A Lineage all but Forgotten: The Yushinkan (Nakayama Hakudo)


There are few martial artists in history who have been able to influence an entire generation of politicians, military personnel, police, educators, and civilians alike.  Who’s student’s (if only for a day) talked about their experiences with him in detail nearly seventy years after his death.  The first San-Dou-no-Hanshi (三道の藩士) in history. The “God of Kendo”  (剣道の神様) Nakayama Hakudo.

Nakayama Hakudo was arguably the most influential martial artist in modern history.  Many instructors and students around the world claim to have some “connection” to him, having practiced some form or another of his Iaido. Yet, these same people (in Japan and abroad) know little more than his name.  Only by looking at his humble origins, ambitions, accomplishments, and outlooks can we come closer to understanding the man and his styles.
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How to pass hachidan

About 2 and 1/2 years ago I posted an article entitled “How to pass hachidan.” In it was the advice a sensei of mine received, plus his own advice about attempting what has been called the hardest test in Japan. Flipping through some old kendo magazines a few weekends ago I found a similar piece featuring a different, then-newly-minted, hachidan sensei of mine. Although I don’t think I will ever attempt the grading (!) there is definitely value in reading the contents. I have translated a part of the article below.

1. Age upon passing: 55;
2. Started kendo: while in 4th year primary school (9yrs old);
3. Profession: went straight from high school into the Osaka police department. Is now a professional police kendo teacher.

4. What was different about the 8dan grading you passed and those before it?

I managed to pass the first round of the shinai-kendo portion twice before (for 8dan, the shinai portion is in 2 rounds. Each round you fight 2 other people. Almost everyone fails the first round) but somehow couldn’t make the extra step. If I look back, its probably because the concentration I had in the first round could not be kept through to the second round (there is a break of a few hours in-between rounds). In the second round I couldn’t predict my opponents actions well, and couldn’t manage to attack at the right time. I found myself being unable to concentrate on my opponent, and it was almost as if I were fighting alone.Thinking about this fault, I decided to do the following in my everyday keiko:

– always have the mindset of “ippon shobu;”
– try to attack first, and with full commitment;
– attack with my whole body and whole strength strike by strike;
– keep my spirit full and lively through to the end of the session.

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Thoughts on Tameshigiri from Famous Swordsmen

Tameshigiri is a very popular element of swordsmanship today. This is perhaps thanks in part to the spread of Toyama-ryu, a system originally created in the 1920s to teach fundamental sword technique to officers in the Imperial Japanese Military. Tameshigiri forms a central part of training in Toyama-ryu and its derivatives, but traditionally, this form of target cutting was not a major element of most systems of swordsmanship.

The question of the pros and cons of tameshigiri for those of us studying swordsmanship today has been covered in a previous article by SangWooKim. In this article, I would instead like to look at the opinions on tameshigiri held by two of the most highly-regarded swordsmen of the modern period.

Takano Sasaburō (1862-1950) and Nakayama Hakudō (1872-1958) were two of the most important figures in the development of modern kendo (see this article for more information). Practitioners of both classical swordsmanship and the more modern forms of shinai keiko, their ways of thinking shaped the sword arts that we practise today. As such their opinions on kendo and swordsmanship in general are quite pertinent to those studying both modern and koryu arts. The following is a translation of their respective thoughts on tameshigiri.

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Osaka police captain: Teramoto Shoji

Osaka people: Police tokuren captain, Teramoto Shoji (35)

(The following is a quick translation on a newspaper piece on the hugely popular Teramoto Shoji. The article was published in Osaka version of the Mainichi Shinbun on the 18th of January 2011. The picture at the top of the article is by George and was taken in the Osaka Budosai in 2008. Teramoto is on the left..)

Emitting authority – the quest for strength

“Kendo has no end point, no final destination”

Working as Japanese captain in the 2009 world championships, he took the top position in the team and individual competitions. Even now, however, he is still seeking to polish his spirit, technique, and body: Osaka special police kendo team captain, Teramoto Shoji (35).

On the 30th of August 2009, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Japan won the mens team competition in the World Kendo Championships. Team captain Teramoto went over to his team mate and cried on his shoulder. “Its not easy being the captain. Rather than happiness, I feel relief that I was able to carry out my responsibilities.”

