Monna Tadashi 門奈正

(the picture above shows (l-r): Monna Tadashi, Sasaki Masanori, Naito Takaharu)

Along with his friend and fellow Tobukan/Hokushin Itto-ryu kenshi Naito Takaharu, Monna Tadashi (1855-1930) was one of the most influential swordsmen in modern kendo’s early period. At Busen they were known as the pair: “Waza Monna” and “Ki Takaharu.”

The Monna family were hereditary retainers of Mito-han and Tadashi was his parents 4th child (out of 8). The period was a tumultuous one, and his family didn’t escape involvement in political matters: his father became involved in intrigue and eventually died during political imprisonment. Due to this the eldest brother committed seppuku and the other brothers yet to reach manhood (including Tadashi) were confined to house arrest.

Tadashi was under house arrest from 10-15 years of age. After his release, Tadashi studied Suifu-ryu kenjutsu, attaining Menkyo-kaiden in the art before joining Tobukan in around 1881. There he studied Hokushin Itto-ryu and Shin-Tamiya ryu battojutsu as well as shinai kendo under Ozawa Torakichi. At Tobukan he also received instruction under Shimoe Hidetaro (a student of Chiba Shusaku) and in 1888, due to the influence of Ozawa and Shimoe, Tadashi went to Tokyo and began teaching kendo at Keishicho (eventually with Naito).

In 1894 he was sent with the other kendo teachers from Keishicho to take part in the First Sino-Japanese war (they were sent to the Korean peninsula). During a particular battle in Pyongyang, he is said to have spearheaded an attack and killed 28 Chinese soldiers (with a sword presumably).

In 1899 (while Naito joined the Dai-Nippon-Butokukai) Tadashi moved to the Kanagawa police department and worked hard to establish the Dai-Nippon Butokukai Kanagawa branch. He was awarded Seirensho the same year.

In 1907 he joined Naito at Busen and became a kendo instructor here.

1911/1912 he was involved in the committee for development of kendo-no-kata.

In 1913, at the same time as Naito Takaharu and Takano Sasaburo, he was awarded hanshi.

Scandal ?

In 1919 Tadashi was dismissed from Busen and moved to the Butokukai’s branch school in Nagoya – seemingly for having a relationship with a Geisha from Gion 37 years his junior. In Nagoya he continued to teach kendo but led a secluded life with his paramour until his death.

He is buried in Nanzen-ji temple in Kyoto.

Back line (l-r): Takano, Naito, Monna


This article is basically a quick translation of some secondary material simple to introduce someone whose picture many kendo people have seen and hopefully to spur some interest in the people that helped develop modern kendo.

明治撃剣家 春風館立ち切り誓願。堂本昭彦。

Kendo 1925 – in pictures

I spent a lot of time reading about kendo and of course, preparing scripts and pictures for my own kendo projects and of course this website. By far the most fascinating thing for me is to get my hands on older kendo manuals, the well-worn the better. I especially enjoy looking through those books that include pictures.

The pictures below are all from a kendo manual entitled ‘Practical kendo for students’, which was published in Taisho 14 (1925). It was written by Tominaga Kengo and includes an introduction by his sensei, Takano Sasaburo. The book is full of interesting kendo pictures, a few of which I plucked out and have uploaded here as I imagine that many readers will enjoy them as well.

In particular, I like pictures that show changes in the shape compared to the kendo we do nowadays, including waza that have fallen or are falling out of use.

At any rate, enjoy! I hope to introduce more pictures at a later date.

As an added bonus here are some pics from an article series I published 4 years ago. This book was published in 1927.



Budo in schools in the early Meiji period – pros and cons

About two weeks back I was looking through a friends small book collection and noticed a budo book in English that I hadn’t heard nor see of before: “Jigoro Kano and the Kodokan – An innovative response to modernisation” (produced by the Kodokan and translated by Alex Bennet). Not being a judo/jujutsu person, I must confess to not knowing too much of the early history of judo. I have, however, always been aware that Kano’s influence was very wide, and that his personal philosophy (of budo et al) impacted many a kendoka back in the day (not in the least, Takano Sasaburo). So I borrowed the book from my friend and had a good read.

