A lineage all but forgotton: the Yushinkan dojo

Editors note: This is the first in a series of articles by Tokyo based budoka Jeff Karinja. In this series, he will introduce Yushinkan dojo and talk about its history, esteemed lineage, and ethos. Enjoy!

The Yushinkan Dojo (有信館道場) is perhaps one of the most distinguished training halls in modern budo history. The dojo, once renown around Japan as one of the Tokyo-yon-dai-dojo (東京四大道場), has a history spanning over one-hundred years. Since it’s inception in the Meiji period the Yushinkan has had many famous kenshi grace it’s halls. Some of the names on the Nafudakake (or name board) included such famous swordsmen as Nakayama Hakudo, Nakayama Zendo, Hashimoto Toyo, Nakakura Kiyoshi (ZNKR: Kendo/Iaido-9th dan, Hanshi), Nakajima Gozoro (ZNKR: Kendo/Iaido-9th dan, Hanshi), Haga Junichi (Kendo and Iaido ), Danzaki Tomoaki (Muso Shinden Ryu Iaido: Menkyo Kaiden, ZNKR: Kendo-7th, dan, Hanshi/Iaido-10th Dan, Hanshi) and several other influential martial artists.

The Yushinkan was originally a training hall dedicated to the practice of Shindo Munen Ryu Kenjutsu and Gekiken under the dojo’s founder; it came to be the home of several distinct styles. It’s members became notorious for their aggressive waza and Kendo techniques. In this series we will explore the history, styles, and techniques of the Yushinkan Dojo.

Negishi Shingoro (根岸信五郎)
* First generation headmaster of Yushinkan (有信館道場の初代館長);
* first generation headmaster of Kanto-ha Shindo Munen Ryu Kenjutsu (関東派神道無念流剣術の第一代目宗家)

Negishi Shingoro's Head Stone

Shingoro was born a son of the Makino family (the ruling family of the Echigo Nagoaka Clan) in 1844. As a young child he was adopted by one of the clan’s chief magistrates Negishi Yorosaemon. Shingoro was made to study the Bugei Juhappan. In his teens, however he developed a passion for swordsmanship and began studying Nagaoka Han Den Shindo Munen Ryu from Nomura Tetsuya (one of the clan’s chief sword instructors). In the spring of 1863 he took a temporary leave of absence from the clan in order to study Shindo Munen Ryu at the famed Renpeikan dojo in Edo.

At the Renpeikan dojo Shingoro learned from the famed swordsmen Saito Yakuro and his sons Shintaro and Yoronosuke. He also benefited from the council of famous Shishi like Kido Takayoshi. One year after joining the Renpeikan Shingoro was issued Shihan-dai from Shintaro and in 1865 Menkyo with an Inkyo license. Shingoro became increasing outspoken politically during his time in Edo (due to the influence of his Choshu Clan Sempai). His beliefs did not stop him, however from heeding his clans’s call. Upon receiving Inkyo, Shingoro was recalled back to his domain.

Sendai Mobilizes for War

The Nagaoka Clan had mobilized for war in the spring of 1868. Together with the Northern Alliance (comprising of forces from thirty-two domains) they fought against the Meiji Army from May 4th to September 15th. This battle became known as the Battle of Hokuetsu (北越戦争), and was the bloodiest battle of the Boshin Wars, which cost an estimated four thousand lives and left countless thousands, wounded.

Shingoro managed to survive the initial conflicts unscathed. On September 10th however, he took part in the charge to retake the castle and was severely wounded during the counter-attack that routed Aizu and Nagaoka forces on September 15th, 1868. After the defeat of his clan Shingoro returned to Edo where he acted as Shintaro’s successor. He opened the famed Yushinkan dojo (有信館道場) was later employed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Force to teach Gekiken and Keshi-cho Ryu Kitachi/Iai to the Emperor’s Royal Guard Detachment at Saineikan Dojo. He gained notoriety by winning several high profile bouts against other skilled swordsmen, and was asked by the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai to join the committee responsible for creating the Dai Nippon Teikoku Kendo Kata. This was the precursor to the present-day Nippon Kendo Kata.

Members of the Committee responsible for the creation of the Dai Nippon Teikoku Kendo Kata/Kendo no Kata (in order from right to left): Takano Sasaburo (Itto Ryu), Monna Tadashi (Hokushin Itto Ryu), Naito Takaharu (Hokushin Itto Ryu), Tsuji Shinpei (Shingyoto Ryu), and Negishi Shingoro (Shindo Munen Ryu)

Shingoro had many great students. The most promising of them all was his eventual successor, a man named Nakayama Hakudo. Prior to Shingoro’s death Hakudo and his daughter were wed (joining the Nakayama and Negishi families together). Hakudo then inherited the Yushinkan bringing it and Japanese swordsmanship to a new level of popularity unseen in the Meiji Era. Shingoro passed away in 1913 at the age of seventy.

