Naito Takaharu 内藤高治

Naito Takaharu (1862-1929) was one of the most influential kenshi to pick up a shinai. Born as as Ichige Takaharu in Mito in 1862, his Samurai parents were of budo stock: his father an archery instructor for the domain and his mother the daugher of the Hokushin Itto-ryu shihan Watanabe.

At the age of 7 he began the tradition study of Japanese as well as kenjutsu and swimming. At the age of 12 – in 1874, just 3 years after the end of the more traditional domain system – Takaharu joined what was to become one of the most renowned dojo in Japan: the newly constructed Mito Tobukan. There he learned shinai kendo and Hokushin Itto-ryu kenjutsu. Tobukan had been built by the head kenjutsu instructor of Kodokan (the domain school) Kozawa Torakichi (a student of Chiba Shusaku). It was here that he met what would be a long-term acquaintance, Monna Tadashi.

When he was 20, he was adopted by a relative (a common practise at the time) and became ‘Naito’ Takaharu.

In 1883, at the age of 20/21, Naito went to Tokyo and studied under the Jikishinkage-ryu swordsman and Kobusho instructor Sakakibara Kenkichi, the progenitor of pay-to-watch kenjutsu shows, Gekken Kogyo. These shows were started as a means for out-of-work budo exponents to make a living in a society that was hurtling towards modernaisation (Western style) at full pace.

After a year with Sakakibara, Naito went on a Musha-shugyo around the country. Upon his return he was said to have faced the strong Keishicho kenshi Takano Sasaburo (Ono-ha itto-ryu) and Kawasaki Zenzaburo (Kyoshinmeichi-ryu/Itto-ryu), defeating both.

In 1888, at age 26, he then joined Keishicho as a policeman (Monna Tadashi then joined him). 6 years later he was sent (with Monna) to Korea to take part in the Sino-Japanese war (as kendo instructors).

1897 was a busy year for Naito:

1. he was awarded Seirensho in 1897 by the newly formed Butokukai;
2. He opened a dojo called Yoshinkan;
3. He became the shihan of Tokyo Senmon Gakko (later to become Waseda university).

(he was still working at Keishicho at this time)

On the completion of the Kyoto Butokuden in 1899 (then inside the grounds of Heian Jingu) he was asked to become one of five kendo teachers there (Budo Senmon Daigaku – Busen). It was here, as the head instructor, that he taught the countries future kendo specialists, including all five future 10 dans.

At the 1901 Kyoto Taikai he had a rematch with Takano Sasaburo. The result was a hikiwake (1-1) and the shinpan Mihashi Kanichiro (in the first group of both Butokukai seirensho and hanshi awards) said : “From the start to the finish, I’ve never seen a higher quality shiai than this.”

In 1911, he was on the executive committee for the creation of the Dai-nippon Teikoku kendo no kata (the future kendo-no-kata). Long-time friend Monna Tadashi (by then teaching at Busen as well) and rival Takano Sasaburo were also members.

Naito was said to be against the change of kendo into a sportive form and his teaching reflected this: a strict diet of kirikaeshi and kakarigeiko. He was also against holding Tenran shiai, but was ordered to comply by the imperial household.

He died suddenly in 1929 due to a cerebral haemorrhage.


This article is mostly a quick translation from the Japanese wikipedia article. I will append more pictures and information at a later date.

The Argument for the Revival of Gekken

Gekken Saikoron – The Argument for the Revival of Gekken

Editors note:

The Jikishinkage-ryu swordsman Kawaji Toshiyoshi (1834-79) was a Satsuma-han samurai who lived during one of Japans most tumultuous periods. A military man, he took part in many of the battles that happened over the country as it reacted to western encroachment and fell in and out of civil war. He rose in military rank to Major-General and was sent to Europe to study the workings of various police forces (for a year between 1872-3). On his return he designed the first Japanese police system (based on a French model) and was appointed the 1st Superintendent-General of the fledgling keishicho (Tokyo Metropolitan Police) in 1874.

In 1877 he created a special ‘Close Combat Force’ from members of keishicho (named Battotai) and dispatched them to fight against Saigo Takamori in the Satsuma rebellion. The result of their combat experiences led Kawaji to re-consider the need for kenjutsu training for policemen and in 1879 he published his thoughts for its re-establishment. Two years later kenjutsu instructors were employed by keishicho for the first time. This event is one of the most important in the history of kendo.

Kawaji’s short essay on the need for kenjutsu training is presented here.

The following translation is the work of George McCall with heavy input by Richard Stonell. Its the first time it has been fully presented in English afaik. For Japanese readers the original is at the end. Enjoy!

– George

Gekken Saikoron

1. Although the katana has been almost unused since the Meiji restoration, there is a general effectiveness that is expressed by close combat with Japanese swords. It is my humble desire to see this discipline restored and become popular. Even in enlightened nations, swordsmanship has to this day been practised devotedly. If our country now discards gekken, it will surely be impossible to resurrect. At such a time, will we just throw away this precious jewel and exchange it for a lump of broken pottery? No effort must be spared to prevent this from happening.

2. Those who would discard gekken think that people with the temperament to cultivate great skill in swordsmanship should stop clinging to useless skills and obstructing progress, and turn that same temperament towards scholarly pursuits and contribute to the enlightenment of society.

3. This is absolutely incorrect. There is a rich variety in human nature and people have different skills or leanings. For example, there is the literary type, or the martial type. There are those who have a taste for both. You absolutely cannot teach a purely academic person the military arts, nor make a pure fighter study literature. Likewise, when someone has a knack for both, they must pursue both together. Surely forcing people against their nature in this way is what will obstruct progress!

4. Gekken is beneficial to health.

5. Gekken cultivates bravery.

6. Even if you carry a stick for protection, without the skill to use it against an opponent you will not be able to defend yourself.

7. When action is needed to suppress violent gangs, a man who has not disciplined and prepared himself in the martial arts will be incapable of volunteering to take on these gangs in combat. Under the former Shogunate, law enforcers who failed to arrest vicious criminals were invariably lacking this kind of training.

8. Police officers who are commonly involved in strenuous, dynamic work at crime scenes need to be always disciplining their bodies through hard training, just like a swordsman.

9. Gekken (i.e. European fencing) is actively practised in Western countries. Our nation is somehow on the verge of discarding one of its esteemed arts. We should not let things reach the point where we have to learn gekken from foreigners. It would be like replacing a golden piece of treasure with a lump of broken pottery.

– Kawaji Toshiyoshi











川路 利良



kendo places #12: Ganryu-jima

400 years ago today, on April the 13th 1612, the most famous duel in the history of Japanese swordsmanship took place between Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro*. Its so well-known that there is no point in adding any information here, as every single kendo, iaido, or probably practitioner of any Japanese budo knows the story! If you need a recap click here.

The duel took place on a very small deserted island in between Shimonoseki in Yamaguchi prefecture, and Kyushu called Funashima, later renamed to ‘Ganryu-jima’ allegedly in honour of the slain Sasaki Kojiro (his sword style was called ‘gan-ryu’).

*Allegedly. This is the current ‘official’ date but – as with almost every aspect of Musashi’s life – there are many theories. Discrepancies range as much as 10 years.

What is there to see?

Well, not much! There is a statue of the swordsmen fighting, and a couple of plinths in the area. There is also a man-made beach with a boat placed strategically on it, as if Musashi himself had just jumped out of it waiving a newly carved oar/bokuto.

Why go?

The value of going there is not to see the tourist-aimed statues, or to buy the trinkets on sale, but more to celebrate a piece of Japanese swordsmanship history. Its cool to just sit down and relax, pondering your own kendo/iaido/etc journey.

Getting there

I’ve visited the island twice. Once when I first visited Fukuoka in 2004, and another time I took some kendo friend there in 2008. Although out of the way, its not so difficult to get to if you are heading down to Kyushu from the mainland and you have 3 or 4 hours to spare.

Assuming that you are taking a train there get off at JR Shimonoseki station (this is a regular train stop and a Shinkansen stop). From there you can walk to the pier or take a bus. Its not really obvious which way you should go, so its best to ask someone at the station ‘Ganryu-jima?’ and they will point you in the right direction.

