DIY#5: Take Dou – A Labor of Love

When I heard that my friend Eric Aerts had actually hand made a dou from nothing I had to get an article out of him! He kindly wrote the following and supplied pictures. Check out the link at the end of the article to see more pictures of the various steps. Enjoy!

I can recall my father waking me on Saturday mornings to do maintenance work on his old wooden sailboat and how I would groan and roll my eyes at the prospect of a day spent (wasted) sanding and varnishing in what is the on-going battle for all wooden boat owners against time and the elements. Although it was a truly beautiful vessel, and this a labor of love for my father, it is difficult to explain how much I hated the seemingly endless hours of detailed woodworking and finishing. Despite my childhood aversion to this type of chore, those force-fed lessons would eventually serve me well as I came to relish working and creating with my own hands – certainly, there are few tasks more gratifying. Eventually, I began to combine my love of craftsmanship with another passion – kendo.

Initially, I started by making shinai tsuba – hand-carved from exotic hardwoods to resemble the iron designs of nihonto tsuba. These broke too easily so I made them for bokuto (kendo no kata) instead. Next, I designed and made daisho stands using sambar dear antlers (the first of these as a gift for my sensei).

What I really wanted to tackle, but was honestly a bit intimidated to take-on, was a true take (bamboo) dou; produced using all the traditional techniques. I also knew that I wanted it to have a same (shark) skin finish, which I’ve always been partial to.

Where to start? As you might imagine, there are no (to my knowledge) manuals on how to construct your own bamboo dou and, short of an apprenticeship in Japan, the best I could come up with was a video on Youtube with a 5 minute section on dou manufacturing. I watched this many times – pausing and actually trying to take measurements off my computer screen – and even though it left me with a lot of questions, I at least had a fundamental sense of the construction techniques.

My first challenge was to source the materials – quality bamboo in a 3 ½ – 4 inch diameter and large, tanned shark pelts are not exactly standard New Jersey Home Depot fare. I was extremely lucky in that not far from my home is a family-run company that has been importing bamboo and rattan from around the globe for 130 years. They allowed me roam their enormous warehouse and pick what I wanted – a real treat. When the time came, I also found a very accommodating exotic-pelt importer/distributor who was able to supply me with the same (pronounced “samei”) skin to my exact specifications.

Next, there were a number of tools which I would either need to fabricate entirely, or at least modify from existing tools. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this project was conceiving of ways to resolve the many novel technical challenges – either with the dou itself, or the tools needed to produce it. I must have passed as many hours daydreaming about how to create a certain tool, or to hold something in place, etc., as I did at the worktable actually putting my ideas into play. Although there were times that I ended up having to scrap what I initially thought were genius breakthroughs, I am certain that all that pondering saved me many painful mistakes. Remember, it’s always harder to go backwards.

Bamboo is an amazing material to work with and my appreciation for it grows the more time I spend with it in my hands (both in the dojo and in my workshop). In certain aspects it resembles wood (a species that would have to be extremely dense, long-grained, and impossibly light-weight); however, it reacts differently in different situations and there are important tricks to working with it. It also produces the most horrific splinters you will ever suffer. The best thing to remember when working with bamboo is to soak it thoroughly before splitting, shaving, sawing, or bending/shaping; this will produce better results, more easily, and will save your tools. I learned this lesson the hard way and it was my Japanese wife (with the carpentry skills of a kindergartner), who saw me straining to force a strip of bamboo through a die and said “why don’t you soak it first? That will make it easy – everybody knows that.” Yeah, well, not “everybody” in Jersey.

Now, looking at a doudai (the shell), one might think that this is not such a technical marvel, and certainly, pressing fiberglass resin into a bowl-shaped mold (as with a factory-produced dou) is not. However, try to take a 6-foot section of bamboo and turn it into 60 half-inch curved and hand-tapered strips (that are themselves convex and concave on 2 sides) that fit together in a seamless, symmetrical shape, devoid of a single straight line and that is expected to weather a lifetime of bashing and perspiration, and you will begin to understand why a quality hand-made bamboo dou can run thousands of dollars. Think Swiss watch meets Sherman tank.

This is not meant to be a tutorial on how to make your own dou – that would easily fill a book and to be honest, as I am now beginning to produce my dou for others, there are a few hard-fought proprietary methods I’d like to hold onto (not to worry, if you’re committed, you’ll conquer your own hurdles), but here are the basics:

