Old style 古めかしい

Takano Sasaburo
Takano Sasaburo

As long term readers of kenshi 24/7 may have noticed, this site strongly emphasises the traditional and historical aspects of kendo. I also find myself – both online as well as off – thinking about and having discussions about how kendo has evolved through the years, for both good and bad. Although there is a lot you can find on the site that is my own thinking or heavily influenced by the sensei and sempai that surround me, most of what is presented here is informed through historical analysis, in particular through lots and lots of reading. Over the years I’ve also harvested a wealth of older kendo videos and images from the net as well (though often these are without context), whose availability adds something to the greater kendo knowledge base.

Looking through older books, pictures, and videos, I often find myself wondering about why is it that, as the movement we use in kendo has changed a lot over the past 100 or so years, bogu hasn’t changed much. Sure, different materials are used over time and fashions go in and out, but bogu generally looks the same as it did in 1915. One picture (shown above) of Takano Sasaburo caught my imagination in particular and – when I saw it at first – I studied it intently.

Bogu-wise, what this (undated, but possibly sometime in the 20s?) photo shows us is that bogu pretty much looked then as it does now. The only difference is the absence of a zekken (a post war invention), the colour of the kote (of the kobushi/kotegashira plus a stripe), and, to lesser extent, the colour of the front stripe (menboshi) of the men. Looking through a variety of material over the years I come to the conclusion that the style (or fashion) of the bogu worn by Takano sensei in the picture above, was not only relatively common, but lasted for a long time.

Check out the pictures in this gallery:

And these videos (the first is from 1914, the second from 1932):

See what I mean?

Although on rare occasions (for example at the Kyoto Taikai) I caught a glimpse of people wearing (sometimes only parts of) what seemed like older-fashioned bogu, it wasn’t until a year or so ago that I actually got my hands on some: one of my sempai whipped out a pair of kote that looked exactly like those Takano sensei is wearing in the top picture. Obviously, my attention was immediately caught. I discovered that a company in northern Kyushu still made this old style but – after further inquiry – found out they were very pricey. I hummed and hawed for a bit (mainly because I generally don’t like to wear anything that stands out … and these kote definitely do!) but eventually I decided to ask my friend Andy at All Japan Budogu whether he could custom make a set. He said he could, so I set him on it and waited.

After a few months I was genuinely surprised when Andy not only made me some kote, but he started offering them online to the public as well !!!!! Here are two pictures of my kote plus one of Andy’s product images (which may be of my set as I think it was the prototype – the difference in colour is in the lighting, image processing and background):

So, I got what I wanted and – I must admit – I was secretly delighted!! Although I only have the kote at the moment, I think I’ll probably extend my range of anachronistic looking bogu parts in the future.


Review: Mugen brand, Renma Type 2 Cho-Mamorigata kote

Although I didn’t set out to write a product review in this piece, I think it’s only fair to write something here about my opinion on the kote after using them for a few weeks.

Feel: well, there’s not really much I can say here – the kote fitted perfectly and – although I was worried that they might have been too large at first (they are sold as a practise/protective kote and are hence thicker and more reinforced than normal) – within 10 minutes of using them in keiko for the first time they were already comfortably sitting in my hand. This is no different to how the other kote I’ve gotten from All Japan Budogu have behaved and I’m extremely happy with them. As pointed out above they are kote that are meant for use in hard, daily practise, and this is exactly what I’ve been using them for. They feel great!

Look: they look super distinct… you will stick out a mile! If you have any deficiencies in your grip you will be unable to hide them from your sensei and sempai anymore – they will spot it from across the dojo. btw, My students reactions ranged from “What the hell are those!?” to “Oh wow, your kote are cute!”

Kote lining: I didn’t think about the kote lining choices that All Japan Budogu give, so I guess Andy just picked for me. I must admit that I probably wouldn’t have chosen what I ended up with (as it’s not inline with my more traditional approach) but, truthfully, I have no problems with it. It’s a pleasant wee touch actually.

Smell: everything that looks beige, as well as the kote palms, are made from smoked deerskin, which means that the kote smell strong. I don’t mean a little bit, I mean they smell strong. If you leave them lying out in your bedroom your entire room will quickly smell. Your non-kendoka boy/girlfriend, your parents, and your pets may all have a problem with the kote. Through time the strength of the smell will diminish, but until then you may want to keep them in a couple of plastic bags or outside on the balcony.

