Nito-ryu kendo – a brief discussion 二刀流について

A serious discussion of nito-ryu kendo is something I’ve deliberately avoided over the last few years but the passing away of the most famous nito-ryu kenshi in the country in late December, Toda Tadao hanshi, I thought it was time to tackle the subject… at least very briefly as well as share some pictures. For a more detailed discussion on the matter you have to sit down with me in the pub!

First, here is the highly popular picture I uploaded to Facebook in December to pay tribute to Toda sensei. I took this on the 5th May 2009:

Next, I will give a brief overview of the background and culture of nito-ryu kendo from a historical perspective, followed by a my personal comments at the end.


1. Nito-ryu before shinai kendo

There are a number of extant koryu out there whose curriculum includes simultaneous use of two swords. The most obvious is of course Niten-ichi-ryu, the style allegedly created and passed on by Japan’s most dramatised swordsman: Miyamoto Musashi. Other schools that include the use of two swords include Yagyu shinkage-ryu, Shingyoto-ryu, and Katori shinto-ryu. It is important to note that two-sword kata sets, even when they do exist, make up a very small part of a wider series of kata.

2. Nito-ryu in nascent shinai kendo

The prototypes of today’s shinai and bogu were developed and experimented over many years from at least the mid-18th century up until the very early 20th, where the shape was basically completed. The two schools often mentioned at this point in the discussion – Jikishinkage-ryu and Hokushin Itto-ryu – have no nito element in them at all. However, we can surmise that people may have tried to pick up two shinai and spar at some point, it sounds like fun after all!

Gekken Kogyo

3. Gekken kogyo

It is probably the mid-late 19th century, with the introduction of the short-lived and public pay-to-see Gekken-kogyo, where nito first came onto the scene. These shows included a variety of weapon combinations as well as female competitors.

After shinai-kendo was eventually introduced as a physical subject for the new Tokyo Police Force (Keishicho) all the truly skilled exponents found work there and Gekken kogyo, becoming a shadow of what it used to be, eventually faded out.

4. Early standardisation of kendo: Busen and Koshi

The early standardisation of kendo went through two main centres: the Dai Nippon Butokukai (it’s original training facility the Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseijo eventually became the Budo Senmon Gakko, or “Busen”) and Tokyo Koto Shihan Gakko (“Koshi”). The two most influential teachers were Naito Takaharu and Takano Sasaburo. Neither of these sensei practised, taught, nor really even discussed nito-ryu kendo, which of course influenced their senior students and facilities that grew from them.

Muto-ryu kenshi Nishikubo Hiromichi, became the headmaster of Busen in 1919. In budo circles he is often remembered as the man who forced the renaming of “jutsu” to “do” but there was one another strong influence he had on Busen: the hated one-handed shinai waza complaining that such techniques were “unrealistic” and “weak.” This was almost certainly Naito’s option as well (although Naito’s favourite student and Busen teacher Miyazaki Mosaburo was renowned for his super strong katate-men waza). When Naito became sick and passed away Ogawa Kinnosuke (whom Nishikubo was especially fond of) became the head teacher of Busen until the middle of WW2. In this environment it’s easy to see why Busen never produced jodan, never-mind nito practitioners.

Saying that, however, it’s important to note that one of the earliest and most senior Butokukai members, Mihashi Kanichiro, was renowned as a nito-ryu master. A student of Momoi Junzo, he was one of the skilled exponents who was scouted from the Gekken Kogyo for professional kendo teaching at Keishicho. In 1899 he became a Butokukai kendo teacher (the Yoseijo was not yet operation at that time) and was awarded the first ever “hanshi” title in 1903. Another famed nito-ryu exponent, Okumura Torakichi (son of another nito-ryu master Okumura Sakonta), trained under Mihashi from 1900 until his death in 1909. Tarakichi was both the successor to his fathers “Okumara nito-ryu” and Mihashi’s “Musashi-ryu.” Both of these (almost certainly shinai-centric) styles were new inventions based on experience, not something that was passed down from the past.

