Ichiban Yari 一番槍

One of my primary reasons for coming to Japan (other than kendo) was to learn the language. I’m nor sure why, but I’ve loved listening to Japanese for as long as I remember, at least since primary school when I was first exposed to it via the 80s television drama Shogun (based on the James Clavells novel). Even now, after more than a decade in Japan, I still find joy in learning new phrases or interesting (sometimes surprising) combination of words.

Pretty much everything I read, and a large percentage of conversations I have, are about kendo or budo related matters and because of this I’ve found myself learning anachronistic uses of words/terms, and not an insignificant amount of budo jargon. Recently, reading a book published over 30 years ago, I came across quite a cool usage that I’d like to share with kenshi 24/7 readers. Using this as an excuse I’d like to explain some other terms as well, which you may or may not know (and which may or may not be of interest!!).

1. Ichiban yari (一番槍) – the first spear


During the sengoku-jidai (the warring states period) here in Japan warrior-retainers used to be rewarded by their lords for their brave deeds in battle. Rewards would be money and/or land, but with bravery also came fame and prestige (infamy even?), something possibly more valuable than material resources. Armies would line up and face each other, often impatient to get things going. Waiting for the lords order to commence battle (or sometimes not!) the warriors would dash forward and engage the other side. The first warrior who breached the enemy line was termed “ichiban yari” (the first spear). Their courage in the face of mortal danger would be recognised post-battle… if they survived!!

(Remember of course that the sword was an auxiliary weapon at this time, the brunt of the fighting would be done with bows, guns, spears, and – in very close contact – daggers, hands, and feet.)

The book mentioned above was written by a now deceased kendo hanshi. He attended and graduated from Busen (Budo senmon gakko) in the 1920s-30s, and it was during the description of his time there that where I discovered a kendo-use of “ichiban yari” :

“One more characteristic of Busen was the competition to be named ichiban-yari, that is, the competition to get your men on the quickest and get to the best sensei. In the Butokuden, after the opening etiquette – “Shinzen ni rei! Sensei ni rei!” – everyone would rush to put their men on and go to the sensei they want to practice with. I think I took about 15 seconds to get my men on then.” (Bunbufuki, Kozawa Takeshi)

I think this is a pretty neat term: get your men on first, run to the top sensei (in Busen at that time that would’ve been Ogawa Kinnosuke), and be rewarded with the title ichiban yari!!!

Thinking about it, if you ran a kids class there is no reason you couldn’t keep record of who gets their men on first every class and (say, after a set number of weeks or so) award one of of the students that title: perhaps it comes with benefits for the following month, the student gets some sort of prize, or they get to wear a special dou, etc etc, I’m sure there are any number of creative ways where you could use this in a kids class.

btw, a related term is “shichi-hon yari” or “the seven spears” which was a title awarded to the strongest warriors in a battle. For example, Ono Tadaaki (founder of Ono-ha itto-ryu), was known as one of the 7 spears at the siege of Ueda. Kamiizumi ise-no-kami (founder of shinkage-ryu and major figure in the history of Japanese swordsmanship) was known as “Kozuke-no-kuni ippon-yari” or “the number one spearman in the Kozuke domain.”

2. Soheki (双璧) – the matchless pair


This refers to the 2 greatest authorities or masters of something who live or lived contemporary to one another. Kendo-wise, this could be used to refer to Naito Takaharu and Takano Sasaburo.

3. Sanba-karasu (三羽烏) – the 3 crows

This is a term that refers to the 3 most powerful individuals in a particular (specialist) field. It’s difficult to know the exact origin for the term but we can surmise it was because crows are seen as particularly intelligent animals, which may be why they are sometimes seen as messengers of the gods.

In Nakayama Hakudo’s Yushinkan, the 3 strongest kenshi – Nakakura Kiyoshi, Haga Junichi, and Nakajima Gorozo were known as “The 3 crows of Yushinkan.”

btw, sword-wise, it’s also interesting to note the connection between crows and tengu.

(in the video above, Nakajima Gorozo is on the left hand side)

4. Shi-tenno (四天王) – the 4 heavenly kings


This Buddhist term refers to “the Four Heavenly Kings” who “are four gods, each of whom watches over one cardinal direction of the world.” Figuratively it refers to the four best people at something, the “big four” if you like. It can be used to refer to the 4 strongest kendoka in your kendo club, region, or even country if you like.

