Attack from a far distance – be energetic and lively – attack with abandon

I posted this advice from the kendo legend Saimura Goro sensei (斎村五郎) on the kenshi 24/7 facebook page yesterday. As it got so many likes and shares I thought I’d better put it on the main site as well! Here is is:


“During keiko you should attack energetically from a far distance with large strikes. This style of kendo is not only elegant and manly, but it will lead to improvement in your kendo over time. Attack from a far distance – be energetic and lively – attack with abandon.”

The advice above, I think, applies for all kenshi irregardless of age or gender, but Saimura sensei goes on to qualify it for young people in particular:


“Being able to do kendo in this manner is the privilege of the young. Young people who don’t do kendo in this manner are like flowers that have lost their scent, or salt that has no flavour – they are not doing kendo as a youth should, and will never improve no matter how hard they try.”

To read a bio of Saimura sensei please check out this kenshi 24/7 article.


The stream of tradition

The building my main dojo is based in is undergoing renovation. Part of the work involved includes increasing the size of an already existing office at the back of the dojo and to so were told that we would lose a little bit of the space in our changing room (luckily the dojo will remain as is). Due to this we had to completely clean out the changing room, which meant disposing of unneeded bogu and contacting those that didn’t come to keiko often to come and pick their stuff up. Hidden in the back of the changing room, in amongst all the kote and keikogi, was a large horizontal picture frame with some beautiful calligraphy. Quite unexpectedly one of the head sensei turned round to me and said “Do you want it?” A bit surprised I said “Are you sure?” and – after some persuasion (light I must admit!) it was a done deal.

Mori Torao (l) vs Noda Ko (r) in Los Angeles, 1959.
Mori Torao (l) vs Noda Ko (r) in Los Angeles, 1959.

The calligrapher

The kanji is the hand of Noda Ko sensei (1901-1984). Noda sensei became the CEO of Hankyu department store (based in Osaka) in the late 50s and was extremely influential in the resurgence and development of post-war kendo.

After the war he worked with Sasamori Junzo sensei in Tokyo to establish a softer, westernized version of kendo called shinai-kyogi – something more palatable to the occupying Americans. This served its purpose as a Trojan horse and eventually kendo was reborn and shinai-kyogi subsumed within the new kendo federation.

In those early years Noda sensei held various executive positions in the fledgling kendo associations: e.g. vice-president of the All Japan Kendo Federation (ZNKR), president of the Osaka prefectural school kendo association, president of the Kansai universities kendo association, etc. He also served as the honourary president of the Osaka kendo association from it’s foundation in 1954 until his death 30 years later.

A member of the Butokukai before the war, when kendo was finally rebooted and the Kyoto Taikai began again, he would invite such kendo legends as Saimura Goro, Ogawa Kinnosuke, Miyazaki Mosaburo, and Mochida Seiji, to his Hankyu dojo in Osaka (the 1st dojo was built in 1958, a 2nd in a new location in 1978), thus helping to promote and spread traditional kendo in the Kansai area. Included in these keikokai’s would be future leaders of kendo in the area, such as Ikeda Yuji sensei and Matsumoto Junpei sensei.

Not only this, but Noda sensei travelled abroad a bit and had a an interest the development of kendo in America, particularly on the west coast. He practised with Mori Torao in L.A. in the 1950s, attended the 1st and 2nd American Kendo Championships, and invited the American team to Osaka and his dojo after the Sapporo WKC (1979).

Iaido hanshi 9dan, kendo hanshi 8dan, he worked as passionate about expanding the success of his business as he was the promotion of kendo.

Obviously there’s a lot more to the man himself, but I have focused on giving a very brief outline of his kendo background here.


