history kendo

A brief investigation into the SHOGO system

(updated Jan 2020)

SHOGO (称号) in Japanese translates simply as “title” or “rank,” and the word can be used in many areas, for example formal titles of nobility, military ranks, scholarly ranks, etc, and informally in the sporting world, between friends, etc.

The use of the word that I will look at here is of-course that to do with the budo world, and specifically the usage promoted by the Dai Nippon Butokukai (1895-1946), and that continues today in its spiritual heir, the Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei (All Japan kendo federation). Please note that the Butokukai information presented here relates to Kendo (variously called gekken, gekiken, and/or kenjutsu) but that eventually all arts under the Butokukai ended up using the system (kyudo, jukendo, et al).

Although this article is meant to be focusing on the shogo titles, I could not ignore the DAN-I (段位) system during my investigation. The dan-i system used by the Butokukai was obviously heavily influenced by the system used in Judo that was instigated by Kano and used at Kodokan. Amongst other things, Kano was the principal of Tokyo Higher Normal school between 1893 – 1920 and Takano Sasaburo began working there as a kendo teacher in 1908. Of-course Kano was influential in many circles (including governmental ones) but I don’t think its illogical to suppose that he had a large and a direct influence on Takano’s thought in this matter. Takano, of-course, went on to become a kendo leader in Japan, and a senior member of the Butokukai.

Also worthy of mention (and some details are included in the list below) is that Keishicho (the Tokyo Metropolitan police department) established their own dan-i system which ran separately from the Butokukai one. There was obviously some strong collaboration between Keishicho and the Butokukai (in fact, the government issued a writ expressly forbidding keishicho from meddling too much in Butokukai affairs).

Anyway, here is a breakdown of the most important events that went into the system that we have today. Items of particular interest are highlighted in bold.

At the end of the breakdown I have taken two or three key areas and expanded them a little bit more.

Significant events in the creation and history of the shogo (and dan-i) system rendered chronologically

  • 1878/79: Establishment of police kenjutsu and the set up of Keishicho
  • 1882 or 83: First DAN-I (段位) system used by Kano Jigaro’s reworking of koryu jujutsu, Judo. He awards the first shodans to Shiro Saigo and Tsunejiro Tomita.
  • 1886: Keishicho’s kyu system is defined (based on a class system (等) or kyu (級) system depending on the source).
  • 1893: Kano becomes priciple of Tokyo Higher Normal school
  • 1895: Butokukai formed (April) and the start to award SEIRENSHO to distinguished budoka (Oct).
  • 1902: The Butokukai designates the titles KYOSHI and HANSHI to come after seirensho (this system continues until 1934, when Seirensho becomes Renshi). Minimum age for hanshi is set at 60.
  • 1903: Eleven kyoshi/hanshi ranks are awarded.
  • 1908: Takano Sasaburo becomes kendo teacher at Tokyo Higher Normal school in February and starts a dani ranking system in June.
  • 1912: When the Butokukai was formulating the Teikoku kendo no kata the chance was taken to discuss uniting the judo/kendo grading systems.
  • 1913: despite being below 60 the following were made hanshi: Naito Takaharu, Takano Sasaburo, Yamashita Yoshitsuga, Isogai Hajime, Nagaoka Hidekazu, and Ichikawa Torashiro.
  • 1914: the rules for awarding seirensho are formalised and regulations for kenjutsu/judo codified (kenjutsu uses “kyu”, and judo uses “dan”).
  • 1917: Kenjutsu starts using the Dan-i system similar to judo. At this point the system went only as far as godan, after that the titles of seirensho, kyoshi, and hanshi are awarded.
  • 1919: The Butokukai officially changes the name kenjutsu to kenDO.
  • 1920: Kodokan announces “regulations for judo kyu and dan grades”
  • 1923: Keishicho creates its own internal budo grading system.
  • 1926: Tokyo Higher Normal school changes the name gekken to kenDO. A month later the change is official in schools across the country.
  • 1930: Tokyo Higher Normal school creates its own shogo ranks – Tokushi, Shushi, and Tasshi.
  • 1934: The title of Seirensho is replaced by RENSHI.
  • 1937: The grades rokudan and above began to be used from this year.
  • 1942: The Butokukai comes under control of the military government. The title kyoshi is changed to TASSHI.
  • 1943: The Butokukai establishes new rules for the shogo system.
  • 1946: Under various pressures, the Butokukai dissolves itself.
  • 1953: The Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei (ZNKR) is established on the back of the Zen Nippon Shinai Kyogi Renmei (began 1950, amalgamated into the ZNKR 1954). At this time dani were set to go as far as godan, followed by the shogo titles of renshi, kyoshi, and hanshi.
  • 1957: Due to concerns of unbalance compared to Judo, which still awarded grades as far as judan, and despite the association being different, it was decided to alter the ruling of 4 years earlier and set the upper limit on kendo grades to be judan.
  • 2000: The ZNKR decide that there will be no new judan awarded and set the upper limit for dan-i to be hachidan. Hanshi is declared to be the highest award you can receive. There are a few kyudans living around Japan.

