So you want to research traditional ryuha?

Makimono

“I am doing some research on Iroha ryu and I am wondering if anyone can recommend any good books or websites….” Anyone who has spent some time on the various forums and mailing lists involved in traditional Japanese martial arts has seen comments such as these. Such requests are not surprising given the fact that traditional Japanese martial arts come from an outside culture where we have often little to no point of reference on which to base our initial assumptions (let’s not get into the whole Hollywood movie argument now). The desire to learn more about the activity we are putting so much time and effort into is natural and of course I would encourage all practitioners to find out as much as they can, especially concerning the ryu in which they are actively involved. One thing we can never have too much of is knowledge after all.

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Kendo as Character Building

Kondo-sensei (Hachidan, Kyoshi) is one of Aichi Prefecture’s most well-repected kenshi.  He often discusses kendo in terms of character building and its benefits to modern society.  In this brief post, I have attempted to covey some of his feelings on these topics. 

剣道とは、相手と気を合わせることを学ぶ第一歩である。そして人の心を大切にすることにより完成し、「武士道」は「もののあわれ」日本人特有の感情である。無常感である。思いやり、繊細、風流、風雅さなど。ここにいたって諸行無常という仏教の根本的思想やキリスト教の愛の精神と一致し、一種の宗教的境地まで達したのである。

人と会ったら挨拶する、何か教えを受けたら感謝する、集団の中ではお互いを思いやる、人として最低限必要な礼儀、心を重視した教育を実践致します。

近藤勁助 剣道教士八段 
財団法人 全日本剣道道場連盟理事
愛知県剣道連盟参与
愛知県剣道道場連盟副会長
名古屋市剣道連盟居合道部相談役

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The last Busen graduate

Furuya sensei executing tsuki at the Kyoto Taikai in the 1970s.

As every kendoka knows, Busen (Budo Senmon Gakko) was – along with Tokyo Koto Shihan Gakko – the premier place for training kendoka before the war. It was run by the Butokukai and was based in the legendary Butokuden in Kyoto. People who graduated from here went on to train kenshi all over the country. The schools impact on modern kendo cannot be underestimated. During the post WW2 occupation the school was renamed and its martial arts practice banned.

The first teacher and most senior instructor at Busen was the legendary Naito Takaharu. When he passed away suddenly in 1929 the reigns were taken over by Ogawa Kinnosuke who continued to lead the school until it was closed down after the war. The amount of famous and influential kenshi that were involved in Busen in one way or another are too numerous to list, but include Monna Tadashi and Saimura Goro.

The subject of this article is about the person who was said to be the last graduate from Busen – Furuya Fukunosuke hanshi. Furuya sensei was well known in the Kansai area and taught at a few different dojo, including my own one in central Osaka – Yoseikai. I managed to do keiko with him only a few times before his health deteriorated to the point where he could not practice. Even after that point he still came to the dojo and attended a couple of gasshuku, thus I luckily had the chance to learn something from him. unfortunately, at the relatively young age of 81, Furuya sensei died last December.

My sempai and sensei reacted sadly at his death – not only because of his young age nor due to his impact in the kendo of the area – but his passing is also hard evidence that the kendo world is changing for ever. Gone and going are the sensei who learned kendo at legendary places such as Busen. Can we live up to their legacy? Well, only time will tell.


My ardour, posture, and sword were cultivated by breaking through the opponents kamae during keiko (相手の剣を割っていく稽古で気勢、体勢、剣勢が養えた)

I am the last graduate from Busen. This was a special school aimed for people who wished to pursue kendo as a professional career. At that time, training there was completely different from normal dojo. First of all, everyone was treated as a beginner, and kendo was taught to you from the start, no matter if you were experienced or not.

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‘Traditional’ kendo pedagogy and abuse

My area as some of you know is teaching kendo to young people. In high school I teach kendo as an elective subject to 12 and 13 year olds. One tool I have found very useful for firing their imaginations is telling them stories from Japanese history, stories that most of us have read or heard at some point I’m sure.

The other day I was telling the story about the student who went to learn from a teacher in the mountains but instead of waza, he was made to cook and clean for sensei. Most of my students even today have seen the movie “The Karate Kid” so this was something they recognised. The next part of the story tells how the teacher starts hitting the student out of the blue, to the extent that the student is on edge at all times, never sure when the next blow is coming. The resolution of the story is, of course, the moment when the student spontaneously reacts and protects himself from the unseen blow, the teacher says, “Now we may begin”. I realised as I finished that some students were looking at me puzzled as if to say, “so what is the moral of that story?” Indeed what is it? Is it that there is something inherently abusive in traditional sword pedagogy?

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Kendo Places #4: Butokuden 武徳殿

Founding of the Butokuden

in 1895 on the 1,100 year anniversary of the transferring of the Japanese capitol to Kyoto (Heian-kyo), and as part of the building of Heian-jingu, the Butokuden construction began. It was originally meant as a demonstration platform for the Butokukai. It was completed in 1899 on the north-west side of the Heian-jingu complex. If was then also designated as a school for training Martial Arts teachers (later it would become the Budo Senmon Gakko).

At that time it was said “in the east there is Kodokan (built 1841), and in the west the Butokuden” such was its place in the center of Japanese budo circles.

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