history kendo kenshi

The mystery of the black-hand

During June last year I was invited to join an open keiko session at the dojo which probably has oldest (kendo-related) tradition in the Kansai region. During the break between the kihon and jigeiko parts of the session I was wandering around the dojo looking at the various pieces of calligraphy and what not that were displayed on the walls. One in particular caught my attention: a metre long piece with five tegata, or hand-prints. Inspecting it I saw that it was some sort of commemorative piece with the hand-prints and signatures of the kendo giants Takano Sasaburo, Mochida Seiji, Ogawa Kinnosuke, Saimura Goro, and one other name I couldn’t exactly make out. I didn’t have longer to study it as keiko began again and I mostly forgot about it.

A few months later I was again snooping around a dojo – this time in Nagoya – when I noticed the exact same piece tucked in behind some trophies out of sight. I managed to have it brought out and myself and the Japanese sensei started discussing it. I confirmed my initial suspicion that it was a list of the sensei who took part in the 1940 tenranjiai, with the five tegata being the most senior sensei. The names below this were those that took part in the specialist competition section and the demonstration matches. I realised that not only had I seen the piece at the dojo a few months earlier, but perhaps in a couple of other dojo in the past. However, there was still one niggling puzzle: the name in between Takano and Mochida. The Japanese sensei and myself stood pondering over it for a few moments before keiko began.

Roll on January 2016 and a few days ago, to my surprise, I received a package in the post. Unboxing it I was absolutely delighted to discover it was the piece that I had been looking at in both dojo: one of the sensei in Nagoya managed to somehow source one and have it sent to me!!!! Unfurling it and having a close look I’ve come to the tentative conclusion that it must have been a piece that was on sale (or given away perhaps) around about the time of the 1940 tenranjiai. I’m not sure if the original had red hand-prints or not but I’ve yet to see one. Mine, and the others I’ve seen, are all reproductions in black.

There was still one nagging problem however: the mystery name. Sitting in my quiet living room by myself, it took me less than 3 minutes to work it out. In 1940 who were the top sensei? Who could possibly be above Mochida yet below Takano? Whose name stood out because of it’s absence?

I decided that it could only be Nakayama Hakudo. But what was written there was not anything close to “Nakayama” but something like “Arinobu.” Then it clicked. Nakayama Hakudo inherited the dojo Yushinkan from Negishi Shingoro. The kanji for YU-SHIN is 有信 which, as a name, is read ARI-NOBU. The first kanji of the signature was obvious the HAKU or Hakudo, and the last kanji, when I checked online (it was written in an unfamiliar style), was of-course michi, or DO in Hakudo. In other words, it is unmistakably Nakayama. There are a few reasons why he may have signed his name like this, but I suspect it was just artistic flourish!

Like the calligraphy I was given a couple of years ago, I will get this piece framed in preparation to hang in the dojo I will eventually build!!

Here are some larger images of the hand-prints for you to look at, along with with pictures of the sensei and links to further information:

Takano Sasaburo


Nakayama Hakudo (written Arinobu Hakudo here)


Mochida Seiji (aka Moriji)


Ogawa Kinnosuke


Saimura Goro


Lastly, my beautiful copy looks like this:


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By George

George is the founder and chief editor of
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6 replies on “The mystery of the black-hand”

George, thank you for the inspiration I think I will make a similar scroll for my Aikido Dojo with English writing and hand prints, shards as always David

Saimura Goro was my sensei’s sensei’s sensei’s sensei in Kendo. Nakayama Hakudo was my sensei’s sensei’s sensei’s sensei’s sensei’s sensei in Muso Shinden Ryu iaido. The fact that the last two in the 1st chain and the last 3 in the 2nd are French and now France-based doesn’t mitigate the fact that I have a bit of these masters in me now.

The piece of art, memory and transmission that you introduce in your post is extremely moving to me, as it is a testimony of the age of founders.

When you come to think of it, how many million kenshi in the world over a century have been descended from these five gentlemen? A dizzying thought indeed! They were at a turning point, handing over the values of age of koryu while opening the way for gendai budo.

We’re only a link in the chain, aren’t we? Whatever we teach is much more important than what we are, and who we are depends on how we respect and communicate what we have received.

Amazing the chain of reflection that your paper has triggered in me, George. Thank you so much for it

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