history kendo kenshi


Almost 10 years ago, I wrote an article entitled “A brief investigation into the shogo system” which, kind of by accident, also went on to discuss the dan-i (or “dan-kyu”) system as well. Over the years, the topic of gradings has crept up now and again here on kenshi 24/7: sometimes I’d look at a positive aspect, while at other times I was far more questioning in nature, even critical. Even though I am not particularly a fan of the system, as an amateur/independent historian (of sorts), it is important to look at and do some research into the people who were awarded very high grades, particularly 10th and 9th dans, especially since they are no longer awarded. 

I’ve already done a piece on the five 10th dan sensei (and chatted about them in numerous pieces over the years). In today’s post I am going to briefly summarise an article that came out in (the rebooted) Kendo Nippon magazine recently. This article did something that I wouldn’t have had the energy to do myself at the moment: researched and listed all the 9th dan (in kendo) that were awarded by the ZNKR.

In the article a picture and a short biography of each sensei was presented. Kendo history nerd’s might say that they need all that information, but only a super kendo history nerd could probably make sense of it. For the general practitioner and people who enjoy reading and learning about kendo’s history, however, I think the summary I give today will suffice. 

Note that I do actually have a lot of books that I could use to fill out the bio of many of the sensei, but I chose not to expand the content of the current post past what was in the magazine article. 

Points of interest 

A. Year of birth 

I have added this in as a basic indication of kendo generation. This is a theory of mine that is still far from complete, but at the moment I generally consider modern (that is, systemised for physical education) kendo to have “began” with Naito Takaharu and Takano Sasaburo (of course, neither called it kendo at first, but that’s another article). Their direct students followed by those that studied (Naito’s and Takano’s style) under them (or in organisations monitored by one) give way into a next generation. The influence of Shinai-kyogi, the creation of the ZNKR, shiai-centric “sport” kendo in schools, and the eventually passing away of earlier generations with direct (or near-direct) tutelage under Naito and Takano heavily influenced how kendo evolved over the years. I intend to expand on this in the future, but at the the moment I will just mention the date of birth (leaving out when they died) and leave it to your imagination.

Note that Naito and Takano were born a month apart, but Naito passed way far earlier – in 1929 compared to Takano in 1950. 

B. Graduated / studied kendo

KYOTO = This refers to those that studied at the Butokukai related institutions, being either the full time school (Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseijo / Bujutsu (Budo) Senmon Gakko) or the part time kendo-only course (Koshusei). They were of course different, but I haven’t separated it here today. For all intents and purposes kenshi in this section practised Naito Takaharu’s style of kendo. Earlier students would’ve practised under him, later people under those he directly taught. The basic kendo style in Japan today can be said to be based in Naito’s kihon-centric approach. 

All five of the kendo 10th dans were direct Naito students. 

TOKYO = This refers to people that studied under the umbrella of Takano Sasaburo, either at Tokyo Koto Shihan Gakko or at his dojo Meishinkan or Shidogakuin. As far as I can work out, it seems that Takano was so busy he didn’t actually spend much time instructing most students directly, instead delegating to one of his sons or a trusted student. The more I study about kendo the more I am tempted to come to the conclusion that Takano’s long-term impact was not on kendo style per-se, but in bringing up a handful of dedicated students who looked at kendo as a physical education subject and worked to formalise kendo as a school-taught subject.

It is important to note here that once Naito-trained students arrived in Tokyo (starting first with Saimura followed by Oshima and eventually Mochida) they were to revolutionise kendo training in the capitol. Kokushikan was basically run by Saimura and Keishicho seemed to flip over to the Busen style pretty quickly.

* Any person that doesn’t fall within the Kyoto/Tokyo division above will be noted. In particular, towards the end of the list you will see references Kokushikan and Keishicho.

C. Profession

It is a given that the vast majority of the people in this article today were kendo professionals. Almost everyone taught at multiple places, usually some combination of police and school, sometimes university, other times a military academy. Occasionally some of the people in the list taught at Busen, Koshi, Keishicho, or the Imperial Guards.

I originally tried to write out the entire list for everyone, but it is a little bit too much, and I think most people won’t be interested. Instead, I’ll just mention any interesting information if there is any. Note that many kendo teachers lost their jobs after WWII. Many were re-hired in different positions a few years later (a common route would be to lose a school job but end up being hired by a police dept. a few years later). 