The meaning (流河一)

It reads IKKARYU or maybe ICHIGA-NO-NAGARE (theres a few ways you could pronounce it). The literal Japanese meaning is “one stream” but the image is more likely a large, single, slow-moving river (in classical Chinese the 河 kanji means a large river, but in modern Japanese it’s more likely to be a small stream). Researching the meaning more we can find references to the karmic cycle, of birth and rebirth, but – after discussion with a professional teacher of Chinese classics (who is also an Aikido instructor) and some advice from an extremely knowledgeable iaido teacher, I came to the conclusion that the meaning of the kanji probably refers to tradition.

Imagine that tradition is a large, slow moving river. It exists, always moving forward yet almost unchanging, as a single, branchless, entity. Today we, as those that lived before us did, sit at the bank of the river, cup our hands, and drink from it. In a (roundabout) way, the karmic cycle exists within this tradition, in that what you are taught you pass on to your students ensuring that – even after your are physically no longer on earth – a part of you continues on through them. I guess, in a way, the “stream” flows through people, from one to another, and this is “tradition.”

Like most serious budo practitioners, I believe it’s my duty to pass on what I have been taught in some way. Although it will probably never happen, it’s my dream to build my own dojo one day and to teach both kendo and classical swordsmanship to a younger generation. When the time comes, I will hang this in my dojo to remind myself that I must respect what I have learned from my teachers and – for myself and my students – to point out that although our length of experience may be different, we are drinking from the same river (師弟同行).

For the time being the frame will be cleaned and polished, wrapped up, and placed somewhere safe out of harms way. Before then, I thought I’d share it here on kenshi 24/7. Hopefully I’ll be able to unwrap it and hang it somewhere soon.

1934 Tenran-jiai (illustrated)

On the 4th and 5th of May 1934, Saineikan – a budojo located in the grounds of Tokyo Imperial Palace – was the venue of the second of three Showa-period Tenran-jiai (a budo or sports competition held in front of the Emperor). This post was mainly written in order to share some of the pictures available of the event, but I’m also using it as an opportunity to bring together related kenshi 24/7 articles.

There’s still a lot more that needs to be written both about the event itself and the people involved, but there’s no point in hoarding all these cool pictures, so here they are… enjoy!!!

(Links to related articles are after the pictures.)

Emperor Showa watching the shiai:


Shinpan and competitors:

Kata (Nakayama Hakudo and Takano Sasaburo):

Competition winners (note Noma Hisashi on the right):

Finals of the professional kenshi division:

Finals of the prefectural kenshi division (Noma vs Fujimoto):

Special demonstration match (Mochida Moriji vs Ogawa Kinnosuke):

Special demonstration match (Oshima Jikida vs Ueda Heitaro):

Special demonstration match (Takano Shigeyoshi vs Nakayama Hakudo):

Special demonstration match (Saimura Goro vs Nakano Sosuke):

Special demonstration match (Jukendo):

Special demonstration (teaching children):

Various matches from throughout the two days:

Related articles on kenshi 24/7

Teikoku Kendo Kyohon – the book written by Ogawa Kinnosuke, a shinpan and special demonstration member.

The Kendo Reader – the book written by Noma Hisashi, the winner of the prefectural kenshi division.

Fujimoto Kaoru – a look into the life of the person Noma defeated to take the title.

Takano Sasaburo – the most senior sensei in attendance and head shinpan.

Saimura Goro – a shinpan and special demonstration member.

Nakayama Hakudo – a shinpan and special demonstration member.

Takizawa Kozo – information about post-WW2 Tenran-jiai and Saineikan.

(I’ll probably expand on this list as time goes on)


The following video is NOT from the 1934 Tenran-jiai featured here, but one held 6 years later. Although a different shiai, I think we can assume that the execution is pretty much the same:


昭和天覧試合 : 皇太子殿下御誕生奉祝。宮内省 監修。昭和9発行。大日本雄弁会講談社。

MEI-SHOBU: the ki of Naito vs the waza of Takano 名勝負:内藤高治vs高野佐三郎

Kyoto Butokuden, late Meiji period*. It’s the last tachiai of a long day but the hall is packed. The yobidashi (announcer) steps forward:

East side. Tokyo. Takano sensei !

