In August of 2015, my fiends and I got together and held one of my Eikenkai sessions at Nara Butokuden. After the main HQ Butokuden was built in Kyoto in 1899, the next to be constructed was this Nara one in 1903. Little did we know, however, that when we visited it in 2015 there was already plans to knock it down: this historical and beautiful dojo is scheduled to be demolished this very summer. The reason? Cost. It costs too much money to maintain and keep it up to anti-earthquake standards of the modern age. Such is the money-centric world we live in today.
Last weekend I took some time out of my super busy schedule to visit a kendo friend in Iwate prefecture, in the north of Japan’s main island. I’d been promising to go for years, but with this and that, I’d never managed to quite find the time and make good my promise. Realising I’d probably never have a weekend when I wasn’t busy, I just picked a weekend that was good for my friend, booked my flight and hotel, and went. And I’m glad I did! In theory the weekend was mainly about hanging-out, but I ended up doing three keiko sessions over two days, and got in some good research about kendo-related places as well. There was also plenty of dai-ni-dojo time!
What follows is a brief rundown of kendo-related experiences that weekend. If you are interested in doing kendo in Iwate, please keep reading to the bottom. Cheers!
Whew, another Kyoto Taikai done!
Again this year, I’ve tried to add some bonus historical information/insights to my usual Kyoto Taikai rundown, so I hope you enjoy this part as well as the photography.
A couple of years ago when I was visiting Tokyo for some kendo, I stumbled upon a chunky kendo book from 1935 in a second hand bookstore. What immediately caught my attention was name of one of the most fearsome kenshi of the 20th century on the cover: Takano Shigeyoshi (adopted son of Sasaburo). Another name on the cover suggested it was co-written, but that person I had never head of: Tanida Saichi. Of course, I immediately bought the book, took it back to my hotel room, and had a closer inspection. It was at this point I noticed that Tanida was the principal author whereas Takano served as a proofreader/mentor for the project.
I couldn’t uncover any information about Tanida at all other than what was written in the introduction (where it mentions Takano was his sensei and that he has studied kendo for over 20 years) which is very frustrating! At a best guess – based on the content of the book – I’d say that he was some sort of professional school kendo teacher. The fact that Takano was his sensei suggests that he was either a student of Takano at the Urawa Meishinkan between 1900-14 or in Manchuria sometime after 1914. Perhaps it was a bit of both.
Anyway, an extremely detailed book, it goes into a lot more detail and covers a much larger scope than any other kendo book I have seen, pre or post war. To give you a clue as to just how comprehensive it is, here are the chapter titles:
1. The nation and athletics
2. The social position of Budo
3. The development of kendo
4. The significance of kendo
5. The purpose of kendo
6. Kendo and discipling the body
7. Kendo and discipling the spirit
8. Kendo and technical skill
9. Where does the essence of kendo lie?
10. Kendo and calligraphy
11. Kendo and character
12. Kendo is dignity
13. Kendo and the military
14. Kendo and bushido
15. The holes in modern kendo
16. The steps in kendo
17. Things to prepare about in your kendo shugyo
18. The process to walk the path of kendo
19. What we can apply from the life of self-improvement led by Confucius to our kendo shugo
21. Things we should be careful about during practise
22. Kendo bogu and uniform
23. Basic movements
25. Basic striking
26. Other ways to strike
27. Things to be careful about when striking
28. Basic drills
29. How to move the sword
30. Special training
31. Musha shugyo
32. Attacking strategies
33. Defending strategies
35. Types of keiko
37. Dealing with jodan, nito, naginata, or other types of weapons
38. Men techniques
39. Kote techniques
40. Dou techniques
41. Tsuki techniques
42. Kendo in school
43. Discussion on teaching kendo
44. Discussion on how to help others improve
45. Discussion about competitors
46. Kendo teaching material
47. The steps in designing kendo teaching material
48. The conventions for teaching material
49. Things you should be careful about as a kendo teacher
50. Grading kendo
51. Dai nippon teikoku kendo kata
54. Types of shiai
55. The style of “Kokutai yusho taikai”
56. Kendokai (keikokai)
57. Kendo seminars
58. Size/weight of shinai
59. How to improve technical skill
60. How to forge the spirit
61. Taking stock
62. Kendo and women
64. Eishin-ryu iai
65. Shizuka-ryu naginata
66. Setsunin-to, katsujin-ken
68. Things you should know about the katana
Whew!! I don’t think I translated the chapter titles 100% accurately, but I think you get the gist: the book is super comprehensive. In fact, I think I’ll have to wait for retirement before I’ll ever find the time to sit down and read it from start to finish.
I contemplated translating a small part of this book today, but I think I’ll leave that for another time. Instead, please enjoy some pictures/illustrations from the inside of the book itself.
btw, when doing some online research about the book I discovered that it was re-issued in modern format a few years ago. I haven’t seen the new version, but if you are interested you can pick it up here at amazon.jp.
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!
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.
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!
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.
– 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