Ken-mi-fu-i (剣身不異)

One of my favourite sensei is also an artist. He not only paints but has amazingly beautiful writing as well. Being 85 I guess he’s had lots of practise!! One of the things he does every year is paint something for hanging in the dojo, themed by whatever the current years (Chinese) zodiac is. Along with the animal (sometimes wearing bogu or holding shinai) he writes something inspiring in the picture. Some are his own thoughts, others are inspired by kendo’s traditional pedagogy. For the whole year we practise in the dojo the painting hangs there silently reminding us of its teachings.

Every year I am excited to see what my sensei will create, and every year I am never disappointed. Quite a few times i’ve thought about introducing his paintings on but somehow never got around to it. This years painting, however, really struck me. I thinks its a combination of the haunting snake and the beautiful kanji. I sat down with my teacher and chatted to him about it. He said that when painting a snake you have to be bold. He also told me more about the words written on the side and where they came from. Here I would like to introduce to you not only the painting, but the words written.

The explanation of the term KEN-MI-FU-I is taken from the Itto-ryu gokui, a large collection of itto-ryu material produced by Sasamori Junzo, the 17th soke of Ono-ha Itto-ryu, the kenjutsu style that had the largest impact on the development of modern kendo.



When you take a sword in your hand and face the enemy there can be no disconnection between your sword and body. Your sword and body should become one: your body must become full of your sword (ken-chu-no-tai), and your sword full of your body (tai-chu-no-ken). Cutting something is not done only by the workings of your hands – moving your body filled with the spirit of your sword, utilising your sword in possession of your body, then with your body as the principal factor and your sword in the center (chushin), you will finally be able to start cutting properly with your sword. If your body and sword act in one like this at all times then there will be no opening (suki) for the enemy to attack. This is whats meant by KEN-MI-FU-I.

The heart/spirit of someone with this body is the instrument that controls the sword. This heart controls the body which governs the sword. This secret teaching is called KEN-SHIN-FU-I.

After many many years of practising, your sword, body, and spirit become one, and if you continue in this oneness towards a state of nothingness you will naturally shine with the brilliance of a treasured sword, and you will be invincible.

This is the revelation Ittosai had, and that he passed down in the teachings of itto-ryu through his students as KEN-MI-FU-I.

In other words: your sword and your body must become as one, a familiar teaching for all kendo practitioners nowadays, usually taught as kikentai-no-ichi.

Check out a handful of my teachers other kendo-inspired paintings here:

一刀流極意。笹森 順造。

Looking back

Happy 2013! For the first post of the new year I spent some time looking back af old kendo pictures, some from books, others that I picked up randomly on the web. I really enjoy looking at these old pics so I’d like to present a handful of them here (the earliest picture is from 1906). Its good to see and reflect on what changes there has been to kendo over the past century or so, as well as whats stayed more-or-less the same.

If kenshi247 readers have any high quality kendo pics from before WWII and are willing to share, please get in touch!

Naito Takaharu 内藤高治

Naito Takaharu (1862-1929) was one of the most influential kenshi to pick up a shinai. Born as as Ichige Takaharu in Mito in 1862, his Samurai parents were of budo stock: his father an archery instructor for the domain and his mother the daugher of the Hokushin Itto-ryu shihan Watanabe.

At the age of 7 he began the tradition study of Japanese as well as kenjutsu and swimming. At the age of 12 – in 1874, just 3 years after the end of the more traditional domain system – Takaharu joined what was to become one of the most renowned dojo in Japan: the newly constructed Mito Tobukan. There he learned shinai kendo and Hokushin Itto-ryu kenjutsu. Tobukan had been built by the head kenjutsu instructor of Kodokan (the domain school) Kozawa Torakichi (a student of Chiba Shusaku). It was here that he met what would be a long-term acquaintance, Monna Tadashi.

When he was 20, he was adopted by a relative (a common practise at the time) and became ‘Naito’ Takaharu.