This most recent article is a little bit different from the usual posts on kenshi 24/7, I hope you found it interesting nevertheless!!

Quality of assessment

Partly by design – but mostly due to the correct alignment of the stars – I’m one of the few lucky people who does kendo as part of their job. Depending on the time of year it can pretty much be non-stop. Believe me, it’s neither as easy or exciting as it sounds and, of course, there are times when all of it gets too much (both physically and mentally/emotionally)… but in general I’d say that because of this strong kendo element within my job I mostly enjoy my working life.

Sometimes, the non-kendo things are a real pain though, and one such thing rolled around last week: an annual “training” seminar. This year a professor was invited from a prestigious private university in Tokyo to lecture on the topic of “classroom assessments” …. brilliant.

Actually, the content of the lecture wasn’t actually that bad, it was just mostly irrelevant to my actual day-to-day work. Cue my brain to – as it generally does in situations like this – switch into kendo mode (I think this is actually the default setting). One topic in particular during the lecture caught my attention: “quality of assessment.”

Gradings (i.e. assessments) are something that we all go through, and I’m betting that all of us have experienced failure as well as success. This seems to be the normal way of the world and it’s probably healthy that we face a mix of each. Anyway, one thing that I’ve noted repeatedly over the past few years is that – despite my increased knowledge about and experience in kendo – I seem to have difficulty predicting if someone will pass or fail with accuracy. Either this is because I simply am not yet experienced enough (or smart enough) to understand the intricacies of the grading procedure, or it’s because of some sort of strong element of subjectiveness (even randomness?) within the procedure itself.

Last week at the seminar a couple of thoughts struck me (all though I am of course considering kendo in Japan here, I’m pretty sure the same questions can be applied to any national organisation):

– The ZNKR is quite consistent in the percentage of people who pass grades, how is this done?

– At gradings emphasis is always on the examinee, not the examiner. Are examiners trained and are their choices judged? Are “bad” examiners removed or re-trained?

Hmmmmm, I see the potential for some worms and a can.

Anyway, here are some points regarding the “quality of assessment” from last weeks lecture (in bold), with a few brainstormed questions from yours truly. Please feel free to consider, argue, or add in your own ideas in the comments.

Points to consider when looking at the quality of an assessment

1. Validity

The degree to which an assessment taps into what one intends to measure.

Do gradings really reflect what kendo practitioners really do during their keiko and in shiai, or do they have to show some something else (an idealised version of what they are supposed to do)?

Does the required content of gradings actually progress through levels, or does it remain somewhat the same between them?

Is there any bias? This could be age or gender bias, or perhaps questions about impartiality (especially pertinent in smaller organisations, or in arts where examinees are not anonymous).

Are participants being judged on what they can do or are they being compared to their opponents? If the latter is true, is it fair to match people who have wildly different ages or to mix genders?


2. Reliability

The degree to which assessment results are consistent no matter when and where a student takes an assessment or who scores the student’s response.

Is judging consistent across all examiners?

Is judging consistent across grading locations?

Is the content and task difficultly consistent across all parts of the grading process (shiai, kata, written)?


3. Practicality

The degree to which an assessment can be administered and maintained with available resources.

Does the organisation have enough people with the required experience (and training) to host a grading?


(True story: I remember being asked to read, then pass or fail the grading questions for 4dan in London years and years ago… I was 3dan at the time)

4. Impact

The degree to which an assessment gives positive and/or negative effects on test takers, teachers, students, and society.

Are participants simply “failed” or are they given useful feedback to promote future improvement?

Do the overall results provide useful information for kendo teachers to aid in the development of kendo for the future?

Are examiners fully aware of the ramifications for the future of kendo should people of sub-par ability be promoted?


I guess what I am sort of addressing here is the very obvious difficulty in ensuring that the grading process is done accurately/fairly. The current system seems to be highly subjective and seems to have – at least here in Japan (where grading times are extremely short and examinees are somewhat anonymous) – an element of randomness within it. After much thought on the matter, I’ve come to the tentative conclusion that the grading system is probably the weakest area (most open to problems) in modern kendo.

Anyway, these are just some thoughts that I’ve had for a while but which re-surfaced and became re-packaged based on the content of the lecture I listened to last week. If you have any ideas/thoughts/opinions on the matter please feel free to discuss in the comments, either here or on facebook. Cheers.

Eikenkai September 2014 英剣会

Yesterday we held this years 5th Eikenkai session at our usual place, Sumiyoshi Budokan next to Sumiyoshi Taisha in central Osaka. Sessions at this time of year are generally quite cool but since we’ve been having some unseasonably warm weather over the last couple of weeks the dojo ended up being boiling!!

This of course didn’t stop us: we did our usual 45-30-45 (45 mins kihon, 30 mins waza keiko, 45 minutes jigeiko) format, followed by another 3 hours or so of post-practice drinking and eating. Great fun!

The last session of 2014 will be held on November 30th. If you are interested in joining us, please keep an eye out on the kenshi 24/7 facebook page for information.

2015 Schedule

Next years schedule has been finalised and is as follows:
Feb 22nd / April 26th (private, invite only session) / June 28th / Sept 13th / Nov 29th

If you are interested in attending any of our sessions, please read the information on this page.

There are mysterious victories, but no mysterious defeats 勝ちに不思議な勝ちあり、負けに不思議な負けなし

The following is a translation of short piece by Haga Junichi.

Haga was born in 1908 and started kendo when he was 18. Moving to Tokyo he joined Nakayama Hakudo’s Yushinkan and became one of the top pupils there. With Nakayama’s introduction he got a post as an imperial guard in 1930, eventually being transferred to keishicho in 1931 to work as a professional kendo instructor. In 1934 he transferred to Korea and taught kendo at police, military, and university level. Post WW2 he was a much sought after kendo teacher, but he turned down various requests, including an offer from keishicho. He was also influentially in helping to start up the ZNKR but chose not to continue his work there soon after the organisations establishment. He died in 1966.

Pressure the opponents spirit and technique with your own

During shiai practice most people (save the selfish) feel defeated when struck. On the other hand, there are times when, despite not sensing or feeling that you have been struck even lightly, a point is scored against you. This type of loss happens only when you spar with someone who is good at “touching” and cannot be said to be a true victory.

There is a kendo teaching that says:

There are mysterious victories, but no mysterious defeats.

If you take the effort to discipline yourself daily over time it stands to reason that you will naturally develop good cutting ability. With this skill there are times where you will be victorious in competition. Despite acquiring such technique however, there are times that you may lose: the source of this loss springs from trying to force things to much, that is, by desire and ambition. Like this, there are times in kendo where despite hitting or striking someone you don’t feel like you have been victorious.

Rather than talk about other people, let me give an example using myself.

Back when I was attended keiko at keishicho (Tokyo Metropolitan Police), there was this one time when I approached Saimura Goro sensei for keiko. I was around 24 or 25 and he was in his 40s I think. I had what I thought was quite a good spar with Saimura sensei, and so did my friend who was watching. However, when I sat in seiza and thought about it, all I could remember were the few times I was struck by Saimura sensei… all the strikes I thought I had made had disappeared from my mind like melted snow. I realised then that my strikes had actually been spiritless and that Saimura sensei had just led me around by the nose, striking me with large spirited strikes now and then as he pleased.

In kendo, if you don’t attack the faults in your opponents technique or any deficiency in their spirit, then you will never achieve true victory.



Kurai wa Momoi 位は桃井

Edo in panorama, 1865 or 66
Edo in panorama, 1865 or 66

Edo, December 1865. Momoi Junzo and 8 of his disciples were walking home in the fading evening light after finishing their end of year keiko. Despite the cold and the late hour, the city was still busy preparing for the upcoming end-of-year and new-year celebrations. Coming down the hill at Choenjizaka and tuning into Ichigaya they came face to face with a group of horsemen travelling in the opposite direction. As the street was narrow Momoi and his disciples moved to give the horsemen space. Suddenly, one of the horsemen shouted brusquely:

“This is the city patrol, get out of our way!”

Despite the rude manner, Momoi replied calmly:

“Please, pass by.”

“Get further out of the way!” one of the horsemen shouted. “We need more space, move! We are the Shinchogumi under command of the Sakai family from Shonai domain. We are charged with policing the city. Move!”

“We saw that you were patrolmen and moved to let you pass. As you can see, we cannot move further than we have. Surely you can squeeze past?” replied Momoi.

“What?! Are you disobeying our order!” barked one of the horsemen, at which Momoi’s top student Ueda Umanosuke lost it:

“What the hell !?! I can’t forgive such insolence!!!!”

Immediately a number of the Shinchogumi as well as Ueda drew their swords and moved towards each other. All hell had broken loose.

In that instant Momoi stepped in-between the drawn swords. He faced the man who seemed to be the Shinchogumi’s superior officer and said gently:

“Excuse me, but I think you can see that we moved aside for you. Do you have any intention to rein in your men? Or are you planning to allow them to cut us down?”

The calmness of Momoi’s question disarmed the superior officer and he made no reply. Momoi then stepped forward, grabbed the still-mounted officers hakama, and pulled him strongly:

“Now, get down of your horse, I want a word with you.”

The dismounted officer and Momoi stood face to face:

“My name is Momoi Junzo, and I am a Shogun-appointed kenjutsu teacher at the Kobusho. Even though you are a follower of the Sakai family from the Shonai domain and an officially appointed patrolman, I can’t forgive your outrageous actions. If it’s a fight you want then I won’t stop it.”

Motioning towards his top student:

“This here is Ueda Umanosuke. He has a reckless disposition and it looks like he didn’t use up all his energy at keiko today.”

The officer, immediately realising just who it was he had crossed, meekly apologised, followed by his red faced men, and the whole affair was settled.

Momoi never drew his sword.

The dignity of Momoi Junzo

Momoi has dignity, Chiba skill, and Saito power

Known mostly nowadays as the 4th generation master of Kyoshin meichi-ryu, Momoi Junzo (1825-85) was a highly significant kenshi in the late Edo/early Meiji period. He first reached fame while teaching kenjutsu in central Edo in the 1850’s. His dojo, Shigakukan, was one of the most renowned dojo in the city, ranking with Chiba Shunsuke’s Genbukan and Saito Yakuro’s Renpeikan (collectively they were know as the “3 big dojo’s of Edo”).

His prowess was awarded with promotion in status and a teaching position at the highly prestigious Kobusho (Bakufu military training academy). From this position – and through his students – he would go onto to influence (directly and indirectly) on what would later become kendo.

 Konda hachimangu

Finding Junzo (field work)

Although I’ve known that Momoi moved to Osaka during the Bakumatsu period for a number of years now, I hadn’t really bothered rolling up my sleeves and poking around to see if I could find any remnants of the man… mainly because there was – as far as I knew – no physical structures left that I could go and visit. Recently, however, I accidentally discovered that in later life he had worked as a shinto priest just south of Osaka and that his grave was in the vicinity of the shrine. Using the excuse of a sore elbow, I decided to skip keiko one Saturday and go exploring.

The grave: Momoi’s grave is located in the far corner of a gravesite situated on the edge of a Kofun, a type of very old and, usually very large, key-shaped mound grave unique to Japan. The particular mound is called Hakayama Kofun and is located very near Furuichi station in Habikino, south Osaka. I guess nobody really visits the area much as there are almost no sign posts and very little information on Momoi save a very old and very faded bio of his life. Momoi’s wife Fumiko is also interred at the same site.

The shrine: A short 15 minute walk from the gravesite takes you to Konda Hachimangu (originally constructed in 1051), the large and spacious shinto shrine where Momoi spent his final years. Although there would’ve been a dojo in the grounds back in the day, there was no sign of one now.

Although there isn’t a lot of physical remnants of the Momoi left to wonder at, it’s nice to put the shinai and the books down now and then and actually get out and visit somewhere. It also served as a great impetus for revision.

If you are in Osaka and looking for something alternative to visit rather than the usual places, then I can recommend this as a nice afternoon out. Check out the gallery below for pictures of his grave and the shrine.

Keishicho kendo teachers - Naito is second row from the bottom, first on the right

Kyoshin meichi-ryu and keishicho

The marriage of keishicho (Tokyo metropolitan police force) and kendo dates back to 1879, when it’s first Superintendent-General – Kawaji Toshiyoshi – published the Gekken Saikoron, his thoughts about why kendo should be included in the police system. Kawaji’s arguments won the day and within 2 years of the Gekken Saikoron being published, it’s first kenjutsu instructors were employed.

The first batch of instructors were chosen by Sakakibara Kenkichi (perhaps with input from Momoi?) and included the following of Momoi’s students: Kajikawa Yoshimasa, Ueda Umanosuke, and Henmi Sosuke. More of Momoi’s students were also employed by keishicho later, for example Sakabe Daisuke.

It was these kenshi that would put together the Keishi-ryu gekken and battojutsu kata, both of which include a single Kyoshin meichi-ryu kata each.… all that is left of the school today. It’s important to note that this was the first ever attempt at trying to standardise a set of kata to be taught to swordsmen from differing backgrounds, and as such can be considered a forerunner to kendo kata.

In the years that followed, young keishicho kenjutsu teachers/students would go on to include Naito Takaharu, Takano Sasaburo, and Monna Tadashi amongst others… all of whom would receive instruction under Kyoshin meichi-ryu kenshi (i.e. Momoi’s disciples). They would all also be involved in the creation of kendo kata in the future.

Nowadays it’s hard to measure exactly what impact/influence Momoi had on keishicho and modern kendo (especially since Kyoshin meichi-ryu is now no longer extant), but we can probably surmise that it wasn’t insignificant.

The location of Shigakukan in Tokyo is marked with this sign


1825: born in Suruga province, Numazu domain (present day Shizuoka prefecture) as the 2nd son of the samurai Tanaka Toyoaki. His childhood name was Tanaka Zinsuke and his adult name Naomasa.

1838: went to Edo (Tokyo) and began studying Kyoshin meichi-ryu at Shigakukan under the 3rd generation teacher of the school, Momoi Naokatsu.

1852: became the 4th generation master of the school, taking on the hereditary name of “Momoi Junzo” (by this time he had taken the current teachers daughter as a wife and was adopted into the family).

1856: The Tosa domain samurai Takechi Hanpeita comes to Edo and enters Shigakukan (already an accomplished swordsman, this shows Momoi’s fame). Spotting Takechi’s talent, Momoi makes him the chief student of the dojo.

1862: The shogunate promotes Momoi, making him a direct retainer of the shogun. He is then ordered to become a kenjutsu teacher at the shogunate’s military training facility for senior retainers, the Kobusho. Other instructors included Odani Seiichiro and Sakakibara Kenkichi (Yamaoka Tesshu entered as a student and became an assistant instructor).

1867: is made the head bodyguard of Tokugawa Yoshinobu when he goes to Kyoto after which he is appointed a kenjutsu instructor at the short-lived Kobusho in Osaka (at Tamatsukuri). Disagreeing with the Boshin war, Momoi and a few of his students withdraw to the south of Osaka.

1868: government forces expel the shogunate forces from the Kansai area and burn down Osaka castle. The shogunate attempt to recruit Momoi to their cause again but he refuses. Instead he takes up an offer from the loyalist government to teach kenjutsu to soldiers from Satsuma, Choshu, and Geishu who would be responsible for policing Osaka. A dojo was built for this purpose in a now no longer extant temple in Tenma.

1868-70: after the prefectural system was set up and “Osaka prefecture” came in to being, a more official policing structure was started called the Naniwa-tai (it began with 80 members). Momoi was 1 of the 4 leaders of this where he continued to teach kenjutsu. At its peak, there were over 600 peace keepers in the system. In 1870 the organisation was split up as the civil war was over (the modern police system would not begin until later). During this period a new Shigakukan based in central Osaka was built and he taught kenjutsu here as well.

1875: becomes head priest of Konda-hachimangu where he built a dojo and taught kenjutsu, and Chinese classics.

1884: becomes the official kendo instructor for Osaka prefecture

1885: dies of cholera.

2005: is awarded a posthumous citing from the All Japan Kendo Federation

1. the terms kendo, kenjutsu gekken, gekiken, shinai uchikomi are often used synonymously in this article.
2. the kanji for “Momoi” is sometimes read “Momonoi”


This article is based more on “pulp” sources rather than academic or original sources. There is nothing online in English about Momoi at all, so please consider this simply a basic primer about the man, rather than something academically substantial. Note that I used some artistic licence in the introductory part of the article!!

Shigagukan picture taken from this website.