Raw Kendo

Digg is probably the news aggregator app that I use most on my iphone to get news stories/information for reading when I am on the train or in the coffee shop (I don’t always read kendo books!). The other day I randomly picked a story about something I had never heard of before: Raw Denim. This is defined by wikipedia as “a denim fabric that is not washed after being dyed during its production” or by rawdenim.com as a “denim that has been unwashed, untreated, and virtually untouched to the extent that it remains in its pure form.” Basically, people into the fad purchase cotton jeans and try to wear them as long as possible before giving them there first wash. When they first wash them the dye comes out in an uneven manner reflecting the wear-and-tear of use, creating individual patterns and shapes. One pair of jeans on the rawrdenim site had been worn for 15 years without a single wash!

As someone who constantly wears jeans I was fascinated by the article and – you know whats coming – I immediately drew parallels to kendo.

Like almost every kendo person, I have never washed any of my bogu… ever. The oldest piece of equipment I have is nearly 20 years old (a tare and dou). Keikogi usually get a wash when I buy them, and then again every few months (though the last few years – because I practise 10-12 sessions/week – I’ve usually wash them once/month). Hakama never see the inside of a washing machine – the most they get is stamped-on in the shower. Like the raw denim jeans discussed above, both the bogu and the dogi’s colour change over time and, depending on how often you do keiko, the shape may change as well.

A certain sense of… something

Ok, I’ll confess: I love it when my bogu starts to look well-worn and my keiko-gi gets a wee bit dishevelled around the fringes! My favourite dogi has patches on the shoulders and the colour has faded just enough to still look like I mean business. A men that I have used almost daily for the last 10 years has literally been hammered into shape on my head receiving uchikomi and it’s uniform colour lost (pictured at the top of the article).

I’m not sure why exactly I like this type of look, but I do. I guess it’s a kind of like saying “I’ve been working hard!!”









BONUS: You look cool, but you stink… !

The minute you say “kendo” to a non-kendo person here in Japan they immediately say “臭い” (stinky) such is the notoriety of the kendo smell!! Because it’s nearly impossible to get rid of the smell, we all tend to get used to it somewhat (our smell and others). However, there are things you can do to help.

Here are 2 things I actively do nowadays:

Juban – an undergarment (usually white) for wearing underneath your keikogi. I wear one constantly and wash it every couple of keiko’s. As my keikogi doesn’t get as sweaty as it normally would I can increase the time between washes. In winter, the juban also makes you feel warmer!

Gloves – for wearing underneath kote. These are now a must for me. They absorb sweat and definitely increase the life of your kote. Although wearing gloves won’t eradicate kote smell, being able to wash them helps tremendously.

Other possible strategies (I don’t do these):

Men pad/lining – there are a few different options for this: using a cloth chin-piece, a men-pad at the top, or even a completely removable/washable inner-ring. Of-course, tenugui help a lot.

Washable bogu – never tried it so can’t really comment. Doesn’t seem to be very popular here in Japan however.

Go white – another option is to constantly use white dogi. I sometimes go white in summer, but the major problem is that your gi can easily be turned blue by your own bogu, himo, or the bogu of others. I sometimes go white in summer but, it’s just not as cool.


Crouching lion and the roar of sonkyo

A while back I stumbled on a poetic phrase while reading some kendo information: 獅子の気合 (shishi no kiai). In kendo-friendly English it becomes “The Lion’s kiai” – what a great image! I stumbled on it randomly again today so thought I’d google it’s origin. Unfortunately I found next to nothing about the phrase online, so I assume it’s not an old phrase but perhaps just some personal imagery used by some sensei (famous or otherwise I have no idea; it could even be a sumo reference). What I did find was almost the exact same quote online as I appears in the book I was flicking through… which probably backs up my supposition (if anybody has any extra information, please comment!).

Anyway, it’s a nice image so I thought I’d share the – very mini – passage about it with kenshi 24/7 readers. The translation is a combination between the book and online descriptions and is very loose/free.

At keiko later this evening I will have this in mind !


百獣の王たる獅子は、自分より大きい像と戦う時にも、グーッと引きつけておいて飛び掛る。小さい兎に対しても侮らないで、グーッと引き付けておいて、ウォーと気合をいれ、パーッと捕まえる (book+online)。獅子がうずくまっている。。。この理の修業が大切である (online)。

礼法と思料するが内面は構え、外面は礼法である。これが修行の土台になる理の修行である。剣道で一番大事なことは、試合でも、稽古でも蹲踞である (book)。

The lion’s kiai

Even when the lion, the king of all beasts, comes up against something bigger than itself – the elephant – he pulls himself up, roars, and jumps at it ferociously. When he faces something smaller than himself – the rabbit – he doesn’t make light of it in any way, he again pulls himself up, roars bravely, and pounces.

The crouching lion – this principle is important to pursue.

Giving the topic of etiquette (reiho) some careful consideration, you will discover that the interior is your attitude and the exterior how polite you act. This is the very foundation of the pursuit of the principles (of budo). In kendo, the most important thing, whether it be in shiai or keiko, is sonkyo.


Online reference.

1934 Tenran-jiai (illustrated)

On the 4th and 5th of May 1934, Saineikan – a budojo located in the grounds of Tokyo Imperial Palace – was the venue of the second of three Showa-period Tenran-jiai (a budo or sports competition held in front of the Emperor). This post was mainly written in order to share some of the pictures available of the event, but I’m also using it as an opportunity to bring together related kenshi 24/7 articles.

