history kendo kenshi

Busen and Koshi

Over the last few years I’ve repeatedly mentioned Budo Senmon Gakko (Martial arts vocational school, known as “Busen”) and Tokyo Koto Shihan Gakko (Tokyo Higher Normal school, or “Koshi”) in articles. Their respective kendo head instructors, Naito Takaharu and Takano Sasaburo, have also made appearances all over kenshi 24/7. Despite this I hadn’t really gone into the difference between the two institutions, or talked in detail about how the kendo courses were structured. I know a lot more about Busen, and it is my plan one day in the future (after I am retired or win the lottery) to write a detailed book about it. But in the meantime, as I have a spare afternoon, I decided to translate a small one-page introductory article on the topic that was published in a 2007 special edition magazine by Kendo Nippon entitled “An introduction to kendo / How to improve at kendo.”

Although the article is small, it’s relatively well put together, so it serves as a good introduction to the topic. Of course, I will pad it out with more information and links to other kenshi 24/7 articles as well.

What kind of schools were Busen and Koshi?

In a previous section (of the magazine) we talked about the individuals who had the largest influenced on kendo prior to WW2, now we will discuss the two institutions that had the largest impact: The Dai-Nippon Butokukai’s Budo Senmon Gakko and Tokyo Koto Shihan Gakko.

(Note that the school system in Japan has changed radically since the period we are talking about here. Busen evolved through name changes and curriculum-styles before eventually becoming an education ministry approved vocational college that could issue teaching certificates [kendo, judo, and Japanese]. Koshi was an important educational research and teacher training college from the early days of Japanese education reform [1870s+]. Whereas the Butokukai [and therefore Busen] was dissolved following the war, Koshi evolved into Tokyo Education University before eventually becoming Tsukuba University, which is still a kendo powerhouse today).

Graduates of both schools became kendo leaders and instructors after the war and, after the change in the grading system in the 1960s, many of them were promoted to 9th dan. Note that all five of the kendo 10th dan’s were graduates from Busen’s precursor school (see below).

Front gate leading into Busen


So, what was the style of keiko at Busen? The Butokukai was founded in 1895, and the Butokuden was completed in 1899. Although the head kendo instructors of the Butokukai at that time were Mihashi Kanichiro (Musashi-ryu, Kyoshinmechi-ryu, first person to be awarded Seirensho and the Butokukai’s first hanshi) and Okumura Sakonta (Jikishinkage-ryu), it was to be Naito Takaharu that was to have the more lasting impact on Busen.

In 1905 the Butokukai set up it’s first kendo instructor teaching facility called the Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseijo (Martial art instructor training school), which would evolve into the eventual “Busen.” Naito had been a member of the kendo teaching staff since 1899, eventually taking the head instructor position in 1909 (after Mihashi and Okumura died).

Naito’s focus was on developing the spirit through kendo, as such keiko was focused on a diet of kihon, mainly kirikaeshi and kakarigeiko. One graduate said “Naito sensei never said to us ‘this is how you do suriage,’ ‘this is how you execute Oji-waza,’ or taught us when was the correct time to attack, etc.” There wasn’t any real jigeiko either, it was mostly kakarigeiko, during which students would face strong tai-atari, have their legs swept from under them, be tsuki-ed to the ground, etc. Many people were injured or became ill through this severe training. It was through this repeated and intense training in basics where students would acquire understanding of kendo principles.

Naito would also say to students and to young kids alike “Because it’s the most difficult target to hit you must attack men.” He looked at kote and dou in an unfavourable light.

Teachers at Busen over the years (most if not all of whom where to be Naito’s students) followed this style.

Busen also put emphasis on kata and practised it about twice a week. Originally they developed their own set of kata, but this was replaced by Teikoku kendo kata in 1912 (both Naito and Takano were involved deeply in this). Etiquette was also very strict at Busen, not only for the kendo students, but for everyone.

After Naito died suddenly in 1929, one of his ex-students and already senior Busen instructor – Ogawa Kinnosuke – took over the role of head instructor and continued Naito’s style.

One particular Naito student and early Busen (Yoseijo) graduate of note was Saimura Goro. He was the first to export Naito’s style of kendo to Tokyo, where he soon became a sought after teacher. He was later followed by Mochida Moriji, and both helped popularise the Busen (i.e. Naito’s) kendo ideology.

One model of kendo Shugyo, therefore, was developed at Busen through the teachings of Naito. This model, though of a softer variety, is still alive today.

1917 – Tokyo shihan gakko


Keiko style at Koshi had a different emphasis. Although Takano Sasaburo first started worked there in 1908, it wasn’t until a physical education department was established in 1915 that kendo instructor training began in earnest. Takano’s book entitled “Kendo” which has been considered as a kind of kendo instruction bible was, published the same year (this link points to a translation from Takano`s later “Kendo Kyohon” – basically a renamed, revised, and extended version of “Kendo”).

There were a number of instructors that taught under Takano, each with their own distinctive style. Unlike Busen, teachers were expected to promote the development of students individual personal kendo styles.

