Kyoto Taikai 2016 京都大会 (第112回全日本剣道演武大会)

This year was my 13th or 14th straight year of attendance at the Kyoto taikai. I’ve written about it and shared photos and videos of the event many many times over the years (2015, 2014, 2011, 2009, 2008) as well as posted lots of information about the Butokuden as well, so if you want to find out more about the event please search through the archives on this site or go through the posts on the kenshi 24/7 facebook page.

Information about the Kyoto taikai in English was pretty much non-existent when I first attended, and it was rare to see another non-Japanese person there to either watch or take part in the embu itself, so it was awesome again this year to see so many people from all different countries hanging around the Butokuden and taking part in one way or another.

Before I share a bunch of pictures from this years event, I’ll add it a wee bit of bonus information just for fun!


Bonus information

Everybody that comes to the event is immediately – rightly so – attracted to the Butokuden itself, a beautiful building that was completed in 1899. After WWII it kind of had a rocky patch, but now it’s a designated cultural asset of Kyoto city so we can be sure it will be here for a long time.

FYI, the other (larger) dojo that was on the grounds (built in the 30s) and the actually Budo Senmon Gakko (Busen) school buildings were knocked down by the occupying American forces. The Butokuden spared that fate because the military used it for something or other.

The Butokuden
The Butokuden

Anyway, what I want to draw your attention today is the often overlooked gate to the south of the Butokuden, which was the main entrance to Busen. This was originally one of the gates on the personal residence of the security administrator for Kyoto in the Edo period. In 1867 that public office was disbanded due to the volatile political situation and eventually the residence dismantled. At that time (I assume in 1898/9) the gate was moved to it’s current location.

The gate does not only have an interesting history, but it is at least multiple decades (or even more?) older that the Butokuden itself. Unfortunately it’s always kept closed now, and the area in front of it is used as a bus parking area. Next time you visit the Butokuden, please go and check it out!

The entrance to the butokuden
The entrance to the butokuden

大日本武徳会本部正門



Tachiai

The kendo tachiai are from days two through four (day one is for koryu, iaido, and jodo), and always fall on the “golden week” national holidays of May 3rd-5th (why it’s called golden “week” is a mystery). This is the “main event” of the Kyoto Taikai.

Here are a handful of pictures from those three days.

Free practise in the budo centre

The modern Budo Centre building next door (built in 1986) is thrown open for free use on April the 4th every year. Both large groups and small bunches of friends organise meet-ups on the day and do some keiko in the spacious hall. It’s 100% open, so anybody can just bring their bogu, suit-up, and find a partner to do kendo with.

That’s it for now! I have some video to edit but I’m not sure when I will get around to it. In the meantime, sleep…. !

EDIT: I put together some clips and uploaded them on to YouTube. I neither have the patience nor the inspiration to make serious video, so please don’t expect too much !!

Eikenkai April 2016 英剣会

Today’s Eikenkai session was held in what is almost certainly the oldest kendo related dojo by tradition in the Kansai area: Shubukan (older buildings include both the Nara and Kyoto Butokuden). The dojo started birth in 1786 as a place for studying kenjutsu and has been through a couple of name changes and rebuilds over the years since, the last being in 1962. Throughout this time it has always been owned by the same family/company. It was known for being once of the top three “civilian dojo” since the 1860s, the other two being Noma dojo and Tobukan. The dojo is nice and wide, beautiful inside, and has an amazingly soft and springy floor. I love the place!

About 35 people turned up for today’s keiko, mostly from around about the Kansai area, but also a couple of guests that came all the way from Kanto. After the usual 40 minutes of kihon and 30 minutes of waza practise, we did tachi-ai keiko for people sitting their 6th, 7th, and 8th dans in Kyoto at the end of the month, before moving on to about 45 minutes of jigeiko. I think everyone had a great time !!!

For more information about the kenshi 24/7 led Eikenkai sessions, please go here.


Shubukan today

Kendo, iaido, and naginata are still taught at Shubukan during weekdays to a very high level. Since changing it’s status to a not-for-profit foundation last year it has become available for hire to the public at large, which is why we decided to use it for today’s session.

For more information please check out their website (in Japanese) here: http://syubukan.info/

Kendo Pics 剣道写真

I must apologise to kenshi 24/7 readers for not writing any articles recently: I’m currently crazy busy with work (and keiko of course!) at the moment and can’t find the time to read and write as usual. So, rather than not updating the site, I thought I’d share some of my pictures.

I wrote briefly about my sojourns into kendo photography over three years ago, and I’ve shared quite a lot of my pictures here and there on this site over the years since. Although I’d consider myself as an average photographer at best, I do enjoy the particular challenge that shooting kendo brings, and very occasionally I actually do take a picture that I think is better than average!

With almost 70,000 kendo pictures sitting on my hard drives, I think I should probably be more liberal with sharing them. I recently got a new camera body and a nice shiny new zoom lens, so lets see if I can manage that this year.

Anyway, in the meantime, here are a handful of pictures for you to (hopefully) enjoy!


2013 gallery:

2014 gallery:

2015 gallery:

Improving tsuki waza 突き技の向上

A couple of articles ago Stefan asked the following question in a comment:

Hey George, where is the article on how to build a tsuki pad?

In 2008 I published two articles detailing some DIY tsuki-pads I had made. The earliest of the pair was made over 10 years ago, way back in 2006, and both articles were eventually archived. The following article was inspired completely by Stefan’s comment. I hope it proves useful!

tsuki


I strongly advise against treating tsuki as a special technique that can only be learned once a certain level of ability is acquired (this is generally ambiguous or arbitrary). Introducing it early will not only ensure that students learn it quickly, but will make them fear receiving it less. Also, the body mechanics involved in mastering tsuki mean that it’s an invaluable tool in creating good kendo.

Kendo Coaching Tips and Drills (2012), George McCall

As many of my kendo friends know quite well, I love a good tsuki (giving and receiving). Morote, katate, omote, or ura, it’s all good! I’ve probably spent more time working on tsuki by myself than any other technique. Initially, due to it’s supposed taboo status, this was because nobody would (perhaps even could) actually teach me it but, eventually, I worked at it because I came to see it as a critical part of having a complete kendo style.

When I started teaching kendo as part of my job I started to see it not only as an important weapon to have in one’s shiai arsenal, but as a building-block on which you can teach good kendo form, help acquire good tenouchi, create interesting pattern practise, and temper fearlessness in students. As such, I believe tsuki-less kendo to be a compromised kendo.

Here is another quote from my Kendo Coaching manual from the section entitled The path to a confident tsuki:

Most if not all people are wary about practising tsuki. Generally, this is because they are fearful of hurting or injuring their partners. This feeling is easily understood. The best way to combat this is to build up confidence by actually practising tsuki. Avoiding it is not a solution.

At my home and dojo I built homemade tsuki pads for practising on (see kenshi247.net). On these I (and my students) can practise tsuki without concern for hurting our opponent. I emphasis accuracy first then – once accuracy rate is high – firmness. Once accuracy and firmness is acquired, students will naturally be more confident and this will lead to better results during partner practise.

Some people suggest practising at home using a pingpong ball hanging down from a string tied to a light fixture or something. I generally dissuade my students from solitary practise this way as it usually leads to a poking at the ball and not a thrusting and – unlike a tsuki pad stuck to a wall – there is no physical feedback when you start adding firmness. For primary and junior high school level children it can be a good learning game type of activity, however.

– ibid.

The homemade tsuki pads mentioned above can be read about below.

So, how do we improve our tsuki waza?

The answer is obvious as it is simple: practise it. People unduly fear practising tsuki because of the arbitrary taboo placed on the technique. As noted above, actually practising the waza will remove that fear.

If you are in a situation whereby you don’t have an experienced instructor, or your instructor doesn’t favour the technique itself for whatever reason, you can build tsuki pads like the ones I introduced on kenshi 24/7 years ago (re-produced below) and practise by yourself at home. Once you are somewhat confident in your accuracy find someone else who wants to learn the technique and practise together (this is actually how I started to practise tsuki waza when I was a member of the British kendo team back in 2000-03… because nobody would teach us).

If you are in a coaching position yet don’t teach it to your students I’d ask you to consider why this is: is it because you yourself can’t do the technique? Is it because you think it’s dangerous? Is it because you think your students are not at the point where they should learn tsuki? For point 1, if you are a teacher you should not run-away from waza you cannot do, but actively practise them. For point 2, well, I’d argue that someone who actually practises to execute and receive tsuki is in much safer place than someone who doesn’t. For the last point, I’d ask you to re-think. Tsuki can be taught right from the beginning of a persons kendo journey, and should be thought as a building block to creating good form and acquiring good tenouchi.