West side. Kyoto. Naito sensei !


With the call the packed audience suddenly goes quiet and an palpable feel of excitement (or perhaps expectation?) fills the air. Facing each other on the dojo floor are the two most famous swordsmen in Japan: on the east side Tokyo Koto Shihan Gakko’s Takano Sasaburo; and on the west side Busen’s Naito Takaharu. In between them moderating the tachiai stands Monna Tadashi.

The spectators sit nervously in silence wondering what kind of contest will unfold before them. Will it be an equal fight? What kind of techniques will be used? Who will be triumphant? But despite this nervousness there was no fighting mood in the air. Rather, the two sensei seemed detached.

The swordsmen bowed to each other and moved slowly into the center of the hall. Sonkyo. Finally, in the instant that they stood up, the tension between them radiated out into the audience.

Naito and Takano were born in 1862, just 4 months apart. Both were born into budo families and lived through a period of turmoil in Japan as it went through monumental cultural changes. While young they both studied kenjutsu (Hokushin Itto-ryu and Ona-ha Itto-ryu respectively) eventually heading to Tokyo to seek further instruction from the top instructors in the country – Naito under Sakakibara Kenkichi (Jikishinkage-ryu) and Takano under Yamaoka Tesshu (Muto-ryu).

In 1887, after an extended Musha-shugyo, Naito finally entered the employ as a kendo instructor in the kendo mecca that was Keishicho (the fledgling Tokyo Metropolitan police force). Takano had already entered it a year earlier in 1886. It’s almost as if they were destined to cross paths.

Their first shiai would have to wait until 1890. The event was a keishicho sponsored tournament (gekkiken-kai). At this time Takano had already moved out of his position at keishicho and was working as a kendo instructor for the Saitama police. During the competition Takano was matched up with a keishicho kenshi famed for his high-speed waza, Saruda Tosuke. However, Takano’s waza was renowned for being fast as well, and he overpowered and defeated Saruda.

As keishicho sponsored the tournament it wouldn’t be seemly for them to lose to someone working in a rival police force, even if they had once worked with them. Keishicho management’s response was to issue a command:

“Naito, take care of it.”

And with that, the future leaders of the kendo community (and creators of the modern kendo style) faced each other for the first time.

Even though they both employed their strongest techniques neither could best the other. Eventually, as time wore on and on, the shiai was called to a halt and a draw declared. Thus ended the first of many duels the pair were to have.

30 years after their first match in Tokyo they again found themselves facing off at each other, but this time they were both older, wiser, and had far more experience. In the intervening years both men had forged careers as professional kendo instructors – Takano at Tokyo koto shihan gakko and Naito at the Butokukai’s training facility Busen – and had become the top instructors in the country. Now they faced each other in the middle of the Butokuden in unmistakable seriousness as if it was a fight to the death.

During the fight the spectators felt an oppressive pressure from the shiai-jo, almost turning their blood to ice. Some people thought “I want this to finish quickly!” and others “I want this to keep going on and on!”

Just as it started softly, suddenly on Monna’s “SORE MADE” (thats enough) the shiai was over. The spectators that had been holding their breathe in excitement let out an audible sigh of relief. Even after the sensei had bowed and left the area the sense of tension remained and, for a little bit, the audience sat in stunned silence.



This account is based on multiple first-hand accounts of shiai between Naito and Takano found in 3 books:


Comic pics from the manga 龍-RON-


* A precise date is not given : “The time when the Emperor or the Crown-Prince was in attendance” is the only information.
UPDATE: based on a new source, I discovered that Naito and Takaharu fought each other in 1901, 1907, and 1916 in the Butokuden (and again in 1920 at the opening of Meiji Jingu). Only scores were kept for the 1901 tachiai – it was a hikiwake. The other bouts were mohangeiko.

