history kendo

The Argument for the Revival of Gekken

Gekken Saikoron – The Argument for the Revival of Gekken

Editors note:

The Jikishinkage-ryu swordsman Kawaji Toshiyoshi (1834-79) was a Satsuma-han samurai who lived during one of Japans most tumultuous periods. A military man, he took part in many of the battles that happened over the country as it reacted to western encroachment and fell in and out of civil war. He rose in military rank to Major-General and was sent to Europe to study the workings of various police forces (for a year between 1872-3). On his return he designed the first Japanese police system (based on a French model) and was appointed the 1st Superintendent-General of the fledgling keishicho (Tokyo Metropolitan Police) in 1874.

In 1877 he created a special ‘Close Combat Force’ from members of keishicho (named Battotai) and dispatched them to fight against Saigo Takamori in the Satsuma rebellion. The result of their combat experiences led Kawaji to re-consider the need for kenjutsu training for policemen and in 1879 he published his thoughts for its re-establishment. Two years later kenjutsu instructors were employed by keishicho for the first time. This event is one of the most important in the history of kendo.

Kawaji’s short essay on the need for kenjutsu training is presented here.

The following translation is the work of George McCall with heavy input by Richard Stonell. Its the first time it has been fully presented in English afaik. For Japanese readers the original is at the end. Enjoy!

– George

Gekken Saikoron

1. Although the katana has been almost unused since the Meiji restoration, there is a general effectiveness that is expressed by close combat with Japanese swords. It is my humble desire to see this discipline restored and become popular. Even in enlightened nations, swordsmanship has to this day been practised devotedly. If our country now discards gekken, it will surely be impossible to resurrect. At such a time, will we just throw away this precious jewel and exchange it for a lump of broken pottery? No effort must be spared to prevent this from happening.

2. Those who would discard gekken think that people with the temperament to cultivate great skill in swordsmanship should stop clinging to useless skills and obstructing progress, and turn that same temperament towards scholarly pursuits and contribute to the enlightenment of society.

3. This is absolutely incorrect. There is a rich variety in human nature and people have different skills or leanings. For example, there is the literary type, or the martial type. There are those who have a taste for both. You absolutely cannot teach a purely academic person the military arts, nor make a pure fighter study literature. Likewise, when someone has a knack for both, they must pursue both together. Surely forcing people against their nature in this way is what will obstruct progress!

4. Gekken is beneficial to health.

5. Gekken cultivates bravery.

6. Even if you carry a stick for protection, without the skill to use it against an opponent you will not be able to defend yourself.

7. When action is needed to suppress violent gangs, a man who has not disciplined and prepared himself in the martial arts will be incapable of volunteering to take on these gangs in combat. Under the former Shogunate, law enforcers who failed to arrest vicious criminals were invariably lacking this kind of training.

8. Police officers who are commonly involved in strenuous, dynamic work at crime scenes need to be always disciplining their bodies through hard training, just like a swordsman.

9. Gekken (i.e. European fencing) is actively practised in Western countries. Our nation is somehow on the verge of discarding one of its esteemed arts. We should not let things reach the point where we have to learn gekken from foreigners. It would be like replacing a golden piece of treasure with a lump of broken pottery.

– Kawaji Toshiyoshi











川路 利良



By George

George is the founder and chief editor of
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8 replies on “The Argument for the Revival of Gekken”

thanks George and richard. this is nice and always interesting to see these kinds of arguments from long ago.

Hi Teruki, thanks for commenting. The terms GEKIKEN and GEKKEN were both used (same kanji!). The original text refers explicitly (by means of furigana) to GEKKEN.

Thanks! I will keep it in mind and offer the original article for those who know English, just want to give non-English speakers to have some access to information only avaliable in English (or Japanese).

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