Here are a handful of pics from this years All Japan Prefectural Championships:
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.
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 amazon.jp.
Here are a couple of more illustrations from the same book. I will leave them untranslated so you can ponder what’s happening!
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!
So, even relatively new kenshi 24/7 readers probably realise that I’m a bit old-fashioned when it comes to kendo/budo things, perhaps you could even call me a bit of an antiquarian (though kendo stuff isn’t really that ancient!). My passion for old kendo things falls mainly in four areas: books, equipment, dojo, and people. A fifth area – my classical swordsmanship background – I have yet to discuss in detail on kenshi 24/7. Maybe in the future.
Anyway, today’s post is an introduction/review of two pieces of kendo equipment that were 100% custom made for me with my penchant for the old-fashioned in mind.
Men (long mendare)
I’m not sure how many years ago it started – seven or eight maybe? – but mendare started to get shorter. Nowadays I see even highly experienced people having the mendare of their old men cut down… and it drives me crazy! Why do they do this? I think longer mendare look cool. I have a couple of newer men that have super short mendare and, sure, while they may be easier to use, I’m really not a fan. Although the men themselves might be fine, the short mendare bother me!
With this in mind I ordered a fully custom KAISEI men from KendoStar with the “Old school: EXTRA long” mendare (24cm) and look at the beautiful object that arrived:
The final picture shows a comparison between the new men (at the front) with the practise bogu set I got from KendoStar last year with the shorter mendare. The length difference is quite noticeable – don’t you think longer mendare look better?
Note that the practise set is absolutely fine for keiko (I use it regularly), I just prefer the aesthetic of the new one.
I’ve been using the men daily now for about two weeks (for basics and jigeiko) and, although it took a keiko or so to sit right on my head, I am now using it without any problems whatsoever. Not only does it look cool, but it’s light, durable, and – especially important for me as a kendo teacher – protective. A visiting sensei from another school said the men had a “subtle design” and looked “dignified” which I thought was a great complement.
BTW, because they are light and flexible, the longer mendare do not interfere with my keiko at all, even when I do jodan.
After two weeks of heavy usage at work I have now taken the men home and will use it as my main men for special occasions, the first of which will be a special Kyoto-Osaka keikokai tomorrow in the Butokuden, and the next my tachiai at this years Kyoto Taikai.
Kote (old style navy and white)
Before reading anything, feast your eyes on these beauties:
This is a 100% fully custom design of KendoStar’s Ousei model. This is the second kote I’ve had custom made, the first was this pair:
Looking at both sets of kote you are probably thinking I have some desire to stick out or be different from the people around me, but this is far from the truth. In Japan I often find myself as the only non-Japanese person in the dojo – in fact it’s been this way for over a decade; and as the only non-Japanese high school teacher in Japan, I am routinely in a position where I noticeably stick out… which, honestly speaking, I don’t care for. The rationale for having both designs of kote made was inspired simply by my passion for kendo history. If you look back a few decades in kendo’s history you’d see that both of these styles used to be normal.
I bought these kote primarilly for use in my work dojo, so although the colour/design of the kote provided inspiration, they still have to be useable in my daily hard keiko sessions. This meant they had to survive being repetitively struck firmly on a day-to-day basis as well as allow a good range of motion to execute a variety of attacks. The result after two full weeks of usage: Awesome.
Official pictures of my kote from KendoStar:
I originally planned this post to be a discussion on bogu style, but somehow it’s become a bogu review piece! Anyway, to summarise…
The primary job of bogu is simple: protection. It’s secondary job is to allow freedom of movement. Only once these two are balanced out does the style element come into play. A lot of newer bogu nowadays seem to be designed in reverse order: looks -> flexibility/lightness -> protection. Over the last few years I’ve used some pretty terrible men, ones that were so light I basically couldn’t use them for kihon practise, and receiving uchikomi or kakarigeiko (a daily event for a school kendo teacher) was recipe for bruising at best and concussion at worst. Luckily neither of the bogu parts I introduced today has these problem: both pieces are protective, durable, and I foresee using them for years to come.
The style of the kote that I introduced here (like my prior beige ones) were completely normal for most of kendo’s history, and it’s a shame that you barely seem them anymore except for use by kids. I personally think they are cool. The only downside is that they will inevitably get smudged, but that’s cool too!
The men shown here isn’t particularly “old-style” I think, mainly because I’m not yet brave enough to get a lighter coloured stripe around the front of the men (like you can see in the Takano Sasaburo picture at the top of the article). The only thing it does really is buck the short mendare trend. Next time you buy a men, get a long mendare please, I promise you that you will look cooler!!
KendoStar discount for kenshi 24/7 readers!!
After telling Andy at KendoStar that I wrote this post he kindly gave a discount code for kenshi 24/7 readers to use, which is nice for you guys because I payed full price for the custom men and kote!
Discount code: KENSHI247
Update: the above discount code can now be used for anything KendoStar product!
Please visit KendoStar.com to see the separate parts as well as the other products they have on sale.
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:
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.
In December 2013 I wrote a review piece about a small one-craftsman-operated company that hand makes beautiful leather tsuba (for both bokuto and shinai). In the three plus years since then many people have stopped me and commented on the tsuba as they are so unique and well-crafted that they catch the eye immediately.
Recently, I custom ordered another smaller-sized tsuba (I prefer using super small tsuba) and, as a bonus, I received another gorgeous wave decorated one as well. Looking at the pictures below, I’m sure you’ll agree they really are works of art.
For more information please visit leathertsuba.com.
2017 Tsuba gallery
These are the new tsuba I got:
2013 Tsuba gallery
These are the tsuba I got back in 2013: