Old style #2 (KendoStar) 古めかしい (その2)

Takano Sasaburo
Takano Sasaburo looking snazzy

So, even relatively new kenshi 24/7 readers probably realise that I’m a bit old-fashioned when it comes to kendo/budo things, perhaps you could even call me a bit of an antiquarian (though kendo stuff isn’t really that ancient!). My passion for old kendo things falls mainly in four areas: books, equipment, dojo, and people. A fifth area – my classical swordsmanship background – I have yet to discuss in detail on kenshi 24/7. Maybe in the future.

Anyway, today’s post is an introduction/review of two pieces of kendo equipment that were 100% custom made for me with my penchant for the old-fashioned in mind.

(I discussed the same topic in another post a couple of years ago)


Men (long mendare)

I’m not sure how many years ago it started – seven or eight maybe? – but mendare started to get shorter. Nowadays I see even highly experienced people having the mendare of their old men cut down… and it drives me crazy! Why do they do this? I think longer mendare look cool. I have a couple of newer men that have super short mendare and, sure, while they may be easier to use, I’m really not a fan. Although the men themselves might be fine, the short mendare bother me!

With this in mind I ordered a fully custom KAISEI men from KendoStar with the “Old school: EXTRA long” mendare (24cm) and look at the beautiful object that arrived:

The final picture shows a comparison between the new men (at the front) with the practise bogu set I got from KendoStar last year with the shorter mendare. The length difference is quite noticeable – don’t you think longer mendare look better?

Note that the practise set is absolutely fine for keiko (I use it regularly), I just prefer the aesthetic of the new one.

In action:

I’ve been using the men daily now for about two weeks (for basics and jigeiko) and, although it took a keiko or so to sit right on my head, I am now using it without any problems whatsoever. Not only does it look cool, but it’s light, durable, and – especially important for me as a kendo teacher – protective. A visiting sensei from another school said the men had a “subtle design” and looked “dignified” which I thought was a great complement.

BTW, because they are light and flexible, the longer mendare do not interfere with my keiko at all, even when I do jodan.

After two weeks of heavy usage at work I have now taken the men home and will use it as my main men for special occasions, the first of which will be a special Kyoto-Osaka keikokai tomorrow in the Butokuden, and the next my tachiai at this years Kyoto Taikai.


Kote (old style navy and white)

Before reading anything, feast your eyes on these beauties:

This is a 100% fully custom design of KendoStar’s Ousei model. This is the second kote I’ve had custom made, the first was this pair:

Looking at both sets of kote you are probably thinking I have some desire to stick out or be different from the people around me, but this is far from the truth. In Japan I often find myself as the only non-Japanese person in the dojo – in fact it’s been this way for over a decade; and as the only non-Japanese high school teacher in Japan, I am routinely in a position where I noticeably stick out… which, honestly speaking, I don’t care for. The rationale for having both designs of kote made was inspired simply by my passion for kendo history. If you look back a few decades in kendo’s history you’d see that both of these styles used to be normal.

In action:

I bought these kote primarilly for use in my work dojo, so although the colour/design of the kote provided inspiration, they still have to be useable in my daily hard keiko sessions. This meant they had to survive being repetitively struck firmly on a day-to-day basis as well as allow a good range of motion to execute a variety of attacks. The result after two full weeks of usage: Awesome.

Official pictures of my kote from KendoStar:


In conclusion

I originally planned this post to be a discussion on bogu style, but somehow it’s become a bogu review piece! Anyway, to summarise…

Structurally:

The primary job of bogu is simple: protection. It’s secondary job is to allow freedom of movement. Only once these two are balanced out does the style element come into play. A lot of newer bogu nowadays seem to be designed in reverse order: looks -> flexibility/lightness -> protection. Over the last few years I’ve used some pretty terrible men, ones that were so light I basically couldn’t use them for kihon practise, and receiving uchikomi or kakarigeiko (a daily event for a school kendo teacher) was recipe for bruising at best and concussion at worst. Luckily neither of the bogu parts I introduced today has these problem: both pieces are protective, durable, and I foresee using them for years to come.

