Kendo art 剣道美術品

When the Tokugawa-Bakufu was dismantled in 1867/68 budo education was thrown into turmoil: gone were the domain schools as well as the short-lived Kobusho, and with that budo instructors suddenly lost their profession. Many (now ex-) samurai were suddenly jobless and facing destitution. One person that stepped up to help these people was the ex-samurai, Kobusho kenjutsu instructor, and Jikishinkage-ryu kenshi Sakakibara Kenkichi. He instituted what was called “Gekken-kogyo” – the highly popular public budo shows. “Gekken” refers to the nascent form of what we now call kendo. Although mainly sword-based shows, bouts with other weapons also occurred, and women and even foreigners are also recorded to have taken part.

Gekken Kogyo, July 2013

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Kyoto Taikai 2017 第113回全日本剣道演武大会

Whew, another Kyoto Taikai done!

Again this year, I’ve tried to add some bonus historical information/insights to my usual Kyoto Taikai rundown, so I hope you enjoy this part as well as the photography.

Naito Takaharu sensei’s grave

The person I consider to be the most important in the history of modern kendo, Naito Takaharu, passed away in his house on the 29th of April 1929, and was laid to rest in Kurodani-yama, just to the north-east of the Butokuden. There are about 10 temples and scores and scores of graves on the mountain side, so I knew that actually finding Naito’s grave would be a bit of a struggle. The temple associated with Naito and his family is Eisho-in, a Pure-Land buddhist temple, so starting from there I walked around the adjacent cemetery area in search of Naito.

There were so many gravestones that I ended up walking around-and-around for about one and a half hours before finally giving up. I couldn’t find it. I was even armed with a picture of the grave, but the pic must be about 40-50 years old, so it’s possible the grave isn’t in the same place or even the same shape. Anyway, although I gave up this time, I will go back!

Myodenji: the birthplace of kendo kata

About a 7 minute walk south-west from the Butokuden there is a seemingly unremarkable Nichiren buddhist temple that originally dates back to 1477 (the current building dates from the early 1700s) called Myodenji. I say unremarkable because Kyoto is littered with thousands of temples, most far larger and more well-known than this one.

However, for kendo people this holds an important part in our history: it was here, starting in the summer of 1911, where 25 of the top kenshi in the country debated, discussed, and fine-tuned what were to become the Dai-Nippon Teikoku Kendo Kata (“Kendo kata of Imperial Japan”). The kata were presented to the public in October 1912.

The picture below shows the leaders of the committee: (front, l-r) Tsuji Junpei, Negishi Shingoro, (back, l-r) Takano Sasaburo, Naito Takaharu, and Monna Tadashi.

BONUS: Horiyo Hyohei (堀与兵衛), the person who took the pictures of the famed Bakamatsu era swordsmen, Kondo Isami and Nakaoka Shintaro is buried in this temple.

Kyoto taikai 2017

The first day of the Kyoto taikai there is no kendo, instead we are able to watch various koryu ryu-ha (mainly kenjutsu, but also yari, naginata etc, arts not under the ZNKR umbrella), after which the rest of the day is filled with jodo and iaido demonstrations.

Unfortunately the 2nd of May is not a national holiday, so I was unable to either take part or watch properly this year. I popped into the Butokuden for about 10 minutes en-route to somewhere else, and managed to take a handful of naginata pictures. Hopefully next year I can re-organise my work schedule and attend properly.

The 3rd-5th is Golden Week proper, so the place gets jam-packed. This year I attended only the 3rd and 4th, taking time off on the 5th to sleep and relax. I spent the two days doing keiko, taking pictures, and drinking the odd beer. There were over 1,400 tachiai over the three days, which means over 2,800 people took part in the taikai.

Here’s a gallery showing some of my favourite pics.

One great part about the taikai is the sheer amount of keiko that is happening before, during, and after the event. Again this year I was invited to loads of different sessions but, as I was already run-off my feet, I decided to only attend a couple: one in Kyoto University, and another in the Budo Centre.


This years tenugui design was awesome, probably my favourite so far. It shows the gate to Busen (that I discussed last year) opened and the Butokuden in the distance.

