Eikenkai is the kenshi 24/7 led kihon-heavy keiko session that (usually) takes place usually every couple of months in central Osaka.
To mark the publication of the English edition of Ogawa Kinnosuke sensei’s Teikoku Kendo Kyohon (Kendo Textbook of Imperial Japan) we decided to hold a special Eikenkai session. Rather than use our normal dojo and do our normal format, we did something different: keiko took place in the historical Nara Butokuden and we did a Kyoto taikai styled tachiai-embu.
The original Butokuden in Kyoto was completed in 1899 and served as the HQ dojo for the Butokukai until after WWII. The Butokuden is still in active use nowadays, mostly known in kendo circles as the venue for the Kyoto Taikai. As the Butokukai grew and kendo gained in popularity, branch Butokuden were built throughout Japan, and even in Taiwan, Korea, and China. There was even another Butokuden built in Kyoto in 1914. After the original Butokuden, the next to be built was the Nara branch Butokuden in 1903.
Built in 1903, the Nara Butokuden served as the Butokukai HQ dojo for Nara prefecture up until the end of the war. Luckily the dojo survived the war completely unharmed (many, like the Osaka Butokuden, were bombed or destroyed during the war, whilst others aged badly or were simply in the way of modern development and torn down).
In 1961 the Nara Butokuden was dismantled from it’s original location in the centre of Nara city and moved to it’s current location in Kashihara city, just south of Osaka in Nara. There the dojo remains pretty much as it was when it was built in 1903 and is used by a local kendo kendo club. It’s also available to hire, which we did for this session.
Nara Butokuden (front)
Nara Butokuden (front)
Nara Butokuden (nice wood!)
Rather than our normal 40 mins kihon, 30 mins waza, and 40 mins jigeiko session, we decided to cut down the kihon time, extend the jigeiko time and, in the middle, add in some tachiai-embu.
33 people attend the session, 20 of which paired up for a 2 minute tachiai. In case you don’t know, the tachiai style is one in which there are no winners or losers – no ippon are scored – rather you are paired with an opponent of around about the same experience, age, and gender, and show your best kendo.
Right after the tachiai were finished we did about an hour or so of jigeiko:
Bonus #1: Shimatani Yasohachi
Three years after the Nara Butokuden was built, Shimatani Yosohachi was dispatched from the Butokukai’s HQ to serve as the dojo’s top instructor.
Shimatani sensei was born in 1870 to a Satsuma-han samurai and began his study of kenjutsu at an early age (Jigen-ryu and Itto-ryu). Moving from Kyushu in his early 20s he became a member of the police force in Nara, eventually becoming a kenjutsu instructor there. Due to this role he was sent to the Butokukai’s new school for kendo instructors in 1905 (the Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseijo, forerunner of Busen) which he graduated from only a year later. After graduation he became the head kendo teacher for the Nara Butokuden.
The dojo is right across the street from Kashihara jingu, a Shinto shrine built in 1889 at the spot where Japan’s first emperor, Jimmu, is said to have acceded the throne. Despite the rain a few of us wandered over after keiko for a spot of sightseeing.
Our next keiko session will be held on the 13th of September at our regular location of Sumiyoshi Budokan. If you are interested in coming along (after reading and understanding the “Points to note before joining a session”) get in touch. Cheers!
This morning I wandered down to the beautiful Sumiyoshi-Taisha, next to Eikenkai’s base dojo of Sumiyoshi Budokan, to watch a small kobudo embukai.
The schools that were demonstrating were Ogasawara-ryu (kyujutsu/yabusame), Yagyu shinkage-ryu (kenjutsu), Hozoin-ryu (spearmanship), and Jigen-ryu (kenjutsu). As there were only four schools demonstrating, the whole thing only took a couple of hours. Three of the schools I’ve seen multiple times, so the highlight for me was watching Jigen-ryu.
Jigen-ryu is famed for it’s piercing screams, distinctive kata, and emphasis in ending a confrontation with a single decisive blow. You don’t want to come face to face with a jigen-ryu swordsman in a dark alley:
I took a bunch of pictures at todays event and, rather than simply save my snaps to my external hard drive and forget about them, I thought I’d share a handful of them with my lovely kenshi 24/7 readers… I hope you enjoy them!
Sumiyoshi Kobudo Embukai
All pics were taken on Saturday the 29th of August 2015.
Here is another gallery of random koryu pictures that have been uploaded to this site over the years. I’ve literally 10s of thousands of more pictures like this that have yet to see the light of day… maybe a project for the future! In the meantime, enjoy:
“It is the certainty that they possess the truth that makes men cruel.”
– Anatole France
I can’t remember the exact year, but I think it was way back in 1995 or maybe 6 when I first created a kendo website. I was studying computer science in university and had access to the something “new” called the World Wide Web (unknowingly I’d actually been using it in its pre-browser state from computers in high school a few years earlier, though I didn’t really know what it was I was really using).
Anyway, that first website I created was for what was to become Edinburgh Kendo Club and was relatively short lived. At the time I could only find 2 other kendo websites: one in Japan and one in Canada (I think). I contacted the people that ran both sites and we emailed each other a few times. Which site was first online I have no idea, but years later I was to meet and befriend someone who claimed the title, and we have come to the conclusion that we may have emailed each other back in 1995!
My next serious effort was the renewal and running of the British Kendo Association website from 2000-2003, until I came to Japan. It was around that time (2002?) that Kendo World popped up, and I probably have the honour of asking the first question on the forums (“When were zekken first used?”). Online forums were fine in the beginning but soon disenchanted me for various reasons.
After coming to Japan I ran a small private blog from 2003-5 for friends detailing my Japan kendo experience. One thing led to another and kenshi 24/7 was finally born in 2008.
Over the years (to my shame!) I’ve been involved in the odd forum battle or harsh worded email exchange… I know better now though. Luckily this site has only ever seen a very minute amount of trolling, which I generally sort out straight away. In a community as small as kendo is it’s relatively simple to track someone down even if they post anonymously, and nowadays people are more aware of this than they were and (generally) think twice before commenting. Good times!
However, a couple of weeks ago I was subjected to a new experience, something I’ve never had to deal with in 20+ years of active internet use and 30 odd years of martial arts practise: I received multiple harshly worded messages via email and Facebook threatening legal action for something I put online. Yeah, you read that correctly. I’ve already wasted too much time on the matter so I won’t go into the details here, but after giving them a very minor concession I said “Go ahead.”
Why I gave a (very minor) concession when none was actually called for will hopefully become apparent below as I use this negative experience as the jump-off point to a larger discussion on kendo in particular and budo in general. Specifically, the whole situation made me realise one thing and reminded me of another.
Dealing with bullies and over-aggressiveness during keiko
In our daily-lives, whether it be in the office, commuting to work on the train or by car in the morning, or perhaps online, we may find ourselves confronted with bullies or over-aggressive people. I’m sure everyone has their own ways in dealing with the situation, but I’m going to take this opportunity and look at how we perhaps should deal with people we meet like this in the dojo. To be honest, everything I’m about to write here isn’t revelatory, and probably applies to daily-life situations as well.
A disciplined state of mind which can respond to changes in a situation in a calm, normal manner, without becoming agitated.
– Japanese-English dictionary of kendo
To be continuously in a state of heijoshin, “normal mind,” is the holy grail of not only martial arts practitioners, but people in various fields of endeavour and walks of life. Teachers, lawyers, military personnel, parents, etc. etc., all seek to remain calm no matter what difficulty faces them, whether it is suddenly thrust upon them or is something that develops over time. The loss of this state of mind is described in kendo terms as a “sickness” and simply described comprises of four elements: surprise, fear, doubt, and hesitation (Kyo-Ku-Gi-Waku).