Stylewise:

The style of the kote that I introduced here (like my prior beige ones) were completely normal for most of kendo’s history, and it’s a shame that you barely seem them anymore except for use by kids. I personally think they are cool. The only downside is that they will inevitably get smudged, but that’s cool too!

The men shown here isn’t particularly “old-style” I think, mainly because I’m not yet brave enough to get a lighter coloured stripe around the front of the men (like you can see in the Takano Sasaburo picture at the top of the article). The only thing it does really is buck the short mendare trend. Next time you buy a men, get a long mendare please, I promise you that you will look cooler!!


KendoStar discount for kenshi 24/7 readers!!

After telling Andy at KendoStar that I wrote this post he kindly gave a discount code for kenshi 24/7 readers to use, which is nice for you guys because I payed full price for the custom men and kote!

Discount code: KENSHI247

Discount:
10% off any order of anything from the KAISEI Series (set and separate parts), as well as the KAISEI Wraith series (set and separate parts), plus the OUSEI Kote

Update: the above discount code can now be used for anything KendoStar product!

Please visit KendoStar.com to see the separate parts as well as the other products they have on sale.

Ozawa Aijiro’s Kendo Shinan (1938) and Kokoku Kendoshi (1944) 小澤愛次郎の劍道指南・皇國剣道史

Ozawa Aijiro (1864-1950) is probably a name that is not familiar to most kenshi 24/7 readers, but his grandson’s might be: Ozawa Hiroshi sensei, the author of the first kendo book I ever bought and owner of Eishingijuku Kobukan (usually just referred to as Kobukan).

Translated from the Kobukan website:

Ozawa Aijiro.
Born on the 20th of December 1863.

In his youth he studied Ono-ha Itto-ryu under Oshi domain sword instructor Matsuda Jugoro. He reached the highest level (Menkyo-kaiden) of not only Itto-ryu, but also Kyoshinmeichi-ryu and Jikishinkage-ryu kenjutsu. He studied under and acquired the deepest secrets of swordsmanship under famed kenshi such as Yamaoka Tesshu, Watanabe Hiroshi, and Sakakibara Kenkichi.

He worked as a politician first in Saitama prefecture (4 sessions) then at the National Diet (5 sessions). During this time he lobbied for the addition of judo and kendo to the public school education, eventually finding success.

In 1926 he was awarded kendo hanshi. He passed away on the 19th of June 1950, at the age of 88.

– From “Ozawa Aijiro’s posthumous manuscripts and reminiscences (1950)

It wasn’t until Aijiro was 26 that he entered political life, in which he would spend another 19 years. During this time he was instrumental in the addition of budo (judo and kendo) to the school system, one of the most pivotal episodes of kendo’s history. In 1909, after being caught up in a political scandal, he retired (before budo was actually added to schools). This allowed Aijiro to re-focus his life back on to budo.

Aijiro’s dojo Eishingijuku Kobukan was originally built in Saitama in 1891. When he reached 70 years old (1934) he “moved” this dojo (actually, built a new one) to Nakano ward in Tokyo. Luckily it survived the war but, because of concerns of the deterioration of the wooden building, it was knocked down and reconstructed in 1977 (the current dojo).

Kobukan

The two books being introduced today were written relatively late in Aijiro’s life, when he was 74 and 80 years old, well after becoming hanshi.

The first book, Kendo Shinan (“Kendo instruction”) was published in 1938. The second, Kokoku Kendoshi (“A kendo history of imperial Japan”) was published in 1944. I have an original version of the former book, but unfortunately only a re-printed version of the latter.


Kendo Shinan (“Kendo instruction” / 1938)

This book was probably the first or second old kendo book I ever bought, and the source of a couple of articles in the now archived “Dead or dying waza” series from back in 2009. A fairly thorough as well as compact book, it is also peppered with lots of pictures and, luckily for me, furigana, which makes reading it a breeze. If you are interested in old kendo books and are not sure what kind of thing to look for, this book is highly recommended.

