“Ogawa-san, it seems like you are walking down the same road as me.”Mochida Seiji’s words to Ogawa Chutaro two months before his death in 1974
Following on from my last post I’d like to introduce to readers my favourite kendo (note-like) book: Ogawa Chutaro’s epic “hyaku-kai keiko” = “one hundred keiko.”
“… a kendo student at Takano Sasaburo’s Shidogakuin/Meishinkan before being taken under the wing of Saimura Goro (and later Mochida Seiji) and attending the newly founded Kokushikan (he eventually taught kendo there as well as at Keishicho). Right from the beginning, his teachers noted that he wasn’t the usual type of kendo student, that there was something different about him. He came to believe that there was something deeper to be had from kendo than mere fighting with sticks.
He studied zen and kenjutsu, and placed emphasis on the process of shugyo more than anything else. In the early 1970s, when most of the older generation of kenshi were complaining about the shiai-centricity of post-war kendo, he was charged with re-defining what “kendo” was by the ZNKR. The result, published in 1975, was The Concept and Purpose of Kendo.”
Ogawa sensei was – in my considered opinion – the only real kendo philosopher (a sort of public kendo intellectual) in recent kendo history. In the same vein as Yamaoka Tesshu or Naito Takaharu, he looked beyond the mere physicality of kendo itself and into deeper spiritual (even mystical) realms. His background in kenjutsu – rather than the new “pure kendo” of the vast majority of his peers – gave him a deeper historical and cultural understanding as well, allowing him to remain more “grounded” in tradition than he might have otherwise.
Since his death I have yet to hear about, read books by, meet, or talk to anyone who comes close to his intellectual stature in the kendo community.
The point of departure is sutemi, the arrival is ai-uchi
The quite-chunky book “One hundred keiko” consists of note like entries written by Ogawa Chutaro between the 16th of November Showa 29 (1954) and the 5th Of November Showa 36 (1961), a 7 year span. The entries chart the one hundred times Ogawa practised with Mochida Seiji – what he was working on, how the sparring unfolded, what he felt, the advice he was given, etc. It also includes copious amounts of Buddhist terminology as well as discussions on kenjutsu theory and its application to kendo.
Mochida, a graduate of the Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseijo, was a direct student of Naito Takaharu and – like Saimura Goro – followed his sensei’s teachings: large strikes from a far distance and lots of kirikaeshi and kakari/uchikomi geiko. A highly skilled kendoka with a modest character (a rarity then as now!), he was a highly popular and respected teacher.
In 1929, while he was teaching kendo on the Korean Peninsula (in Pyongyang), he won the first of the three Showa Tenran-jiai. After this success, he was recruited by Noma Seiji the following year to teach at his dojo in central Tokyo, Noma dojo. It was there, via the introduction of Saimura Goro, that Ogawa was to meet and start doing kendo with Mochida.
It wasn’t until after the war in 1954, however, that Ogawa started his one hundred keiko project. At the beginning of the process Mochida was 69 years old and Ogawa was 53.
Note also that Ogawa was one of the first soon-to-be future senior kendoka that crossed the lines between the-then two camps: the Butokukai/busen style of Naito Takaharu (as disseminated in Tokyo by Saimura, Oshima, and Mochida), and the Takano Sasaburo style taught at Koshi and his private dojo Shigogakuin and Meishinkan. Noma dojo played a large role in bringing the two camps together.
As noted above, this book of notes is my favourite kendo book. Some of the entries are small, many are long. Not a few use very complicated terminology including deeply difficult Buddhist terms. It is a book that I will pick and re-read multiple times over my life. Today I want to pull out, translate, and share a small handful of interesting passages.
If there was one kendo book that would inspire me to study Japanese if I didn’t already know it, this is it.
(Remember that many of these quotes are passages take from notes and also that he is writing for himself, so the “you” here is directed at Ogawa. Any italicised areas are parts I have added for clarity.)
“From chudan (put your spirit in your toe tips and, of course, your tanden), first move your kensen forward as if thrusting at your opponents face (threatening them). Returning to chudan, move in a few inches quickly with your feet only. This is where victory is found.”
“To keep your kensen alive go around the opponents shinai softly moving your shinai tip in a circular fashion. In other words, pressure their solar plexus (i.e. men), or, after you have wound around their shinai, pressure the pit of their stomach and threaten to thrust.”
“Don’t take your kensen from the centre (between their eyes and stomach). Control of the centre is found in the left fist.”
“They used to say that as long as the strike landed true it didn’t matter if it was light, and one would admit defeat. Whether the strike was good or not good, you have to think for yourself. If you do kendo with a spirit of humility you will improve. This is an ‘unspoken education.'”
“In the end, the essence of kendo is spirit and distance. If you have these then (physical) techniques will natural come to life.”
“You should pressure the opponents weak areas, those they try to defend.”
“It is important to try and do keiko calmly at (or just under) the very limit of your distance. This is one of the jobs of the motodachi (or senior party). You need to work on your footwork and grip to accomplish this.”
“How does good technique appear? Well, through correct training (physical discipline) and also self research. There is no other way.”
“When your partners mind stops on a particular thing (concentrated focus on a single thing), strike. There is no other place to.”(See “The Unfettered Mind” by Takuan Soho)
“If all you do is concentrate on being a motodachi (that is, acting as a senior party in a pair, allowing your partner to strike you) you will end up with bad habits. This is just ‘easy’ keiko.”
“If you take uwadachi (a position where your shinai is above your opponents) and your opponents steps in, tsuki them. If they stop back, strike their men. If they raise their shinai up, strike their kote or dou. If they try to strike you, execute an oji-waza. Study how to react to anything in an instant.”
“Whether facing someone more or less experienced than you, your feeling should be the same. Don’t worry about being struck, instead stick to doing kendo that follows the correct theory, and from a distance of issoku-itto-no-ma. From this distance react to anything that happens based on what your partner does. When facing a junior person don’t face them lightly, instead face them like you would in a real competition.”
“When you are pressuring your opponent with your kensen, first look at how they react to this pressure before simply striking.”
“When your spirit is broken you have lost.”
“Where your right hand is placed lightly on the tsuka, your left hand should hold the shinai with power from your tanden. All the power of your body is focused on your tanden, and you hold the shinai with that. If you are not mentally and physically healthy then your tanden will not be fully replete with energy and your shinai will be dead. In other words, kendo requires a strong tanden, which it turn requires good health.”
“You cannot be victorious by technique alone. Well, maybe you could defeat a less experienced person, but you will be unable to defeat more experienced one.”
“In the end, kendo is about taking the initiative or having the initiative taken from you.”
“Technique is important but technique without theory is bad. You must try to bring both together as one. If you do this your keiko can be called ‘true.'”
“Keiko must benefit both you and your opponent.”
“During seme-ai, if your kensen moves up (i.e. it is broken in reaction to pressure) it is the same as your spirit being upset. If this happens you have already lost.”
“In kendo, fooling your opponent into thinking that they can freely use whatever technique they want before striking back is important. But this is very difficult. Destroy their kamae/spirit and controlling them that way is also good. In the end, both luring your opponent into thinking they have freedom and restricting them through destruction are important.”
“If both kendoka have mastered kendo there is no opening for attack as technical skill is equal. The difference in this situation is found in the spirit.”
“If your spirit stops on something your kensen dies.”
The arch enemy of kendo is the self
Hopefully this short introduction and random collection of translated mini-self-advice will inspire Japanese readers to pick up the book and give it a go. Even if you are not confident in your language ability (parts of the book were and continue to be highly challenging for me…), perhaps it will be interesting enough to motivate you enough to study more.
If you don’t read Japanese, however, don’t worry. Ogawa strongly suggests that, in the end, kendo is a spiritual exercise whose essence can only be found via intense physical activity over a long time span. If that is the case, then perhaps by not filling your head with unneeded thoughts (about kendo), you are actually stand a much better chance of finding enlightenment through kendo than someone like me. kenshi 24/7 is also, by that logic, a distraction…. oops!