In summary: the kote are excellent. I love the combination of the more anachronistic design with the modern know-how provided by the All-Japan team. In the future I hope to ask for some more custom parts with the combination of traditional styling and modern skill and material from them as well.

The kote are available to preview and order here. In case you are not interested in the look of these kote, All Japan Budogu also do a type 1 version, which is the same kote without the beige deerskin.


Bonus

btw, here’s an image I have of Nakayama Hakudo’s bogu… mysteriously his left kote is designed like the one introduced here but his right one is different!

nakayama-bogu

And here’s one more. This picture (courtesy of 小林一心堂武道具店) is of kote from sometime in the Edo period, probably mid to late 19th century:

edo-kote


Update! (September 2015)

A Japanese kendo friend saw this article and gave me a set of vintage kote that he owned (after having them cleaned and washed of course). These are a 1978 model, so obviously a different style to the ones introduced above. Note that at some point (maybe in the 60s and 70s?) kendo fashion seems to have changed and these white/navy kote were relegated to use by beginners and children. There are, however, some places in Japan that still make them for adults. I personally think they are cool !

kote-white

Kyoto Taikai 2015 京都大会 (第111回全日本剣道演武大会)

The Kyoto Taikai is Japan’s premier kendo event, this year being the 111th time it has been held (it’s only stopped a few times over the years, either due to war or because a tenran-jiai – competition in front of the Emperor – took precedence). Although this year was my 13th time (I think!) I still haven’t lost my appreciation or fascination of the event… I love it! There is literally so much going on it’s hard to explain online – not only the tachiai itself, but various keikokai, drinking events, koryu embu, etc etc. Rather than attempt to spell everything out, I’d like to share some pictures that I took over the course of the 4 days.


Day 1 (May 2nd)

The first part of the the first day of the taikai is reserved for demonstrations of the older budo and is one of the highlights of the entire 4 day event. Participating groups change every year, but what you usually end up seeing is sojutsu, a variety of kenjutsu styles, and a mix of jodo-related arts. Sadly, due to the dearth of groups nowadays, this part of the event finishes quite quickly before moving on to lots and lots of naginata and jodo demonstrations. Once the jodo is over (usually by mid/late morning depending) the entire rest of the day moves onto iaido.

In theory, everyone participating on the first day must hold renshi 6dan in one of the three arts run by the All Japan Kendo Federation (ZNKR), i.e. kendo, iaido, or jodo, but it’s not always necessary.

Day 2 (May 3rd)

The final 3 days of the taikai is for kendo demonstrations only. Day 2 starts with a demonstration of kendo-no-kata before the kendo starts properly. Participants start at renshi and move up through kyoshi.

The iaido and jodo 8dan exams are held in the Budo Center next door.

Day 3 (May 4th)

The demonstrations on day 3 are all kyoshi. This tends to be one of the busiest days for keiko as the Budo Center is open for free use all day. Many groups gather and hold sessions, and some people just roll up and improvise. This year I joined one official 2 hour session in the morning, and then just improvised for an hour or so in the afternoon. It was great !!!!!

btw, today I shot pictures only in black and white because my friend Andy Rogers couldn’t make it – he runs the new website kendomonochrome.com. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out (his pictures blow mine away) !

Day 4 (May 5th)

The final day is the big one: the 8dan’s. They go through kyoshi up until the final (and small group) of hanshi (which, by the way, included a pair of hanshi 7dan – which is more senior than kyoshi 8dan). The hanshi embu are slightly different than the other one’s as there are no shinpan (just a sensei to say start and finish) and ippon are not scored. This is traditionally how all the matches at the Kyoto Taikai would’ve been run.

As you can imagine, this day usually sees the most amount of spectators. Finding a good place to view the action can sometimes be very difficult.


I hope you enjoyed the pictures! If want to help support us please consider picking up one of our publications or sharing our facebook page — your help is appreciated !!!

Eikenkai April 2015 英剣会

Eikenkai is a kenshi 24/7 led kihon-heavy keiko session that takes place usually every couple of months in central Osaka.

Due to the unavailability of our usual venue (Sumiyoshi Budokan) we used one of our member’s work dojo for this months session. Numbers were kept deliberately small in order to try a slightly different menu structure than usual and also because a couple of members were attempting 6 and 7dan this week.