As far as Koshi is concerned, whereas Takano would force all of the kendo students there to learn jodan as part of the kendo curriculum, nito seemed to be something largely ignored.

* Note: it’s almost certain that kenshi who studied at both Busen and Koshi went on to experiment with nito, but they were not explicitly taught it by the senior teachers there.

5. Nito-ryu kendo appears: mid-Taisho/start of Showa

Competitive kendo was never a “thing” until the 1920s, and even then it was still a rare event. Kendo as a school subject had been an elective for a few years and had just started to gain popularity in universities at this time. Being young, the students also enjoyed the thrill of competition. Older, more seasoned sensei, however, continued to frown upon shiai. Busen, especially, did no shiai training nor actively competed in many shiai until after Naito’s death in 1929 (students would sometimes do shiai practise in secret out of ear-shot of the sensei!). Competition at this time then, was generally started and run by university students and people in those circles. It is here where we first see nito appear.

The vast majority of pre-WWII competition were team events in the “kachinuki” style, a style where, if you win, you continue to fight the next person in the opposing team. A particularity of this type of shiai is that a draw causes both competitors to step out in favour of the next person in their team. It is here that nito-ryu found a use: if the opposing team had a very strong competition you would use a nito-player to force them to a draw (easier to do as it is a more defensive by nature), thus taking that strong kenshi out of play. Reading kendo anecdotes in particular, you can see that this was a fairly common strategy at the time, so much so that, in fact, some university competitions banned the use of nito entirely.

But where did these nito-ryu kenshi come from? Who taught them? I can make a good educated guess for both questions, but first I’d ask that you re-read the article about Fujimoto Kaoru that I published back in 2009 (apologies if it’s not up to current kenshi 24/7 standards!).

Although it’s pretty obvious, my guess is that at this time, similar to Fujimoto above, the vast majority of nito-ryu kenshi came from the young university kendo population (as apposed to professional kenshi) and were (surprise) self-taught. i.e. they were outliers. In professional kendo circles, nito-ryu was basically non-existent.

The success of two nito-ryu kenshi Fujimoto and Kayaba Teruo during the Showa Tenran-jiai (1934 and 1940) suggests that nito-ryu kendo was perhaps more popular than it actually was. Although there is no doubt that Fujimoto’s success in 1934 would have inspired others, by looking at lots of source material from the 30’s it’s easy to show that nito-ryu was – apart from kachinuki shiai for university level shiai – an afterthought. It wasn’t the business of serious kenshi. And anyway, as Japan fell into war in the 30s, kendo itself was forcibly changed to become more “realistic” which, needless to say, didn’t include simultaneous handling of two swords.

* Note: there were other nito-ryu kenshi that took part in the Tenran-jiai as well, these were just the two most successful.

Post-war

Once kendo restarted proper after WWII the newly incorporated All Japan Kendo Association decided to completely ban nito-ryu at school and university level shiai (it was also not part of shinai kyogi either). This ban remained in place until late 1991 and resulted in the almost complete eradication of nito-ryu kendo in Japan. Of course, the odd adult continued to practise during this time and even a tiny handful of high skilled practitioners actually competed in the All Japan Kendo Championships. These people were, as you can imagine, largely self-taught.


The current state of affairs: a mini rennaisance?

Over the past few years I’ve seen nito-ryu kendo explode. The explosion seems to be going on mostly outside of Japan than inside, but there are certainly more nito-ryu people around than when even I first came to Japan. What is behind this explosion?

1. Musashi-kai: for the first time in kendo’s history we have a group that actually practise and – more importantly – teaches nito-ryu in a systematic manner. The group first gained popularity in the early 2000s as a semi-commercial online dojo catering to the needs of scattered individuals in Japan, but has grown into a much larger organisation with a bunch if inter-connected groups and even students abroad.