Obviously the book is judo-centric, with not much explicitly said about kendo, but for people interested in the era (also a new one for kendo), it makes for a informative read. One thing that did catch my eye – something that directly involved kendo – was the very early lobbying to include more Japanese arts into the physical education system, i.e. kendo and judo specifically.


– in 1889 a government backed physical education institute was charged with researching into the pros and cons of teaching kenjutsu and jujutsu (i.e. the modern kendo and judo) in schools.

– the kenjutsu schools that were examined were Shinkage-ryu, Tenshinden Muteki-ryu, Hokushin Itto-ryu, and Tamiya-ryu.

– The results of the research were sent to the Ministry of Education in 1894.

Results of the 1894 investigation

The merits of the study of martial arts was cited as follows:

1. Contributes to children’s growth.
2. Enhances physical endurance.
3. Augments enthusiasm and mental health.
4. Encourages valour and expunge cowardly behaviour.
5. Provides a basis for self-defence in the case of unexpected danger.

But they concluded that the demerits outweighed the positive aspects:

1. It might adversely affect the body during the child’s growth period.
2. Injuries may occur during training.
3. It is difficult to determine the appropriate level of training for children of different physical strength.
4. Children may become easily excited and develop violent tendencies.
5. Students may become overly competitive and persist in their efforts to win at all costs.
6. Children with an overly competitive spirit may become involved in improper competitions and fights.
7. It would be difficult for one teacher to supervise a large number of students at once.
8. Ample space is required.
9. Jujutsu practise only requires training clothes, but kenjutsu needs more equipment, which is expensive and difficult to keep hygienic.

(excerpt from ‘Jigoro Kano and the Kodokan’)

The cons outweighed the pros and so neither kenjutsu nor jujutsu were introduced into the mandatory school curriculum. However, many schools started their own independent kendo and judo clubs anyway, and eventually both were accepted into the official school curriculum in 1911 (resulting in the need for a standardised kendo kata to be created).

Reading it now – almost 120 years later – it struck me that many of the merits and demerits of budo (kendo) practise remain the same. Demerit number 5 in particular is something that is continually echoed in kendo circles, specifically about high school and university kendo. It may be possible to add that not a few adult kendo clubs outside of Japan seem to practise for the sake of competition as well.

One of the major differences between the evolution of kendo and judo over the past 120 years is the fact that Kano pushed the internationalisation of judo from the very start. Judo practitioners were soon found abroad in droves, whereas kendo tended to be restricted to Japanese people who emigrated and their descendants. This is probably one of the greatest factors in the speed of change in the judo community over the time we are talking about. Due to kendo remaining Japan(ese)-centric, I’d posit, it has managed to keep its roots better, and hasn’t descended into a purely sportive activity… yet. I hope that non-Japanese kendoka continue to look to the roots of kendo and resist the urge to do kendo as purely a point-getting activity (judo seems to have lost both to a certain degree).

For people who are who find this topic interesting, I’d suggest having a read of the book quoted above to discover Kano’s original philosophy and, considering this, have another look at how judo is currently practised and portrayed. After this its time to reflect on kendo.


Jigoro Kano and the Kodokan: an innovative response to modernisation. Kodokan Judo Institute. March 2009.

Gekken Kogyo 撃剣興行

Sometime in the very early 1990s, Britain’s Channel 4 TV station started broadcasting Sumo on terrestrial TV. I don’t know why they took the chance of broadcasting such an exotic sport, nor did I care – it was on, it was Japanese, I must watch it.

I not only watched it, but I studied it: every Japanese sounding word I heard I wrote down on a piece of paper as well as the English translation. At that time I thought “Chiyonofuji” was Japanese for wolf, “Terao” = typhoon, and “Mitoizumi” = salt shaker… all pretty embarrassing mistakes to admit nowadays considering!

At this time, I hadn’t yet began kendo, I had played around with aikido and judo and thought that karate (what I currently practised) was the epitome of Japanese budo.

Fast-forward 20+ years on and now I live in central Osaka, under 10 minutes walk from the Prefectural Gymnasium where the spring Sumo tournament (basho) is held every March. Not only that, but one of my dojo (Yoseikai) is in the basement of the same building.

Of course, I’ve been to see the spring basho a few times, and have marvelled at the size of the rikishi (they are massive… much bigger than on a tv screen) as well as the spectacle of the event as well.

