kendo shiai

Is there anything you feel that is lacking in kendo today?

This was a question that was asked in an interview with Iho Kiyotsugu hanshi in 1993.

Iho hanshi held various kendo teaching posts during his lifetime (Police Academy, Kokushikan university, Chukyo university, etc), had a successful shiai career (All Japan high school championships 1st place 3 times, 9th All Japans 1st place, Nippon Budokan 15th Anniversary hanshi 8dan shiai 1st place, once defeated 26 opponents in the tozai-taiko, etc), and is the author of numerous kendo books. He is said to have been of the most influential figures in the kendo scene during the kendo-boom in the late 60s and early 70s. He died in 1999.

This is his reply to the above question.

The reason that kendo has changed is because of the changes in the shiai rules. These changes have made shiai both better and worse at the same time. When I was a student (before the war), there were no lines marking the competition area, no time limits, and only 2 judges (omote and ura shinpan). I wonder if the rules today have become too restrictive.

I think the biggest problem lies in how we time a competition. Once the time of the closing ceremony has been decided – which is something that usually happens first – this basically decides the length of individual shiai. From that stemmed the introduction of the hantei [where judges decide on a winner without a point being scored. Used exclusively with children]. Back in the day, there was no ippon-shobu. The shiai went on until one of the kenshi got 2 points.

Shiai used to be a lot more fun as well. During competition, once guy would fly in at full speed, hit men, and his power would carry him into the spectator area. The other guy would chase him into the area and keep attacking. The referee would be yelling ‘Stop! Stop! Oi, can’t you bloody well hear me!!” There were still even scenes after the war where the referee would yell “Kote-ari!” and both kenshi would say “No, no, that was never a kote!” Of-course we can’t let things be completely unregulated, can we.

Kenshi used to enter shiai lighter hearted. If you don’t enjoy shiai, you won’t be able to continue if for a long time, right? At that time the TV, radio, newspaper journalists were a lot more interested than today, and when they did come you had to look like you were enjoying it. This is one of the reasons I think 3 shinpan are unnecessary. A third person gets in the way of the spectators and also [due to the more-regulated manner in which referees have to move] it makes seeing waza/ippon more difficult.

One other thing is that kenshi have also become technically more advanced: they have got faster and their strikes have become lighter. This makes it more difficult for referees to spot an ippon. You often see such things as one referee raising a red flag and the other white.

The reason strikes are fast is that the shinai are too light. Years ago people used various lengths and weights of shinai, but now both length and weight are defined. People nowadays, however, have a different body type than those before and just after the war [in Japan your average person has become stronger and taller], so we should have a shinai length and weight that matches their proportions. We must do some fundamental research into this area. However, there are many things we have to consider on this point before we can put it into practise, including even the shinai manufacturers themselves.


By George

George is the founder and chief editor of
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10 replies on “Is there anything you feel that is lacking in kendo today?”

Do you guys think that these kind of ideas are discussed in the ZNKR?
Very interesting points.

I don’t know, but its a fact that times in the Senshuken taikai have been increased over the last 2 years. I was told by someone who fought in these longer match situations that its a different ballgame. Thats just increasing it from 5 to 10 minutes.

I think the shinai dimension problem mentioned here needs seriously thought.

It must be a different ball game, i guess the judges would be tougher on what is a point and what isn’t.

As for the shinai idea, maybe the effect would be more variety in fighting “styles”, the thing is it would’ve been great if we could ask Iho sensei about it, i guess he didn’t believe that differences in shinai length would be unfair to some and advantageous to others. Again fascinating ideas.

Hishaam, I think the issue of time is not about what a “point” is per-se, but getting the kenshi to a) calm down and b) not use any time stalling techniques.

Also, Iho hanshi wasnt talking about increasing a variety of styles, nor allowing different lengths of shinai per-se… I think what he is after is to see heavier, more deliberate “ippon.”

At least thats my reading of the text.

Iho Kiyotsugu sensei! My first kendō book, which I bought in Tōkyō way back in 1993 (along with a bunch of “Musashi no ken” manga!), was wrote by him. 😀
For what I know he was also well versed in jōdan no kamae.
Anywyas, as usual, thanks George for the interesting read.

George, your last comment is pretty much what i was thinking but couldn’t express in words, my bad. I hope there’ll be some change in that direction. Thanks again for sharing

Hisshaam > no problem!

Maurizio > Iho hanshi was made to take jodan when he was in high school and it was at that time he started to win competitions. He is of the opinion that to be a good kendoka you MUST learn jodan at some point. If you reach 6/7dan and you can’t do jodan then thats a problem. Takano Sasaburo also had teh same opinion, and he would make all students at Tokyo Koto Shihan Gakko study it.

George, I knew that Iho sensei used to fight in jōdan no kamae – somewhere I also have a picture of him doing the kamae, a japanese magazine or book don’t remember exactly – but I didn’t knew of this opinion of him which, for my limited experience and knowledge, I find very true.
Curious that you cited Takano Sasaburō, as just yesterday I was re-reading an account of a match of him against another “sword saint” of the Shōwa jidai Naitō Takaharu. The account is in a book by Kenji Tokitsu and is based on a written memory of Ogawa Chūtarō (kendō kyūdan). And what’s interesting is that in that particular event Takano sensei fought Naitō sensei in jōdan no kamae.

That would have been an interesting bash! Even though Takano is mostly famous for being the Tokyo Koto Shihan Gakko shihan, and Naito the Busen shihan in Kyoto, they both held kendo teaching duties at Waseda Uni at the same time… those students were very lucky!!! I guess kendo was a much smaller affair back then than it is now.

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