– You will need roughly 6 feet of 3.5 to 4 inches-in-diameter, good-quality bamboo (get more the 1st time – you will make mistakes); there should be 12 to 14 inches between the nodules and it should not be scarred or too green.
– Remove the skin by sanding or planing (if dry, only sanding will work) and cut just inside the nodules to approximately 11-inch cylinders.
– At this point, you have to make a decision on how to proceed; the raw strips, which must be an exact width and depth, can be produced in one of two ways (both requiring customized tools). In short, you can either use a piston-driven die to split the strips, or a double-bladed saw to cut them.
– Once you have the raw strips, you will need to file and sand the adjoining sides to be sure they fit together without gaps. Then, the ends must be tapered so that when the strips are pulled together, the thinner tops and bottoms will draw together into a convex shape. This will require practice and is part of the art.
– Lay the strips out in the order you plan to use them (I numbered them to keep track) and draw the eventual pattern you will use for your doudai (keeping room on top and bottom for the eventual trimming. The strips will be laced together with 3 nylon strings (2 of these run the full length and one holds the center 20 or so strips at the top portion); draw the lines where these will be placed.
– Soak the strips overnight.
– You are going to be heating and bending the strips into the proper curve, so you will need to construct a frame to hold the bent strips in place as they dry. Heat the strips over an open flame (I used an old BBQ grill) until pliable, bend the strips (I made a half-moon shaped wooden form for this) and place them in the frame. Obviously, you want the outside (or convex side) of the bamboo to be on the inside (or concave) of the curve – this is what gives the inside of the doudai the scalloped lines.
– Once the strips have dried, use the lines you previously drew to drill holes in order to thread the nylon strings as well as the bamboo pins that will hold the strings in place. These will all have to be at exactly the same depth, or the strips will not line up properly.
– Thread all three of the strings; however, you have to tighten, clamp, and pin the center 20 strips with the uppermost string first, as these pins will be covered by the other strips (you will have to recess these strings so the strips on either side can lay flat against each other). Then, clamp all 60 strips as tightly as possible and pin the other two strings.
– Place the doudai over a form with the curve/diameter you want for your finished shape and sand the outside as smooth as possible.
– Now you will need to adhere to the outside of the doudai, an adhesive and cloth combination. Some takezo dou makers use bondo (as in auto body repair bondo) and a type of canvas. Personally, I think this is too brittle and would recommend some type of 2-part marine epoxy and medium weight fiberglass cloth (better strength and flexibility). Only use one cloth layer and one finishing layer – remember, you want this to be as lightweight as possible. Sand smooth.
– I finish my dou with sharkskin, which must be soaked, stretched, dried and glued to the doudai (using the correct glue will be crucial for longevity). Then, I lacquer the inside with a tough marine varnish (why cover that beautiful bamboo with black or red?).
– Cut to pattern, and add the mune, border, and himo loops.

The finished dou. Click to enlarge:

Keep in mind that the above is an extremely paired-down explanation of what is involved in producing a quality bamboo dou and should you wish to finish yours in the traditional urushi lacquer, this is itself an entirely separate art form. That being said, as a fan of things of beauty, which combine form and function, it is a very rewarding craft and one that you will appreciate every time you enter the dojo. For me, the perfect exclamation point on this project was seeing my sensei showing off my dou to another visiting sensei – a better testimonial, I couldn’t have asked for.

If you have any questions, please leave them on the comment section below, or, if you wish to see pictures of my dou and the process of making them, please visit the following Picasa photo album.

Lifetime kenshi: Ikeda Yuji sensei

Situated in the second most populous area of Japan, and the heart of the Kansai region lies Osaka. Not as over-the-top busy and stuffed full of people like Tokyo, the city is easily navigable (even by bicycle) and its population friendly. The two main areas in the city – Umeda and Namba – are known to the locals respectively as “Kita” (north) and “Minami” (south). In the center of Minami you can find the Osaka Prefectural Sports Gymnasium. Its here every March where the O-zumo Haru-basho (Sumo spring competition) takes places. Its also the home of Yoseikai.

I have written an article about the 2nd shihan of Yoseikai, Furuya hanshi before, this time I want to introduce his sempai and the first shihan of the dojo: Ikeda Yuji hanshi.

Furuya sensei talks about meeting Ikeda sensei for the first time

“About 5 or 6 years after the war ended (1950/51) I received a letter from a Busen sempai of mine who I had never met, Ikeda Yuji (at that time Ikeda sensei was 38 and Furuya sensei was 25). It simply read: “I’d like to start a Busen alumni association and I would like you to help.” I turned up at the agreed time and place (an Izakaya in Namba) to find Ikeda sensei and 21 other Busen graduates. Ikeda sensei’s frame was so slight that at first you had to wonder if he had actually graduated such a tough school. He didn’t look it, but he was also a big drinker as well.

The stories that Ikeda sensei told about his Busen experiences at that first meeting really excited and motivated me, and I was so taken by Ikeda sensei’s personality, that I started calling him “uncle.”

At the time I met Ikeda sensei kendo was still banned in public. We were unable to contain ourselves and re-started keiko anyway in a dojo beneath a Nankai railway line. There were 7 of us and we were called the “seven samurai” with Ikeda sensei being the leader. It wasn’t before long that we were joined by many more kenshi, with some people even coming to visit from Tokyo. If was a time when people were poor and could hardly eat or drink, so keiko was fierce, like we had a fire in our bellies.”