To be continued………

(Special Thanks to: Rennis Buchner, Richard Stonell, Tim Newfields, and George McCall for all their help and support of this article)

Glossary of terms:

Bugei Juhappan (武芸十八般): were the eighteen essential martial arts of the samurai. The Bugei Juhappan consisted of: Kyujutsu (archery), Bajutsu (horse riding), Suijutsu (swimming), Naginatajutsu (Halbred), Sojutsu (spear), Kogusoku (armored or semi-armored grappling), Bojutsu (staff), Jojutsu (short-staff), Kusarigamajutsu (sickle and chain art), Kusarifundo (weighted chain), Shurikenjutsu (throwing daggers), Fukumibarijutsu (needle), Juttejutsu/Tessenjutsu (Jutte and Iron Fan), Iaijutsu/Battojutsu (sword drawing), Jujutsu/Yawara (grappling), Toritejutsu (restraining or hostage taking methods), Mojirijutsu (long handled restraining device), Ninjutsu (espionage and intelligence analysis), and Hojutsu (gunnery).

Nagaoka Han Den Shindo Munen Ryu (長岡藩傳神道無念流): also referred to as Nomura Ha Shindo Munen Ryu (野村派神道無念流) was a branch of Shindo Munen Ryu taught within the Nagaoka domain (present-day Niigata Prefecture). The last Shihan of the system was Nomura Tetsuya.

Renpeikan Dojo (練兵館道場): was one of the Edo San Dai Dojo (江戸三大道場) or “ Three Big Dojo of Edo“. Initially founded and run by Saito Yakuro Yoshimichi (斎藤弥九郎) it became one of the more popular fencing halls of the Bakumatsu Period (the closing years of the Tokugawa Shogunate).

Shishi (志士): meaning “men of high purpose”; were Japanese political activists of the late Edo Period. Largely outspoken and at times violent they paved the way for establishment of the Meiji Government. Shishi came from many domains and walks of life, but were said to mostly come from the Choshu, Tosa (Yamauchi), and Satsuma Clans.

Tokyo-Yon-Dai-Dojo (東京四大道場): lit- ”The Four Big Dojo of Tokyo”; were the most renown training halls in Tokyo prior to outbreak of the Second World War.

  1. Shudogakuin (修道学院)- the former dojo of Takano Sasaburo(Ono Ha Itto Ryu/Kendo)
  2. Yushinkan Dojo (有信館道場)- founded by Negishi Shingoro (Kanto Ha Shindo Munen Ryu/Gekiken) and succeeded by Nakayama Hakudo (Kanto Ha Shindo Munen Ryu/Shinto Muso Ryu/Muso Shinden Ryu/Kendo), Nakayama Zendo (3rd generation), Saeki Soichiro(4th Generation), and Ogawa Takeshi (5th Generation).
  3. Kodougikai (皇道議会)- the former dojo of Ishii Sabaro (Hokushin Itto Ryu/Kendo)
  4. Noma Dojo (野間道場)- founded by enterprenuer Noma Seiji (Kodansha Publishing)

Mokuroku (目録): or “Catalog” is a type of scroll usually awarded to students after several years of dedication. The details differ from school to school, but a mokuroku consists of a (partial or complete) list of kata, fighting strategies, military tactics, esoteric or religious teachings, philosophy, or other facets of learning.

Shihan-Dai (師範代): or “Assistant Master”; it is a title awarded normally to a student of experienced level. It certifies them to teach other students (under the supervision of a headmaster) in the dojo.

Menkyo (免許): or “License/Permit”; differs from school to school, but is normally a scroll of high level awarded to those who have attained a profound level or skill or understanding in their respective school.

Inkyo (允許): or “Certificate of Proficiency”; is a license given to those who have either finished their training or have been given permission to establish their own dojo.

Shihan (師範)- or “Instructor”; is a term often misused today. A Shihan is a person who was fully licensed in their respective ryu or school and by the grace of their teachers, allowed to run or operate their own dojo or training hall independently (without supervision).

Gekiken (撃剣): meaning “Fencing”; was the pre-cursor to modern Kendo. Often ryu or school specific, it was a practice that allowed swordsmen of particular schools to apply learned techniques or concepts in a relatively controlled environment. Unlike modern Kendo; it contained the use of several or multiple weapons, grappling, striking, and physical duress that brought students to a new level of endurance and understanding.

Keshi-cho Ryu Kitachi/Iai (警視庁流木太刀/居合): was a school made up of modified kata from more than a dozen schools. Established in the 10th year of the Meiji (1877) for Japanese Police officers, it consisted of Kenjutsu, Iaijutsu, and Jujutsu.

Saineikan Dojo (済寧館道場): Located on the grounds of the Imperial Palace on Tokyo, it remains to be the primary training hall of the Imperial Guard.

Dai Nippon Butoku Kai (大日本武徳会): “The Greater Japan Martial Virtue Society” it was an organization established under the ministry of education in 1895 by Emperor Meiji’s decree.