Surprise is when the opponent does something unexpected, throwing your concentration off for an instant and leading to the inability to act. Fear may occur when faced with a physically stronger or technically superior opponent, or perhaps when you are scared to lose a bout. When facing an opponent who you can’t read or whose kendo style you are unsure about you may start to doubt your ability to deal with them, causing indecisiveness. Lastly, hesitation occurs when you are confused mentally about what to do against your opponent, causing indecision and stiffness of action. Of course, there is some overlap within these descriptions.
Obviously, when faced with bullies or over-aggressive people in the dojo, we should do our best not to fall prey to any of these sicknesses, and keep our state of heijoshin. I have a couple of methods that I’ll share today.
1. Don’t step back
When people are super aggressive or attacking randomly with intent to somehow beat you up I find that stepping back makes it worse – they think that their strategy is winning and they go for it even more. In circumstances like this I often step in to a closer distance to inhibit their strikes. If this causes them to start pushing at tsubazeria, just move around them. Relax, take your time, and choose your strikes wisely.
Actually, I often find that mean spirited over-aggressiveness comes from a lack of technical ability. Hopefully, if you bide your time and strike them at your own pace, they will eventually tire, give up, and – after a good strike – concede defeat.
Of course, I understand that this is actually very hard to do in reality, which leads me to number 2.
2. Let them “win”
As you may have guessed, I’ve found myself facing overly-aggressive people many times. Surprisingly quite a few of them have been visitors from abroad who have come to my dojo in Osaka and try to beat me up! But it’s not only aggressive visitors that I’ve had to deal with: when I take part in large godo-geiko sessions here in Osaka, Japanese high school and university students in particular quite often attempt to “have a go” at the only gaijin in the dojo.
Anyway, faced with these types of people I generally move it into “ippon-shobu” pretty quickly. What I tend to do is (of course I don’t step back or back down) go quickly for a decisive ippon. If they don’t concede I’ll do it again. Usually – because of pride and ego – these type of people find it hard to concede defeat so, in the end, after maybe 2 or 3 good strikes, I (subtly) allow them to strike me.
If it is someone I don’t know or barely know I end by saying “that was a great ippon, you are really good!” and bow. Visitors may go back to their home country and say “Yeah, I beat up that kenshi 24/7 guy good!” or students back to their school and say “I totally killed that gaijin!” but, meh, I don’t care!
3. Worst case scenario
Usually 2 will satisfy the ego of most people like this but if it doesn’t the only real option you have is to make up an excuse (“feel sick” … “shinai is broken”…), sonkyo, and end the bout.
Question 1: What if the over-aggressive bully is my sempai or sensei?
This is a tricky one. Here in Japan I can easily pick-and-choose the people that I keiko with. In places with a smaller kendo population or where people are relatively inexperienced technically (which can lead to aggressiveness and bullying to make up for their lack of ability), I think the only really thing you can do is to confront the person and have a frank discussion. If they don’t change their ways then, eventually, people will realise them for what they are and leave.
Remember the hubris of Satan: “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n.”
Question 2: What if it happens during shiai?
When it comes to shiai most people think (wrongly) that the gloves are off and decorum goes out the window. In this case you basically have to rely on the judgement of the shinpan. If the shinpan are inexperienced and can’t keep malicious aggressiveness in check, then they shouldn’t be on the floor. Nevertheless, if you do find yourself in such a situation just try to keep calm…
Of course there are many other ways you can get around bullies and overly-aggressive people, and many more questions you could ask, but these generally show how I approach the matter. I’d love to hear readers experiences and strategies when in situations like this – please comment here or on facebook!
Budo as an automatic means to character development
Have a look at this quote from Alex Bennet’s excellent new publication “Kendo: Culture of the sword” (I don’t think Alex would mind if you replaced “kendo” with “budo” for the sake of this discussion):
“… although I have been a devoted kendo practitioner for over two decades and truly believe in the potential kendo has for positive personal cultivation, I am enormously wary of the common attitude that one can become a “good person” just by taking up kendo…
Kendo certainly provides a technical and philosophical framework for physical, psychological, and even moral progression. However, whether or how closely the framework is interpreted and utilised depends entirely on the individual.”
– Kendo: Culture of the Sword (p192-3). Bennet.
Reading this on the way to Tokyo last month it struck me that Alex and I have come to pretty much exactly the same conclusion on the matter. I have attempted to tackle the subject a few times from various angles here on kenshi 24/7 before (see related articles below) as well as within my publications. Basically, the quote above says it all: budo can be used as a means to character development should an individual choose to use it as such.
As the discussion on bullying and aggression suggests above, and as this entire post implies, there are plenty of people who practise martial arts who are not necessarily friendly or the nicest of people. The point is of course that budo practise only helps makes you a “good person” should you choose to use it to do so. Like Alex, we should all be “enormously wary” about assuming budo practitioners are inherently good and – this is a related key point – that high grades or impressive titles are an indication of moral authority.
Reading this you may think that I’m somehow often targeted by bullies and overly-aggressive people… actually, nothing can be further from the truth. 99.999% of the people I deal with in my life, inside and outside of the dojo, online and offline, are awesome people. I have a great budo life here in Japan! It’s just that – every now and again – the odd character comes along to spoil the party. Unfortunately that’s just life. However, there is one thing that I thank these people for: they help me realise how NOT to act!
Related kenshi 24/7 articles
The following articles are related (in someway or another) to the discussion here.
A couple of weekends ago I found myself in Kyoto watching this years All Japan Teachers Kendo Championships. It was the first time I’d attended this event and was intrigued into how it ran.
The taikai was split into basically three competitions: ladies individuals, mens individual, and mens team, with all competitors either being a teacher of some sort (kindergarten, primary, junior high, senior high, university, technical college, support teacher, etc. etc.) or a staff member of their affiliated prefectures Board of Education (who usually have teaching backgrounds).
In the case of the individual competitions, all the female teachers were grouped into a single shiai irrespective of what kind of teacher they were or their age. The men were split into two groups, with all competitors being under 45 years old: group 1. kindergarten/primary/junior high; and group 2. senior high/university/Board of Education. The competitors from group 1 and 2 plus another from either group (all decided at preliminary competition at the prefectural level) were combined with another two members to make the mens team: Fukusho: between 45-55 years old (school type irrelevant); and Taisho: over 55 (school type irrelevant). It sounds complex, but it’s not really!
As with other shiai that have combinations of age, gender, and job (e.g. Todofuken, Kokutai, etc), this competition offers a wider variety of kendo than what you see at things like the Zen nippon senshuken, the Tozai-taiko, or the Hachidan senbatsu, and due to this it can be, at least in my opinion, a more interesting viewing experience.
I uploaded a simple highlight vid to YouTube last week and shared it on Facebook, where it well received, so I thought I’d post the vid here, as well as share a few snaps of the event. Enjoy!
At the very end of July this year I took some time out of my normal schedule and headed to Tokyo for a Musha Shugyo, that is, I went on a “warriors pilgrimage,” with the aim of polishing my kendo.
In the short time I was there (I stayed five nights in Tokyo) I visited five different dojo, practised eight times, fought six hachidans, and visited the graves of four famous swordsmen (and a monument of another), as well as meeting some old friends and having the odd beer. It was a jam-packed few days!! There were many more places I wanted to practise at and more historical locations I wanted to visit, but I just didn’t have the time (or energy!) to arrange everything. Despite that, I think I spent my time in Tokyo quite fruitfully!
In this post I will briefly introduce the dojo to kenshi 24/7 readers (some of which you may have visited) and give contact information – where possible – so that you yourself can go sometime in the future. Dojo will be listed not in order visited, but in length of tradition.
Below that I will also introduce the famous swordsmen’s graves that I went to visit and pay my respects to. Although none of them are major tourist attractions they evoke – for me anyway – a much more… what’s the word… emotional response and cause me to reflect more about my own shugyo, none of which the usual tourist-traps offer.
I hope that this post will inspire your own Musha-Shugyo in the future!
Saineikan : budojo of the Japanese imperial guards
Emperor Showa watching the shiai
The original Saineikan was built in the grounds of the Imperial Palace in 1883 by order of the Emperor Meiji. The name “sainei” comes from a phrase in the Classic of Poetry traditionally ascribed to Confucius and refers to someone who is of fine and noble character (“kan” of course just means “hall”):
They shall be illustrious from age to age,
Zealously and reverently pursuing their plans.
Admirable are the many officers,
Born in this royal kingdom.
The royal kingdom is able to produce them, –
The supporters of [the House of] Zhou.
Numerous is the array of officers,
And by them king Wen enjoys his repose.
Over the years the building was subject to reconstruction and renewal, most significantly it suffered massive damage during the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake causing a temporary dojo to be built in 1924. This temporary building was used for the first of the Showa tenran-jiai in 1929 (a competition in front of the Emperor himself) and a tairan-jiai in 1930 (a competition in front of an imperial family member). The building was completely reconstructed in 1933 and used for a tenran-jiai held in honour of the birth of an imperial son (the current Emperor) in 1934. This is the building that still stands today and that I visited last week.
Although I could have probably visited Saineikan anytime in the last few years I waited patiently for a gap in my schedule to appear where I could take part in keiko at this highly prestigious dojo. After suppling information about myself and going through a connection, I rolled up on the promised Monday morning and was checked into the imperial grounds (you cannot enter without permission – they were expecting me). I took part in a 40 minute keiko session with two of the current sensei and a bunch of the tokuren (full-time kendo professional imperial guards). Needless to say it was an awesome experience, and one of the highlights of my kendo career to-date.
Some of you might wonder why I didn’t add newer photos to this post… basically I was allowed to take pictures for private purposes but was asked not to share them online (for security purposes I assume).
Eishinjuku Kobukan : kendojo run by Ozawa Hiroshi sensei
Eishinjuku Kobukan is a dojo in Nakano-ku led by Ozawa Hiroshi sensei, and is a dojo that I think many non-Japanese people have visited. However, few know much about its origins, or about the Hiroshi sensei’s grandfather (Aijiro) or father (Takashi). It’s not for me to expand on that fully, so I’ll just be brief here.
Aijiro sensei (1863-1950) was an accomplished swordsman who attained the highest levels of Ono-ha itto-ryu, Kyoshin-meichi-ryu, and Jikishinkage-ryu. He studied under such famous kenshi as Yamaoka Tesshu, Watanabe Noboru, and Sakakibara Kenkichi. He originally founded Kobukan in Saitama prefecture in 1891. He was also a successful politician, and was involved in ensuring kendo’s addition to the school system.
Aijiro sensei’s son, Takashi sensei (later hanshi kyudan), began to learn kendo whilst still a child, but it wasn’t until he went to study under Takano Sasaburo at Koto-shihan-gakko his serious study of kendo began. Takashi sensei would go on to have a long career as a kendo teacher at the high school and university level (and eventually in the police), and published many books related to kendo instruction in the education system.
In 1977, due to the wear-and-tear of the original dojo, Takashi sensei tore it down and rebuilt a new dojo in Tokyo, renaming it “Eishinjuku Kobukan.” This is the dojo that stands today and that I visited last week.
Pretty much the most famous dojo in the history of kendo, Noma dojo was built in 1925 by Noma Seiji, the founder of Japan’s biggest publishing company Kodansha. The dojo served as a hub for kendo in Tokyo, especially from the 1930s when Mochida Seiji was appointed the head kendo teacher. Another of its famed kenshi was Seiji’s son, Noma Hisashi.
Mochida sensei defeated Takano Shigeyoshi (below) to win the 1929 Tenran-jiai held in (the temporary) Saineikan and was recruited by Noma a couple of years later in 1931. Mochida sensei was renowned not only for his kendo, but his demeanour, and as such many people from different dojo flocked to Noma dojo to receive instruction (at that time it was common for people to practise only in their own dojo). After the war it continued its job as one of the country’s kendo centres.
Despite this – and against the voices of many kendoka (not to mention the spirit of Noma Seiji) – the dojo was unilaterally knocked down by Kodansha in 2007, ostensibly to build a tower block on the site. After the dojo was destroyed the surveyors found that the ground wasn’t strong enough for the original plan, and now a small 3-storey bank sits in the space the old dojo used to sit. This is – to my knowledge – one of the worst disasters in the history of modern kendo. Luckily, I visited the old dojo before it was destroyed (picture above).
In 2007 a new dojo was built on the 5th floor of a nearby building, and it’s this that continues the tradition of Noma and Mochida to this day. Although the original dojo is gone, the new one is quite impressive for a modern build. Still, it doesn’t match the original dojo at all in grandiose or tradition.
To my knowledge the dojo requires an introduction before you can attend. However, after keiko on the first day I attended, myself and a long-time member had coffee together: casually, during conversation, it was mentioned that if you wanted to attend all you need to do was email the website (i.e. you don’t need a personal introduction anymore). If this is true – even though the current dojo is a shadow of the former one – I highly recommend that you go.
Please note that although I suggested that the current physical dojo itself is a shadow of the former one, the membership includes some very accomplished people.
Shinjuku Dojo : a public dojo in the centre of Tokyo
To tell you the truth I don’t know much about this dojo at all other than what’s written on the homepage: the group started in 1952. The dojo itself is in a public city ward facility and keiko sessions are available Tuesday through Saturday (evenings are Tue, Thu, Sat, and mornings are Wed and Fri).
I attended a morning session on Wednesday at the invite of an old kendo friend. Due to the time, most of the members were housewives, retirees, or people on shift work. Still, the warmup and kihon-geiko session in the stifling heat nearly killed me!!! A very friendly and open dojo worth a visit.
This is a completely privately owned dojo built in the basement of a private residence in 1993. Although lacking in tradition compared to the dojo mentioned above, it does have as it’s shihan a three-time All Japan Champion, which is something. Although small (similar in floor space to Kobukan above) the level of the members is very high. The post-keiko beer session in the dojo was great as well! After beating me down without breaking sweat, the sensei kept pouring beer into my glass and smiling.
Ono Jiroemon Tadaaki (1569-1628) and Tadatsune (1608-1666)
The story goes that when the famed swordsman Itto Ittosai, progenitor of the Itto-ryu style of kenjutsu and student of Chujo-ryu under Kanemaki Jisai, came to pass on his sword-style he had his two top students battle for the honour: Mikogami Tenzen and Zenki. Tenzen won, eventually changing his name to Ono Jiroemon Tadaaki, and becoming kenjutsu instructor to the Tokugakwa Shogunate. Tadaaki’s line of itto-ryu would pass to his third son Tadatsune, and eventually (due to it being passed through the Ono family) become to be known as Ono-ha Itto-ryu.
The picture above are the graves of Tadaaki (on the right) and Tadatsune (on the left).
Location: Yokoji temple (allegedly!)
Address: 286-0022, Chiba-ken, Narita-shi, Teradai 574
Nearest station(s): Narita-shi or Keisei-Narita
How to get there: Yokoji temple is a short 20 minute walk from the station area. However, don’t do what I did and go to the temple itself… the graves are not located in the temple per-se or its immediate precincts. Rather, when you walk past the high school take an immediate left turn and walk up the steep hill at the side of the school. About 1/2 way up you’ll see a narrow set of stairs heading up to a wooded hill. The graves are up the stairs on the top of the hill.
Chiba Shusaku (1793-1856)
Chiba Shusaku is a legendary figure in the annals of kendo history. He studied Ono-ha Itto-ryu at the Nakanishi dojo, a dojo which at the time was at the forefront of the new shinai-centric (rather than kata-centric) “shinai-uchikomi” revolution. Other students of that dojo included Terada Muneari, Shirai Toru, and Takano Mitsumasa (Takano Sasaburo’s grandfather). Eventually Chiba went his own separate way and created his own style called Hokushin Itto-ryu. In 1822 he built and started teaching his style at what was to become one of the most popular dojo in Edo: Genbukan.