In 1883, at the age of 20/21, Naito went to Tokyo and studied under the Jikishinkage-ryu swordsman and Kobusho instructor Sakakibara Kenkichi, the progenitor of pay-to-watch kenjutsu shows, Gekken Kogyo. These shows were started as a means for out-of-work budo exponents to make a living in a society that was hurtling towards modernaisation (Western style) at full pace.

After a year with Sakakibara, Naito went on a Musha-shugyo around the country. Upon his return he was said to have faced the strong Keishicho kenshi Takano Sasaburo (Ono-ha itto-ryu) and Kawasaki Zenzaburo (Kyoshinmeichi-ryu/Itto-ryu), defeating both.

In 1888, at age 26, he then joined Keishicho as a policeman (Monna Tadashi then joined him). 6 years later he was sent (with Monna) to Korea to take part in the Sino-Japanese war (as kendo instructors).

1897 was a busy year for Naito:

1. he was awarded Seirensho in 1897 by the newly formed Butokukai;
2. He opened a dojo called Yoshinkan;
3. He became the shihan of Tokyo Senmon Gakko (later to become Waseda university).

(he was still working at Keishicho at this time)

On the completion of the Kyoto Butokuden in 1899 (then inside the grounds of Heian Jingu) he was asked to become one of five kendo teachers there (Budo Senmon Daigaku – Busen). It was here, as the head instructor, that he taught the countries future kendo specialists, including all five future 10 dans.

At the 1901 Kyoto Taikai he had a rematch with Takano Sasaburo. The result was a hikiwake (1-1) and the shinpan Mihashi Kanichiro (in the first group of both Butokukai seirensho and hanshi awards) said : “From the start to the finish, I’ve never seen a higher quality shiai than this.”

In 1911, he was on the executive committee for the creation of the Dai-nippon Teikoku kendo no kata (the future kendo-no-kata). Long-time friend Monna Tadashi (by then teaching at Busen as well) and rival Takano Sasaburo were also members.

Naito was said to be against the change of kendo into a sportive form and his teaching reflected this: a strict diet of kirikaeshi and kakarigeiko. He was also against holding Tenran shiai, but was ordered to comply by the imperial household.

He died suddenly in 1929 due to a cerebral haemorrhage.


This article is mostly a quick translation from the Japanese wikipedia article. I will append more pictures and information at a later date.

Men no tsukekata

In the kendo that we do nowadays there are two styles of tying the men: the ‘Kansai’ or the ‘Kanto’ style. The second of the two tends to be the most common. The difference in attaching the chichi-gawa (leather straps) to the men, and tying the men is as follows:

‘Kanto’ (pictured below) – both chichi-gawa are attached to the fourth bar from the bottom of the men, on the left and right sides. You then tie the men to your head by winding the the himo (strings) around your head once and threading through the top of the grill before taking around to the back of your head and tying. This style is the easiest of the two and it takes little time for the experienced kenshi to get their men on and be ready for action.

‘Kansai’ (pictured in the title) – a single long chichi-gawa is threaded through the top of the men grill and attached securely. To tie the men to your head you then wind the himo around your head and cross over in front of the tsukidare before winding back up and through the top grill. You then finish by winding to your back of the head and tying. This is the more complicated style and as such it often takes longer to tie your men, though once done its a lot more secure than the first method mentioned above.

Both styles are equally as orthodox and each is as correct as the other (at least nowadays).

Of course, all this is commonly known to kenshi, even relatively inexperienced ones, so why bother mentioning it now? Naturally sceptical by nature, I’ve always been bothered by the ‘Kansai’ and ‘Kanto’ appellations. They just don’t make sense (I’ll explain my rationale below). Why are they actually called this? What are the origins of these naming conventions?

Apart from a small piece of first hand information from Nakayama Hakudo, I’ll admit that I don’t know precisely. I’ve kept an eye out for more information regarding this, but I’ve never (yet) found anything even semi-conclusive (save Nakayama’s words). I suspect there may be some Butokukai manuals somewhere with more information, or some early ZNKR rules detailing whats ok and whats not, but I’ve yet to see them. At any rate, here is my conclusions on the matter (at this point of time. If any kenshi247 reader has more information, please get it to me!).

Please note that this is highly speculative and hardly a scientific study. I have more of a ‘gut’ feeling on the topic more than anything academically convincing!

What Nakayama said

A couple of years ago when I was researching a different matter (see The white hakama of Yushinkan) I stumbled upon the only real information I’ve seen on the matter: in the text referenced in the above article Nakayama clearly states that using shorter men-himo and tying from the bottom-up (i.e. the ‘Kanto’ style) was his invention. He says that he made all his students tie their men like this but when they visited other dojo they’d stop using it (replaced with what he doesn’t mention). He goes as far as to mention that there was a time where the Butokukai took up this style as their official method, but that they too eventually stopped using it (no reason was given).

Please note that I have no date for what was said above.

Evidence in media

We basically have three areas that we can look at: film, photography, and books.

Looking at pre-WWII film and photography (on the net or ZNKR videos for film and in books for photos) we can easily see that there was a wide variation in men tying styles, enough to seem random at times. This suggests a lack of standardisation or, perhaps, no application of any standards that might have existed (at least, for those who weren’t professional kenshi). Written description in a number of older books, however, tend to have (the ones I own at least) descriptions of the top-down style.

You can easily find pre-WWII film and photos on the net.

Regional evidence – Kansai viewpoint

I live in Kansai. I can honestly say that the ‘Kansai’ style is the minority method nowadays. I suspect its the same in Kanto as well. So why may the style have been called ‘Kansai’? Thinking about this, the only rational explanation I can come up with is because the Butokukai’s HQ was in Kyoto, which is in Kansai. It makes perfect sense to me that the Budo Senmon Gakko (Busen, the Butokukai’s school for teaching kendo instructors) would have a set method for tying the men. Even though students would come from all over the country (and most go back to teach in their respective areas), I’d assume that they’d be drilled with the ‘correct’ way of tying the men, as they would have been with men-cutting, kirikaeshi, etc.

But then I got to thinking – who were some of the main teachers at Busen, and where did they come from? Of course, the name that pops up first is Naito Takaharu… a Mito Tobukan kenshi (Ibaraki prefecture – Kanto) who spent time at Keishicho (Tokyo – Kanto). One of his senior aids was of course Mona Tadashi, who also went the Tobukan-Keishicho route. I suspect that they would have taught the men-tying techniques they were schooled in (i.e. Tobukan).

Why the popularity of ‘Kanto’ over ‘Kansai’ in modern times?

Again, I have no academic answer to this, only speculation, but I suspect it was something that happened as a result of the de-militarisation of kendo after the WWII, in particular its promotion as something that was neither violent nor nationalistic, and its new ‘sport-like’ veneer. The largest impact of this was the opening up of kendo to participation of women and children.

Two points:

1. The addition of women and children to kendo meant that some of the rough and tumble moves were eliminated.
2. The top-down ‘Kansai’ method is much more difficult to learn, thus the ‘Kanto’ style became the favoured/defacto tying method to teach children (though perhaps not explicitly stated). Its future popularity was a by-product of this.

Personally, I think point 2 is more important than point 1 when it comes to men tying methods. Point 1 is sometimes mentioned in reference to this by assuming that people stopped doing the top-down ‘Kansai’ method when pulling-men-of rules were stopped… but I’m not so sure that explains it fully. Point 2, for me, explains easier the natural and steady displacement of one over the other (with the other, or variations of it, almost certainly being the common of the two pre-war).

FYI, Japanese kenshi themselves call these tying styles ‘Kansai’ and ‘Kanto’ yet almost no one can give an informed (i.e. researched) answer other than ‘Kanto style was popular in Kanto and Kansai style in Kansai’… even some 8dans (yes, I’ve asked… but only after a few beers). I think this is evidence of point 2 above.

Example of men tying styles from 1925

Its all getting confusing!

Yes it is, very much so… but that won’t stop me from making an educated (if speculative!) wild stab:

– In the early days of kendo there were no set-in-stone men tying styles;
– The ‘Kansai’ appellation perhaps derives from what was taught at Busen (HQ’ed in Kansai);
– However, the term ‘Kansai’ is a misnomer because it was the style promulgated by people from Kanto (i.e. the Busen teachers);
– This top-down ‘Kansai’ method was probably the most popular style pre-war;
– The ‘Kanto’ method likely derives originally from Nakama Hakudo, though he never called it this;
– The bottom-up ‘Kanto’ method slowly displaced the other post-war as it was taught to the next generation and is now the defacto standard.

As far as all this wild supposition goes, and if I were to rename these tying styles to something more appropriate, then I’d do something like this:

‘Kansai’ should be renamed the ‘Busen’ or perhaps the ‘traditional’ style;
‘Kanto’ should be renamed the ‘Nakayama’ or ‘modern’ style.

Alternatively – like some bogu manufacturers do – we could just call them style A and B…. problem solved!!!


I was lucky to spend my university years in the U.K.’s most beautiful city, Edinburgh. A city with a long and interesting history, unique architecture (‘Athens of the north’), and host to Europe’s largest cultural festivals, its a great place to be when you are young. And smacked right in the center of this wonderful town is the imposing Edinburgh castle. For 4 years I wondered about the city looking at the castle everyday. For my first few weeks in the city I used it as an orientation tool… was I facing north or south? Which way should I walk towards my flat? The castle was so ubiquitous that – unbelievably – in the years that I studied in the city I didn’t once set foot inside. ‘Its for the tourists’ I thought.

After graduation I moved to America for a few years. I used to pop back to Edinburgh pretty often, but it wasn’t until I took my then-girlfriend back to the motherland for a visit that, because we were doing touristy things, I actually decided to go into the castle. I was amazed. The place was great, full of history, and had an amazing 360 degree view over the wonderful city. ‘Why on earth hadn’t I bother to come before?’ I wondered.

In Osaka I have access to top level sensei, am able to watch top level competitions/competitors at close range, and can keiko 2 or 3 times a day – everyday all year round – if I wish. It would also be pretty easy for me to go and watch the national level 6th, 7th, or 8dan tests if I wanted to, but – until yesterday – I never bothered going to see any of them. ‘I can go anytime’ I thought. I am not saying all this to show off btw, its just a fact of my kendo situation.

Yesterday – just like my realisation when I first visited Edinburgh castle – I ‘rediscovered’ my forgotten (or misplaced) luckiness. I went to support a good friend at his first attempt for 7th dan. Because he is in his 30s, he’s put in the first court with the youngest group (under 40). Right from kick-off my jaw dropped: the level of kendo on display was phenomenal. Of course, people attempting 7dan in their early to mid 30s are those that started very young and that didn’t stop after entering the work force. i.e. policemen, SDF members, teachers, and company players… in other words, most of them are, for want of a better term, elite kenshi. The most uplifting thing about this was that the kendo on display was not ‘competition’ orientated kendo… there was no blocking, head bobbing, pushing and shoving, time wasting, fear of being hit, flashy moves, and so on… just pure, orthodox kendo. Inspired I thought: ‘This is the way kendo should be done… all the time.’

I guess my point with this post is that I learned something this weekend: to remember and be (constantly) grateful about the situation I am in. I suppose that this point can be extended to mention having good health, a decent job, nice friends, and money enough to buy kendo equipment as well. I’m sure that this applies to kenshi247 readers as well, though maybe with slightly different context. Consider this post a reminder!!

In fact, I’ve had a ‘rediscovery’ kendo moment before.. back in 2008: I went to see the Tozai-Taiko, the large East-West shiai. The level of the competitors and the quality of the shiai is awe-inspiring… much more so than the more renowned All-Japan Championships. If you are in Japan – and you have the chance – go and see it.