Our next session will return to our usual place – Sumiyoshi Budokan – and will return to being an open session. If you are around Osaka on the 28th of June (and you’ve read and understood the “Points to note before joining a session”) then feel free to come along!

Keiko in Osaka

This post was originally entitled “Keiko in Osaka before and after the World Kendo Championships.” Since the championships are finished I have amended it to act as a general introduction for kendo in Osaka.

Recently I’ve been getting a lot of messages about doing keiko in Osaka. So many requests are coming, in fact, that it’s hard to keep track anymore… so, rather than deal with them individually, I’ve created the following post detailing information about a couple of dojo in Osaka that are open to visitors from abroad: Yoseikai and Shudokan. There are of course many other dojo in the city, but these are by far the easiest to go to.

First of all, read the Kendo In Japan Cheat Sheet.


YOSEIKAI is a dojo situated in Namba in the heart of the city. I have been associated with this dojo for over a decade now, though I rarely attend anymore. However, don’t let me attendance or non-attendance influence whether you go or not: either way feel free to go!

Check out Yoseikai’s English information page here.

Yoseikai

Location: Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium (currently branded “Edion Arena Osaka’)

Station: Osaka Subway Midosuji line, Namba station. The dojo is 5 minutes walk from exit 5.

Cost: 500 yen / session

Time: 19:00-20:15pm unless specified otherwise.

Schedule: View it online here (in Japanese but easy to understand).

Online: http://kenshi247.net/yoseikai/

Keiko flow: suburi (5 mins) -> kihongeiko (15+ mins) -> uchikomigeiko (5 mins) -> jigeiko (remainder)

Notes: Turn up early. Write your name on the form (English ok) and put 500 yen in the box. Someone will probably come and chat to you. Change and bring all your stuff into the dojo. Follow along. If you can speak Japanese – even a little bit – go and say hello and introduce yourself to the sensei.


SHUDOKAN is the dojo situated in Osaka Castle Park. It is owned and run by Osaka city and so is a 100% open practise. Keiko is held every weekday except for national holidays. I am not a member of this dojo and rarely go (despite working 4 minutes away!).

Shudokan

Location: Osaka Castle Park (the English maps located throughout the park have the dojo displayed)

Station: Any that gets you to Osaka Castle. Depending on the station and exit you take it could take between 10-25 mins to walk to the dojo.

Cost: 300 yen / session

Time: 18:30-19:40

Schedule: Every weekday evening except for national holidays.

Online: http://syudoukan.info/ (Japanese)

Keiko flow: The session changes depending on which sensei is taking it, but generally it goes: kihongeiko (20 mins) -> jigeiko (remainder)

Notes: Turn up early and go in through the BACK of the building. You need to fill in a form (ask the receptionist to help you) and hand it with 300 yen to the receptionist. The changing rooms are in the corridor at the back of the building. Once changed go to the dojo with all your stuff and wait for the children’s class to finish before entering. Follow along. As the dojo is 100% open, you don’t have to go and introduce yourself to anyway, though someone may come and speak to you.


Further information

Q) Do I need to contact you?

Not anymore!

Q) Do I need to speak Japanese?

Nope.

Q) I am a beginner, can I join in?

If you have bogu and shinai, go ahead. If not, no.

Q) I need equipment, where do I get it?

You have 2 options:

1. Visit Tsurugi Budogu, a kendo shop next to Yoseikai (homepage / facebook)
2. Order it from All Japan Budogu (maybe they will send something to your hotel).

Q) Can you introduce me to another dojo / XYZ dojo?

Nope.

Q) Is there anywhere I can ask for more information?

I’m extremely busy and may not get back to you promptly, but you are free to message me on the kenshi 24/7 facebook page.

Kitano Butokuden 大日本武徳会京都支部武徳殿 (北野武徳殿)

Every practitioner of Japanese budo has heard about the legendary Butokuden. Completed in 1899, it served as the HQ dojo for the Dai-Nippon Butokukai from then until the end of World War 2, after which it changed hands a few times, finally coming under the safe ownership and protection of Kyoto city. Despite undergoing a slightly tumultuous ride for a number of years, it remained the venue for kendo’s most important yearly event: the Kyoto Taikai.

Prior to WW2 there were branch Butokuden’s built throughout the country (plus a dozen in Japanese occupied Taiwan and one in China), some of which not only still exist today but are even used for keiko. However, what many people – including Japanese kenshi – don’t know is that there were actually two Butokuden’s in Kyoto: the main one (nicknamed the “Okazaki Butokuden”) and a branch one (nicknamed the “Kitano Butokuden”).


Background

Originally built in 1914 in the precincts of Kyoto’s Kitano Tenmangu shrine, the the Kyoto branch Butokuden (thus the “Kitano” Butokuden) served as a dojo for Kyoto’s numerous kenshi. Luckily the building survived the war undamaged and was in continuous use (rebranded as “Heian dojo“) as a budojo until 2000 when – due to age related wear and tear – keiko was ceased. The then current owners of the building (Kyoto police department) decided the building was too old to repair and planned to knock it down.

tenmangu-butokuden02

Fight for survival

At this point interested individuals got involved and tried to somehow save the building from being destroyed. A petition was signed by over 7000 people and presented to the Kyoto prefectural office in hope that they would somehow help.

At the same time the city and prefectural kendo, aikido, judo, and sport federations were approached and asked to help, but in the end none but the aikido federation were interested in contributing. Reasons cited was that it was too costly a project, that it was too much of a hassle, and even “we already have one Butokuden in Kyoto, why do we need another?” It was at this time that they realised that trying to save the building as a budo-jo was difficult, and that a change in tack may be required.

Success was finally had when they promoted the project as one to save an historic building, one that could be used as an exceptional example of traditional Japanese wooden building technique. That is, the building itself was talked about as a “cultural” space rather than for simply budo.

Kitano Butokuden was finally bought sometime in the mid-late 2000’s by Shoren-in temple with the aim of moving the entire structure from inside Kitano Tenmangu Shrine to the top of a large hill in the north overlooking the city.

* Please note that if I am being rather vague about the details in this section it’s because I am not 100% certain of the exact motivations of the parties involved nor the actual flow of events – I have little resources to work with. I will update this article with more information when/if I discover it.

Dismantling and conservation

The entire dismantling, reconstruction, and moving took a staggering 5 years, with the new structure finally opening to the public in autumn 2014.

The specialist carpenter who did the job has pictures on his website here. He also has a blog with more info and pics but it doesn’t look like it’s up to date. The following couple of pics are taken from there.

Currently – Seiryuden (青龍殿)

The building itself was completely renewed (it looks great!), renamed (“Seiryuden”), and is set on a kind of platform looking down over Kyoto (see below). A brand new front section was added onto one side which now houses the painting of the “Blue Cetaka” (a demon-like guardian deity) national treasure. But, truth be told, I had little interest in the location or the national treasure – I was here to see the dojo.

The building has been beautifully restored and – apart from the ugly extra part tacked onto the front to house the painting above – looks fantastic! What a gorgeous building! Inside the structure is pretty much identical to the Okazaki Butokuden, only smaller and without a Gyokuza. I planted a few fumikomi’s on the floor (ignoring the surprised looks of others!) and can confirm that it feels great. On the whole I was highly impressed.

However one thing was really annoying: in the literature they hand out (and online) there is almost nothing mentioned about the history of the building. By almost nothing, I mean it says “it was a dojo in the precincts of Kitano Tenmangu” and thats it. It doesn’t mention anything else. Sure the building itself has been preserved and kept for generations to visit, but I can’t help something has been lost at the same time. At any rate, please check out these iPhone snaps:


Getting there

The current structure was moved to an a part of the Shoren-in estate completely separate from the temple itself called “Shogun-zuka.” Due to the fact that the location is at the top of a hill the easiest way to get there is by taxi. From outside Heian-Jingu it probably takes 10-15 minutes and costs around 1,500 yen or a wee bit more/less.

Another alternative route is to walk up through Yasaka-jinja and Maruyama park but it’s very difficult for me to explain here. I suggest getting a taxi up to Shogun-zuka and then – after you’ve finished visiting Seiryuden – walking down through the woods into the park. The path isn’t great so it’s not suitable for fancy shoes and might be a bit treacherous in the rain.


Conclusion

For those budoka interested in the architecture of dojo I definitely recommend a visit to Seiryuden. Most of the other people visiting the structure will be doing so to see the painting mentioned above, to see any art instillations, and to check out the view down over the city – all of which you can enjoy too. As a kendoka, however, you know the real score!