Seirensho (精練証)

Seirensho awarded in 1895

Of particular interest is the SEIRENSHO award. This was awarded for the first time at the 1st Kyoto Taikai in October 1895 to 15 highly experienced kenshi out of the 386 participants (the picture at the top of the article shows 12 of them). This award is the forerunner to the RENSHI title and would be continued to be used until 1934, when the former replaced it.

Since these were the first ever shogo awarded by the Butokukai (It would be a further 8 years until the titles of kyoshi and hanshi were created), its hard to guess exactly the worth of the title. My personal feeling is that it was an exceptional honour awarded to individuals with great prowess and who commanded respect within the Butokukai community.

The first people to receive the award were (name, style):

Ishiyama (Itto-ryu), Hagiwara (Jikishinkage-ryu), Hara (Tenji-ryu), Tokuno Sekishiro (Jikishinkage-ryu), Okamura Sakonta (Jikishinkage-ryu, shin nitto-ryu), Kagawa (Muto-ryu. The tallest guy in the back row in the picture above), Yoshida (Seitoku taishi-ryu), Negishi Shigoro (Shinto mumen-ryu, Nakayama Hakudo’s teacher. hanshi 1906), Umezaki (Shinkage-ryu), Matsuzaki Namishiro (Shinkage-ryu. Long white beard in the picture above), Takayama Minesaburo (Jikishinkage-ryu), Mamiya (Ono-ha itto-ryu. The picture above is his Seirensho), Kominami (Muto-ryu), Abe (Jikishinkage-ryu), Mihashi (Musashi-ryu).

So you can get an idea about how many were issued in the early years, here is a quick breakdown of the numbers awarded over the first 6 years (still prior to the issuance of kyoshi, hanshi):

Year (number of Butokusai participants / number of seirensho awarded) :

1895 (386/15); 1896 (472/15); 1897 (482/6 including Naito Takaharu); 1899 (766/8); 1900 (493/7); 1901 (825/8).

Kyoshi, hanshi (教士・範士)

In 1903 four Kyoshi and seven Hanshi titles were awarded for the first time. The first ever hanshi were:

[name (style, prefecture, age)]

  • Ishikawa (Itto-ryu, Kochi, 74)
  • Takao (Tecchu-ryu, Nagasaki, 73)
  • Shibue (Shinto munen-ryu, Nagasaki, 68)
  • Sakabe (Kyoshin mechi-ryu, Aiichi, 66)
  • Watanabe (Shinto munen-ryu, Tokyo, 66)
  • Mihashi (Musashi-ryu, Tokyo, 62)
  • Tokuno (Jikishinkage-ryu, Tokyo, 61)

Hanshi became the top title you could get in the Butokukai and an age limit of 60 was set (that rule was broken in 1913 when kenshi including Naito Takaharu and Takano Sasaburo got it at an earlier age). Nowadays hanshi is still the highest title that can be achieved in kendo, with the very earliest you can get it being 60 years old (I believe).

Rokudan and above (六段〜十段)

Starting from 1937 the grades rokudan and above began to be used. There were 5 kyudans, 5 hachidans, and 20 nanadans appointed at this time. However it was still common to use the shogo-title above godan, and not the dan.

(Note struck-through sentence above. Although it seems as if rokudan could be awarded the only person that I have read about that claimed to have it was Noma Hisashi. I am pretty sure that, if it was awarded, it was very rare.)

In 1957 it was decided to award grades as far as judan, and the following people received the honour:

The last judan ever awarded was to Oasa Yuji

In 1962 a further – and last – judan was appointed: Oasa Yuji (pictured).

Although there are a number of kyudan sensei alive and practising in Japan today, the last living judan – Mochida Moriji – passed away in 1974. Nowadays, the highest obtainable level is hanshi hachidan.


This article started as a brief introduction into the development of the shogo system but kind of expanded into looking at how the dani system in kendo evolved as well. I pondered about talking more about the meaning behind the shogo system as I think its very misunderstood, but I have decided to leave that for another day. What I will say is that I do believe the shogo titles have an important role to play in the culture of kendo.

Nowadays in Japan you have to sit exams – both physical and on paper – to get renshi and kyoshi. Hanshi, however, is awarded by the ZNKR on recommendation by your local associations president and – I believe – this top award is not given automatically nor lightly. In that way, the difference between a kyoshi hachidan, and a hanshi hachidan is huge.



By George

George is the founder and chief editor of
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22 replies on “A brief investigation into the SHOGO system”

I always thought each shogo was specific to the dan. ie: Renshi for Rokudan, Kyoshi for Nanadan and Hanshi for Hachidan. Is there such a thing as Renshi Hachidan? or Hanshi Rokudan?


Nice work, yet again, George. I have a corollary question to the one above. Can one test for 7 dan, or example, without having a renshi shogo title? Or test for 8 dan, without having a kyoshi title?