Saimura Goro


The words above are attributed to Saimura Goro, one of the the most influential kenshi in the pre-WW2 period, and one of only 5 sensei that were awarded 10 dan after the war. A liberal translation in English reads:

* The aim of kendo is to improve the spirit. The means of achieving this is through the polishing of technique.

* It’s important to think of and use the shinai as a real sword and to cultivate a positive style of kendo with no holding back (sutemi).

* During keiko you must never relax your guard whatever distance you find yourself in.

Pretty easy advice on the face of it, but the more I read it, the more difficult it seems to be.

Saimura Goro: a very brief bio

In 1906, Saimura Goro was in the first group of students that entered the Butokukai’s Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseisho (‘martial art teachers training school’ – this was later renamed to the Budo Senmon Gakko, or ‘Busen’ for short). At 18, he was the by far the youngest student in the first group. Here he studied kendo under Naito Takaharu. Naito’s kirikashi and kakarigeiko-centric keiko regime would shape not only Saimura’s physical kendo, but his attitude towards kendo itself.

(The first batch included Nakano Sosuke (20), and the next year Mochida Seiji (Moriji) would join (21). All 3 would become kendo leaders in the future, and all were awarded 10th dan. Although Mochida was older than Saimura, he was the kohai in the relationship as he entered the Yoseijo later.)

During his time in Kyoto he was infamous for his short temper and always getting into arguments. Eventually he was banished from the school and sent to Kyushu as a kendo teacher for 3 years (he was, essentially, exiled for his attitude). After this, however, he was invited back to the Yoseijo by Naito, and become a kendo instructor there.

In 1917 he retired his teaching position and moved to Tokyo in search of work. Here he lived with his wife and small children close to the breadline for many years while he built up his career. It took time, but eventually he would land teaching positions in Keishicho, the imperial police, Toyama Gakko (military), Waseda university (and accompanying schools), and the new Kokushikan senmon gakko (later, university). His influence, therefore, was large.

Saimura was the first of the Butokukai (i.e. Naito-trained) kenshi to become employed as a kendo teacher in Tokyo. At the time the style in Tokyo was said to be different:

1. As the dojo were small everyone fought at close distance;
2. Takano Sasaburo’s style of using a variety of techniques from different angles was the standard.

Saimura learnt his kendo in the bigger dojo found in Kansai and would launch attacks from a far distance. He also favoured a simpler, cleaner style of kendo, focusing mainly on men and tsuki. Saimura also taught differently – he basically brought Naito’s kirikaeshi/kakarigeiko-centric style to Tokyo (Mochida would arrive later at Noma dojo). It was due to these 2 factors that Saimura became as renowned as he did, leading him to be sought after and employed as a kendo teacher in the establishments listed above.

By the way, it’s worth noting that when Saimura first arrived in Tokyo he was surprised to find many dojo didn’t focus on kihon and had a lackadaisical approach to keiko. He was to be a leading figure in changing this attitude.

In the years leading up to WW2 Saimura would continue rotating around various dojo teaching kendo. He would also appear in all of the tenranjiai, as competitor, demonstrator, and judge.

After the reestablishment of kendo after the war Saimura became an honorary shihan to both Keishicho and Kokushikan, was awarded 10dan, and performed – with Mochida as his shidachi – kendo kata at the Tokyo Olympic Games.


Saimura Goro vs Ogawa Kinnosuke (Tenranjiai, 1940):

Saimura Goro (uchidachi) and Mochida Seiji (date and location unknown, but presumably in the 1960s):


The ultranationalistic general Anami Korechika was appointed War Minister to a desperate Japan in April 1945. Five months later and Japan was finished. The cabinet met on the 14th of August and signed the surrender document. It just so happened that there was keiko at the army ministry dojo that very day. Anami, who has signed the surrender document earlier that day, turned up to do keiko with his sensei, Saimura. The next morning, he committed seppuku.