As you can see, I’ve had an interest in Sumo for a long time. Coming to Japan, learning the language, and studying more about the lifestyle of individual rikishi has engendered an even greater respect in me for them. Of course, Sumo has been marred in recent times by match fixing scandals and (to a lesser extent) bullying… but in all honestly, neither has dampened my enthusiasm much.

So, its of no wonder that I am intrigued by the fact that there was a point in time where kendo nearly took the same route as modern Sumo… that is, there was a possibility that kendo may have ended up as a professional sport with payed/salaried athletes. This possibility was perhaps slight (and since it never happened, academic), but it existed nevertheless.

When the Tokugawa-Bakufu was dismantled in 1867/68 budo education was thrown into turmoil: gone were the domain schools as well as the short-lived Kobusho, and with that budo instructors suddenly lost their profession. Many (now ex-) samurai were suddenly jobless and facing destitution. One person that stepped up to help these people was the ex-samurai, Kobusho kenjutsu instructor, and Jikishinkage-ryu kenshi Sakakibara Kenkichi. He instituted what was called “Gekken-kogyo” – the highly popular public budo shows. “Gekken” (alternatively “Gekiken”) refers to the nascent form of what we now call kendo (“kenjutsu” was another common term for sparring in bogu with shinai). Although mainly sword-based shows, bouts with other weapons also occurred, and women and even foreigners are also recorded to have taken part.

Sakakibara used the already established Sumo-kogyo (now called O-Zumo) as the basis for this new sword-based show as we can see by the use of banzuke, dohyo, yobidashi, gyoji, shinpan, colourful clothes, and so on, as well as splitting the competitors into East and West camps. A comparison between the wood block prints of Sumo and Kendo at the time reveals an amazing similarity.

These shows gathered ex-budo instructors up and they took part in bouts in front of a paying audience. The swordsmen themselves were ranked and payed. I'm not sure if their rank and compensation was based on their performance, but it wouldn't be hard to imagine that even if they hadn’t at this time, that it soon would evolve in that manner.

The shows almost instantly became popular and more sprung up in different parts of the country, mostly connected with Sakakibara and his jikishinkage-ryu students, but some not. Due to its popularity, a larger, specialised arena was built in Asakusa to deal with bigger events.

At this point you can imagine it wouldn’t have been a large step for Gekken to have become more formalised and professional, especially since it was following an already tried-and-tested model (Sumo-kogyo), but it didn’t.

There was a couple of problems that followed the success of the shows:

  1. There was a sudden flood of competitors, most of whom were unskilled. This led to messy/scrappy fights where it became difficult to choose a winner;

  2. The new Meiji government was sensitive to groups of people gathering and discussing political matters under cover of the shows (the same had happened in dojo in Edo during the Bakamatsu period).

Due to number 2 above, Gekken Kogyo eventually were banned and – even when the ban was lifted – its popularity never returned. The main reason for this is almost certainly that skilled competitors ended up being hired as policemen in the newly created Keishicho (Gekken became mandatory in part due to the arguments put forth by Kawaji Toshiyoshi in the Gekken Saikoron). At the end of the day, as you can see, Sakakibara’s wish of helping destitute budo teachers was in fact realised. This system continues in a modified form to this day.

Although it never happened, the professionalism of kendo into something akin to Sumo is an intriguing thought. Had it been realised, what would the kendo community and organisations look like today? Physically, would it be more or less athletic? Would it even have spread outside of Japan? Would you or I even be practising it?

Next time you are watching a sumo bout (or even better, when you go to see one), its worth thinking over.


Please check out the small gallery of pictures below, showing Ukiyo-e prints of both Gekken and Sumo, as well as Banzuke from both. For more information about the first picture in the gallery please read this article. 

Looking back

Happy 2013! For the first post of the new year I spent some time looking back af old kendo pictures, some from books, others that I picked up randomly on the web. I really enjoy looking at these old pics so I’d like to present a handful of them here (the earliest picture is from 1906). Its good to see and reflect on what changes there has been to kendo over the past century or so, as well as whats stayed more-or-less the same.

If kenshi247 readers have any high quality kendo pics from before WWII and are willing to share, please get in touch!