In the kendo that we do nowadays there are two styles of tying the men: the ‘Kansai’ or the ‘Kanto’ style. The second of the two tends to be the most common. The difference in attaching the chichi-gawa (leather straps) to the men, and tying the men is as follows:
‘Kanto’ (pictured below) – both chichi-gawa are attached to the fourth bar from the bottom of the men, on the left and right sides. You then tie the men to your head by winding the the himo (strings) around your head once and threading through the top of the grill before taking around to the back of your head and tying. This style is the easiest of the two and it takes little time for the experienced kenshi to get their men on and be ready for action.
‘Kansai’ (pictured in the title) – a single long chichi-gawa is threaded through the top of the men grill and attached securely. To tie the men to your head you then wind the himo around your head and cross over in front of the tsukidare before winding back up and through the top grill. You then finish by winding to your back of the head and tying. This is the more complicated style and as such it often takes longer to tie your men, though once done its a lot more secure than the first method mentioned above.
Both styles are equally as orthodox and each is as correct as the other (at least nowadays).
Of course, all this is commonly known to kenshi, even relatively inexperienced ones, so why bother mentioning it now? Naturally sceptical by nature, I’ve always been bothered by the ‘Kansai’ and ‘Kanto’ appellations. They just don’t make sense (I’ll explain my rationale below). Why are they actually called this? What are the origins of these naming conventions?
Apart from a small piece of first hand information from Nakayama Hakudo, I’ll admit that I don’t know precisely. I’ve kept an eye out for more information regarding this, but I’ve never (yet) found anything even semi-conclusive (save Nakayama’s words). I suspect there may be some Butokukai manuals somewhere with more information, or some early ZNKR rules detailing whats ok and whats not, but I’ve yet to see them. At any rate, here is my conclusions on the matter (at this point of time. If any kenshi247 reader has more information, please get it to me!).
Please note that this is highly speculative and hardly a scientific study. I have more of a ‘gut’ feeling on the topic more than anything academically convincing!
What Nakayama said
A couple of years ago when I was researching a different matter (see The white hakama of Yushinkan) I stumbled upon the only real information I’ve seen on the matter: in the text referenced in the above article Nakayama clearly states that using shorter men-himo and tying from the bottom-up (i.e. the ‘Kanto’ style) was his invention. He says that he made all his students tie their men like this but when they visited other dojo they’d stop using it (replaced with what he doesn’t mention). He goes as far as to mention that there was a time where the Butokukai took up this style as their official method, but that they too eventually stopped using it (no reason was given).
Please note that I have no date for what was said above.
Evidence in media
We basically have three areas that we can look at: film, photography, and books.
Looking at pre-WWII film and photography (on the net or ZNKR videos for film and in books for photos) we can easily see that there was a wide variation in men tying styles, enough to seem random at times. This suggests a lack of standardisation or, perhaps, no application of any standards that might have existed (at least, for those who weren’t professional kenshi). Written description in a number of older books, however, tend to have (the ones I own at least) descriptions of the top-down style.
You can easily find pre-WWII film and photos on the net.
Regional evidence – Kansai viewpoint
I live in Kansai. I can honestly say that the ‘Kansai’ style is the minority method nowadays. I suspect its the same in Kanto as well. So why may the style have been called ‘Kansai’? Thinking about this, the only rational explanation I can come up with is because the Butokukai’s HQ was in Kyoto, which is in Kansai. It makes perfect sense to me that the Budo Senmon Gakko (Busen, the Butokukai’s school for teaching kendo instructors) would have a set method for tying the men. Even though students would come from all over the country (and most go back to teach in their respective areas), I’d assume that they’d be drilled with the ‘correct’ way of tying the men, as they would have been with men-cutting, kirikaeshi, etc.
But then I got to thinking – who were some of the main teachers at Busen, and where did they come from? Of course, the name that pops up first is Naito Takaharu… a Mito Tobukan kenshi (Ibaraki prefecture – Kanto) who spent time at Keishicho (Tokyo – Kanto). One of his senior aids was of course Mona Tadashi, who also went the Tobukan-Keishicho route. I suspect that they would have taught the men-tying techniques they were schooled in (i.e. Tobukan).
Why the popularity of ‘Kanto’ over ‘Kansai’ in modern times?
Again, I have no academic answer to this, only speculation, but I suspect it was something that happened as a result of the de-militarisation of kendo after the WWII, in particular its promotion as something that was neither violent nor nationalistic, and its new ‘sport-like’ veneer. The largest impact of this was the opening up of kendo to participation of women and children.
1. The addition of women and children to kendo meant that some of the rough and tumble moves were eliminated.
2. The top-down ‘Kansai’ method is much more difficult to learn, thus the ‘Kanto’ style became the favoured/defacto tying method to teach children (though perhaps not explicitly stated). Its future popularity was a by-product of this.
Personally, I think point 2 is more important than point 1 when it comes to men tying methods. Point 1 is sometimes mentioned in reference to this by assuming that people stopped doing the top-down ‘Kansai’ method when pulling-men-of rules were stopped… but I’m not so sure that explains it fully. Point 2, for me, explains easier the natural and steady displacement of one over the other (with the other, or variations of it, almost certainly being the common of the two pre-war).
FYI, Japanese kenshi themselves call these tying styles ‘Kansai’ and ‘Kanto’ yet almost no one can give an informed (i.e. researched) answer other than ‘Kanto style was popular in Kanto and Kansai style in Kansai’… even some 8dans (yes, I’ve asked… but only after a few beers). I think this is evidence of point 2 above.
Its all getting confusing!
Yes it is, very much so… but that won’t stop me from making an educated (if speculative!) wild stab:
– In the early days of kendo there were no set-in-stone men tying styles;
– The ‘Kansai’ appellation perhaps derives from what was taught at Busen (HQ’ed in Kansai);
– However, the term ‘Kansai’ is a misnomer because it was the style promulgated by people from Kanto (i.e. the Busen teachers);
– This top-down ‘Kansai’ method was probably the most popular style pre-war;
– The ‘Kanto’ method likely derives originally from Nakama Hakudo, though he never called it this;
– The bottom-up ‘Kanto’ method slowly displaced the other post-war as it was taught to the next generation and is now the defacto standard.
As far as all this wild supposition goes, and if I were to rename these tying styles to something more appropriate, then I’d do something like this:
‘Kansai’ should be renamed the ‘Busen’ or perhaps the ‘traditional’ style;
‘Kanto’ should be renamed the ‘Nakayama’ or ‘modern’ style.
Alternatively – like some bogu manufacturers do – we could just call them style A and B…. problem solved!!!