kendo kenshi

Lifetime kenshi: Ikeda Yuji sensei

Situated in the second most populous area of Japan, and the heart of the Kansai region lies Osaka. Not as over-the-top busy and stuffed full of people like Tokyo, the city is easily navigable (even by bicycle) and its population friendly. The two main areas in the city – Umeda and Namba – are known to the locals respectively as “Kita” (north) and “Minami” (south). In the center of Minami you can find the Osaka Prefectural Sports Gymnasium. Its here every March where the O-zumo Haru-basho (Sumo spring competition) takes places. Its also the home of Yoseikai.

I have written an article about the 2nd shihan of Yoseikai, Furuya hanshi before, this time I want to introduce his sempai and the first shihan of the dojo: Ikeda Yuji hanshi.

Furuya sensei talks about meeting Ikeda sensei for the first time

“About 5 or 6 years after the war ended (1950/51) I received a letter from a Busen sempai of mine who I had never met, Ikeda Yuji (at that time Ikeda sensei was 38 and Furuya sensei was 25). It simply read: “I’d like to start a Busen alumni association and I would like you to help.” I turned up at the agreed time and place (an Izakaya in Namba) to find Ikeda sensei and 21 other Busen graduates. Ikeda sensei’s frame was so slight that at first you had to wonder if he had actually graduated such a tough school. He didn’t look it, but he was also a big drinker as well.

The stories that Ikeda sensei told about his Busen experiences at that first meeting really excited and motivated me, and I was so taken by Ikeda sensei’s personality, that I started calling him “uncle.”

At the time I met Ikeda sensei kendo was still banned in public. We were unable to contain ourselves and re-started keiko anyway in a dojo beneath a Nankai railway line. There were 7 of us and we were called the “seven samurai” with Ikeda sensei being the leader. It wasn’t before long that we were joined by many more kenshi, with some people even coming to visit from Tokyo. If was a time when people were poor and could hardly eat or drink, so keiko was fierce, like we had a fire in our bellies.”

19 kakarigeikos in 90 minutes

Ikeda Yuji was a member of the 23rd group to graduate Busen (1937). However, he initially failed the preliminary entrance course. Following this failure he did keiko in the morning and afternoon continuously for an entire year before he finally resat and passed the exams (the next year), thus gaining entrance to Busen proper. After passing the exams one of the lecturers – Sato Chuzo – said the following to Ikeda:

“You are so small/weak that we have no expectations for you at all. I wanted to tell you to just give up and go home but you came to us crying and begging for another year that I missed my chance (to tell you to go). Wakabashi sensei et al were so worried about this situation you created that they got sore heads. Anyway, you did well to pass.”

At 49kg’s in weight, Ikeda was too light and small in stature. His academic score on the test was 2nd from the bottom.

He was also reckless in keiko. During practise between teachers and students at the Butokuden, he would be busy putting on his men whilst everyone else was lining up and bowing. He would already be standing first in line for the top sensei with his kote tucked under his arms while the rest of the students and sensei had yet to tie their men. After kakarigeiko with a sensei it was normal to go to the back of the next sensei’s line and wait for your turn. Not for Ikeda. He wouldn’t wait, but lined up at the side of the person at the front of the next line. If he was told to get back, he wouldn’t budge. As soon as the student in front of him finished he would step right in front of the sensei pushing other students out of the way. Before they could do anything he was already doing kakarigeiko. In the end his transgressions silently became to be accepted.

One year during kangeiko Ikeda managed to do 19 consecutive kakarigeiko’s in a 90 minute keiko session. The other senior students were annoyed by his actions and tried to kick him around, but Ikeda was unmoved. After 90 minutes of kakarigeiko he couldn’t stand and was crawling in the Butokuden.

When his eyes opened he found him self in a restaurant on Yoshida street. The miso soup in this shop was tasty and favoured by Busen students. For eat-and-drink-all-that-you-can the price was 15 zeni in the morning, and 25 in the afternoon and evening (i.e. cheap). Busen students (including Ikeda) were apt to drink 5 bowls of miso soup and 15 bowls of rice in one sitting with east. The restaurant ran in deficit.

Kihongeiko and kendo no kata

In 1938 Ikeda was called up for one of two stints of military service. At the wars end he was in Manchuria and was interned in a Siberian labour camp for 4 years. After being released in 1949 he returned to Osaka and managed to get a job in a fabric wholesale company. It was a little bit after this time that Ikeda sensei and the 7-samurai mentioned at the beginning of the article re-started kendo in the city at the Nankai-dentetsu dojo. In 1952 a kendo competition was held in Nishinomiya city (Hyogo) and the Osaka team (with Ikeda as a member) got 2nd place.

Eventually Ikeda sensei went on to teach kendo at main places in Osaka (see timeline below) including becoming the shihan of Yoseikai. At that time keiko would be every day bar Sundays, and Ikeda sensei would come 3 or 4 times per week.