At the pier there are two companies that run boats to and from the island with return tickets being 800 yen. You can buy tickets and check times in the small cabins by the pier. The boats run pretty frequently. Make sure you can get on the last boat back to the mainland otherwise you will need to swim.


Click on the image to see it bigger.

Shinai Kyogi

Shinai kyogi was a new sport that sprung up In the ruin and confusion of the post war period.”

… is the first line of the chapter on Shinai-kyogi in the book “How to study kendo” that was published in 1965. It goes on to explain in a bit more detail:

To say it another way: a modern and democratic sport was born out of the older kendo. At the end of the war, when both the outside pressure (GHQ) and self-reproach from inside kendo circles caused the breakup/dissolution of kendo (i.e. the Butokukai) the discipline was at a crossroads; it was at this time a chance was taken and the new sport was created.

At that time the (kendo equipment) manufacturers and kendo exponents wanted to somehow (in any way possible) keep at least the essence of kendo alive but, because of the severity of the situation (the current state of destitution and poverty in post-war Japan combined with the strict law of occupied rule), kendo wasn’t allowed to continue as it was (i.e. it was banned by GHQ).

Despite this situation, the involved parties continued to work ceaselessly in negotiations with the the occupied authority, gathering as much information and working with their total energy and concentration to leave the purity of kendo intact, the result of which was a version of kendo with modern elements added that we call shinai kyogi.”

What follows is a 80 page plus manual of shinai kyogi instruction (the first 230 pages are about kendo).

What was this ‘shinai kyogi,’ where did it spring from, and what happened to it? This article will look very briefly at this often ignored yet important aspect of kendo’s history.


It’s almost certainly probable that kendo only started to become widely practised after its introduction into schools in 1911, and especially once it was made a mandatory part of the education system in the 1930s. Japan at that point was becoming increasingly militaristic and kendo was co-opted as part of the war effort, primarily as a way of ‘spiritual and physical training’ of male youths (girls were eventually made to practise ‘naginata,’ created as a form of calisthenics and thinly disguised budo).

Changes in the development of kendo during the 15 year war period (brief explanation)

Starting from the invasion of Manchuria in 1931, Japan was constantly at a state of war until 1945, a period of over 15 years. As the tension in Japan escalated the younger the age for mandatory kendo training became, and the emphasis on group drills and practise (rather than a person-to-person training) increased. Eventually training took place outside, shinai become shorter and heavier, and even hakama and keikogi were abandoned in favour of trousers and shirts. Rules in kendo competition changed to reflect a more ‘real-life’ situation: ippon-shobu, no katate-waza, no jodan, no nito, and all cuts must be big.

This was the situation of kendo at the time of the end of the war and was the kendo that the American occupation forces banned (the war-cabinet controlled Butokukai dissolved itself under pressure soon after the war ended).

The aftermath of the war

Kendo was banned but – obviously due the sheer number of people who had experience in it – not forgotten. During the banned period various groups continued to practise in secret anyway. A public effort was made to promote kendo at higher diplomatic levels. Often cited at this point is Sasamori Junzo sensei’s (Ono-ha itto-ryu soke) influence: educated in America (PhD from Denver University) and a fluent English speaker (and Christian priest) he worked with GHQ during the occupation period, and supported the re-introduction of kendo in educational circles (he was headmaster of various universities and eventually worked in the Education Ministry. He emerged in the post-war kendo community as the head of the Shinai Kyogi association, then eventually the university kendo association).

Obviously wary about the militarism that was inherent in the immediate pre-war country controlled Butokukai, GHQ was seemingly very reticent to allow its restart. To battle this, the pro-kendo lobby introduced not ‘kendo’ but a new kendo-inspired sport called ‘shinai kyogi.’ Renamed, and without some of the more nationalist attributes, it wasn’t ‘kendo’ per-se, but it was to have a long lasting on the art.

What follows here is some information about the sport itself.

Name and term changes

It is important to note that the ‘shinai’ portion of shinai-kyogi is written in hiragana and not kanji (though there is kanji for it), much like the change that was done for naginata. This might not seem particularly important to non-Japanese speakers, but it had 2 effects:

1. It explicitly removed the ‘weapon’ aspect of the arts name, thus giving it a “softer, less violent feeling”;

2. It gave the sense that something new was being made. In the naginata community they actually named it ‘atarashii (new) naginata’ to reflect this. The new sport created from kendo was called ‘shinai KYOGI,’ a term that refers to pure sport.

