To tell you the truth, when I was a junior high school student I was very sick and was hospitalised for a long time. I’ve actually had an entire rib removed.”

Primary, junior high school kendo

Suzunosuke began kendo when he was a 1st year primary school student (6 years old) at the kendo club run by Asashi ward (an area in Osaka) police station. His mother Suzumi explains why: “He was a little bit naughty so I thought that by learning budo at the police station they could teach him some discipline.” At Asahi ward police station he was taught kendo by Sakamoto sensei, Toyotomi sensei, and Tanaka sensei. Naturally, when he entered junior high school he joined the kendo club and was taught by Ueda sensei.

Ewing’s Sarcoma

Suzuonsuke was living the life of an ordinary young boy when one day he felt something strange on his back. His parents took him to the hospital and were shocked when the doctors declared it “cancer.”

Ewing’s Sarcoma is a rare disease in which cancer cells are found in the bone or in soft tissue. Suzonsuke was hospitalised for a year and underwent cancer treatment, including the removal of an entire rib.

During this time, however, he never gave up, and continued to study hard. Eventually he even made it back to the dojo.

High school kendo club

After finding out about his medical history I was a bit worried about the manner he could take part in the clubs activities. I told him that he could take part in keiko under my watchful eye, but that competition was an impossibility, to which he grudgingly accepted. However, after doing keiko with him almost everyday over a few months and seeing his ability increase rapidly, I completely forgot about his surgery or that he ever had cancer. And, even though he was only a first year student, I started using him regularly in shiai.

He was a bright, fun loving, popular kid, and it was to no surprise that the other students selected him to become the club captain when he became a 2nd year student. While working hard in his role as the captan he applied and was accepted to join a study trip to the UK. Before heading over in July (2011), he started to feel something odd in his arm, but dismissing it he went for 10 days to the UK, took part in a gasshuku with another school, and passed his 3dan on his first attempt. However, during all this, it was discovered that his discomfort was in fact cancer.

Effort

Needless to say, it was obvious that the cancer relapse caused Suzuonsuke immense difficulties. Despite these, he tried his best to come to school to meet his friends and continue his study. Even though he couldn’t wear bogu, he still came to the dojo and helped teach the younger students. Over time his condition seemed to be getting better and in January 2012 he even managed to get his bogu on and start practising slowly again. Not just myself, but his fellow club members were amazed at his effort.

It was around this time that he emailed Hashimoto Toru, the mayor of Osaka. When he was hospitilised for a year in junior high school he was able to take part in special classes in the hospital offered by Osaka prefecture. However, this system didn’t exist for high school students (its not part of compulsory education in Japan) and he thought it unfair. He emailed the mayor via contact details on the prefecture website and was shocked when he actually got a reply. Hashimoto immediately began investigation into the system and – even more surprising for the slow Japanese bureaucracy – actually instigated it in April of the same year. All of this due to a single email from Suzunosuke.

Retirement competition

Suzunosuke started to look a bit healthier and happier and everything seemed to be going fine. In April 2012 he became a 3rd year student and was taking part in keiko on and off. The All-Japan Osaka High School Preliminaries are held every June and are generally regarded as the ‘retirement competition’ for the students at my school (we can’t compete to the top level in Osaka. After retirement, students focus solely on university entrance exams). The way that I choose competition members is first allow the respective boys and girls captains to come up with an order, then for them to discuss it with me before writing the application form. Suzunosuke came up to me with a piece of paper with the boys order on it, and I immediately noticed his name wasn’t on it. “You don’t want to compete?” I asked. “I do” he said. I spent a few days carefully reflecting on whether I should put him into the shiai before finally writing his name down as taisho.

On the day of the shiai he looked like he was composed and concentrated. However, I knew that in the morning he hadn’t taken his pain killers and that he was in a lot of pain. He was waiting until just before the 1st round shiai to take his pills. The team won the first round and then went on to the 2nd. Due to the amount of teams taking part, it was a long wait until the 2nd round. When it came, our loss was decided before Suzunosuke as taisho stepped up. Despite this he bowed, strode in to the shiai-jo and went into sonkyo. At “hajime” he stood up and kiai-ed. His family, his friends, everyone that knew him was literally staring at him. But by this point in the day the pain was back and he literally hadn’t the strength to hold onto his shinai strongly. During the match his shinai was flipped out of his hand twice, the result of the match being a 1-point win by hansoku to his opponent. After the shiai he sat by himself in the arena looking sad. I tapped him on the back and said “You did well.”

30 minutes later all the kendo club members (over 30 students) were assembled and the 3rd year students gave their retirement speech. Suzuonsuke, being the captain, went last. His speech was short, simple, and most of all, positive.

His last fight

Shortly after this he started to spend more time travelling to and from hospital. It was at this time that he joined a RELAY FOR LIFE charity event here in Osaka. The event was held in the south, but Suzunosuke wondered if it couldn’t be held at his high school, which is situated right in the centre of Osaka, facing the castle.

Day by day his condition got worse, but even then he never gave up on his dream of graduation high school and going to university. On the 19th and 20th of January 2013 he sat the gruelling Japanese university exam. At this point, he couldn’t walk and could barely speak. His family, friends, teachers, and medical staff were amazed at his willpower.

The day after the exams he took a turn for the worse. For a moment he seemed to have even got over this, but on the evening of the 30th of January 2013, he slipped away. That evening I was called to the hospital room and – after his body had been washed in the formal Japanese manner – I helped clothe him in the school keikogi and hakama.

What he left us

Suzunosuke was a someone who “did” things, a “doer.” His single email to the mayor brought in education reforms. His idea of hosting a Relay for Life event at his school also become reality: it will be held in Otemae High School in central Osaka on the 12th and 13th of October. These are things that you may have thought was impossible from a single sick high school student from a hospital bed, but he did them. What he tells all of us is that whatever difficult situation you may be in, you should never give up, and to always try your best.

His friends called him simple “Suzu” which means “bell” in English. Bells come in various shapes and sizes, with correspondingly different sounds and tones. The bell that was Suzu was struck, and the sound – to those who knew him – was bright, though short, and will continue, I believe, to reverberate for a very long time.

Words: George McCall
Pictures: Kubota Suzumi, Kubota Kazuo, George McCall
Relay for Life (Osaka): http://relayforlife.jp/osaka/

Kubota Suzunosuke - kamae

Many thanks to Andy at All Japan Budogu for donating a couple of hundred tenugui to be sold at Relay for Life next month. 100% of the proceeds go to charity.

If you happen to be in Osaka that weekend feel free to pop in for a chat (and while you are at it, buy a tenugui and donate to a good cause!).