A new book of kendo photos taken at the Kyoto Taikai was also published entitled “Kendo: densetsu no Kyoto Taikai (Showa).” The pics span from 1969 until the end of the Showa period in 1988. The book includes not only kendo pictures, but koryu ryuha, jodo, iaido, opening/closing ceremonies, as well as various pictures from around the precincts and other miscellany.

Unfortunately, the pictures themselves are not great quality, some even look like the editors didn’t have access to the original film negatives and just badly scanned some photos. All the photos were the work of a single gentleman, which I think was a bad idea as I am sure there are older photos out there by other people, and perhaps many better ones.

People shown in the pictures include Ogawa Kinnosuke’s son, Busen teacher Kurozumi, Ozawa Hiroshi and his father, famed naginata exponents Mitamura and Sonobe, Tobukan’s Kozawa Takeshi, Donn Draeger, jodo’s Shimizu Takaji, Asagawa Haruo, Nakakura Kiyoshi, Ogawa Chutaro, Ueda Hajime, Takizawa Kozo, Okada Morihiro, Matsumoto Junpei, Nakano Yasoji, Okuyama Kyosuke, Ikeda Yuji, Nakajima Gorozo, Chiba Masashi (and wife!), Gordon Warner, Morishima Tateo, Iho Kyotsugu, etc etc., too many people to mention!

Even though the pictures might not be of the best quality, as a historical record the book itself is invaluable. For me, the most interesting part were the undated pictures of the precincts showing the second dojo on the site (originally built in the 30s) as well as the office building. I had seen pictures of these buildings before, but I had assumed they were knocked down in the 40s during the American occupation (or when it was in possession of other groups). It seems, however, that these buildings may have survived much longer, perhaps until the renovation of the Butokuden in 1981. There was also a separate building space for the sensei, and the original kyudo-jo was on the opposite side it stands in now. I need to do more research on the matter!

Aaaaand, that’s that! This years taikai is finished but I am already looking forward to next years.

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Addendum: video

I’ll update this section as new video becomes available.

Hotta Sutejiro’s Kendo Kyohan (1934) 堀田捨次郎の剣道教範

Born in Tokyo in 1883, Hotta Sutejiro (Ono-ha itto-ryu) began kendo at around the age of 10, under the famed Shinto munen-ryu kenshi Watanabe Noboru. Where he worked and when is a little bit tricky to pin down, but we know he was employed as a budo instructor at Keishicho from 1905. At some point he quit the position and worked teaching kendo at various places through Japan, eventually returning to Keishicho in 1922 where he continued to teach until at least WW2. He took part in the 1929 Tenran-jiai in the kendo professional section, and did a demonstration match with Oasa Yuji in the 1940 one (he had obviously become hanshi in the meantime). What happened to him during and after the war is a mystery.

Although the details of Hotta Sutejiro’s kendo life are kind of vague, he left quite a large legacy in the shape of a number of publications. Doing research you can find quite a few titles that he authored, but it turns out that some of them are just re-prints of earlier books with a different title. In fact, I recently just bought a book by Hotta entitled “Kendo Kowa” (kendo lectures) that ended up being exactly the same as a book called “Kendo Kyohan” (kendo instruction) that I already had!!!

Below I will feature some pictures from Kendo Kyohan, plus a short translation. I hope you enjoy it.

A rare picture of Hotta Sutejiro (1912)

Kendo Kyohan (1934) (Kendo Kowa)

As I noted above, Hotta authored many books, some of which were simply re-branded or evolved versions of earlier ones. The 1934 edition of Kendo Kyohan which I own was followed up by what seems like a final book in 1939 that (confusingly) had the exact same name though the content differs greatly. Anyway, what both books – in fact all of Hotta’s books – have in common is that they are generally very well illustrated. In particular, his books have some very unique and at times intriguing diagrams showing shinai-movement and seme patterns. I have never come across any other author who explains kendo in this manner.

Let’s have a look at two such diagrams and translate the associated text. Note that the opponent is on the left in both cases.

At the instant the enemy steps in and closes distance:

Start by facing off in seigan (position 1). As the enemy steps in and attempts to execute a technique stop him from doing so by pushing down on the middle of his shinai either to the left or right and step in as if to threaten to tsuki him. Strike any openings that appear or, if he attempts to try something else, destroy his technique again and strike.

If the enemy pressures your from gedan:

If the enemy attempts to step in and pressure you from below then, whilst threatening to tsuki him from seigan, push his shinai down from above to stop him moving his hands freely, then decisively strike.

As you might have noticed when comparing the translation to the pictures, it’s not particularly clear as to what he meant. I could’ve translated what I think he meant, but instead I left the English as opaque as the Japanese is. At any rate, the book is jam-packed with these type of diagrams.

Apart from the diagrams, the book also has extensive sections on kihon, shiai, coaching, manners, and the more deeper aspects of kendo as well. If you are interested you can pick up a modern re-print of this book (it’s called “Kendo Kowa” but is in fact exactly the same as this 1934 “Kendo Kyohan”) on

Here are a couple of more illustrations from the same book. I will leave them untranslated so you can ponder what’s happening!

Bonus gallery

Here are some bonus pictures from some of Hotta’s earlier kendo manuals. Like I said above, they are wonderfully illustrated… too good not to share!


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).


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.


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.



Kensei Naito Takaharu 剣聖・内藤高治

As I’ve discussed on kenshi 24/7 many times, Naito Takaharu sensei was – is, in fact – the single most influential figure in modern kendo’s history (the closest person to this title is his rival, Takano Sasaburo). His idea of kendo, both in execution and in thought, permeates kendo today. Often this idea is expressed more as an ideal, but people serious about kendo still follow his defined kendo diet of kirikaeshi, uchikomi, taiatari, and kakarigeiko. He also saw little or no point in competition for the serious shugyo-sha, an attitude that has been almost lost today, even amongst senior practitioners.

During his 30 years as the most senior Butokukai kenshi he taught many people (including every 10th dan) but, being the humble person he was, he didn’t leave a lot of written material. However, his students talked about him profusely over the following years.

Luckily, in addition to the personal accounts left by his students, there were two volumes dedicated to Naito sensei produced, both of which I own and will introduce today.

The first is a book called “Kenshi: Naito Takaharu.” Luckily it was put together and printed just over a year after his death (he died on the 9th of April 1929 and the book was published for the Kyoto Taikai in 1930). Due to the books immediate nature it serves as an invaluable testament to the man.

The second book was published in 1975, a full 45 years after his death, and is entitled “Kensei: Naito Takaharu.” This book is valuable for two reasons, the first being the passage of time, and the second being less rushed content. In particular, comments by the most senior sensei of the day about their relationship to and experiences under Naito sensei are invaluable.

Unless I win the lottery and can quit my day job it’s impossible to translate the books fully, so let me just introduce a random portion from the earlier book.

The two books

From “Kenshi: Naito Takaharu” : Shinpan

The way Naito sensei did shinpan was as if he were a giant mountain. He would never move nor even stand from the shinpans seat. Even if the competitors were in a situation where he couldn’t see clearly he wouldn’t move. He would explain this by saying “If you can’t see them with your eyes, you should be able to sense them with your heart.”

When the shimpan of shiai were from the older generations (and thus smaller in stature) sometimes he would spot one siting on the shinpan chair with their legs dangling down not touching the floor. If he saw a scene like this Naito sensei would call the sensei to his house and warn them: “Sit naturally and place your hands on your knees. If you don’t sit yourself properly then how can you shinpan correctly? If you are sitting on your seat and move around you’ll make bad calls.”

When shinpaning he hated black tabi. Even if it were very cold he’d rather just shipan in his bare feet or, occasionally, he’d wear white tabi. He stuck to this rule even in large taikai. Due to this there was an instance where a famous kendo sensei was due to work as a shinpan in a shiai. The sensei tried to find some white tabi in Kyoto but couldn’t, and ended up judging in his bare feet.

* Note that until after the war (excluding the Tenran-jiai) a single shinpan was normal. They sat in a chair.

Naito sensei gallery

Most of the images included below are from the books mentioned.