19 kakarigeikos in 90 minutes

Ikeda Yuji was a member of the 23rd group to graduate Busen (1937). However, he initially failed the preliminary entrance course. Following this failure he did keiko in the morning and afternoon continuously for an entire year before he finally resat and passed the exams (the next year), thus gaining entrance to Busen proper. After passing the exams one of the lecturers – Sato Chuzo – said the following to Ikeda:

“You are so small/weak that we have no expectations for you at all. I wanted to tell you to just give up and go home but you came to us crying and begging for another year that I missed my chance (to tell you to go). Wakabashi sensei et al were so worried about this situation you created that they got sore heads. Anyway, you did well to pass.”

At 49kg’s in weight, Ikeda was too light and small in stature. His academic score on the test was 2nd from the bottom.

He was also reckless in keiko. During practise between teachers and students at the Butokuden, he would be busy putting on his men whilst everyone else was lining up and bowing. He would already be standing first in line for the top sensei with his kote tucked under his arms while the rest of the students and sensei had yet to tie their men. After kakarigeiko with a sensei it was normal to go to the back of the next sensei’s line and wait for your turn. Not for Ikeda. He wouldn’t wait, but lined up at the side of the person at the front of the next line. If he was told to get back, he wouldn’t budge. As soon as the student in front of him finished he would step right in front of the sensei pushing other students out of the way. Before they could do anything he was already doing kakarigeiko. In the end his transgressions silently became to be accepted.

One year during kangeiko Ikeda managed to do 19 consecutive kakarigeiko’s in a 90 minute keiko session. The other senior students were annoyed by his actions and tried to kick him around, but Ikeda was unmoved. After 90 minutes of kakarigeiko he couldn’t stand and was crawling in the Butokuden.

When his eyes opened he found him self in a restaurant on Yoshida street. The miso soup in this shop was tasty and favoured by Busen students. For eat-and-drink-all-that-you-can the price was 15 zeni in the morning, and 25 in the afternoon and evening (i.e. cheap). Busen students (including Ikeda) were apt to drink 5 bowls of miso soup and 15 bowls of rice in one sitting with east. The restaurant ran in deficit.

Kihongeiko and kendo no kata

In 1938 Ikeda was called up for one of two stints of military service. At the wars end he was in Manchuria and was interned in a Siberian labour camp for 4 years. After being released in 1949 he returned to Osaka and managed to get a job in a fabric wholesale company. It was a little bit after this time that Ikeda sensei and the 7-samurai mentioned at the beginning of the article re-started kendo in the city at the Nankai-dentetsu dojo. In 1952 a kendo competition was held in Nishinomiya city (Hyogo) and the Osaka team (with Ikeda as a member) got 2nd place.

Eventually Ikeda sensei went on to teach kendo at main places in Osaka (see timeline below) including becoming the shihan of Yoseikai. At that time keiko would be every day bar Sundays, and Ikeda sensei would come 3 or 4 times per week.

Ikeda sensei would stress the importance of kihon and recommended practising by yourself. He also spent a lot of time on kata.

At Yoseikai, after the main practise would finish he would do extra keiko with selected kenshi, perhaps 5 or 6 people for 30 minutes. He would bring the fight to these students and the keiko was very intense. His tsuki would never miss, and his kote from jodan (despite being small statured he sometimes fought jodan) was very fast.

One of Ikeda sensei’s favourite sayings was 「稽古一本酒三本」: “keiko ippon sake sanbon.” After keiko he would go to the izakaya and would lose track of time while talking about kendo things. As a man who devoted his lifetime to kendo he never broke his pursuit of kendo knowledge, and even at the end of keiko would tidy up his own bogu.

With success comes reflection

As told by Furuya sensei:

“Ikeda sensei’s tenouchi was outstanding. Because of this, sensei’s favoured technique was ‘kote kaeshi kote.’ His forward attacking men was brilliant as well, but his ability to receive and immediately turn the opponents power back on them using kaeshi waza was great. At the same time as receiving his opponents power he would strike their men or kote. Different from suriage waza, unless your tenouchi has been tempered finely you couldn’t copy his style.

But even Ikeda sensei had call to reflect on his use of the waza. One time when I asked Ikeda sensei to reminisce on his own teacher he told me the following story. Ikeda sensei met his teacher at Busen and was from the same prefecture – the aforementioned Sato Chuzo sensei. In 1954 – when Ikeda sensei was 40 years old – he won the Kokutai individual championships held in Hokkaido (Kokutai is a large and prestigious national sports competition that entails many sports and budo). After he won the title Sato Chuzo – who was a shinpan at the time – called over Ikeda sensei.

Ikeda, don’t dare show your kote and invite your opponent to strike it. Your favourite technique is kote-kaeshi-kote right? Don’t be stupid and blatantly open your kote to invite attack… you’d better stop that type of kendo right now. Kendo must be done honestly.

In this instant Ikeda sensei changed the way he viewed kendo. With the success of winning such a big shiai there also came reflection.”

Don’t be embarrassed about being hit

Again, told by Furuya sensei:

“It happened in Shudokan. Ikeda sensei was one of the teachers there, and one day he went to ask for keiko from another of the teachers, Hasegawa sensei. Hasegawa sensei was also a Busen graduate, but 7 years Ikeda sensei’s senior. At this time Ikeda sensei was in his early 50’s. When the two shihan began keiko everyone around them stopped to watch. Its rare that two shihan would keiko like this so the atmosphere was tense.

The first to move was Ikeda sensei, who launched into a morote-tsuki attack. Hasegawa sensei managed to use his shinai just in time to avoid the thrust from landing. The pair of sensei went back to chudan and the keiko commenced. Just as Ikeda sensei was about to launch another attack Hasegawa sensei sprung forward and tsuki’ed Ikeda sensei so strongly that he flew back and into the waiting line of kenshi, of which I was top of the line. Straight away Hasegawa sensei thrust again and Ikeda sensei’s body flew into mine.

Its very rare for senior sensei to go to more-senior sensei for keiko in front of so many students. Ikeda sensei toppled over in front of me. On a different day I again saw Ikeda sensei go to Hasegawa sensei for keiko. Ikeda sensei was not embarrassed about being struck, rather he admitted his inexperience and thanked Hasegawa sensei for teaching him (remember Ikeda sensei was at least 8dan at this time).

The image of that tsuki and Ikeda sensei collapsing into me is burnt into my mind.”

Sayings by Ikeda Yuji sensei

Do correct kendo, do kendo so that whoever looks at you thinks it is beautiful.

Small, shrunken kendo like a bonsai is bad, do kendo like a big tree with strong roots.

Kendo isn’t about theory. Its about seeking yourself through intense keiko. If you do this you will come to understand.

If you accept that something is impossible then it always will be. If you always avoid your opponents sword tip then you will never be able to defeat them.

Self-centered kendo is bad. There is an partner in front of you after all. If you do self-centered kendo then those watching will think “thats unpleasant” and you will be thought of as someone who does bad kendo. You must do kendo that is pleasant. Striking your opponents heart/spirit, or having your heart/spirit struck by your opponent is what kendo’s about, isn’t it?

They say “do kendo with abandon.” If you do your daily kendo like this, and if even 1/2 of this comes out during a shiai, you will win.

Even though you are swinging the shinai you don’t need power. Even though you are lifting the shinai up you don’t need power. Physical power is unnecessary. If you simply bring the shinai down it will cut.

In kirikaeshi its bad to just bash your opponents shinai recklessly. You have to tense your hands and – feeling the weight of your own shinai – immediately pivot the shinai round and strike the opposite side.

It doesn’t matter who you are, every person raises their hands before striking. Strike there. You have to be patient and wait until that moment.

Kendo is a lifetime activity. Its not just about striking and being struck, kendo isn’t as small as that.

Kendo is about harmony. You have a partner after all. You must consider your opponents feeling. Kendo isn’t something you can do on your own after all.

Simply learning the theory of kendo is no good. Kendo is only understood through physical experience. If you see the opponents kote come and you think “I’m going to evade it!” well, there simply isn’t enough time. Your opponent is also a living being. They don’t want to be hit. Thinking then attempting to strike is no good. You have to abandon oneself. Throw away everything and strike.

In your youth you must physically exert yourself to the utmost. During this period you will start to understand things like the correct opportunity to strike, and the theory behind actions. Keiko without exertion leads to nothing but small and hard kendo.

When you are doing keiko with senior people, even if you feel their strong pressure, you should attempt to strike. Even if it wasn’t the correct time to strike, aim to throw yourself into the cut and make your opponent move by doing so. If you do this over and over your emotional spirit, that is to say, your “heart” will come out. Eventually you will be able to cause your opponent to strike when agitated. He will end up simply blocking your attacks and your attacks/techniques will come out one after another.

When you think “Wow, thats a great technique, I want to learn it” you should steal it. Whether you are asleep or awake you should draw a picture of it in your mind. Naturally/eventually you will become to be able to do the technique.

“Shu-ha-ri” is something you repeat over and over. Whatever grade you become “shu,” whatever grade you became “ha,” its not “once you get to x-dan” then you are now in the “ri” stage, at least this is what I believe. It doesn’t matter what grade you are, you must always return to basics.

Do your keiko like your kata and do your kata like keiko.

Watching someone’s kata you can understand their kendo ability. How to grip the sword, how to move the body, kamae, presence… everything comes out in kata.

Timeline: Ikeda Yuji, hanshi hachidan

1914: born in Yamagata prefecture on the 13th of March.
1923: began kendo at 3rd year in primary school.
1932/1933: Entered into the Busen pre-training group in 1932 and – finally passing the exams a year later – enrolled in Busen proper in 1933. Sato Chuzo – also from Yamagata – became his main teacher.
1937: graduated Busen but stayed on in its research division.
1940: entered tenran shiai.
1942: he served as the kendo teacher for Sakai kogyo high school, and taught kendo and jukendo at Osaka prefectural university.
1945-1949: After the war he was interned in a Siberian labour camp for 4 years. After release he worked at a fabric wholesale company in central Osaka.
1950/51: helps create Busen alumni association and re-starts kendo at Nankai dentetsu dojo.
1954: he won Kokutai kendo individual championships aged 40.
1959 or 1963: becomes first shihan of Yoseikai.
1964: passes hachidan.
1969: receives hanshi
1971: Tozai-taiko west-team captain.
1976: all Japan kendo championships shinpan-cho. Served on the board to revise kendo no kata.
1991: passes away at 76.

Posts held: ZNKR director and public awareness committee member, Osaka kendo renmei permanent director, Kansai university kendo shihan, Osaka university kendo shihan, Asahi shinbun Osaka kendo shihan, Shudokan lecturer, Asahi culture center Senri kendo kyoshitsu lecturer, Yoseikai shihan, Yukenkai shihan, Juso kenyukai shihan.



Concerning the problem of tsuki 突きの問題について

The following is a translation of another short article by Takizawa Kozo hanshi. As someone who was never taught tsuki for many years of his kendo career I think I would have liked to have had Takaizawa hanshi’s advice on the matter earlier.

I started my own experiment (almost untaught) as a member of the British kendo team years ago: myself and a couple of friends all agreed that we would practise tsuki together; we weren’t really taught it, and poked each other for a year or two, slowly making some progress. Years later I now teach tsuki as a fundamental technique and have gone from merely thinking that its cool, to wondering how you could actually do kendo without it.

At any rate, the following article is from 1978, enjoy!

Concerning the problem of tsuki
making tsuki waza a central technique of children’s kendo

For a long time its been said “Kendo begins and ends with Tsuki” (a saying attributed to the teachings of Hokkushin itto-ryu). You can see this if you look at the composition of kendo no kata: you are expected to pressure the center of your opponents body with your kensen, and not remove it from there (this is expressed in zanshin as well).

After the war, it was declared that tsuki was too dangerous to be attempted by those of junior high school age and younger, and its use was outlawed in shiai of that age-range. Accordingly, its become the norm that the technique is not taught in normal practise anymore.

(Editor: Its possible that Takizawa sensei was suggesting that not only did children not learn the technique, but this special handling of tsuki influenced their kendo into adulthood as well. This is certainly my personal experience, where many people develop good kendo, yet are hesitant to use or even practise tsuki.)

Post-war kendo was re-conceived as a sport, and as such sportified new rules were created. Because of this, it became important to ensure safety, and elements of the traditional kendo pedagogy (pre-war) became undesirable, e.g. leg sweeping, grappling, pushing and shoving (with no aim of scoring), striking un-armoured areas, etc… these in fact became hansoku. On top of that – due to pain felt when hitting the ears – valid yoko-men strikes were limited to those above the ear only, and tsuki became a banned technique for those of junior high school age and below. Anything that was thought to be dangerous was constrained by the rules, and regulations were detailed minutely.

Pre-war kendo was conceived as budo (bujutsu), so things like leg sweeping, grappling, pushing and shoving, etc in fact there was even a time when over the top violent actions happened openly and without penalty. At this time, it was the case that older people, women, and youths hesitated to practise kendo.

(Editor: Women kenshi were extremely rare pre-war. The only time you hear of any are those that took part in Sakakibara’s gekkikenkai, where women were for show/curiosity, and very occasionally at places like Noma dojo. I don’t think its that they ‘hesitated’ but that they couldn’t train, but that they couldn’t.)

Nowadays kendo done by amateurs. That children, youths, women, and old people can all practise together is largely because there is a high level of safety involved. We should recognise this characteristic as one that is mainly responsible for the success of modern kendo.

On the other hand, because of this minute detailing of rules, we can see people doing this such as deliberately trying to break them, taking breaks in tsubazeriai, etc, basically we see a bad tendency to try various methods to win and the essential essence of kendo – etiquette, strictness, intensity – has become diluted.

In this way, even though we note the success of modern kendo, we must deeply consider and reflect on what its become. One example is the case where we have banned tsuki for use in children of junior high school age and below; to look at it a different way, if you consider the very basis of kendo – hitting a clear DATOTSU (打突) i.e. cutting (打) and thrusting (突) – we have removed the thrusting part (突) and as such its not an exaggeration to say what we are left with is a kendo that incomplete (deformed).

I looked at the (kendo) publics opinion on the matter of “tsuki as a dangerous technique.” In amongst people who claim this, there are those that simply say “tsuki is dangerous” without giving any concrete examples; their view is simply abstract. Instructors that get together and say this in one voice paint a bad image of pre-war kendo. In particular, although they accept that kendo should be used for educational purposes, those that teach kendo in schools are amongst the most vocal about the issue of danger.

In the situation that has risen as described above, where public (abstract) opinion says that “tsuki technique is dangerous” in spite of evidence to prove it and the technique has been banned in junior high schools and below, and because this situation obstructs the development/growth of kendo and inhibits the ability to transmit the traditional culture of kendo to future generations, we must impose on instructors to clarify tsuki technique (so that its proper use will be understood).

When the children that come to my dojo (6-12years old) are able to put on their bogu and perform kakarigeiko to a good level, the first thing I then teach is morotezuki. If you introduce tsuki at this age, they will naturally be able to acquire good technique. The purpose to have them study tsuki is that the children should be forced to understand the following points about the importance of kihon:

  1. Strike men as if aiming to tsuki, don’t let your kensen go outside your opponents center (correct chudan no kamae);
  2. It helps fix unnatural tenouchi (correct grip);
  3. Tsuki not with your hands, but with your hips (correct body movement);
  4. Modotachi receives by tucking their chin in and keeping posture (correct posture);
  5. If mododachi’s footwork is wrong (with their heal down on the ground) then there is a fear that they will be knocked over (correct ashisabaki);
  6. Both the motodachi and the technique executor become serious (feeling of tension).

Using tsuki technique to force the above understanding on students is useful.

From now on, I would like and expect those teaching children to teach tsuki not as a dangerous technique, but as a fundamental part of kendo’s basics; as a safe, efficient, important part of instructors teaching method, and for tsuki to be used more widely in general. If teaching children tsuki becomes open it will have the knock on effect of good technique later in life. To that effect, we must devise a method to increase instructors teaching ability.

Takizawa Kozo
Showa 53 (1978), January 20th.


思斉館滝澤道場 創立30周年記念誌。平成12年発行。非売品。 初代館長藩士九段瀧澤光三。

A practical guide to jodan-training.

This is not meant as a guide for learning jodan, but more a guide of how to implement jodan training in your dojo.

I’ll assume  that you already have permission from your teacher to practice jodan and skip the whole ‘why train jodan’ issue. I also assume that your are proficient with a variety of waza in chudan. Jodan does not have the variety of waza that you have in chudan, so compromises/work-around will have to be made and this list here is based on my own experience over the years in a couple of different dojo’s  and from training with people from a wide variety of experience.

The size and general experience level will greatly influence how you practice. In more experienced/smaller dojo’s it’s much easier for people to get used to practicing with jodan and working with the variations of the wazas. If you have a lot of beginners, it’s easy to make them confused and you should also bear in mind of how much benefit you’ll get from practicing jodan against a beginner.


It’s the most basic exercise in chudan and remains so for jodan. Depending on your left arm strength and your training partners, you’ll need to be aware of a few variations.

Variant 1: Katate-men, katate-sayumen. This one takes a lot out of your wrist/forearm unless the motodachi is skilled at receiving kirikaeshi.
A good motodachi will either let you hit their men on the sayumen or just block it slightly with his shinai, so that it still goes through to the men. However, most people, especially less experienced people, will block it completely and often pushing out against the cut. This makes it exceedingly hard to do katate-sayumen.  So..unless you know the motodachi well enough (or in smaller clubs, have talked about it beforehand) and know that they will let the sayumen go through, I don’t recommend this type of kirikaeshi.

Variant 2: Katate-men, morote-sayumen. The big straight men-uchi’s are still done as katate-men, but the sayumen are done with both hands, but keeping the right foot forward. The upper body movement should be familiar, so focus on the footwork.

Receiving kirikaeshi should be done from chudan.


The main thing to watch out for, is that people will often step in too close when they are receiving.Make sure to make people aware of the additional distance required. This is also the most important waza to learn. If you are not able to threaten the men with a strong attack, you will struggle with your jodan, so I suggest that whenever you have to ‘substitute’ a waza that cannot be executed from jodan, just practice your men-uchi.
Receive from chudan or receive strikes to either kote in jodan


This is probably the most problematic for new jodan player, especially in more ‘gentle’ dojos. Katate-kote will always be hitting hard. You are cutting from up high, with  less than half the force available to apply tenuchi and it will be hard and often inaccurate. However, holding back will build bad habits, so you have to find the fine balance of doing something that probably will hurt the motodachi (to a varying degree)  while also preventing from building bad habits by slowing down the cut.  It will depend a lot on your dojo, but be aware of the issue and if you have concerns, talk to your motodachi/dojo-mates and adjust accordingly.

Receiving kote can be done from both chudan and jodan. More experienced people will take the opportunity to practice the cuts against jodan, but beginners should probably just focus on hitting your kote whilst in chudan.


Katate-do just doesn’t work. Even on a compliant opponent it’s hard to get the right impact and follow-through and frankly, I see no point in practicing it. Instead, you should make gyaku-do your default Do-uchi. The angle is more natural from jodan and most opponents will lift up towards their right side to protect kote & men, often leaving the gyaku-do wide open. You can go through(both sides), back, sideways.

Receive from jodan, but encourage people to hit gyaku do, as it’s the more likely side of the do to be open on a jodan player.


In theory, doing tsuki from jodan is possible, but it’s rather difficult. I tend to replace it with a men or kote-uchi or do tsuki from chudan.
A key point for jodan, is also to practice receiving tsuki, as it’s important that you don’t flinch when people attack tsuki. Relish it and wear the bruises with pride.


It’s possible to do katate-kote men, but it requires a compliant opponent and very strong wrists. Instead I prefer to do either morote-kote-men (stepping across with the left foot) or morote-uchiotoshi-men. You can use this is a base for any number of combinations, as once you’ve stepped across for the first attack, it’s the same as in chudan. (uchi-otoshi-do,uchi-otoshi-men-do etc). It is still worthwhile practicing katate-kote-men from time to time, but should probably be used more as a recovery (to kamae) exercise between attacks, rather than a nidan-waza.You should receive this in chudan.


The selection of oji-waza from jodan is very small. There are other than the ones mentioned below, but they will be more ‘tricks’ rather than something you can use repeatedly .

Debana-men/kote. Katate-debana-men should be your bread & butter technique. Debana-kote requires better timing.

Nuki-men: Very similar to kote-nuki-men from chudan.

Uchi-otoshi-men. As opponent starts the attack, knock his shinai down and hit (morote) men in one smooth motion.

Most other oji-waza simply aren’t that practical from jodan (kote-kaeshi-kote?..suriage-men?), so I recommend either substitute using one of the above, or doing them from chudan.


Call them tricks, feints, deceptions. With the predictability of katate-waza, it’s important to have one or two techniques that you can use to catch the opponent off-guard. If you have a section of ‘free waza practice’, get your partner to react more or less realistic to these.

Semete-men-morote-kote: Push strongly forward with both the hands as if doing katate-men (I step across, but you can use regular fumikomi) and as opponent lifts up to block, hit morote-kote.

Semete-kote-morote-men. Push strongly forward and slightly down/left towards to the kote and as opponent starts to block, straighten up and hit morote-(yoko)-men.

Gyaku-do should be executed in similar fashion. Strong forward movement towards the men and as they lift to block, hit gyaku-do.


There’s no specific hikiwaza for jodan, but if you are intending to take part in shiai, you should also put a lot of focus on this.  Jodan can be tricky to defeat, but it’s not that difficult to obstruct and opportunities can be hard to create.Especially in team matches, you’ll often see the opponent, especially if they’re weaker, be instructed to just seek refuge in tsubazeria. (For the same reason, jodan players often end up as chuken in team matches, as they work well as ‘stoppers’)


This is mostly an issue for motodachi, in making sure that the extra distance is allowed for and that there’s little point in offering ‘kote-men’.
With kakari-geiko, pay attention to recovery, give them just enough time to get to kamae (or a little less).
Ai-kakari-geiko is possible, but chudan side needs to be fairly experienced to make it worthwhile. Consider using chudan when doing this with less experienced people.


Etiquette will vary from place to place, but whenever I practice with new people, I will start out in chudan. When we have both given what we got (or progression of the ‘fight’ stalls), I will try to pick a natural break, excuse myself and change to jodan. This means, that sometimes in mawari-geiko, that I wont always get to change to jodan. (But then that also means that practising in chudan was productive/interesting, so nothing was really lost!).

Other general ‘rules of thumb’ is that I usually don’t use jodan against in-experienced people, as the usual experience on both sides will be minimal.

Many seniors (as in age) also have little interest in practising against jodan and I try to respect that as much as possible, however when anyone calls ‘Ippon’, I will always use jodan.

I recommend reading Honda-sensei’s excellent articles on ‘Attitudes to Ji-geiko‘ and adjust your own practice accordingly.

kendo places #11: Musashi no sato

Nestled in the hills in the north of Okayama prefecture close to the border with Tottori prefecture is the small town of Mimasaka. It is here, around 1584, that the Miyamoto Musashi was said to have been born. From there Musashi embarked on his study of swordsmanship, with a narrative well known to all students of the Japanese sword arts: Kyoto and duels with the Yoshioka clan, Ganryu-jima and his famous fight with Sasaki Kojiro, and finally to a cave in Kumamoto called Reigando where he wrote his treatise on swordsmanship, the Gorin-no-sho.

The reality of Musashi’s life is clouded in mystery. Since his introduction to the Japanese public via Yoshikawa Eiji’s bestselling book (originally serialised in the Asahi Shinbun in the 1930s), truth-legend-fiction have all become wound into one. TV dramas, films, manga, anime, etc etc the popular “Miyamoto Musashi” of today is almost certainly a work of fiction rather than of reality. Its only been relatively recently that series research on him has been started, the conclusions of which seem far from concrete.

A few weeks ago I joined a 2-day gasshuku held in Okayama prefecture at Mimasaka, the supposed birthplace of the legend. I took some time out to wander around the sites and ponder about the man, probably the first time I had done so in years.

Things to see

Mimasaka town is very small. Apart from the Musashi-budokan (easily identifiable in the town as it sticks out like a sore thumb), all the Musashi related places are grouped together in a single area about 10mins walk from the station. Flags saying “Musashi no sato” in Japanese will guide you there from the station.

Musashi-no-haka (Musashi’s grave)

Next to Musashi-jinja (Musashi Temple) there is whats supposed to be the graves of Musashi and his parents. It was quiet and peaceful when I went there.

See the caveat below.

Miyamoto Musashi seika ato (The remains of Musashi’s parents home)

Not really anything to see here. Where the house was said to have been is long gone, and the current house on the property is private, so you cannot enter.

Musashi Shiryokan (Musashi archive)

The archive is a very small (one room!) museum with various artefacts related to Musashi or to the period he lived in. There are also a number of his paintings on view (not sure if they are the originals, but I doubt it).

A small place with no English information at all, I’m not sure its worth checking out unless you are a hardcore Musashi fan. Its also 500 yen to enter, which I think is a bit pricey.

Musashi dojo

It was here my gasshuku was held. Its a very nicely designed dojo, that you can enter and walk around in (when not in use). Its quite large and has a nice floor. On the walls are some pictures but apart from that, there is really nothing to see. It seems to be used mainly for Karate practise, with some niten-ichi-ryu group using it from time to time. I’m not sure about other groups use of the space.

What is great is that the dojo is not only hireable, but its dirt cheap: 700 yen/day!! If you want to stay overnight in the dojo, then its an extra 100 yen/person.

Musashi-no-sato resort

Behind the dojo there is a small “resort.” This is a small ryokan-type place where you can spend the night and eat. Next to it is a larger, more modern building where you can stay too. There is also at least a couple of public baths/onsen in the vicinity which you can use.

I didn’t see any izakaya or beer vending machines in the area however.

Miyamoto Musashi kensho, Musashi budokan

Built in 2000, this “Musashi Budokan” was built to honour Miyamoto Musashi. It is designed to look like the tsuba he used on his sword (Namakosukashi tsuba). Its main area can hold up to 6 full size kendo shiai-jo’s, and has a seating capacity of 838. It also has a budo-jo and various offices inside.


In the Go-rin-no-sho Musashi wrote* that he was born in a part of what is now Okayama prefecture. Where exactly he was born and spent his childhood is assumed to be Mimasaka town, but in reality there is scant evidence to prove it. This hasn’t stopped the town developing Musashi related businesses as they capitlise on his popularity. This has been ongoing since Yoshikawa Eiji spurred him into the popular light and I assumed has increased since the popular NHK year-long dram called “Musashi” was aired in 2003.

The biggest question mark in the area is Musashi’s grave. There are in fact 3 places in Japan that claim to have his remains. In all probability, its Kokura, in Kyushu, where Musashi lies, and not in Mimasaka.

* Its thought that he himself didn’t write the book, but that his student(s) did after his death, or at least compiled his teachings. Like everything to do with Musashi, there is little proof either way.

In Summary

Mimasaka is a small Japanese town like thousands of others all over the country. Its capitalised on its (perhaps dubious) Musashi connection to create a small “Musashi theme park” probably for financial benefit (this capitalising on historical figures, whether goes on all over Japan). If you are a die-hard Musashi fan, then perhaps its worth a day trip to check out, but not much more.

What is good, however, is the dojo facilities. If you are looking to hire a dojo for your group cheaply, and want to get away from the bustle of the city, then it might be worth considering.

How to get there

Getting there from anywhere in the Kansai region takes time, but is relatively simple.

– Take the shin-kaisoku (express) train heading to Banshu-ako from Osaka, Shin-Osaka, or
Kyoto station. (JR Rail Pass holders can take the shinkansen to Himeji then change to same shin- kaisoku above)

– At AIOI station change to the local train heading towards Okayama or Kamagori (this train will be waiting on the opposite side of the platform).

– At KAMAGORI get of the train and change to the CHIZU EXPRESS.

– The Chizu-express is a small one-carriage train that departs from Kamagori. Its not posted in English, but when you get of at Kamigori station, and pointing the same way as the train is heading, walk towards the end of the platform. There will be a small tunnel-like area that connects you with the station for the Chizu-express. They are no ticket machines here, but a manned gate. Simply hand over your ticket (or show your JR rail-pass) then buy a ticket to “Miyamoto Musashi.”

– Get on the train, relax, and enjoy the 50min ride into the country towards Miyamoto Musashi station.

Please note that Miyamoto Musashi station is unmanned. On your return journey, you must enter the train from the rear and pull a ticket from the machine. When you get off at Kamagori, hand this ticket to the train station employee and pay in cash. He/she will also give you a paper ticket that you can use to show the JR staff as evidence of which station you got on.

Musashi no sato “resort” :