From the first world kendo championships until the one prior to Brazil – Taiwan in 2006 – Japan had never failed to win (Japan took male and female individuals as well as the females team competition. They were beaten by America in the mens competition and had to settle for third place). At a time when the Japanese team performance received many criticisms, Teramoto was selected as team captain.

Teramoto was born in April 1975 in Kumamoto prefecture. At that time his father (66) was in the construction industry and his mother (60) a housewife. Impressed by seeing his cousin doing kendo, he started when he was in 1st year of primary school (6yrs old). Having to shoulder the burden of his sons kendo costs his pessimistic father said to him “If you are going to do kendo, do it seriously. Don’t do it half-hearted then quit!” From the start, Teramoto was resolved to do his best at kendo, and he still holds his fathers words close to his heart even now.

In 1998 he entered the police force. At 183cm’s and with a strong body the shihan (of Osaka tokuren) saw his future promise and worked to have him join the squad. Compared with other team members who had won lots of shiai in their school and university kendo careers, he had an unremarkable past and was a complete unknown.

“I left my parents in my hometown, resolved my will, and joined. I didn’t want to end my kendo career as just another ‘normal’ kenshi.”

From this feeling he became a “keiko mushi” (a term used in Japan to mean someone who does lots of keiko at different places). Teramoto would try to find free time and go to other dojo and practise as much as he could. The squad manager at the time – Ishida Yoji – recognised that Teramoto was inquiring deeply into how to become strong.

Teramoto has won the All Japan kendo championships. In 2006 and 7 he was part of Osaka team that won the police championships two years in a row. From 2008 he became the team captain but there has already been talk of his retirement as he’s already reached the retirement age (34 is the normal age tokuren are retired). However Teramoto wants “to become stronger. I want to show this (in shiai).” Recapturing the police championship title is his goal for this year. With a mind on winning – “I want to drink delicious sake (after winning)!” – this years preparations have begun.

He lives with his wife (Mai, 35, who he met at the police kendo club), his daughter Suzuna (8), and his son Takeyori (4). In their daily life recently there has been a welcome change: His daughter Suzuna, who has always said “I don’t want to do kendo” suddenly changed her mind and said “I want to do kendo.” “Before she changed her mind again I bought her kendo equipment” said Teramoto, and – for a moment – his usual kenshi face turned into that of a normal father.


The Online version of this article (Japanese) can be seen here.

A lineage all but forgotton: the Yushinkan dojo

Editors note: This is the first in a series of articles by Tokyo based budoka Jeff Karinja. In this series, he will introduce Yushinkan dojo and talk about its history, esteemed lineage, and ethos. Enjoy!

The Yushinkan Dojo (有信館道場) is perhaps one of the most distinguished training halls in modern budo history. The dojo, once renown around Japan as one of the Tokyo-yon-dai-dojo (東京四大道場), has a history spanning over one-hundred years. Since it’s inception in the Meiji period the Yushinkan has had many famous kenshi grace it’s halls. Some of the names on the Nafudakake (or name board) included such famous swordsmen as Nakayama Hakudo, Nakayama Zendo, Hashimoto Toyo, Nakakura Kiyoshi (ZNKR: Kendo/Iaido-9th dan, Hanshi), Nakajima Gozoro (ZNKR: Kendo/Iaido-9th dan, Hanshi), Haga Junichi (Kendo and Iaido ), Danzaki Tomoaki (Muso Shinden Ryu Iaido: Menkyo Kaiden, ZNKR: Kendo-7th, dan, Hanshi/Iaido-10th Dan, Hanshi) and several other influential martial artists.

The Yushinkan was originally a training hall dedicated to the practice of Shindo Munen Ryu Kenjutsu and Gekiken under the dojo’s founder; it came to be the home of several distinct styles. It’s members became notorious for their aggressive waza and Kendo techniques. In this series we will explore the history, styles, and techniques of the Yushinkan Dojo.

Negishi Shingoro (根岸信五郎)
* First generation headmaster of Yushinkan (有信館道場の初代館長);
* first generation headmaster of Kanto-ha Shindo Munen Ryu Kenjutsu (関東派神道無念流剣術の第一代目宗家)

Negishi Shingoro's Head Stone

Shingoro was born a son of the Makino family (the ruling family of the Echigo Nagoaka Clan) in 1844. As a young child he was adopted by one of the clan’s chief magistrates Negishi Yorosaemon. Shingoro was made to study the Bugei Juhappan. In his teens, however he developed a passion for swordsmanship and began studying Nagaoka Han Den Shindo Munen Ryu from Nomura Tetsuya (one of the clan’s chief sword instructors). In the spring of 1863 he took a temporary leave of absence from the clan in order to study Shindo Munen Ryu at the famed Renpeikan dojo in Edo.

At the Renpeikan dojo Shingoro learned from the famed swordsmen Saito Yakuro and his sons Shintaro and Yoronosuke. He also benefited from the council of famous Shishi like Kido Takayoshi. One year after joining the Renpeikan Shingoro was issued Shihan-dai from Shintaro and in 1865 Menkyo with an Inkyo license. Shingoro became increasing outspoken politically during his time in Edo (due to the influence of his Choshu Clan Sempai). His beliefs did not stop him, however from heeding his clans’s call. Upon receiving Inkyo, Shingoro was recalled back to his domain.

Sendai Mobilizes for War

The Nagaoka Clan had mobilized for war in the spring of 1868. Together with the Northern Alliance (comprising of forces from thirty-two domains) they fought against the Meiji Army from May 4th to September 15th. This battle became known as the Battle of Hokuetsu (北越戦争), and was the bloodiest battle of the Boshin Wars, which cost an estimated four thousand lives and left countless thousands, wounded.

Shingoro managed to survive the initial conflicts unscathed. On September 10th however, he took part in the charge to retake the castle and was severely wounded during the counter-attack that routed Aizu and Nagaoka forces on September 15th, 1868. After the defeat of his clan Shingoro returned to Edo where he acted as Shintaro’s successor. He opened the famed Yushinkan dojo (有信館道場) was later employed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Force to teach Gekiken and Keshi-cho Ryu Kitachi/Iai to the Emperor’s Royal Guard Detachment at Saineikan Dojo. He gained notoriety by winning several high profile bouts against other skilled swordsmen, and was asked by the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai to join the committee responsible for creating the Dai Nippon Teikoku Kendo Kata. This was the precursor to the present-day Nippon Kendo Kata.

Members of the Committee responsible for the creation of the Dai Nippon Teikoku Kendo Kata/Kendo no Kata (in order from right to left): Takano Sasaburo (Itto Ryu), Monna Tadashi (Hokushin Itto Ryu), Naito Takaharu (Hokushin Itto Ryu), Tsuji Shinpei (Shingyoto Ryu), and Negishi Shingoro (Shindo Munen Ryu)

Shingoro had many great students. The most promising of them all was his eventual successor, a man named Nakayama Hakudo. Prior to Shingoro’s death Hakudo and his daughter were wed (joining the Nakayama and Negishi families together). Hakudo then inherited the Yushinkan bringing it and Japanese swordsmanship to a new level of popularity unseen in the Meiji Era. Shingoro passed away in 1913 at the age of seventy.

To be continued………

(Special Thanks to: Rennis Buchner, Richard Stonell, Tim Newfields, and George McCall for all their help and support of this article)

Glossary of terms:

Bugei Juhappan (武芸十八般): were the eighteen essential martial arts of the samurai. The Bugei Juhappan consisted of: Kyujutsu (archery), Bajutsu (horse riding), Suijutsu (swimming), Naginatajutsu (Halbred), Sojutsu (spear), Kogusoku (armored or semi-armored grappling), Bojutsu (staff), Jojutsu (short-staff), Kusarigamajutsu (sickle and chain art), Kusarifundo (weighted chain), Shurikenjutsu (throwing daggers), Fukumibarijutsu (needle), Juttejutsu/Tessenjutsu (Jutte and Iron Fan), Iaijutsu/Battojutsu (sword drawing), Jujutsu/Yawara (grappling), Toritejutsu (restraining or hostage taking methods), Mojirijutsu (long handled restraining device), Ninjutsu (espionage and intelligence analysis), and Hojutsu (gunnery).