Ikeda sensei would stress the importance of kihon and recommended practising by yourself. He also spent a lot of time on kata.

At Yoseikai, after the main practise would finish he would do extra keiko with selected kenshi, perhaps 5 or 6 people for 30 minutes. He would bring the fight to these students and the keiko was very intense. His tsuki would never miss, and his kote from jodan (despite being small statured he sometimes fought jodan) was very fast.

One of Ikeda sensei’s favourite sayings was 「稽古一本酒三本」: “keiko ippon sake sanbon.” After keiko he would go to the izakaya and would lose track of time while talking about kendo things. As a man who devoted his lifetime to kendo he never broke his pursuit of kendo knowledge, and even at the end of keiko would tidy up his own bogu.

With success comes reflection

As told by Furuya sensei:

“Ikeda sensei’s tenouchi was outstanding. Because of this, sensei’s favoured technique was ‘kote kaeshi kote.’ His forward attacking men was brilliant as well, but his ability to receive and immediately turn the opponents power back on them using kaeshi waza was great. At the same time as receiving his opponents power he would strike their men or kote. Different from suriage waza, unless your tenouchi has been tempered finely you couldn’t copy his style.

But even Ikeda sensei had call to reflect on his use of the waza. One time when I asked Ikeda sensei to reminisce on his own teacher he told me the following story. Ikeda sensei met his teacher at Busen and was from the same prefecture – the aforementioned Sato Chuzo sensei. In 1954 – when Ikeda sensei was 40 years old – he won the Kokutai individual championships held in Hokkaido (Kokutai is a large and prestigious national sports competition that entails many sports and budo). After he won the title Sato Chuzo – who was a shinpan at the time – called over Ikeda sensei.

Ikeda, don’t dare show your kote and invite your opponent to strike it. Your favourite technique is kote-kaeshi-kote right? Don’t be stupid and blatantly open your kote to invite attack… you’d better stop that type of kendo right now. Kendo must be done honestly.

In this instant Ikeda sensei changed the way he viewed kendo. With the success of winning such a big shiai there also came reflection.”

Don’t be embarrassed about being hit

Again, told by Furuya sensei:

“It happened in Shudokan. Ikeda sensei was one of the teachers there, and one day he went to ask for keiko from another of the teachers, Hasegawa sensei. Hasegawa sensei was also a Busen graduate, but 7 years Ikeda sensei’s senior. At this time Ikeda sensei was in his early 50’s. When the two shihan began keiko everyone around them stopped to watch. Its rare that two shihan would keiko like this so the atmosphere was tense.

The first to move was Ikeda sensei, who launched into a morote-tsuki attack. Hasegawa sensei managed to use his shinai just in time to avoid the thrust from landing. The pair of sensei went back to chudan and the keiko commenced. Just as Ikeda sensei was about to launch another attack Hasegawa sensei sprung forward and tsuki’ed Ikeda sensei so strongly that he flew back and into the waiting line of kenshi, of which I was top of the line. Straight away Hasegawa sensei thrust again and Ikeda sensei’s body flew into mine.

Its very rare for senior sensei to go to more-senior sensei for keiko in front of so many students. Ikeda sensei toppled over in front of me. On a different day I again saw Ikeda sensei go to Hasegawa sensei for keiko. Ikeda sensei was not embarrassed about being struck, rather he admitted his inexperience and thanked Hasegawa sensei for teaching him (remember Ikeda sensei was at least 8dan at this time).

The image of that tsuki and Ikeda sensei collapsing into me is burnt into my mind.”

Ikeda (shidachi)

Sayings by Ikeda Yuji sensei

Do correct kendo, do kendo so that whoever looks at you thinks it is beautiful.

Small, shrunken kendo like a bonsai is bad, do kendo like a big tree with strong roots.

Kendo isn’t about theory. Its about seeking yourself through intense keiko. If you do this you will come to understand.

If you accept that something is impossible then it always will be. If you always avoid your opponents sword tip then you will never be able to defeat them.

Self-centered kendo is bad. There is an partner in front of you after all. If you do self-centered kendo then those watching will think “thats unpleasant” and you will be thought of as someone who does bad kendo. You must do kendo that is pleasant. Striking your opponents heart/spirit, or having your heart/spirit struck by your opponent is what kendo’s about, isn’t it?

They say “do kendo with abandon.” If you do your daily kendo like this, and if even 1/2 of this comes out during a shiai, you will win.

Even though you are swinging the shinai you don’t need power. Even though you are lifting the shinai up you don’t need power. Physical power is unnecessary. If you simply bring the shinai down it will cut.

In kirikaeshi its bad to just bash your opponents shinai recklessly. You have to tense your hands and – feeling the weight of your own shinai – immediately pivot the shinai round and strike the opposite side.

It doesn’t matter who you are, every person raises their hands before striking. Strike there. You have to be patient and wait until that moment.