Hey guys, cheers for commenting!

First of all, the rules have changed slightly over the years as you can see above. If you go to the Kyoto taikai and watch the really old guys you can see combinations of dan/shogo that are impossible to get now, e.g. renshi 5dan or hanshi 7dan.

Let me address Paul / Usagi seperately.

Paul >> looking at the rules it seems that, technically, you could get 7dan without renshi, but I’ve never heard of it, ever (except Usagi’s case). I think the titles used to be more or less automatically given a few years ago, so the situation wouldnt arise. Nowadays you must go to seminars and sit an exam (physical and written) in order to get the award. This takes money and time and so I am sure there are people that dont want to go to the bother….. however, not getting it could be potentially embarrasing. The point of the seminars is to teach people to be teachers, and to promote the ZNKRs teaching methodology. An individual may think that he/she is above this of-course.

Usagi >> Can you give us more information? I assume (but I could be wrong of-course!) that there is a combination of these factors involved: a) your sensei doesnt live in Japan; b) its possible he is not Japanese; and c) he got the award a few years back. If he/she got 7dan recently, where was it?

A couple of extra things to consider:

* To take part in the Kyoto Taikai you must be renshi. For non-Japanese kenshi, however, a non-renshi 6dan is good enough.

* Check out (renshi 7dan) Geoff`s post on

Great stuff, George. Really.

For bonus points, do you want to include comparisons with the dan-i and shogo systems of other post-war successors to the Butokukai (naginata, iaido, jukendo, and kyudo renmei)?

Wonderfull article, as ever!!
Regarding attainining nanadan without renshi i don’t see where the problem is. As far as i had understand the dan grade is a “certification” of your kendo/iaido technical skill, while the shogo grade is a certification of a person’s contribution to the kendo/iaido community. For example, and if i am not wrong, the hanshi title imply not only be a model in kendo, but in everyday life too.

Glad people like the article… its really for my own research so I am happy even if 1 or 2 people get something from it.

@Kent -> maaaaaybe I will have a look into it. I would like the kendo system to go 1-5dan, renshi, kyoshi, hanshi like Naginata!

@Raffa -> mmmm, thats not exactly correct. I think the shogo system has been devalued from what it was due to 1) the maximum dan being set so high (10…. although they wisely re-thought this) and 2) the seemingly automatic nature of being given the shogo. There is also the fact that the foreign community – in general – have no clear understanding about what these titles mean.

However, 1) has been re-thought (maximum is now 8… cant see it going below this now) and 2) is being fixed right now here in Japan. To qualify for RENSHi and KYOSHI you must attend seminars that aim to teach you how to teach. You then sit more physical and written exams. Therefore, these are (and will become more and more so) indications of your teaching ability. A license even. You may be able to get 7dan without renshi and with no intention to achieve kyoshi but…

Of course there are great teachers who are not even 6 or 7dan, and there are some 7 and 8dans that are terrible teachers… without even concerning ourselves with the shogo. So read into this what you will.

The ZNKR do have a long term plan (50 years or something?). Of course I am not privy to it, but its seems – looking at changes even since I’ve come to Japan – that there is a movement to control kendo more and more, and part of this would be who – and how you – become a teacher. I am sure you have heard the stories of how amazingly strict 6dan has become…. well, thats where it starts. Of-course, this is just my opinion/conjecture.

This comment is too long and goes right of the area that I am interested in: early shogo (specifically seirensho) and the Butokukai. Oops…….

Well, ok George so this are the answers to your questions:

a) – Yes, my sensei does not live in Japan;
b) – He is japanese;
c) – He got his nanadan in 2007 during the EKC in Lisbon.

I didn’t say it in my first comment, but… great stuff. Love the article.

To answer my own question and to add some additional info. It is possible to be a “hanshi- nanadan” however, according to the AUSKF guidelines if one applies for takes hanshi status as a nanadan, one can not apply for the hachi-dan grading.

I think at least a couple of non-Japanese associations have started to award their own shogo, Canada and America if I remember rightly? Europe hasn’t started yet.

Although its kind of interesting, I think its the wrong path to take, for various reasons.

All-Brazil Kendo Federation (CBK) started recently (2007) its own shogo examinations. Written test, monography, indications from other sensei, consentment terms from regional federations, proofs of previous participations as referee, instructing seminars, and a little more … Renshi and Kyoshi, obviously no hanshi examination.

In past times, renshi and kyoshi title was awarded by CBK to very important sensei, without examination. Now, only under these FIK orientations…

Hi Richard, All Japan Kendo Fed’n have an English language shogo exam, usually in November. The requirements include a written test, but no physical assessment of kendo skill, that is what the dan-i sysem is for.

Interesting article George – thank you.

Interesting. That must be for people living abroad. People who live here and go for renshi or kyoshi must sit physical exams as well as written. This includes doing actual kendo as well as shinpan duty. People can – and do – fail their renshi on the ability not to shinpan.

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