I think it’s worth noting that what is meant by “kendo professional” above doesn’t translate well into the reality of kendo-related jobs today. Nowadays there are only a smattering of professionals in police departments throughout Japan, followed by a semi-large number of “kendo specialists” that exist within the education system. However, in the Meiji, Taisho, and early-mid Showa periods there seem to have been quite a few people who made a living by doing only kendo, some of whom are undoubtedly listed below. 


After the main list I have also tabulated the names on the list by year their 9th dan was awarded. This, like the year of birth discussion above, is also important information to consider. 

1956: Takizawa vs Abe (later awarded kyudan)

List of kendo Kyudan

Colours of the names indicate period born: black = Meiji, red = Taisho, and green = Showa.

KEY: Name (Year of birth. Studied at -> extra info)

* Matsui Matsujiro (1878. Kyoto -> taught in Fukuoka and Korean peninsula)

* Higashiyama Kennosuke (1893. Kyoto -> Wakayama Butokukai instructor)

* Hori Shohei (1888. Kyoto -> Military instructor)

* Miyazaki Mosaburo (1893. Kyoto -> Busen teacher and Naito’s favourite)

* Kondo Tomoyoshi (1887. Kyoto -> Korean peninsula and Hiroshima)

* Tsuzaki Kanetaka (1897. Kyoto -> head instructor at Busen after Ogawa)

* Koshikawa Hidenosuke (1896. Kyoto)

* Sato Chuzo (1899. Kyoto -> Busen instructor)

* Shinobe Taisuke (1894. Kyoto? -> Imperial Guards instructor)

* Ito ? (1883. Military -> famed for being the best kenshi in the military)

* Shirato Tomehiko (1889. Tokyo? -> Military)

* Ono Jussei (1897. Kyoto -> favourite of Saimura – Ono-ha itto-ryu)

* Sato Ukichi (1896. Tokyo)

* Nagano Mitsutaka (1882. studied with local teacher and Butokukai branch)

* Chigami Naoaki (1890. Tokyo)

* Mori Masazumi (1898. Kyoto)

* Iwakoshi Masashi (1891. studied locally)

* Omori Koshiro (1893. Kyoto)

* Kato Shichizaemon (1881. known for his use of leg sweeps and kumiuchi)

* Morita Bunjuro (1891. Tokyo -> Koshi instructor – known kendo educator) 

* Saito Masatoshi (1905. Kyoto -> Shudokan)

* Tsurumi Iwao (1908. Tokyo -> Keishicho instructor – Ono-ha Itto-ryu)

* Tanaka Tomokazu (1899. Kyoto)

* Ogawa Masayuki (1906. Kyoto -> Ogawa Kinnosuke’s son)

* Misumi Usaburo (1896. Kyoto)

* Kishikawa Tatsuji (1893. Kyoto) 

* Ozawa Takashi (1901. Tokyo -> Ozawa Aijiro’s son – head of Kobukan)

* Ogi Manpuku (1898. Kyoto -> friend of Saimura)

* Kurozumi Tatsushiro (1900. Kyoto -> Busen instructor)

* Horiguchi Kiyoshi (1904. Tokyo -> favourite of Saimura – taught at Kokushikan and Keishicho – iaido and jodo also hanshi 9th dan)

* Ogawa Chutaro (1902. Tokyo -> favourite of Nakayama/Saimura/Mochida – taught at Kokushikan and Keishicho – noted zen scholar – key person in the created of the Concept of Kendo – studied Ono-ha itto-ryu and Jikishinkage-ryu – turned down 10th dan)

* Sato Sadao (1903. Tokyo -> Imperial Guard instructor)

* Kojima Tsukasa (1907. Tokyo via Takano Shigeyoshi in Manchuria)

* Ono Soichiro (1902. Tokyo -> long time instructor at Kokushikan)

* Sasaki Suekuni (1897. Kyoto)

* Hasegawa Hisashi (1907. Kyoto)

* Ito Masaji (1906. Tokyo? -> Keishicho teacher)

( start to see a generational change )

* Nakakura Kiyoshi (1911. studied under Nakayama -> iaido hanshi 9th dan)

* Nakano Yasoji (1912. Tokyo -> noted kendo educator)

* Wada Shin (1899. Tokyo -> Mizoguchi-ha Itto-ryu)

* Shigeoka Noboru (1909. Kyoto -> involved in revising kendo kata)

* Sato Akira (1909. Tokyo)

* Matsumoto Toshio (1909. locally trained at Shubukan and university)

* Tamari Yoshiaki (1904. Waseda -> trained under Saimura and Takano)

* Miromitsu Hidekuni (1910. Kyoto)