Kendo is a lifetime activity. Its not just about striking and being struck, kendo isn’t as small as that.

Kendo is about harmony. You have a partner after all. You must consider your opponents feeling. Kendo isn’t something you can do on your own after all.

Simply learning the theory of kendo is no good. Kendo is only understood through physical experience. If you see the opponents kote come and you think “I’m going to evade it!” well, there simply isn’t enough time. Your opponent is also a living being. They don’t want to be hit. Thinking then attempting to strike is no good. You have to abandon oneself. Throw away everything and strike.

In your youth you must physically exert yourself to the utmost. During this period you will start to understand things like the correct opportunity to strike, and the theory behind actions. Keiko without exertion leads to nothing but small and hard kendo.

When you are doing keiko with senior people, even if you feel their strong pressure, you should attempt to strike. Even if it wasn’t the correct time to strike, aim to throw yourself into the cut and make your opponent move by doing so. If you do this over and over your emotional spirit, that is to say, your “heart” will come out. Eventually you will be able to cause your opponent to strike when agitated. He will end up simply blocking your attacks and your attacks/techniques will come out one after another.

When you think “Wow, thats a great technique, I want to learn it” you should steal it. Whether you are asleep or awake you should draw a picture of it in your mind. Naturally/eventually you will become to be able to do the technique.

“Shu-ha-ri” is something you repeat over and over. Whatever grade you become “shu,” whatever grade you became “ha,” its not “once you get to x-dan” then you are now in the “ri” stage, at least this is what I believe. It doesn’t matter what grade you are, you must always return to basics.

Do your keiko like your kata and do your kata like keiko.

Watching someone’s kata you can understand their kendo ability. How to grip the sword, how to move the body, kamae, presence… everything comes out in kata.

Timeline: Ikeda Yuji, hanshi hachidan

1914: born in Yamagata prefecture on the 13th of March.
1923: began kendo at 3rd year in primary school.
1932/1933: Entered into the Busen pre-training group in 1932 and – finally passing the exams a year later – enrolled in Busen proper in 1933. Sato Chuzo – also from Yamagata – became his main teacher.
1937: graduated Busen but stayed on in its research division.
1940: entered tenran shiai.
1942: he served as the kendo teacher for Sakai kogyo high school, and taught kendo and jukendo at Osaka prefectural university.
1945-1949: After the war he was interned in a Siberian labour camp for 4 years. After release he worked at a fabric wholesale company in central Osaka.
1950/51: helps create Busen alumni association and re-starts kendo at Nankai dentetsu dojo.
1954: he won Kokutai kendo individual championships aged 40.
1959 or 1963: becomes first shihan of Yoseikai.
1964: passes hachidan.
1969: receives hanshi
1971: Tozai-taiko west-team captain.
1976: all Japan kendo championships shinpan-cho. Served on the board to revise kendo no kata.
1991: passes away at 76.

Posts held: ZNKR director and public awareness committee member, Osaka kendo renmei permanent director, Kansai university kendo shihan, Osaka university kendo shihan, Asahi shinbun Osaka kendo shihan, Shudokan lecturer, Asahi culture center Senri kendo kyoshitsu lecturer, Yoseikai shihan, Yukenkai shihan, Juso kenyukai shihan.



By George

George is the founder and chief editor of
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9 replies on “Lifetime kenshi: Ikeda Yuji sensei”

George – great article. I had the privelege of training with Ikeda sensei regularly during my three years at Osaka Shudokan after originally seeing his mohan jiai and kata demonstration at the 3WKC in England. Although a strict teacher, his patience was infinite, constantly urging me to strike his men “like a drum” during kirikaeshi.

He usually ended each keiko by taking jodan and saying something along the lines of “You and me, one point” in his native zuzuben.

I attended his kata seminar where he harangued the members about chakuzo, explaining that when he joined the army, no-one knew how to do up buttons, now (1976) nobody knows ho to tie obi and himo.

I have an action picture of his kata, which I will mail to you.

“Do your keiko like your kata and do your kata like keiko.”

This message will be always on my mind every pratice from now on

As always George you present an interesting subject/ Now I am going to need to research how this dovetails with Omoto sensei and his reflection as the first gaijin admitted to busen. Omoto sensi was kendo probably the only American of Hawaii and was the first and probably only gaijjin accepeted to Busen. Sorry for the sentence structure too much russian infulence

Hello George.
Thank you for your always interesting articles.
I have just taken the liberty (without proper permission) of translating into Spanish a small portion of your work and posted it to my Facebook group “Japanese Sword Arts” I only intend to finish translating it as long as it is acceptable to you for me to continue doing so. I have obviously given the proper credit for your work.
I hope other Spanish speaking kenshi can enjoy reading your work.

Hey Santiago,

Thanks for your kind words.

Sure, I have no problem with translations as long as the author/translators name is mentioned as well as the base website “”. You may also want to add the original sources in there as well.

– George

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