Dai Nippon Teikoku Kendo Kata (大日本帝国剣道形): “The Kendo Kata of the Greater Imperial Japan” it was the pre-cursor to the “Nippon Kendo Kata(日本剣道形) or “Japanese Kendo Kata


  • 壇崎友厭彰:居合道その理合と神髄
  • 中山博道: 剣道手引草
  • 中山博道: 剣道口述集

Kendoka shashin meikan

a.k.a. kendoka pictorial directory

Editors comment: what follows here is another great translation by Isaac which I believe will be useful to the researchers out there. This book – kendoka shashin meikan (剣道家写真名鑑) was published in 1925, and it attempts to catalogue the butokukai of that time. This includes not only various pictures but the names (and addresses… which I chose to omit!) of the leading kendoka within the organisation.

I’ve taken the files that Isaac gave me and edited/formatted them to the best of my ability, but I am sure there are some dodgy formatting and the odd transliteration error in there. Rather than sit and stare at the article by myself indefinitely in an attempt to perfect it, I decided to just publish it. Put it down to “sutemi” !!!

Published in the 5th Month of the 13th Year of Taisho (1925)


This thing called Kendō is the embodiment of the Japanese spirit; it is a method of training the body and mind that is unique to our country, and something that can be proudly shown to the rest of the world. 

Therefore, since the days of old, those who have studied this art have been many, and since the establishment of the butokukai in the 28th year of the Meiji, it has prospered even more, so much so that now, those who have achieved the Seiren-shō(1) level certificate number several hundred – it can be said that the art is truly thriving.

In order to make further efforts into investigating this art, and to spread goodwill to and to be of assistance to the Kendō practitioners in various parts of Japan, I have organized the committee to publish Kendōka Shashin Meikan.

Continue reading Kendoka shashin meikan

A very brief look at the formation of reiho used in todays kendo

Without taking your eyes of your partner, and at a distance of roughly 9 steps do a standing bow (ritsurei) of 15 degrees, move your shinai from sageto to taito, take three large steps in and “draw” your shinai in a largish arc up and diagonally down through to the center of your opponent while performing sonkyo. Your shinai do not touch at this distance. After a brief moment (in a shiai the center referee will call hajime) the bout starts.

This is an example of one of the standard methods of “reiho” or “etiquette methods” we use daily in our kendo practise. Its use is so common that you can see many people simply perform the actions with no or little understanding behind the purpose of the movements or – at times – even in an almost disrespectful manner. Thats not the purpose of this short article though: what I want to (very!) briefly discuss here is who were involved, and when modern-kendo’s reiho was standardised (or, at least, a small part of the story).

Continue reading A very brief look at the formation of reiho used in todays kendo

The Swordsman and the Cat

The tale “Neko no Myojutsu” is from an old budo fable written by the samurai Niwa Jurozaemon Tadaaki (pen name Issai Chozanshi, 1659-1741) in 1727. To quote William Scott Wilson: “Little is known about the man.. but he was clearly acquainted with swordsmanship, philosophy, and art, and had made an extensive study of Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Shinto, and seems to have been familiar with the works of Musashi and the priest Takuan” (see references).

The story is a staple for those that study kendo/kenjutsu, or budo in general for that matter. I am sure most kenshi247.net readers would have read Yagyu Munenori’s “Heiho Kadensho” and Miyamoto Musashi’s “Go rin no sho,” but I’m not sure if many have studied this.

The narrative features a swordsman called Shōken who is beset by a pesky rat. After the neighborhood cats fail to chase the rat away, the swordsman himself tries his hand at getting rid of the rat. Failing miserably himself, he calls on the help of a cat “widely known for her mysterious virtue as the most able rat-catcher.” This cat catches the rat with ease, and that evening all the cats get together to discuss the days events and the art of fighting rats.

It is not for me to attempt to spell out what the the short narrative seeks to illustrate, nor what lessons lie therein, I simple present it here as is, leaving the reader to make their own mind up. Grab yourself a cup of coffee/tea and enjoy!

Continue reading The Swordsman and the Cat

The white hakama of Yushinkan

Yushinkan was the dojo of Nakayama Hakudo (1873-1958) in Tokyo. Nakayama had a varied and rich budo life, achieving hanshi in all three arts promoted by the modern ZNKR as well as being a shindo munen-ryu swordsman amongst other things. Its impossible to do a full bio of the man here, so I will leave that for another time, instead concentrating on the content of this article.

Nakayama was highly influential in the Butokukai and therefore the kendo community at large. He practised around the country and many of his students went on to become kendo leaders in their own right. Quite a few of the innovations he came up with at Yushinkan (and promoted by him and his students) are currently taken for granted in the kendo community now, including parts of the reiho we use, and even the method many of us tie our men-himo. This article deals only with one such thing: the origin of the use of white dogi (hakama in particular). I’ve heard a lot of explanations for its use, from the ordinary to the mystical, with people sometimes even arbitrarily defining rules for wearing white. This occurs even in Japan. However, the reason for its initial introduction is as mundane as it can be, despite what connotations people may or may not give it now.

Since Nakayama was hanshi in kendo, iaido, and jodo, and due to his influence in the Butokukai, its obvious that what is said below – although it is aimed at kendo practise – follows on naturally to iaido and jodo as well. The following is what he had to say on the matter.

Continue reading The white hakama of Yushinkan