I’m not sure if the quotes and discussion above will help dispel some of the myths about tsuki or get your practising it, but I sincerely hope they do!

Related kenshi 24/7 articles:

* Kobayashi Mitsuru hanshi’s KATATEZUKI (2009)
* Concerning the problem of tsuki (2011)

Competition in Osaka (2006-07)



Tsuki pad light version (2006)

Light tsuki-pad

I originally built this tsuki pad in 2006 for use in my home. I had the pad in my kitchen and used to practise about 100 tsuki in the morning before breakfast, another 100 when I came home from work before going to the dojo, and another 300 after coming back from keiko. Like a man possessed, I continued this pattern for months!

What you need

  • foam for a sander/polisher (as thick as you need)
  • sticky back square velcro patches (front and back, a little bit bigger or smaller than the foam should work)
  • sticky back tape (1 square piece around the same size as the coasters)
  • soft/flexible coasters (I used 4)
  • strong tape
  • strong post/area to put the tsuki-pad
  • beer (1 or more)

Directions

  1. take your coasters and tape them together as shown in the diagram. Leave a small area in the middle to aim at if you like (as I did);
  2. take the sticky backed square tape and stick the coasters and the sander foam together;
  3. on the strong post / area you have selected to place your tsuki pad work out exactly the height you wish to place the tsuki pad. Ensure that the area can take impact and also that you have enough distance to correctly practise your footwork;
  4. stick the back piece of the sticky backed velcro onto your selected area;
  5. place the other piece of sticky backed velcro on the clean side of the sander foam;
  6. using the velcro, stick the foam to your selected area;
  7. practise a few tsukis. How is it?
  8. drink your beer in satisfaction.

Bonus

Since you’ve used velcro patches to stick the pad to your wall or wherever, you can easily make multiple height targets… for tsuki practise against people who are taller/shorter than you.


Tsuki pad heavy version (2008)

Heavy duty tsuki pad

This redesigned DIY heavy duty tsuki pad is for use in a high school kendojo. It was made/designed with the purpose of being abused 6 days a week repeatedly and heavily. Once nailed to the dojo wall I don’t want to have to remove it for repair.

Note that as I re-post this article in 2016, these heavy duty tsuki pads are still in daily use… almost eight years later!

What you need

  • Strong wood squares, thicker being better
  • Carpeting (you can normally buy cheaply in big squares)
  • Plastic coasters (shape and thickness is up to you)
  • Hammer and nails

Directions

  1. Take your coaster and place it on the carpeting. Cut the carpeting up so that you have a larger piece than the coaster. Prepare three pieces of carpeting the same size;
  2. Place the three pieces of carpeting on top of each other and nail it to the wood. I used about 8 nails to secure them firmly;
  3. Nail the coaster into the middle of the carpeting;
  4. Attach the tsuki-pad to the dojo wall, either by nailing it in (preferably) or by using strong adhesive.
  5. Try it out!

Tsuki gallery

A random collection of tsuki pictures taken from kenshi247.net because, well, why not ?!

March book project #5: famous sensei’s books 三月本プロジェクトその5

All through this month I have been going through the mountain of kendo books one of my sempai gave me. The way I approached it was to put the really good books to the side and concentrate on the mass of general books in the pile… but, I must admit, I’ve started to tire of looking at so many books with pretty much the same or similar content. So for the fifth instalment of my March book project I’ve instead picked four of the more interesting books written by famous sensei to go through. Originally I’d intended to keep these to introduce in more detail later, but what the heck!!

Note that the books are listed in publication order, not in order in status of the sensei. Please also note, all the introductory pictures of the sensei (save the Sato Chuzo one) are not from the books in question.

btw, I did promise to keep this series up throughout March, but it’s proving a bit too much work time-wise… so this may be the last one. Don’t worry, I have other (different) articles in the pipe line!