Not only this, but many long-used words were changed to make shinai-kyogi more sporty for example ‘nafuda’ (name tag) was changed to ‘zekken’ (a term of German origin that refers in Japan to names/numbers on athletes), ‘ippon’ was changed to ‘tokuten’ (points), and tasuki to ‘hyoshiki’ (flag). The white line from where participants start a match was called the ‘shuppatsusen’ or ‘starting line.’

The parts of the bogu were also renamed (see below).



– clothes should be made of strong cloth, a tracksuit top and trousers should be worn;
– girls may wear a skirt instead of trousers;
– shiai held outdoors generally require the use of footwear. If the ground is safe then you can use socks or go barefoot;
– any colour may be freely worn but black doesn’t fit with the bogu well, so its banned;
– clothing should be a little bit loose, not tight fitting;


– shinai should be wrapped on the outside with leather (i.e. a fukuro-shinai);
– shinai must be split in either 4, 8, 16, or more pieces;
– shinai must be equal to or less than 3.8 in length and weights where set based on age/gender;
– the kote-dome (i.e. tsuba) must be smaller than 3-sun and made of leather or rubber. It can be of any shape.


– bogu consists of a men, doate, and tebukuro (‘gloves’)*
– names were also given in hiragana MASUKU (‘mask’ i.e. men), PROTEKUTA (‘protector’ i.e. dou), and GURABU (‘glove’ i.e. kote);

* Note that the ‘tsuba’ has been renamed ‘kote dome,’ the kote ‘tebukuro’ (gloves), and other pieces given English-sounding alternatives in order to de-swordify the art and make it seem more sporty, much like the use of the name ‘shinai kyogi’ itself (see above). We could also surmise that this was done to placate GHQ as well.



– usually matches occur indoors, but outside is ok too;
– whether held inside or out the area must be flat and have no obstructions;
– the shiaijo is to be 6×7 meters and have a space of 1.5m between the middle and each player;
– if you are outside you can mark the shiaijo boundaries with stones or paint;
– if the shiaijo is raised it would be preferably if the boundaries were roped (like boxing)*;

* early all Japan championships also seem to have this feature


– at the start of the match shinai must not be touching (a change from pre-war);
– shiai were 3 points (pre-war this varied);
– there will be 3 shinpan (apart from tenran shiai, there was almost only ever 1 shinpan, sometimes 2);
– time limits and the use of encho (and hantei) were defined.


– violent behaviour (e.g. taiatari or leg sweeping);
– use of shouts (i.e. kiai);
– going out of bounds.

Impact on kendo

If you look at the history of kendo as told by the ZNKR (All Japan kendo federation) you would be mistaken in thinking that shinai-kyogi had a short life-span and was irrelevant to kendo in the long run. This isn’t true. Although the shinai-kyogi association was created in 1950 and merged with the new ZNKR in 1954, books continued to be written and shiai run for quite some time it seems. The book mentioned in the opening was published in 1965, showing that a full 11 years after the dissolution of the shinai-kyogi association there was still a market for manuals. More than that, just this last weekend (end of January 2012) I found reference to shinai-kyogi shiai results from 1975 in a shiai brochure… a full 21 years after the merge.

So we have shown that shinai-kyogi outlasted its original remit, but what lasting impact – if any – did it have on kendo?

I don’t want to go into the complete ins and outs of this topic as it would require some very detailed research and presentation (maybe in the future). In brief, here are some of the far-reaching impacts of shinai-kyogi. Those in bold are fundamental changes to kendo as it existed prior to or during the war:

– fixing shiaijo sizes;
fixing of shinai weights and lengths;
– definition of time limits;
– creation of a more democracy i.e. males and females could practise and compete equally;
establishing 3 shinpan for all shiai;
disallowing violent actions, specifically foot sweeps;
creation of a ‘sporty’ image.

There are of course more things we can add to this list, for example how a yuko-datotsu was defined, but I will leave it here today.