There’s still a lot more that needs to be written both about the event itself and the people involved, but there’s no point in hoarding all these cool pictures, so here they are… enjoy!!!
Continue reading 1934 Tenran-jiai (illustrated)

MEI-SHOBU: the ki of Naito vs the waza of Takano 名勝負:内藤高治vs高野佐三郎

Kyoto Butokuden, late Meiji period*. It’s the last tachiai of a long day but the hall is packed. The yobidashi (announcer) steps forward:

East side. Tokyo. Takano sensei !

West side. Kyoto. Naito sensei !


With the call the packed audience suddenly goes quiet and an palpable feel of excitement (or perhaps expectation?) fills the air. Facing each other on the dojo floor are the two most famous swordsmen in Japan: on the east side Tokyo Koto Shihan Gakko’s Takano Sasaburo; and on the west side Busen’s Naito Takaharu. In between them moderating the tachiai stands Monna Tadashi.

The spectators sit nervously in silence wondering what kind of contest will unfold before them. Will it be an equal fight? What kind of techniques will be used? Who will be triumphant? But despite this nervousness there was no fighting mood in the air. Rather, the two sensei seemed detached.

The swordsmen bowed to each other and moved slowly into the center of the hall. Sonkyo. Finally, in the instant that they stood up, the tension between them radiated out into the audience.

Naito and Takano were born in 1862, just 4 months apart. Both were born into budo families and lived through a period of turmoil in Japan as it went through monumental cultural changes. While young they both studied kenjutsu (Hokushin Itto-ryu and Ona-ha Itto-ryu respectively) eventually heading to Tokyo to seek further instruction from the top instructors in the country – Naito under Sakakibara Kenkichi (Jikishinkage-ryu) and Takano under Yamaoka Tesshu (Muto-ryu).

In 1887, after an extended Musha-shugyo, Naito finally entered the employ as a kendo instructor in the kendo mecca that was Keishicho (the fledgling Tokyo Metropolitan police force). Takano had already entered it a year earlier in 1886. It’s almost as if they were destined to cross paths.

Their first shiai would have to wait until 1890. The event was a keishicho sponsored tournament (gekkiken-kai). At this time Takano had already moved out of his position at keishicho and was working as a kendo instructor for the Saitama police. During the competition Takano was matched up with a keishicho kenshi famed for his high-speed waza, Saruda Tosuke. However, Takano’s waza was renowned for being fast as well, and he overpowered and defeated Saruda.

As keishicho sponsored the tournament it wouldn’t be seemly for them to lose to someone working in a rival police force, even if they had once worked with them. Keishicho management’s response was to issue a command:

“Naito, take care of it.”

And with that, the future leaders of the kendo community (and creators of the modern kendo style) faced each other for the first time.

Even though they both employed their strongest techniques neither could best the other. Eventually, as time wore on and on, the shiai was called to a halt and a draw declared. Thus ended the first of many duels the pair were to have.

30 years after their first match in Tokyo they again found themselves facing off at each other, but this time they were both older, wiser, and had far more experience. In the intervening years both men had forged careers as professional kendo instructors – Takano at Tokyo koto shihan gakko and Naito at the Butokukai’s training facility Busen – and had become the top instructors in the country. Now they faced each other in the middle of the Butokuden in unmistakable seriousness as if it was a fight to the death.

During the fight the spectators felt an oppressive pressure from the shiai-jo, almost turning their blood to ice. Some people thought “I want this to finish quickly!” and others “I want this to keep going on and on!”

Just as it started softly, suddenly on Monna’s “SORE MADE” (thats enough) the shiai was over. The spectators that had been holding their breathe in excitement let out an audible sigh of relief. Even after the sensei had bowed and left the area the sense of tension remained and, for a little bit, the audience sat in stunned silence.



This account is based on multiple first-hand accounts of shiai between Naito and Takano found in 3 books:


Comic pics from the manga 龍-RON-


* A precise date is not given : “The time when the Emperor or the Crown-Prince was in attendance” is the only information.
UPDATE: based on a new source, I discovered that Naito and Takaharu fought each other in 1901, 1907, and 1916 in the Butokuden (and again in 1920 at the opening of Meiji Jingu). Only scores were kept for the 1901 tachiai – it was a hikiwake. The other bouts were mohangeiko.

Osaka Tokuren demonstration(s) 大阪特練模範演武

This morning I took part in godogeiko session in the suburbs of Osaka city. This is a yearly event and includes a demonstration session plus godogeiko with some of the local kenshi (from children-adults) and a few members of the elite Osaka tokuren police squad.

Last year I had the flu so video-ed and uploaded the kihon session (see below) but this year I was fighting fit so took part as normal.

As a special present to kenshi 24/7 readers, I took and uploaded the light demonstration session between Kiwada Daiki and Teramoto Shoji, both past All Japan Kendo Championship (and WKC) winners.

Below are a couple of other video’s featuring the Osaka tokuren’s kihon geiko… enjoy!

12th January 2014 (jigeiko):

September 2013 (kihon demonstration):

January 2013 (kihon demonstration):

March 2008 (kihon and jigeiko):