books kendo kenshi

Kensei Naito Takaharu

As I’ve discussed on kenshi 24/7 many times, Naito Takaharu sensei was – is, in fact – the single most influential figure in modern kendo’s history (the closest person to this title is his rival, Takano Sasaburo). His idea of kendo, both in execution and in thought, permeates kendo today. Often this idea is expressed more as an ideal, but people serious about kendo still follow his defined kendo diet of kirikaeshi, uchikomi, taiatari, and kakarigeiko. He also saw little or no point in competition for the serious shugyo-sha, an attitude that has been almost lost today, even amongst senior practitioners.

During his 30 years as the most senior Butokukai kenshi he taught many people (including every 10th dan) but, being the humble person he was, he didn’t leave a lot of written material. However, his students talked about him profusely over the following years.

Luckily, in addition to the personal accounts left by his students, there were two volumes dedicated to Naito sensei produced, both of which I own and will introduce today.

The first is a book called “Kenshi: Naito Takaharu.” Luckily it was put together and printed just over a year after his death (he died on the 9th of April 1929 and the book was published for the Kyoto Taikai in 1930). Due to the books immediate nature it serves as an invaluable testament to the man.

The second book was published in 1975, a full 45 years after his death, and is entitled “Kensei: Naito Takaharu.” This book is valuable for two reasons, the first being the passage of time, and the second being less rushed content. In particular, comments by the most senior sensei of the day about their relationship to and experiences under Naito sensei are invaluable.

Unless I win the lottery and can quit my day job it’s impossible to translate the books fully, so let me just introduce a random portion from the earlier book.

The two books

From “Kenshi: Naito Takaharu” : Shinpan

The way Naito sensei did shinpan was as if he were a giant mountain. He would never move nor even stand from the shinpans seat. Even if the competitors were in a situation where he couldn’t see clearly he wouldn’t move. He would explain this by saying “If you can’t see them with your eyes, you should be able to sense them with your heart.”

When the shimpan of shiai were from the older generations (and thus smaller in stature) sometimes he would spot one siting on the shinpan chair with their legs dangling down not touching the floor. If he saw a scene like this Naito sensei would call the sensei to his house and warn them: “Sit naturally and place your hands on your knees. If you don’t sit yourself properly then how can you shinpan correctly? If you are sitting on your seat and move around you’ll make bad calls.”

When shinpaning he hated black tabi. Even if it were very cold he’d rather just shipan in his bare feet or, occasionally, he’d wear white tabi. He stuck to this rule even in large taikai. Due to this there was an instance where a famous kendo sensei was due to work as a shinpan in a shiai. The sensei tried to find some white tabi in Kyoto but couldn’t, and ended up judging in his bare feet.

* Note that until after the war (excluding the Tenran-jiai) a single shinpan was normal. They sat in a chair.

Naito sensei gallery

Most of the images included below are from the books mentioned.

By George

George is the founder and chief editor of
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4 replies on “Kensei Naito Takaharu”

Great article George , Thanks.

As someone who does other JSA koryu …. I also feel that Kendo has departed from its roots with more focus on competition and sports elements.

I doubt their is a turning back.


My entire kendo career is informed by a strong koryu background. In Japan, kendo “seems” to be competition orientated but this is mainly because that’s the part that sticks out. Most, if not the majority of people who actually compete are kids (primary〜university level). Adults barely compete, and only then if they are lucky. This differs from outside Japan and that’s why people abroad may have a different feeling.

Pretty much all my friends/sempai/sensei rarely do shiai. They quietly do kendo, day in day out. This is shugyo and is not so much different than it was way-back-when. In that aspect, a serious kendo practitioner and a serious koryu practitioner are indistinguishable.

Thats very interesting George , Thanks for clearing that up.

Alot of european kendo is involved in Shiai, which is promoted quite a bit.

And Yes majority of them are in their late 20s – 30s.

However this is what gets them into squads for international competition.

Could it be more of an ego thing in the west ? Where its how good you are at Shiai , which determines how good your overall Kendo is ?

I know people in their 40s who do nothing but train for Shiai and turn up to every tournement. Then either brag or moan about losing and wining.



“I know people in their 40s who do nothing but train for Shiai and turn up to every tournement. Then either brag or moan about losing and wining.”

<<<< this situation is the antithesis of what kendo is.

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