kendo kenshi theory

Volume, quality, transcendence

The following is a short translation of part of a lecture by Ogawa Chutaro (hanshi, kyudan) in which he discusses the the shugyo process of one of his main teachers, Mochida Seiji (hanshi, judan).

Ogawa sensei’s serious pursuit of kendo began when he moved to Tokyo and entered Takano Sasaburo’s Shudogakuin. There he met the freshly-arrived-in-Tokyo from Busen, Saimura Goro, who took him under his wing. As a favourite of Saimura, Ogawa would go on to meet all of the influential kenshi of the day, and to have an illustrious kendo career himself.

He studied under not only Takano and Saimura, but also Nakayama, Oshima, Sasamori, and of-course Mochida. As an instructor he is mostly known for teaching at Kokushikan and Keishicho.

The reason Saimura favoured Ogawa was that there was – as everyone who was at Shudogakuin at that time realised – something “different” about him. Ogawa wasn’t particularly strong at kendo, and he didn’t care about “winning” or “losing,” instead he did kendo as a spiritual discipline = shugyo (something Saimura also did). Years later Ogawa would comment: “If I had known anything about zen at that time I would’ve become a priest. I didn’t, so I pursued self-discipline through the path of kendo” (paraphrased).

Ogawa would later study the Rinzai school of zen, and it is through that lens that he viewed kendo, and that his lasting impact of kendo lies.

Ogawa breaks down Mochida’s shugyo into three discrete steps.

Step 1: Volume

The first step is simply ensuring that you do a lot of keiko. You should do more keiko than anybody else. To put it in another way, someone who doesn’t put in hard work will never achieve success.

However, keiko volume itself is not enough. That is to say, putting in effort alone will not lead to success.

Step 2: Quality

You should aim to execute all techniques according to logical principles, that is, “jiri-itchi(technique and principle as one).

Let’s think about kendo as it is today. Two people face off in a shiai and an ippon is struck. That strike should be such that all three shinpan immediately raise their flags in unison. If two shinpan hold up a red flag and the other a white one, then we can’s say that it was a real ippon.

So, what we are are talking about here is quality. That is to say, along with keiko volume, we need to focus on doing good kendo in accordance with logical principles.

Step 3: Transcendence

Finally, we should aim to transcend both technique and principle. This is what Mochida sensei called “Kosei” (攻勢, being on the offensive).

Slowly and steadily pressuring forward against your opponent. No tricky techniques or sudden surprise moves. Keep pressuring forward relentlessly. By using this type of offensive tactic the opponent has no choice but to step back, and when they do so you can strike them.

Mochida sensei said: “I defeat my opponents in this manner.”

Mochida sensei acquired this “Kosei” by first pursing “sutemi” through hard and long shugyo, eventually coming to an understanding of himself. After awakening to this knowledge, he then polished and refined “jiri-itchi” before finally completely losing his ego.

This is called “reaching full enlightenment, the world is the same*.” It is here where “Kosei” lies. Mochida sensei was a person who, after many years of kendo discipline, transcended “winning and losing” and became a genuinely authentic person.

* 悟了同末悟 (さとりおわらばいまださとらざるにおなじ) Extremely difficult zen terminology: after becoming enlightened the world has not changed, but you now understand that the world is and always has been like it is now. Being enlightened, then, changes nothing (except maybe your perception).



By George

George is the founder and chief editor of
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2 replies on “Volume, quality, transcendence”

What I really like about this article is it underlines how the work isn’t going to be done for you. Your Kendo teachers and resources will suggest some avenues, but you are going to have to do the keiko and work it out alone.

Thanks for this George. Cheered me up in a keiko slump.

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