Keiko was said to be quite tough, with students posture and manner in particular being policed strictly.

Physical education department students were expected to do practical training in other sports, and there were many who practised and competed in other sports, including athletic events, rugby, swimming, etc. Of course, there were many kendo competitions. The golden age of Koshi was said to be in the late 30s into the early war period.

Takano Sasaburo, men cut

Takano’s “Kendo” was said to have been put together by the kendo instructors at Koshi (although “Kendo” was published under Takano’s name the content was in fact written by a number of different people. Who wrote which part, and what Takano’s exact input into the text is unknown), and it set the model for all other kendo manuals up until WW2. In particular, the book introduced methods for group teaching of kendo (in schools), and eventually it lead to Takano being considered a “father of modern kendo.” However, if you look at the book from another perspective (especially considering group teaching methods) you will see there is a lot that removes the “martial” aspect from kendo.

After the war Koshi was merged with Tokyo Physical Education Technical College (opened 1941) to become the new Tokyo University of Education in 1949 (then finally Tsukuba university in 1973). From around 1942 Nakano Yasoji became the main kendo instructor (Takano was 80 years old), and his students (graduates of Tokyo University of Education) went on to teach kendo at all corners of Japan.

Starting from Takano, the influence of Koshi and it’s instructors on kendo has been large.



After the war, many universities developed kendo (budo) and sports speciality courses (for example Kokushikan University, Tokai University, Nippon Sport Science University, Osaka University of Health and Sport Sciences, the International Budo University, etc), many of which were headed by graduates from Tokyo University of Education/Tsukuba (note that the first kendo teacher at Kokushikan, which was still a technical college before the war, was actually Saimura Goro, Naito’s student).

Busen, on the other hand, was dissolved after the war, with it’s instructors and graduates finding work mainly in schools, universities, and police departments throughout the Kansai area. Many others found themselves in teaching positions further afield. Wherever the ended up, however, they were often regarded as being a different status than other instructors, and their manner of doing kendo became the main kendo style for many years.

Even though there are few Busen graduates left nowadays, their influence and the impact of Busen in general has left a deep and indelible effect on kendo.


As mentioned in the introduction, the above was basically a translation of a single introductory article with some padding by yours truly. The original is a nice wee piece, but I feel it was being a little bit too “neutral” in a way because there is certainly an imbalance in influence between the two institutions on todays kendo.

There are no Busen teachers alive today, and a minuscule few – if any – graduates. Even if there are any alive I imagine those that are had only a year or two at the school right at the end of it’s life during the war or right afterwards. In other words, they never went through the full deal. This was the case with the only Busen graduate that I ever managed to do kendo with (I feel lucky to have been able to touch that part of kendo’s history, but I know it was only a light brushing). There are, however, plenty of people alive who did train under Busen graduates for a number of years (especially here in Kansai) and they have passed on what they were taught. It is also important to consider the impact of Naito students Saimura and Mochida on kendo in Tokyo.

Koshi merged, changed, and evolved with the times, with kendo specialists at universities nowadays being no different to other sports specialities. In fact, although at one point there seems to have been a number of kendo speciality courses at universities throughout the country, it seems that most of them have been removed or merged into general sports courses. There are few places to study kendo at university in Japan nowadays.

For decades there have been academic books and papers written and published about kendo execution and performance, but at the end of the day most dojo who could be said to have an “orthodox” style rely on the same steady diet – kirikaeshi, kihon, and uchikomi/kakarigeiko. Although there are some elements that have been lost over the years and other things that have improved and/or modified, this is basically the kendo promoted by Naito Takaharu nearly 120 years ago.

Whenever “Busen” is mentioned in post-keiko discussions over beer, it is often met with knowing nods. This is partly romanticism because, unlike Koshi, the school disappeared completely in 1947 (budo had been banned and the school renamed in 1945). Like Jimi Hendrix or Jim Morrison, it’s stature and status has risen over the years.

As I said above, I know far more about the workings of Busen and the individuals who taught and attended it than I do about Koshi. This article, then, is only a partial one. As I research and discover more I’m sure I will write further articles on the subject in the future. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this piece for now!


剣道入門・上達 虎の巻。剣道日本。2007年発行。
See linked articles for even more sources.

By George

George is the founder and chief editor of
For more information check out the About page.

2 replies on “Busen and Koshi”

My Teacher, Terada Sensei was a Busen graduate. He jokingly used to tell me that when they had yearly Dokyukai he was the only one left of his age in his year. His senior was Oasa Yuji Sensei who owned a local sake brewery. He was also Judan and can be seen on old Tenran-jia video converted from film. Our training consisted daily of nothing but kakari geiko and men tai-atari done the old way. I frequently took the senior side as tai atari dummy to create a brick wall and wear down attackers as Sensei used to stand and laugh his head of at the poor attackers. This is why Okimitsu Fujii Sensei had continued this practice in the UK as both men were his teachers. To me this the prefered method of learning to use koshi rather than step to the side and let them go through.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.