The strongest kenshi in the 20th century: Miyazaki Mosaburo
When Miyazaki Mosaburo, then 35 years old, walked in to the Butokuden as a newly minted kendo instructor at the end of the summer of 1927, the young busen students weren’t aware of who he was. Well, perhaps they heard rumours, but they certainly weren’t ready for what was about to happen.
At almost 180cm, he was a good deal taller than everyone else there. His 94 kgs would’ve been equally as impressive to the lean kendoka that huddled together earlier that day and conspired together to knock him off his perch. Unlike nowadays, it was normal (even expected) for students to go full out and attempt to physically overpower those senior to them, to test them as it were. It was never going to work out how they planned…
In 1909, the young 17 year old Miyazaki became a live-in student of the Butokukai’s head kendo instructor Naito Takaharu. He came to Kyoto to enter the Koshuka of the Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseijo – martial art teachers development school – but why Naito chose him is unknown. Perhaps it was the potential that lay within his physical stature, or perhaps it was the young mans taciturn nature (which he would keep for his entire live), who knows. At any rate, young Miyazaki lived with Naito and his wife for a number of years (exactly how many years we are not sure, at least three, potentially more).
We know how he spent his time there for the first three years because he kept a diary detailing his habits as well as his (and Naito’s) comings and goings (only three years worth have been found). As a a historical document it is invaluable.
During that time he cleaned Naito’s house, looked after his wife when she was ill, prepared breakfast, attended Kusonoki sensei’s lectures at Nanzenji (often along with Saimura Goro – an article for the future), as well as attend keiko at the Butokuden. His proximity to Naito sensei is unrivalled (except perhaps with Shinohe Taisuke), and he was almost certainly extended certain privileges in later life because of it.
Despite not being as well known as some of Naito’s other early students (Saimura, Mochida, Nakano, Ogawa, Oshima, Shimatani), it is almost certain that he was his favourite. Naito ensured that Miyazaki stayed in in a junior instructor position when he graduated, found him a good job in Mie prefecture, and called him back to Kyoto when a Busen teaching position became available. Which is where our story started.
The number of student positions available each year at the full time Busen course was extremely limited (by this time the Yoseijo had evolved in to Busen proper). Those that managed to enrol had to be not only physically able, have prior experience, and pass a difficult entrance exam, they also needed some sort of recommendation letter as well (from someone of standing or a prior graduate). Most kendo students who went through Busen did so in the Koshuka or speciality (kendo or judo) only course. Students there did not attend academic lectures and their keiko was set at a different time (though the teachers were the same, and many full time students joined it as well). Many had other jobs and most stayed only for a short duration. In later years (1920s) students on the full time course would be awarded government approved teaching certificates (allowing them to find work easily). At any rate, there were two tiers of students, with full time students being the cream of the crop.
The students that Miyazaki faced in the summer of 1927 were those from the full-time course. When he himself went through Busen almost 20 years earlier (its forerunner, the Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseijo) as a Koshuka, the difference between the full and part-time students was minimal. Now, however, the full time students had an air of superiority about them.
The students plan was simple: tire the old man out and beat him up.
The first student that was sent up was a senior, fourth year student. His job was to non-stop attack the new teacher and exhaust him, allowing the other students to beat him down. The plan didn’t work. The opening kirikaeshi was intense. By the time it had finished his fighting spirit had dwindled. When jigeiko started he tried to strike kote-men and was sent flying on his back. Striking his head on the Butokuden floor, he was concussed.
The second student attempted to taiatari Miyazaki to exhaust him but, Miyazaki just taiatari-ed back. When the student attempted to body check him again, Miyazaki tsuki-ed him as he came in, sending him flying on to the upraised floor portion of the Butokuden.
The third student was the strongest in his class. Every technique he tried failed. If he tried to attack kote Miyazaki would evade it and strike men. If he tried men Miyazaki would move to the right evading the strike and then then smash in a right-handed katate-strike. The student tried everything he could but to no avail. After being treated like a nothing, he eventually just threw down his shinai and gave up.
The fourth student was a bit more careful and changed tactic. He waited for a chance to cut dou and went in, but it didn’t work. They ended up in tsubazeriai and he thought “I will leg sweep him.” It was the student that fell over. Miyazaki jumped on his back, ripped his men off, rolled up students tenugui and stuffed it in his mouth. Rather than looking tired, Miyazaki’s eyes were blazing.
The fifth student didn’t want to be treated like the first four so attempted to change his tactic as well. Realising that Miyazaki was always on the attack he tried to evade strikes and thrusts as they came. Soon the pair had moved back in to the waiting line of students. Of course, Miyazaki realised what he was doing and decided to show an opening for dou. The student thinking he was lucky took the opportunity and stepped in. At that instant Miyazaki put both arms around the students neck and, picking him up and whipping him round, tossed him in the air.
As everyone stood around in amazement Miyazaki shouted: “Next!”
Almost completely unknown in normal Japanese kendo circles today, Miyazaki Mosaburo was a legend in his own time. His straightforward nature and his powerful kendo made him a highly respected kenshi. It is probably only because he never never talked much, avoided the the limelight, and never wrote anything that his legacy is as it is. However I suspect he wouldn’t actually care.
btw. Looking his picture many people think he is non-Japanese. In fact, he continually faced questions about his race throughout his life. I wonder how much this constant questioning shaped him…
1892 - Born in Mie prefecture 1901 - Began studying kendo under Watanabe (Hokushin Itto-ryu) 1908 - Enrolled as Koshusei a (part-time, kendo only) student at the Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseijo 1909 - Became a live in student of Naito Takaharu and started to study (philosophy, history, calligraphy, etc.) under Kusonoki at Nanzenji 1912 - Graduated from the Koshuka course (sei = student; ka = dept.). 1912-19 - Worked as an kendo teacher at Busen (teaching aid -> assistant instructor). 1915 - Awarded seirensho. Married his kendo friend Shinohe Taisuke’s sister. 1919/20- Moved back to Mie prefecture and took up various kendo teaching posts: Butokukai branch dojo, normal higher school, prefectural police HQ, etc. 1923 - Awarded kyoshi 1924 - Wife passed away (left with three daughters; marries his wife's sister the next year, who he goes on to have three boys and two daughters with) 1927 - Called back to Kyoto by Naito and became a Busen instructor. Became budo instructor at Kyoto prefecture shortly after. 1929 - His teacher, Naito Takaharu sensei passed away. Became kendo teacher at Osaka University as well an Nankai Electric Railway. 1929 + 1934 - Took part in the kendo professionals section of the Tenran-jiai 1939 - Awarded hanshi 1940 - Took part in a special shiai section of the Tenran-jiai vs Jukenjutsu expert Major-General Ito Seiji (video grab at the top of this article) 1945 onwards - At the end of the war he lost all his positions (he only ever had a kendo teaching certificate) and lived in poverty. He would slowly be helped by his students and eventually started to teach kendo in various places (Kyoto kendo association, Kyoto police, Osaka university, Hyogo kendo association, Nankai railways, ZNKR). 1957 - Awarded kyudan by the ZNKR (in the first group of five) 1967 - Awarded the Order of the Rising Sun (5th class) 1972 - Passed away in Kyoto. Remains rest at Chotokuji.