For this post I’ve resurrected a couple of the smaller archived translation pieces for you to enjoy. Please refer to the pictures in the gallery below.

Oroshiki-dou:

When your opponent tries to attack your men, pull your right leg back, twist your body slightly to the right and – at the same instant as you go down on your right knee – swing your shinai to the left and strike your opponents right dou. You could also move quickly to the left and strike your opponents left dou. Another method is to leave your right foot forward and simply sink your left knee, allowing you to hit their left or right dou.

Lower your body in such a way that the sword of your opponent might fall on your head from above. At the same time, without allowing the opponent to make an effective attack, you may skilfully strike dou.

Kendo vs Jukendo:

When facing someone armed with a mokuju (bayonet) you should slightly put your right shoulder forward, drop the tip of your shinai, and have the sensation of a more flattened posture than normal. Looking for a chance to attack, strongly jump foward and attack your opponents men, or jump diagonally to the right with your left foot and attack their migi-yoko-men with your hidari-kakate waza. When your opponent attempts to tsuki you, dodge their attack with your body and sweep or push their mokuju with your shinai, then attack their shomen, yokomen, or left do. Since tsuki is difficult to do against this type of opponent, its advisable to aim for men.

Kendo vs Sojutsu:

The spear is usually held with the left hand in the front, and the right hand behind. The body is held in a sideways stance with right at the rear. The normal seme from someone using a spear is from the left hand side. Spears are fundamentally thrusting weapons, so you should aim to avoid the spear tip and enter into the space beyond it. If you see an opening where you can enter into this space then its essential that you take it, as it will render your opponents weapon useless.



Kokoku Kendoshi (“A kendo history of imperial Japan” / 1944)

As you would expect from someone as highly educated and intelligent as Aijiro, this history book is super comprehensive. It traces the history of swordsmanship in Japan from ancient times up until the pre-war era, with a small handful of various illustrations: makimono, woodblock paintings, koryu lineage lists, etc. At the very end of the book there is a description of kendo kata with pictures of Nakayama/Takano used as reference.

For me, however, the most intriguing thing about this book is that the history presented in it, 70+ years ago, is the same history that we are presented with now. In other words, reading this book you realise how little historical research in kendo has advanced since the time this book was written… which is a topic for another day! Anyway, here are a couple of scans from the book to enjoy.


Sources

剣道指南。小澤愛次郎。昭和十三年発行。
剣道皇国剣道史。小澤愛次郎。昭和十九年発行。

Leather Tsuba (review #2) 革鍔

In December 2013 I wrote a review piece about a small one-craftsman-operated company that hand makes beautiful leather tsuba (for both bokuto and shinai). In the three plus years since then many people have stopped me and commented on the tsuba as they are so unique and well-crafted that they catch the eye immediately.

Recently, I custom ordered another smaller-sized tsuba (I prefer using super small tsuba) and, as a bonus, I received another gorgeous wave decorated one as well. Looking at the pictures below, I’m sure you’ll agree they really are works of art.

For more information please visit leathertsuba.com.


2017 Tsuba gallery

These are the new tsuba I got:


2013 Tsuba gallery

These are the tsuba I got back in 2013:

Eikenkai (Feb. 2017) 英剣会

Yesterday was the first kenshi 24/7 run Eikenkai session of the new year, and it was a packed one! 34 kenshi from six prefectures (Okayama, Hyogo, Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, Mie… plus Rhett from America) squeezed into the kendojo at Sumiyoshi Budokan, which is located in the precincts of the beautiful Sumiyoshi shrine.

Although there was a cold breeze outside, the dojo was boiling. We did about 40 minutes of kihon (including uchikomi and kakarigeiko), 20 minutes of waza practise, and about 45 minutes of jigeiko before heading to the nearby local restaurant for okonomiyaki and a couple of refreshing beers.