* Ogasawara Saburo (1912. Keishicho -> trained under Mochida)

* Sugawara Keizaburo (1912. Tokyo -> Trained in Manchuria under Takano Shigeyoshi)

* Ota Yoshito (1907. Tokyo)

( starting around about this this time frame, Kyoto trained people would’ve been unable to study under Naito directly )

* Kamio Munetaka (1910. Kokushikan -> Military / Noda-ha nito-ryu)

* Nakajima Gorozo (1909. Nakayama -> 9th dan kyudo)

* Takizawa Kozo (1911. Tokyo -> taught at the Imperial Guards and the police academy / involved in setting up the European Kendo Federation)

* Sato Takeshi (1913. Kyoto -> took part in the Tenran shiai / 8th dan iaido)

* Ueda Hajime (1914. locally trained -> son of the famed Ueda Heitaro)

* Yoshitake Rokuro (1911. Kokushikan)

* Ozawa Takejiro (1912. Kyoto -> Tobukan)

* Takao Toshifumi (1916. Kyoto -> Taisho)

* Omori Genpaku (1912. Kokushikan -> Waseda)

( Many from this cohort probably didn’t know kendo before it was co-opted by the military for nationalist purposes, and had no chance to receive instruction from Naito. The influence of student kendo – especially universities – starts to have a large effect on kendo in general.)

* Ichikawa Hikotaro (1921. Kokushikan)

* Komorizono Masao (1920. Toyko -> noted educationalist / taught at Shudokan, Nippon Budokan, Budai, etc)

* Nishi Yoshinobu (1919. Kokushikan)

* Saeki Taro (1917. Kyoto)

* Ishihara Tadayoshi (1917. Kyoto -> returned 9th dan)

* Nishikawa Gennai (1917. Kyoto -> Hozoiin-ryu sojutsu)

* Abe Saburo (1920. trained under Takano Shigeyoshi in Manchuria) -> 2nd place in the 1st WKC)

* Nakamura Isaburo (1916. Kyoto)

* Narazaki Masahiko (1923. Kokushikan)

* Tsurumaru Juichi (1918. Kyoto)

* Horigome Keizo (1922. Kyoto)

* Kurazawa Teruhiko (1924. Nitai-Dai)

* Takano Takeshi (1921. Tokyo)

* Onuma Hiroshi (1927. taught at keishicho / the only 9th dan born in the Showa period / Ono-ha Itto-ryu)

* Maruta Takeo (1924. Kyoto)

* Taniguchi Yasunori (1922. Tokyo)

* Nagajima Suekichi (1924. Keishicho)

* Nakanishi Yasushi (1923. Kokushikan)

* Okuzono Kuniyoshi (1924. became a kendo pro at the Osaka Police dept. after the war)

* Inoue Shinichi (1926. became a kendo pro at the Kyoto Police dept. after the war, there he learned under Busen teachers and graduates) 

* Morishima Tateo (1923. Kokushikan -> studied kendo and zen with Ogawa Chutaro / taught at Noma dojo etc / returned 9th dan)

The only person missing from this list is Oasa Yuji as he was the only 9th dan to be elevated to 10th. 

Total number: 78 (+1 for Oasa)

Born in the Meiji period: 54 (+1 for Oasa)

Born in the Taisho period: 23

Born in the Showa period: 1

Split between Kyoto and Tokyo: 34 (+1 for Oasa) vs 20

The last two gentlemen on the list, Inoue and Morishima sensei, are still living. However, Morishima sensei returned his 9th dan, which makes Kyoto’s Inoue sensei the last ever kyudan. 

Post-war, the brand new All Japan Kendo Federation (ZNKR) was formed in 1952, and it was decided that grades should go up to 5th dan, followed by the shogo (renshi, kyoshi, and hanshi). In other words, the pre-war Butokukai system was to be kept. The grades equated to technical skill, and the shogo were more of a “cultural” thing . However, in 1957 – for what seems like the flimsiest of rationales (“judo has 10th dans so why shouldn’t we?”) – It was decided that 10th dan should be the top grade (Nakayama Hakudo refused one, and it seemingly took quite an effort to convince Saimura and Mochida that it was a good idea). Fourth months later the first four 10th dans were awarded (Saimura, Mochida, Ogawa, Nakano) as well as five kyudans (Oasa Yuji, Miyazaki Mosaburo, Matsui Matsujiro, Hori Shohei, and Kondo Tomoyoshi). Five years later, Oasa Yuji became the only 9th dan to be elevated to 10th. 

The rest of the people listed above were awarded (there was never a test for 9th and 10th dan) in the years after that, with the two last 9th dans being given to Okuzono Kuniyoshi and Inoue Shinichi in 1998 (both of whom I had the chance to do keiko with).

9th dan award by year

Another interesting way to look at the list above is to cross-reference the names with the years awards were made.

Showa-32 (1957): Oasa, Miyazaki, Matsui, Hori, Kondo.

Showa-34 (1959): Higashiyama, Tsuzaki, Koshikawa, Sato, Shinobe, Ono, Sato

Showa-35 (1960): Shirato

Showa-36 (1961): Chigami

Showa-37 (1962): Ito, Mori, Iwakoshi, Omori, Morita, Tanaka, Kishikawa, Ozawa

Showa-40 (1965): Nagano, Ogi

Showa-44 (1969): Kato, Kurozumi

Showa-46 (1971): Horiguchi, Ogawa

Showa-47 (1972): Saito 

Showa-48 (1973): Tsurumi

Showa-49 (1974): Kojima

Showa-52 (1977): Saito (Masatoshi), Ono (Soichiro)

Showa-53 (1978): Ogawa, Nakakura, Nakano, Wada

Showa-54 (1979): Ito (Masaji)

Showa-55 (1980): Misumi, Shigeoka

Showa-57 (1982): Sato (Akira), Matsumoto, Tamari, Hiromitsu

Showa-59 (1984): Ogasawara 

Showa-61 (1986): Sasaki, Hasegawa, Sugawara, Ota, Kamio

Showa-62 (1987): Nakajima, Takizawa, Sato (Takeshi), Ueda, Yoshitake, Ichikawa

Showa-63 (1988): Ozawa (Takejiro), Takao, Omori (Genpaku)

Heisei-gan (1989): Komorizono, Nishi, Saeki

Heisei-2 (1990): Ishihara*, Nishikawa

Heisei-4 (1992): Abe, Nakamura, Tsumaru, Morishima*

Heisei-6 (1994): Horigome

Heisei-7 (1995): Narazaki

Heisei-8 (1996): Takano

Heisei-9 (1997): Kurazawa, Onuma, Maruta, Taniguchi, Nagashima, Nakanishi

Heisei-10 (1998): Okuzono, Inoue

In 2000 the ZNKRs rules were changed, abolishing 9th and 10th dan awards, and making the Hanshi the highest rank in kendo. 

* retuned 9th dan

Number of awards per decade:

1950s: 12

1960s: 14

1970s: 12

1980s: 24

1990s: 17 (two returned)

A pre-bearded yours truly facing Hanshi kyudan Okuzono sensei in 2006


At some point in time someone saw fit to put together a documentary series about the then living 9th dan sensei. Those that are available online I have linked to the persons name in the listing above. In addition to that, there are a handful of Kyoto Taikai tachiai around as well. I will embed my favourite ones here. Enjoy!

Two tachiai featuring Ito Masaji, both from the 1983 Kyoto Taikai. His first partner is Hiromitsu, the second is unknown.
Narazaki vs Taniguchi. Kyoto taikai 1990.
Morishima vs Taniguchi. Kyoto taikai, date unknown.

This documentary is also highly relevant to today’s post:



Other books to check out if interested: 


By George

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

9 replies on “Kyudan”

Thank You very much for this article. I had the honor to meet Komorizono-Sensei from Budai and Ono-Sensei from Kokushikan. It was really impressive.

Hey there! Thanks for an awesome article! But could you, please, clarify – what does it even mean “returned 9th dan”? was it like taken away for any reason? Please, forgive me if question is stupid, but I really want to understand)

Maybe “relinquish” is a better term. They were awarded 9th dan, but they either chose not to accept it or they accepted it then relinquished it voluntarily later.

How, George. Could you give us some update about which Kyudan Sensei are still living, if any? I’ve read in your article here above that Shin’ichi Inoue Sensei is sriyll alive (as then in September 2019?), but I’ve heard that he has already passed alway (I’m not 100% sure if it was the same person…); further, I’ve seen nothing on whereabouts of Taniguchi Sensei after than that 2008 video where he does a demonstration keiko with some kōdansha… Thanks!!

Hey Andre,

I am not sure about Inoue sensei, I can’t recall hearing anything.
Taniguchi sensei had, at the time of the article in August 2019, already passed away.
Morishima sensei is still alive I believe.

– George

I think it is Narazaki Sensei, not Narizaki.
I had the great honor to practice with him,

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