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