Nagaoka Han Den Shindo Munen Ryu (長岡藩傳神道無念流): also referred to as Nomura Ha Shindo Munen Ryu (野村派神道無念流) was a branch of Shindo Munen Ryu taught within the Nagaoka domain (present-day Niigata Prefecture). The last Shihan of the system was Nomura Tetsuya.

Renpeikan Dojo (練兵館道場): was one of the Edo San Dai Dojo (江戸三大道場) or “ Three Big Dojo of Edo“. Initially founded and run by Saito Yakuro Yoshimichi (斎藤弥九郎) it became one of the more popular fencing halls of the Bakumatsu Period (the closing years of the Tokugawa Shogunate).

Shishi (志士): meaning “men of high purpose”; were Japanese political activists of the late Edo Period. Largely outspoken and at times violent they paved the way for establishment of the Meiji Government. Shishi came from many domains and walks of life, but were said to mostly come from the Choshu, Tosa (Yamauchi), and Satsuma Clans.

Tokyo-Yon-Dai-Dojo (東京四大道場): lit- ”The Four Big Dojo of Tokyo”; were the most renown training halls in Tokyo prior to outbreak of the Second World War.

  1. Shudogakuin (修道学院)- the former dojo of Takano Sasaburo(Ono Ha Itto Ryu/Kendo)
  2. Yushinkan Dojo (有信館道場)- founded by Negishi Shingoro (Kanto Ha Shindo Munen Ryu/Gekiken) and succeeded by Nakayama Hakudo (Kanto Ha Shindo Munen Ryu/Shinto Muso Ryu/Muso Shinden Ryu/Kendo), Nakayama Zendo (3rd generation), Saeki Soichiro(4th Generation), and Ogawa Takeshi (5th Generation).
  3. Kodougikai (皇道議会)- the former dojo of Ishii Sabaro (Hokushin Itto Ryu/Kendo)
  4. Noma Dojo (野間道場)- founded by enterprenuer Noma Seiji (Kodansha Publishing)

Mokuroku (目録): or “Catalog” is a type of scroll usually awarded to students after several years of dedication. The details differ from school to school, but a mokuroku consists of a (partial or complete) list of kata, fighting strategies, military tactics, esoteric or religious teachings, philosophy, or other facets of learning.

Shihan-Dai (師範代): or “Assistant Master”; it is a title awarded normally to a student of experienced level. It certifies them to teach other students (under the supervision of a headmaster) in the dojo.

Menkyo (免許): or “License/Permit”; differs from school to school, but is normally a scroll of high level awarded to those who have attained a profound level or skill or understanding in their respective school.

Inkyo (允許): or “Certificate of Proficiency”; is a license given to those who have either finished their training or have been given permission to establish their own dojo.

Shihan (師範)- or “Instructor”; is a term often misused today. A Shihan is a person who was fully licensed in their respective ryu or school and by the grace of their teachers, allowed to run or operate their own dojo or training hall independently (without supervision).

Gekiken (撃剣): meaning “Fencing”; was the pre-cursor to modern Kendo. Often ryu or school specific, it was a practice that allowed swordsmen of particular schools to apply learned techniques or concepts in a relatively controlled environment. Unlike modern Kendo; it contained the use of several or multiple weapons, grappling, striking, and physical duress that brought students to a new level of endurance and understanding.

Keshi-cho Ryu Kitachi/Iai (警視庁流木太刀/居合): was a school made up of modified kata from more than a dozen schools. Established in the 10th year of the Meiji (1877) for Japanese Police officers, it consisted of Kenjutsu, Iaijutsu, and Jujutsu.

Saineikan Dojo (済寧館道場): Located on the grounds of the Imperial Palace on Tokyo, it remains to be the primary training hall of the Imperial Guard.

Dai Nippon Butoku Kai (大日本武徳会): “The Greater Japan Martial Virtue Society” it was an organization established under the ministry of education in 1895 by Emperor Meiji’s decree.

Dai Nippon Teikoku Kendo Kata (大日本帝国剣道形): “The Kendo Kata of the Greater Imperial Japan” it was the pre-cursor to the “Nippon Kendo Kata(日本剣道形) or “Japanese Kendo Kata


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