The Kendo Textbook by Saimura Goro and Kaneko Kinji (1931, revised 1937)

Saimura Goro

In the mass pile of books I got from my sempai this book in particular knocked me over: as far as my research shows, this is the only book kendo legend Saimura Goro put his name to. I can’t be sure how much he actually wrote any of it – he may have just lent his name and allowed himself to be photographed for the project. I’m suspicious because I know other sensei sometimes did the same thing (for example Takano Sasaburo) and also because the other writer – Kaneko Kinji – wrote a handful of other kendo books. At any rate, I was taken aback. The pictures of Saimura in the front of the book and in the kamae section I had never seen before, and I think are historically valuable. I’ll reproduce a couple of pics here.

The content of the book is pretty similar to Ogawa Kinnosuke’s Teikoku Kendo Kyohon (The Kendo Textbook of Imperial Japan), which is available full translated into English by yours truly here. Content-wise as well as in design and overall feel, the books are very similar. This Saimura/Kaneko book probably goes into a little more kata detail, and also has small sections on iaido and tameshigiri.

All in all a superb book which will have to pried out of my dead hands!!


Kendo by Sasamori Junzo (1955)

sasamori-junzo

Sasamori Junzo had a completely different background from most kenshi of this period. A christian minister who studied in America, he was an educator, a philosopher, and a politician. He was not only highly active in the university kendo community, he also unified various disparate Itto-ryu groups into a single Ono-ha Itto-ryu banner (of which he was the headmaster) and, after the war, he helped create and popularise a sportified version of kendo (shinai-kyogi). His unique background comes through in the content of his books as well.

Although this book looks at many of the same things that other kendo books do, he tackles other subjects as well, and often looks more deeply into the historical and traditional aspects.

I haven’t had time to digest this information-packed book at all now, so just upload a couple of pics and leave it there for now. In the future I intend to mine the book for more detailed content.

Sasamori’s book written with Gordon Warner entitled “This is kendo” was one of the first ever kendo books available in English. Although dated and a little bit thin on information you can still buy it today.


The Kendo Reader by Takano Hiromasa (1973)

takano-hiromasa-02

Takano Sasaburo’s second son, Takano Hiromasa was renowned for his skill with a shinai even at an early age.

Although there isn’t a lot of unique information in the book, it is quite detailed and has some interesting pictures. Again, like the Sasamori book above, I intend to use this for articles in the future.

btw, it’s worth noting that there’s no doubt that the above mentioned Sasamori Junzo learned some Itto-ryu from Takano Sasaburo on his travels. However, Sasamori copyrighted the name “Ono-ha itto-ryu” at some point after the war which seemingly caused Hiromasa to rebrand the school he inherited from his father “Nakanishi-ha Itto-ryu” a name Sasaburo never once used (he used “Ono-ha”). Of course, it’s common knowledge within Itto-ryu researchers that the direct Ono family tradition was passed to Yamaoka Tesshu, who then revised it into his own art called Itto Shoden Muto-ryu. Reflecting these facts, the book simple says “Itto-ryu soke, kendo hanshi, Takano Hiromasa” on the cover.


How to study kendo by Sato Chuzo (1974)

sato-chuzo

Born in Yamagata, the influential Busen teacher Sato Chuzo sensei passed away at the age of 77 in 1976. This book has no illustrations save a small one of Sato himself (above) and a picture of his calligraphy. This book was re-printed in a modern format and can be purchased on amazon.jp here.

For this article, I translated a small section of the book entitled How to study kendo, here it is:

1. Understand right and wrong.

First, in order to acquire correct kendo as well as measure your progress, you must understand the difference between right and wrong (good and evil), then you must devote yourself to following this way. Like the saying “When the mind is not right, the sword is also not right” if you have evil in your heart then you will never be able to learn the correct way of the sword, and progress will be shaky at best.

2. You must study under a good teacher.

You must respect your teacher at all times and submit to their teachings. You must have strong belief in your teacher and protect what has been taught to you. Teachers do not only have a strong influence on technical proficiency of their students, but may also exert a considerable influence on the spiritual and even the characters of their students. It is for this reason you must seek out as good a teacher as you can. It is especially important to select a teacher with a good character.

3. The importance of the teaching Jiri-itchi.

Even it someone manages to display strong technical kendo casually (i.e. through natural talent or without much study) this is nothing more than a “blind mans kendo.” Simply being able to strike and thrust your opponent through technical ability alone has little value for those that pursue the true path of kendo. People like this become self-satisfied by easily striking people and winning shiai and, eventually, they stop making an effort. When this attitude surfaces progress will be halted.