Shinai-kyogi gallery


This has only been a very brief look into shinai-kyogi and its impact on modern kendo. We do know it had a massive impact on the kendo community as the sportive element of kendo (introduced by shinai-kyogi) went in a direction and at a speed no-one seemed to predict. Proof of this can be seen in the writing of various senior sensei in the 50s and 60s lamenting over the state of kendo at the time. Their unifying cries ended up with the ZNKR getting together a group of its most senior people; the publication of ‘Concept of Kendo’ was the result.

Unfortunately, the Concept of Kendo didn’t really work out to be the call to rally as expected, and kendos sportive elements have continued to evolve, sometimes seemingly in opposition to its stated goals. The ‘Mindset of Kendo Instruction’ (published 2007) has been a newer initiative to address the situation but its end point may potentially be that as the earlier Concept Of Kendo. Inclusion of kendo as an eveny in the Olympic/GAISF ‘Combat Games’ in 2010 is yet more evidence of the continued sportification of kendo, a process that has its roots in shinai-kyogi. Some people may argue that kendo was heading in this way anyway, but a closer inspection of kendo in the 1930s and during the war suggests that kendo was getting very much back to its roots. That story, however, is for another time.

I hope you found this brief introduction interesting!!!

Check out Morishima Tateo sensei’s ‘Pursuing the spirit of modern kendo‘ for a further insight into the comments above.


剣道に内在する武道・スポーツ性について:しない競技規程と剣道試合・審判規則の比較から。国分 国友。鹿屋体育大学。1990発行。

On shinai length 竹刀の長短

Yamaoka Tesshu wrote this small piece in 1883, while kendo (then variously called gekkiken, kenjutsu, shinai uchikomi, etc) was nowhere near the shape it is now. Although the discussion of shinai length might not seem relavant to some nowadays, its a topic that comes up quite a lot if you read kendo commentary from the early-mid 1900’s, and not a few famous sensei experiment with shinai length/weight even today.

Tesshu’s Itto-shoden-muto-ryu uses a shinai of 3 shaku 2 sun in length (96cm’s) and are considerably heavier than standard shinai.

The length of the shinai was set for the first time to 3 shaku 8 sun (115cm’s) by the head kenjutsu instructor of the Shogunate’s Kobusho (military training center), Odani Nobutomo (jikishinkage-ryu) in the 1850-60s.

Sword length has been set to be 10 fist-lengths since a long time (Tesshu maybe be referring to the kobusho rule mentioned above). This size – about 1/2 of your body length – is said to make it easier for you to strike your enemy. Despite this rule, many schools have passed on the tendency to use shorter swords anyway, for example some schools advocate using a sword of about 8 fist-lengths. A shorter length sword requires you to make up the deficiency in length through your spirit.

During the Tenpo period (1830-1844) there was swordsman from Yanagigawa-han (Fukuoka) called Oishi Susumu. He prized victory above all things and used a shinai of over 5 shaku in length (modern day mens shinai are 3 shaku 9 sun or about 120cms; 5 shaku is around 150cms). He came to Edo and went around all the dojo challenging and winning most of his fights. Oishi was said to have fought even Chiba Shusaku (famous and highly influential Itto-ryu swordsman and shihan at Genbukan). Against Oishi’s massive 5 shaku+ shinai Chiba used a barrel lid as a tsuba. However this was just a “game” and not something that I would deign to call a kenjutsu shiai.

After this time kenshi from across various schools – in ignorance of their own tradition – have simply followed the fashion and believe that using a longer shinai is better. Their shallow learning and ignorance is deplorable: anybody who desires to study swordsmanship must not look only at the outer aspect of winning and losing in competition.

Nowadays various ronin proclaim themselves masters/teachers and riding on this boast are able to make a living. Their success depends on the fortunes of dojo challenges, and its from here that the popularity of the “longer is better” idea has sprung from.

If we look at how to restore kendo to its proper state, we should start first by returning the length of shinai to that of the older styles, and think about what it means to duel someone with a live sword.

  • Yamaoka Tesshu, Meiji 16 (1883), September.

山岡鉄舟:剣禅話 。徳間書店.高野 澄(翻訳)