Reasons that Genbukan was so popular include: 1) it focussed mainly on the more exciting shinai-uchikomi rather than the slower paced kata-centric keiko; 2) it was much easier and faster to progress to the top levels than in a more traditional dojo (remember also that it was a business); 3) Seemingly Chiba taught shinai-uchikomi in more logical manner than some other places. On point number 3, Chiba made what was maybe the first list of shinai-kendo techniques known, and a modified sub-set of these were later used by Takano Sasaburo when he published what was to be (and remains today) one of the most important references in early modern kendo’s history.
Check out Hokushin Itto-ryu as passed directly by Shusaku and his sons to swordsmen in Mito-han at Kodokan and then down through Tobukan where it is still taught today. Tobukan is of course the home dojo of that giant of kendo history, Naito Takaharu.
Location: Honmyoji temple
Address: Sugamo-ku, Tokyo
Nearest station(s): Shin-koshinzuka (tram)
How to get there: Basically a 20 minute walk from the tram station. It’s a bit awkward to find so you’ll probably need to use google maps. Once you get to the temple there will be no instructions in English at all… so good luck!
Yamaoka Tesshu (1836-1888)
There’s a vast amount that could be said about Yamaoka Tesshu. Here I’ll just briefly mention his budo background and skip his political life.
Yamaoka Tesshu, born Ono Tetsutaro, was born into a Samurai family in Edo in 1836. He studied swordsmanship from a young age (Jikishinkage-ryu and Ono-ha itto-ryu), and was recognised as having a precocious talent (at calligraphy too). In 1855 (at 19 years old) he entered the Kobusho, a government-run military training facility for the sons and dependants of senior samurai. There he studied many types of weapons including, it is said, kenjutsu under Chiba Shusaku (i.e. shinai-uchikomi rather than kata based practise). He became a junior helper at the facility before moving on and taking up a role as a direct Shogunate retainer.
In the early 1860s his swordsmanship shugyo took a sharp turn after meeting the renowned Itto-ryu kenshi Asari Matashiro. Accepting the young Yamaoka’s request for a match Asari went into gedan no kamae and Yamaoka took jodan. Asari’s strong pressure pushed Yamaoka back and back, eventually to the wall of the dojo (other sources say that he was pushed out of the dojo and Asari shut the door on him!). Defeated, Yamaoka became Asari’s student.
Probably the most pivotal point for Yamaoka was in around 1881 when, suddenly during meditation, Yamaoka had a spiritual awakening. Heading to the dojo he asked his sensei, Asari, for a match. Taking up kamae Asari immediately sensed something different: “You are enlightened.”
In 1883 he founded a temple to honour those that had sacrificed themselves during the Meiji restoration. This temple – Zenshoan – is the one where Yamaoka is buried and that I visited. It was in this year that he started teaching kenjutsu from his own dojo, Shumpukan. Many famous swordsmen would practise here including Takano Sasaburo (though it’s unknown to what extent Takano learned directly from Yamaoka). Also in 1883 Yamaoka was amongst the first ten martial arts instructors appointed to the newly built Saineikan.
In 1885 he inherited Ono-ha itto-ryu with which he combined his knowledge and experience of the other branches of swordsmanship he had mastered (not forgetting his enlightened state), and created something he believed closer to the original essence of the art: Itto-shoden Muto-ryu.
He passed away in 1888 of stomach cancer whilst, it is said, sitting either in seiza or the lotus position (depending on the source), facing the direction of the imperial palace.
Location: Zenshoan temple
Address: 5 Chome-4-7 Yanaka, Taito, Tokyo 110-0001
Nearest station(s): Sendagi or Nippori stations
How to get there: An easy 7 minute walk from Sendagi station. Zenshoan is signposted in English, as is information about Yakamoka Tesshu.
Takano Shigeyoshi (1877-1957)
Takano Shigeyoshi was born in Mito in 1877 (family name Chigusa). When he was 14 he enrolled in Tobukan and began to study kendo under Ozawa Torakichi. His father, himself a renowned swordsman, died the same year and Shigeyoshi ended up being looked after by the dojo. Eventually he was given some money and, with a pat on the back, told to go to Tokyo to continue his pursuit of kendo. This led him to Takano Sasaburo whose student he became in 1895.
In 1900 Shigeyoshi was adopted by Sasaburo and took over the teaching and running duties of Urawa Meishinkan. In 1914 he accepted a kendo teaching position in Manchuria where he remained until after WW2. He took part in the 1929 and 1934 Tenran shiai, as a competitor in the kendo specialists section of the former (he lost the final to Mochida Seiji), and shinpan and special-shiai embusha in the latter (his partner was Nakayama Hakudo). He died in 1957.
What I visited last week is not Shigeyoshi’s grave, but a eulogy monument erected near the graves of Ono Jiroemon Tadaaki and Tadatsune.
It’s in the same location as Ono Jiroemon Tadaaki and Tadatsune’s graves above.
No Musha-Shugyo would be complete without making an effort to read and study about kendo as well. This time I brought Alex Bennet’s new book “Kendo: Culture of the Sword” with me, and picked up a couple of super old Kendo Jidai magazines from a second-hand book shop in Jimbocho.
I devoured Alex’s book pretty quickly because a lot of the information I knew and many of the conclusions reached were similar to mine, so it was a sort of affirmation in a way for me if you will. There were, however, parts of the book that tackled areas that I’m only very vaguely familiar with (in particular the workings of and connections between the government and the Butokukai during the war and the machinations of SCAP in regards to budo after the war) which was an eye-opener.
The best part of this book for me is that Alex puts kendo in its wider cultural context, something that is missing in most people’s comprehension of how modern kendo formed, what it is today, and where it might possibly go. A close second is that he dares to condemn (although gently) the accepted idea that kendo is some sort of ancient tradition that is possessed – and can only be understood by – Japanese people. This thorny subject is something I’ve touched on lightly here before (and in my publications) and everyone who lives and practises in Japan for a long time realises. Needless to say the book is highly recommended, so please check it out.
The two old kendo-jidai magazines were picked from a pile basically at random, and are awesome! I will probably translate something from them, or post pictures from them in the near future.
Whew, what a long post… I think it took me almost as long to write as I spent in Tokyo!
Although seemingly random, a lot of the places I visited are in some way or another connected: Saineikan (Yamaoka and Mochida) and the tenran-jiai (Mochida, Takano), Kobukan (Ozawa Aijiro and Takano), Noma dojo (Mochida and everyone!), Ono Tadaaki and Tadatsune (Itto-ryu: Chiba, Yamaoka, Ozawa Aijiro, Takano), Chiba and Yamaoka, Yamaoka and Takano, Takano and Mochida… etc. etc. There are in fact too many connections to mention! I was actually planning to go to two other dojo as well, which would’ve made the already complex web of connections even more spaghetti-like. I’m pretty sure that if we trace our kendo roots back far enough, most of us will find that we are in fact connected to some of the same teachers and even some of the same dojo. Isn’t that a nice image!
For me, this Musha-shugyo was partly about visiting some places I’ve wanted to go to for a long time, but it was also partly about going out and facing random people in an unfamiliar environment. I guess it was an extension of my change in kendo mode I discussed a few months ago. You know, mixing things up.
I think that doing a Musha-shugyo in the same style as I did is probably unrealistic for many kenshi 24/7 readers (I live in Japan after all), but I do think that most people will in fact come to Japan for that purpose at some point in their kendo careers. But saying that, I don’t believe you have to come to Japan to change your kendo mode or to mix things up.
Anyway, I hope that this post can, in some way at least, inspire people to embark on their own Musha-shugyo (whether in Japan or not), and perhaps even gave some suggestions as to what dojo to visit and historical swordsmen to meet. Cheers!