kendo kenshi

Become a fool

一、悪いことをしない (Don’t do anything bad)
一、勉強する (Study)
一、親に孝行する (Be dutiful to your parents)
一、国を愛する (Love your country)
一、善いことをする (Do good deeds)

The above is the inscription on the gravestone of Ogi Manboku (1897-1993, hanshi kyudan). Ogi was an early graduate of the koshukai (part-time) program at Busen (1916), and counted some of the most renowned kenshi in the history of kendo as his teachers. Before the war he taught kendo at high school and university level and after the war at various companies as well as at police level. He also took part in the 1941 Tenran shiai in the kendo professionals section.

The following is an abridged and slightly loose translation of Ogi’s addition to the 1972 “All Japan Kendo Federation 20th year anniversary – counsel from 100 kendoka.” I must admit it was a difficult translation, so if you are a Japanese speaker please refer to the sources to get a copy of the original if you are interested.

Ogi Manboku

It was the first years of the Taisho period (1912-26) when I started to seriously devote myself to kendo shugyo at the Butokukai HQ. There I studied under Naito Takaharu, Monna Tadashi, about 10 teachers in total, and it was an enriching experience. There, I went through severe training sessions every morning and afternoon. I’d be strongly tsuki-ed, thrown to the dojo floor, grappled, etc, it really was quite intense.

During my first year there I threw away my own ideas about kendo and did exactly what the teachers told me to do, which was a diet of kirikaeshi and uchikomi only. Some of the other students used to sneakily do some jigeiko when the teachers weren’t around. Of course, jigeiko is a lot more interesting because you strike and are struck, whereas what I was doing was simple and boring. Anyway, I continued like this for a year. In the old days they used to say “uchikomi three years.”

After that first year of uchikomi and kirikaeshi I progressed on to kakarigeiko then jigeiko. Because I followed this route I managed to pass all the grading tests smoothly, and graduated from the program when I was 19 years old.

There was a well known priest at Tenryu-ji that used to move the rocks about in the temple garden. When junior monks didn’t have any duties to attend to he would order them to move the rocks back to their original position. It was because of this, it is said, that many of the junior monks he taught went on to become master teachers in their own right.

During my time at Busen, Saimura Goro and Oshima Jikita were attending lectures in the grounds of Nanzen-ji temple by one of the founders of the Butokukai, Kusonoki Seii (they invited Ogi to come with them). Sometimes, during discussions about kendo, Kusonoki would say “practise so much you become a fool!”

Studying kendo techniques to increase mastery is one of the means to self-cultivation. The important thing is to bear this in mind and study earnestly. It is said that “The sword is the mind” but what does this mean? There is the teaching “All methods return to the same point.” My teacher always said to me “from one sword comes ten thousand; ten thousand swords return to one.” The many becomes the one, the small becomes the minute.

Sensei from the past always explained that kendo must be a part of your daily life, that kendo was “heijoshin” (self-possession). Yamaoka Tesshu said “someone who does kendo is someone who is self-possessed.” Although easy for a genius such as Yamaoka to say, it is difficult for normal people to do.

Practising kendo for a long time with the aim of striking your opponent in any way possible in order to claim victory will lead only to the trap of technical mastery. Instead, aim at a higher purpose, reconsider the teachings of the past, and practise hard. Practise so hard and so much that you become a fool. Eventually you will pierce though the foolishness, and be a fool no longer.

I am thankful for the teaching “practise so much you become a fool!” Now, I leave it up to you.



By George

George is the founder and chief editor of
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