With work and other dojo commitments increasing exponentially over the last year I’ve decided to reduce the number of sessions we will hold this year, probably only hosting three or maybe four rather than our usual six. Anyway, the next session will be in mid-May, so if you are in the Kansai area at the time please feel free to get in touch. Cheers!

Quality kenshi 質のいい剣士

One of my own favourite posts on this website is from way back in October 2012. Entitled “Small things” it lists a few simple points that I think make a large difference in the quality of a kenshi. Re-reading it recently I started to think about some “bad” or “uncool” things that people (often unconsciously) do in the dojo that might reflect on this (perceived) quality (as defined by myself). I thought I’d stumble through listing some of them here. Although I particularly don’t like to show faults or give bad examples about things, sometimes a wee hint or nudge can help.

Remember, like the Small Things article, this is of course my personal, arbitrary opinion.


1. In the dojo

Sometimes I see people who stomp around the dojo. By stomp I mean not only walking heavily and making loud noise whilst doing so (which is annoying by itself), but walking around with an air of arrogance. Even if they actually physically own the dojo itself, treating it as simply a personal possession rather than a space for serious shugyo is pretty uncool.

Leaving things in a clutter, not cleaning, walking around wearing socks, eating, and generally not treating the dojo as some sort of special space strongly hints that they are neither serious about the shugyo aspect of kendo, or that they simply don’t care.

Of course, some of this feeling is hard to engender when you practise in a rented sports hall rather than a dojo, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be aimed at.


2. Studying

Here in Japan, I know not a few kenshi that actually know little to nothing about kendo’s history. I guess I could probably forgive most of them because that’s just how most people learn kendo in Japan, but some people are actually quite open in their almost disdain towards anything other than physical practise of kendo.

It’s not only the historical aspect that disinterests these people, but also studying how to be good coaches, practising kata, and expanding their kendo knowledge via kendo books just doesn’t seem to interest them. People like this, I’ve realised, think they have already acquired kendo…


3. Teaching

When I first became a kendo teacher I tried to follow other kendo teachers style, that is, constant shouting and berating of students. This is what almost all the strong high school teachers do after all. After years of teaching, though, I realised that many of these teachers just went through the Japanese school club system and know nothing else. This is what they think is the correct way to teach kendo.

One day a few years ago, a friend of mine who graduated from one of the most famous kendo high schools in the country said: “I hated the kendo teacher. If I was driving down the road and I saw him walking I would – if I thought I could get away with it – ram him down and kill him.” My fiends’ kendo is awesome, but it came at a cost… for both parties involved.

Being a kendo teacher is not a position that is awarded, but one that is earned.


4. Doing

Actual constant physical practise of kendo is paramount. Keiko is everything! Some people, however approach things half-assed. They make excuses to avoid keiko: it’s too hot, too cold, they have to go out drinking, they have a date, etc. etc., yada yada yada.

Another thing that particularly annoys me is people who strike at their opponent and – whether successful of not – they turn their back on them, walk away, and reset the encounter. It’s something you might see now and again with a very elderly person, which I might forgive, but it still makes me mad. In fact, I almost never see it here in Japan.

Actually, one of my sensei just turned 92 years old and he doesn’t do it (and neither did Mochida sensei).

People like this believe their kendo to be somehow more “correct” than others and show little willingness to learn from (perceived) inferiors. Someone may not be the same grade as yourself, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have a deeper understanding of the shugyo aspect. In other words, people who act like this show a fundamental misunderstanding of kendo.


5. Outside of the dojo

It’s often said that kendo (or any budo) is something that should have meaning in all aspects of your life, regardless of physical location or who you are dealing with. For many people, however, there is a large separation between who they are in the dojo and who they are outside of it. I guess in the beginning of someones kendo training this is to be expected, but once you start accumulating decades, I think we should see a closing of the gap. This not only includes movement and mannerisms, but respect for older people, taking appropriate care of juniors, and being able to deal with whatever situation comes your way appropriately, without panic.


There are actually many more things that I think affect a persons “quality” of kendo that I could list, but an exhaustive list is impossible. Anyway, I think I’ll leave it here today. Cheers!