On the other hand, understanding kendo concepts without having the technical ability to express them is the mark of the armchair samurai. This type of understanding is a useless one.

Especially, aimless devotion and inquiry into confucianism, buddhism, or spiritual enlightenment through the study of kendo has absolutely no benefit to the technically inexperienced. Even being a stickler for the more mundane of kendo’s concepts can see technique atrophy through over-thinking, resulting, in the end, of a worsening of skill not an improvement.

Its only after practising for a while when you will be able to start to see kendo. For example when your opponents men becomes open, when they more into a blocking position, when the opponent moves to thrust you, etc. etc., eventually you will then start to understand something of fear, doubt, and so on. However, even though start to see things you will strike without hitting and be struck from all directions. You might even move to strike but find your body does not obey your commands. This is because neither your technique nor spiritual power has advanced enough.

If you diligently devote yourself to hard physical disciple then, sooner or later, you will smoothly strike your opponents openings and their shinai tip will no longer bother you.

4. Do a lot of keiko.

There are people who have a lot of natural ability and others who have not so much. At any rate, there are some people who’s ability increases quite rapidly and others who don’t seem to progress much. Inevitably, the former tend to think of themselves as being somehow talented and end up slacking off, which compromises their progress. Those that don’t have so much natural ability in the beginning can, if they keep practising hard over many years while listening with humility to their teachers instruction, progress to the point of superiority over those with natural ability.

Kendo is not about simple technical mastery, about who has a talent for hitting people or who doesn’t. Rather, the spiritual element has a large effect over a persons kendo than the mere technical.

The most important thing in kendo is to discipline yourself to unbending and untiring devotion to spiritual shugyo through lots of hard keiko. Having natural ability or not is of no consequence.

5. Understand the root principle.

Whether it’s kendo, academic study, or the arts, the most important thing is to understand and acquire knowledge of the root principles. If you don’t attempt to acquire this knowledge you will have trouble improving, even if you work hard. Exactly what these root principles are depends on the teacher. For example, some teachers start with etiquette, others with cleaning (to create a clean heart). When it comes to Shogi, for example, some teachers start with teaching what the pieces mean.

The very basics of kendo are sometimes taught by showing how to move the body, and sometimes by teaching suburi. For example, in 1927 I began to study Jigen-ryu at the dojo of Togo sensei in Kagoshima. For the first two and a half days I stood in the dojo garden with a thin stick and struck a thick piece of wood left and right from 8am to around about 4pm with only an hour break at lunchtime. After this period I was finally taught some kata. These first two and a half days were my introduction to Jigen-ryu.

At any rate, mastery of the basics is essential.

6. Keiko with your betters.

Before I mentioned that it was important to do as much keiko as you can. Whilst doing this it’s important to always try your best and to do keiko with people more advanced than you are. It’s more valuable for your progress to do one keiko with your teacher than 10 with people at the same level as yourself.

Whilst doing keiko with your teacher don’t concentrate on striking and being struck. Don’t worry that you are being struck freely but you can’t seem to strike back, and certainly don’t try to hit your teacher by any sneaky means.

Facing one of your peers or someone inferior to your teacher directly after this and you will find that it’s become much more easier to face them now than had you faced them before going to your teacher. That’s one important reasons why facing your teacher is invaluable.

Also, it’s important during keiko to make sure you are not struck in the same place in the same manner twice. Struck once you should learn from it. If you see the same thing happening again don’t flee and don’t simply block it, rather you must work on a counterattack. If you are hit three or four times in the same place in the same manner without attempting to resolve your weakness, you won’t improve.

If you can’t work out how to resolve the weakness no matter what, then you should watch your current opponent fight someone else and learn form the encounter. It is in instances like this where the true value of watching keiko is found.

In a similar manner, it’s more important to face opponents that you find difficult rather than the ones you find easy to deal with. These difficult opponents will teach you your weak points.


Book covers

Here is a quick snapshot of the books introduced here today. They are left-right/top-bottom order. Hope you enjoyed the article!

teachers-books-9


Sources

新制剣道教科書。斎村五郎・金子近次。東京精文館蔵版。昭和12年発行。
剣道。笹森順造。社文旺。昭和30年発行
剣道読本。高野弘正。読売新聞社。昭和48年発行。
剣道の学び方。佐藤忠三。体育とスポーツ出版社。昭和54年発行。