2. Exposure: in 2007, for the first time in almost 40 years, nito-ryu kenshi Yamana Nobuyuki from Tokushima, took part in the All Japan Kendo Championships. Sticking out a mile, this caused a lot of (positive) debate and discussion about nito-ryu here in Japan. He also plays an important role as a good model for younger/aspiring nito kenshi to look up to which, I believe, is no small thing.

3. University level: the removal of the nito-ban on university level shiai has made it easier for students to take up the style but it seems like, at least initially, few bothered. With the combination of numbers 1 and 2 above though, there seems to be a lot more interest nowadays, and you can routinely see university level nito people competing. Perhaps the top nito-ryu sensei of the future, coached by Musashi-kai sensei, will come out of this generation.

4. The All Japan Kendo Association (ZNKR) textbook: there’s nothing like a textbook to make something official, and that was what the ZNKR did by publishing there own set of standards and rules. Although it doesn’t completely remove the stigma of choosing to do nito-ryu kendo, it does at least give a sheen of acceptability.

5. Interest from non-Japanese kenshi: I’ve left this point until last, but it’s probably one of the most interesting areas of discussion when it comes to nito-ryu kendo. It’s also an area that I’d prefer to tackle more in-depth at a later time… alternatively, you could buy me a beer!

Finally

Please note that this article is not some sort of comprehensive guide, but rather a brief look at nito-ryu, particularly it’s history, and a tiny discussion about the recent popularity of nito-ryu kendo from my perspective. I am not qualified to discuss the technical aspects, but it’s history is actually quite simply explained.

To summarise:

– Apart from a smallish boom amongst university level students in the 20s and 30s, nito-ryu kendo existed (barely) on the very fringes of kendo until very lately. One could argue that it’s still a fringe activity, but theres no denying it’s increased popularity over the last 10 years or so.

– Before the spread of the Musashi-kai group in very recent times, nito-ryu kendo practitioners were few and far between, and almost always self-taught.

And, one last point: at the very top of this article I stated that a “serious discussion of nito-ryu kendo is something I’ve deliberately avoided over the last few years.” The reason for this is not due to lack of interest, but because I suspected I would receive complaints from nito-ryu kendo practitioners who would resist my analysis. The fact of the matter is that, from the historical perspective, things are really quite as straightforward as discussed above.

Personally, I am glad that nito-ryu kendo is becoming more organised, less random than it has been in the past. It adds something interesting to the mix, and I am happy to engage in keiko with my nito-ryu friends whenever I can, because it aids me in my own shugyo.


Random nito-ryu pics

Merry Xmas! メリークリスマス

Mini-update

Back in May I announced that I was having a re-think about what to do with kenshi 24/7 and then in September I posted a notice saying that I was semi-retiring posting content… at least for the “time being.” I tried to start a more casual blog on the side, but things in life (work!) are moving at warp-speed at the moment and my energy soon exhausted itself. Perhaps, if I can get myself organised properly, I’ll try to make another attempt at either a re-boot of the main site or some other side project next year.

Still, despite the hectic work schedule I haven’t stopped doing kendo… just not at the 2〜3 keiko/day rate I have managed over the past decade or so. I continue to post original media and share quality content to the Facebook page, so be sure and like it if you haven’t already.

Lastly, thanks to everyone for your continued support over all these years. Whether you’ve read an article, shared something, or bought a publication, I hope we can have the chance to do kendo sometime in the future. Cheers!


My favourite posts from 2016

Browse through all the 2016 articles here.


Media

Just to prove that I am still active, here are some images/vid that I have taken since September. Enjoy!

Notice

kenshi 24/7 began life as a private kendo-life-in-Japan-blog way back in 2003 before being unleashed to the public in 2008. In the years since then close to 500 posts were published as well as seven publications, three of which are still available on our publication site kendo-book.com. As I write this at the very end of the summer in 2016 I am happy in the knowledge that kenshi 24/7 has achieved far more than I ever planned or imagined, for which I am thankful.

However, it has been very hard and even stressful work at times, and, with increased responsibilities at home, work, and in the dojo, it is with much reluctance that I must be selfish and, for the foreseeable future, hit the brakes.

This doesn’t mean that the website will disappear, nor will I stop blogging. kenshi247.net will stay as it is today, but I don’t plan to write any more long and involved articles… at least for the moment. I have a couple of books in-process (and some other ideas as well), but I can’t see any serious progress being done on those until I retire or win the lottery, whichever comes first.

My plan for now is to treat the current site as an archive, and in the near future begin a smaller, more casual blog with general kendo content. I will also continue to update the Facebook page with interesting links and pictures, and upload the occasional video my YouTube channel.

Thanks for your support over all these years, cheers!!

– George

Shinai placement 竹刀の置き方

The following is a slightly revised and renewed essay from kenshi 24/7’s now unavailable mini-publication “Kenkyu and Kufu” originally published in 2014. Current publications can be viewed at kendo-book.com.

If you watched the final of the All Japan Kendo Championships last November (2013) you might have watched the two finalists put on their bogu and stand up prior to the match. Did you notice that – soon to be 3rd time winner – Uchimura Ryoichi picked up his shinai with his right hand first before switching it to his left as he stood? Years ago I was told that the Tokyo Metropolitan (Keishicho) police kendo squad did this to deliberately differentiate themselves from others, sort of like saying “we are special, better than you.” Of course, this is not the reason at all.

In almost every kendo club you attend, whether that be here in Japan or abroad, everyone places their men and kote on their right hand side when sitting in seiza, and their shinai on the left. The direction the kote point differ depending on the dojo, but in general things are orientated in this manner. There is nothing explicitly said about which way the tsuru on the shinai should be facing, but most people tend to point it down.

As some may have already realised, this is completely different to the way we are taught to handle bokuto (or kata-yo katana) in kata training: in seiza, bokuto are placed on our right hand side with the blade facing inwards. The reason often given for this is that it’s a non-threatening posture and, indeed, seemingly it was common that samurai did this with their weapons when sitting.

If the shinai is meant to represent a conceptual sword, why then do the majority of kendo practitioners sit in the way they do? Why don’t we place the shinai on the right (with the tsuru facing outwards) and our bogu on the left?

I’ve read two anecdotes about how this situation occurred. The first is that the Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei (ZNKR) first made it standard to place the shinai on the left hand side and the bogu on the right after World War 2. It was deemed less difficult for young kids to master, which of course may be true (confusingly, the child-orientated Bokuto Ni Yoru Kihon Keiko-ho that was introduced in the 2000s uses the standard bokuto-on-the-right arrangement). Another story is that it became an issue during the 3rd World Kendo Championships. When the Japanese team lined up 2 members were from Keishicho, the other 3 were teachers. Naturally the 2 Keishicho kenshi placed their shinai on the right whereas the teachers placed it on their left. “Shouldn’t we all be doing it the same way?” one Japanese competitor asked the manager. “Well, just for now place the shinai on your left.” After the competition was over the issue was raised back home and the ZNKR sensei took a vote. It was decided – by a margin of a single vote – that the shinai should be placed on the left.

I’m not sure of the extent of the truth behind either anecdote, but the fact of the matter is that we seem to have different reigi depending if you are holding a shinai or a bokuto. I think it would not only be less confusing (for all involved) but also in line with the shinai-as-a-sword concept if we handled our shinai as we do our bokuto, assuming of course that this concept is indeed important.

Shiga Butokuden 滋賀県支部武徳殿

This time last summer I gathered a group of friends together for an Eikenkai session at the beautiful Nara Butokuden. A lovely little dojo with over 100 years of history, I was delighted to be able to do kendo in such a place. I felt even more happy in the knowledge that the dojo was being safely being kept for posterity and was looking forward to doing keiko there again someday. That was, until a friend told me recently that – despite it holding a special cultural status due to its architectural worth – it was going to be knocked down. The reason: it’s too expensive to earthquake-proof it to modern standards (translation: “It doesn’t make us money”). This is also the excuse given in regards to another Butokuden in the Kansai region, the Shiga Butokuden.

Built in 1937, the Shiga Butokuden was closed sometime between December 2008 and January 2009 for the exact same reasons mentioned above: worries about its ability to stand up to a large earthquake. It has been dormant since then and now the word is that the decision has been made to dismantle it, again, because the cost to bring it up to modern safety standards is too restrictive. The pessimist in me wonders whether the fact that the building is located in a large piece of prime real estate directly opposite the Shiga prefectural government building has something to do with it.

Note that it has been hard to find out accurate information about the building as well as find pictures of keiko, so if you have any information or any pictures you are willing to share, please get in touch. Cheers!


Background

The original 1901 dojo
The original 1901 dojo

The Dai-Nippon Butokukai was founded in 1895 and the original Butokuden was completed in Kyoto in 1899. Shiga prefectures Butokukai membership rose quickly, so in 1901 a request was made to build a branch dojo. The branch dojo was completed in October of that year and is pictured above. However, due to the increasing popularity of kendo over the following decades, the dojo was deemed to be too small, and plans were made to collect money and construct a more fitting building. A new, two storied building, much larger and more impressive than the original, was built in 1937, and it become the official Shiga prefecture branch Butokuden. It is this building that I visited for this article.

Makoto Seiichiro
Shimizu Seiichiro

As a side note, my research into who were the teachers at the dojo during it’s early years are still ongoing, but I did discover that Busen graduate Shimizu Seiichiro was awarded the head teaching position in 1929. All I know about him is that he went to Busen in 1915, became a school kendo teacher in 1923, and was awarded kyoshi in 1932. Who were the teachers before him and whether he taught in the new, larger building featured in this article is still a mystery.


The new building
The original design
The original design

Rare for this type of building, it was constructed mainly in concrete and steel, with the more traditional wood being used only in parts. Despite using more Western design elements, it still looks Japanese in construction. It is also two-storied: 1st floor, changing rooms, reception area, office; 2nd floor, dojo space (usually split between kendo and a tatami-area for judo).

Directly after the war budo was banned by the occupying American forces so the building was renamed a “culture centre” and used for non-budo purposes. It didn’t take long for it to revert to it’s original purpose: it was used for judo as early as 1946, and by 1953 Shiga police department was practising kendo there. Three years later in 1956 the entire building was taken over for use by the police and again renamed, this time as a “physical eduction and cultural centre.” In 1964 money was collected to re-contruct the original kyudo-jo as well, though were it was originally located and where it went in the meantime is a mystery.

At some point over the years (in the 1960s I think), although still the property of the police department, the building was opened for use to the general public, with a local kendo club using it regularly. Various shiai (kendo, judo, karate, etc.) were held there over the years as well.


Goodbye?

At least I got to touch it!
At least I got to touch it!

I have no idea what the schedule is for demolition, or whether there will be some last ditch effort to save it (looking at the state it is in at the moment I reckon there has been no serious effort made), but I hope that something can be done somehow. It would be such a waste to see yet another Butokuden disappear.

BTW, as I mentioned at the end of the introduction, I don’t really have many concrete details. I intend to do some more research and update this post with any more information as I get it. I am also planning to ask for permission to go inside and take photographs. I’ll let you know of any updates if/when I post them.



Gallery

I couldn’t get inside the grounds or the building itself as it was fenced off and locked… actually, I probably could’ve easily climbed over the fence and roamed around inside the grounds, and perhaps even managed to get into the dojo itself, but it was broad daylight and I value my job! Anyway, here are some pictures I took from my visit for you to check out. The last three pictures are not mine, one shows a small ariel picture from 1963, and the other two are from an online pamphlet about the building. Enjoy.


Video

I took some rough video of the outside with my iPhone and uploaded to YouTube:

Here is some footage (not by me) from 2011 showing the inside and the floor: