Kendo judan 十段

In 1952 the Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei (ZNKR) was formed with the object of trying to re-organise kendo on a national level (iaido and jodo would come under it’s aegis in 1956). Kendo was in a sorry state at that time: the Dai Nippon Butokukai (the overarching organisation in control of kendo before WWII) had been forcibly disbanded in 1946 due to it’s use as a tool of the military government during the war, budo was banned in public institutions (including schools and the military), and a new sportified form of “soft kendo” called Shinai Kyogi (national organisation started in 1950) was causing all sorts of concerns for orthodox kenshi.

Five years later, kendo was still lagging behind judo in terms of popularity, both at home and abroad. Part of the catch-up strategy was to establish a grading system on par with judo, that is, one that awarded grades up to 10th dan. In 1957 the fledgling organisation awarded it’s first four 10th dans by special committee.

This post and the pictures below are taken from an article published in the February 1958 edition of the Asahi Picture News. Supplemental biographical information or links to prior kenshi 24/7 articles are added below the translated sections.

Note that the article itself also features three judo 10th dans as well. I’ve omitted the judo parts.

Kendo Judan

The first kendo 10th dan’s have been born. Ever since the ZNKR was established in 1952 they have been looking at re-organising the grading system used by the now defunct Butokukai. This summer they explicitly set out their new system: grades up to 7th dan will be earned through examination, while those 8th dan and above will be awarded via recommendation and committee selection. The ZNKR has enthusiastically fashioned this renewed grading system in part because “compared to judo, kendo is relatively slow in reviving itself (after the post-war years).” Like this, it has awarded four 10th dan’s, five 9th dan’s, 48 8th dan’s, and 375 7th dan’s.

We visited the new 10th dan sensei at the height of the kangeiko season, please listen respectfully to their words.

Nakano Sosuke (74 years old)

Nakano Sosuke

“The purpose of kendo is to cultivate the spirit. It used to be that dojo etiquette was very strict, but it’s not that way nowadays. This is bad. I always tell the Chikuho high school kendo club students that I teach that they should be model students for their whole school.”

Nakano sensei, originally from Nagasaki, graduated from Kyoto’s Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseijo (the forerunner to Busen) when he was 21 (1906). He went on to become a kendo shihan for the Kyoto Police Department before moving to Fukuoka and taking the post as a prefectural Budo shihan. In 1935 he was awarded 9th dan and moved to Manchuria (55 years old). He returned to Japan during the war years.

His vocal cords were cut out due to throat cancer and now he cannot speak at all. His wife Kazyo-san spoke for him:

“The hardest thing for him is that because he has no voice he cannot kiai. However, keiko for him is what makes him most happy, if he couldn’t do keiko there would be no pleasure in living.”

Even now he gets up early every day at 6am and goes to teach at Chikuho high school kendo club.

This picture shows him thinking silently about his past.

His eldest son Munekatsu (50) is 6th dan, and his 2nd son Masakatsu (38) is 5th dan.

Extra bio:

1885: Born
1898: Began kendo under Takao hanshi in Nagasaki before going to Kyoto to study at the newly formed Butokukai HQ in Kyoto.
1905: The Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseijo started and Nakano was sent as a student of the first class.
1906: Graduated from the Yoseijo and appointed an assistant instructor.
1910: Awarded seirensho
1911: Becomes assistant instructor at Busen.
1916: Awarded kyoshi
1927: Awarded hanshi
1929, 1934, 1940*: Took part as shinpan and selected competitor in the specialist section of the Showa tenran-jiai.
1931: Becomes kendo shihan at the Japanese government in Korea.
1957: Awarded 10th dan by the newly formed ZNKR.
1963: Passed away.

* Nakano sensei demonstrated kendo with Saimura in 1934 and Mochida Seiji in 1940 at the tenran-jiai.

Ogawa Kinnosuke (73 years old)

Ogawa Kinnosuke

At about 173cms and over 75kgs Ogawa sensei is very robust:

“Even if I’m feeling a little bit under the weather I go to keiko and sweat it out. Nine years ago I unfortunately suffered from a bout of pneumonia but I’m in sound health now. When I went to the doctor he told me I was as healthy as someone in their 40s.”

Like this, you can see that Ogawa sensei is a very healthy senior citizen.

Ogawa sensei started to learn kendo when he was 13 years old at a dojo in his home town (Aichi prefecture, Iwakura-cho) called Seishinjuku. He studied there for 4 years.

In 1929 he was appointed the chief kendo instructor of the Butokukai in Kyoto.

After the war, in 1946, in addition to holding a public office, he became the kendo shihan of the Kyoto branch of the Imperial Guards. He still teaches there today.

During his career he has taught over 3000 students.

“Although people say we are entering a kendo boom nowadays, this is not the kendo that we developed before the war, it’s a sportified version. Those of the next generation that do proper kendo do not desire to practise in this manner.”

Even now Ogawa sensei doesn’t miss a days keiko and manages to do an hour of keiko without his breath becoming laboured.

“As you age you will lose to those more physically powerful than you. Use your partners power against them, and win through technique.”

Ogawa sensei’s only daughter Yukiko is a tea ceremony instructor and her husband Masayuki is kendo nanadan.

Extra bio:

See the prior kenshi 24/7 article.

Check out the kenshi 24/7 publication by Ogawa Kinnosuke sensei: Teikoku Kendo Kyohon, The Kendo Textbook of Imperial Japan.

Mochida Seiji (73 years old)

Mochida Seiji

“My father was the headman of a small village in Gifu prefecture and had his own dojo. He’d gather the local kids around and teach kendo in the dojo that he owned. Due to my father I started kendo when I was 6 years old. I didn’t really enjoy kendo but somehow I ended up on this path….”

In May 1929 on the grounds of the Imperial Palace 32 of the country’s elite kenshi competed in front of the Emperor. The final was between Mochida sensei and Takano Shigeyoshi sensei.

“Luckily I was able to win the fight but I will never forget that intense bout for the rest of my life. As a prize I was given a Bizen Osafune crafted sword from the Imperial Court.”

Mochida sensei get’s up at 5am everyday and goes to the nearby dojo for an hour of keiko. Even if 7th dan’s come to keiko with him he makes short work of them.

“Recently novels featuring strong swordsmen have increased in popularity, however they are filled with exaggeration. The primary secret to reaching the inner depths of swordsmanship is found in the cultivation of the soul and the spirit.”

Mochida sensei graduated from Kyoto’s Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseijo and is currently an honourary kendo shihan at Keishicho (Tokyo Metropolitan Police).

Extra bio:

1885: Born
1902-1907: Studied kendo at the Gifu prefecture sub-branch of the Butokukai. Trained for a short time in 1902 at Takano Sasaburo’s Meishinkan and Nakayama Hakudo’s Yushinkan.
1907: Sent to the Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseijo from the Gifu Butokukai.
1908: Graduates from the Yoseijo.
1909: Appointed an assistant instructor at the Yoseijo.
1911: Awarded seirensho. Becomes assistant instructor at Busen.
1919: Awarded kyoshi. Appointed head kendo teacher at the Chiba prefecture sub-branch of the Butokukai.
1922: Becomes a kendo teacher at Jigaro Kano’s/Takano Sasaburo’s Tokyo Shihan Gakko.
1925: Becomes kendo shihan at the Japanese government in Korea.
1927: Awarded hanshi.
1929: Took part as shinpan and competitor in the specialist section of the tenran-jiai, winning the specialist competition.
1931: Became the shihan of Noma dojo.
1934, 1940: Took part as shinpan and competitor in the specialist section of the tenran-jiai.
1957: Awarded 10th dan.
1964: Demonstrated kata at the Tokyo Olympics
1965: Awarded the Order of the Rising Sun
1974: Passed away.

Saimura Goro (71 years old)

Saimura Goro

Saimura sensei graduated from Kyoto’s Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseijo when he was 20, later becoming a kendo instructor at Busen, Kokushikan, and the Tokyo Imperial Guards. Currently he is an honourary kendo shihan at Keishicho. When he was younger he was famous for being strong willed and was feared so much he was nicknamed Kaminari Goro (“lightening Goro”).

“I was a bit rowdy when I was younger, so much so that I got kicked out of school for drinking too much (he infamously put a classmate in hospital after a fight). Afterwards I made amends and was lucky to be allowed to graduate….”

His family were shihan of the Kuroda clan (Fukuoka) and it’s this that inspired him to pick up the sword when he was 15.

“For the last 20 years I’ve been getting up every morning at 4:30am (3:30am during kangeiko season) and heading to keiko. However, recently my health hasn’t been so good so the doctor has told me to stop.

Young people nowadays don’t like to do anything difficult. I want to say to them that if you don’t try and experience something then you will never understand what it is. If you overcome difficulties through severe discipline it will definitely add something positive to your life. To those that are living in university lodgings and working hard at kendo, I guarantee you it will be worth it after you graduate.”

Extra bio:

See the prior kenshi 24/7 article.

In 1962 a further – and what was to be last ever – 10th dan was awarded: to Oasa Yuji sensei. Like the other sensei mentioned above, he too studied kendo at the Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseijo directly under Naito Takaharu sensei.

Oasa Yuji

1887: Born
1909-10: Entered the Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseiji
1915: Awarded seirensho.
1921-45: Instructor at the Saga prefecture Butokukai sub-branch.
1922: Awarded kyoshi.
1929, 1940: Took part as a competitor in the specialist section of the tenran-jiai.
1930: Sent to America for 6 months by the Butokukai to research sports education.
1936: Awarded hanshi.
1955: Became Saga prefecture kendo renmei president.
1962: Awarded 10th dan.
1974: Passed away.

In February 1974 the last two remaining 10th dans – Mochida and Oasa – passed away and after that it was never awarded again. It was not until 2000, however, when the ZNKR finally revised their rules and stopped the possibility of awarding either 9th or 10th dan.

Check out related article posted 5 and 1/2 years ago: A brief investigation into the SHOGO system


Pictures from the Asahi Picture News article.


Luckily we have video of the demonstration matches of all 5 of the sensei introduced here. These videos show their matches at the 1940 Tenran-jiai.

Nakano (l) vs Mochida (r):

Saimura (l) vs Ogawa (r):

Oasa Yuji can be seen on this video on the right vs Hotta Sutejiro (sorry, it can’t be embedded).



Ogawa Kinnosuke 小川金之助

When I think about the sensei that had the most influence over the development of modern kendo the three that immediately come to mind tower above all the rest: Naito Takaharu, Takano Sasaburo, and Ogawa Kinnosuke. As I’ve already done posts on the the first two, it’s time now for one on the last of the triumvirate.

Ogawa Kinnosuke was born in 1884 in Aiichi prefecture. He began kendo whilst in school, at around 13/15 years of age, under kendo hanshi Kato Kiichi and later under Kohori Yasutada. In his late teens and very early 20s he taught kendo at a middle school and joined the army (field gunnery position) before being employed by Nagoya police department. It was at thus juncture where his kendo life was to change.

The Dai-Nippon Butokukai had been founded a few years earlier in 1895, with the goal of promoting spiritual discipline through martial arts education. Upon completion of its HQ dojo – the Butokuden – a handful of prominent kenshi were selected to instruct there, one of whom was to have the greatest influence of the development of modern kendo: Naito Takaharu. In 1905 a school was formally opened to teach kendo instructors and Naito was selected as the senior teacher. At this time the school was known as the Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseijo, but eventually (after a few re-organisations and renames) it would be known to everyone as Busen (Budo Senmon Gakko). It was to this school that Ogawa was dispatched by the Nagoya police department in 1907.

Ogawa would spend 3 years studying kendo directly under Naito. Including Ogawa, students of the Yoseijo around this time who were to go on to have a massive impact on the future of kendo: Saimura Goro, Mochida Moriji, Nakano Sosuke, Oasa Yuji, Shimatani Yasohachi, Oshima Jikida, Ueda Heitaro, and Miyazaki Mosaburo amongst others. The first 4 people mentioned were, along with Ogawa, awarded 10th dan after the war.

After spending 3 years training under Naito (and surrounded by high quality kenshi) Ogawa was ordered back to Nagoya to take up his kendo teaching position within the police.

For the next 4 years Ogawa taught kendo within the Nagoya police department when – in 1914 – Naito got in touch and requested that he return to Kyoto to become a helper at the newly overhauled Busen. Obviously a favourite of Naito, his promotion was swift: he became an assistant Busen teacher in 1917 then, after being awarded his kyoshi in 1919, a fully fledged one.

1919 also saw the arrival of a new Busen principle, the influential politician Nishikubo Hiromichi. Ogawa was taken under Nishikubo’s wing and when Ogawa came to build his own dojo he used the kanji from Nishikubo’s first name (Hiromichi 弘道) for the name of the dojo he built in 1924: Kodokan 弘道館. Kodokan was originally built in the grounds of Chomyoji temple, not far from the Butokuden. This dojo would become one of the main dojo that Busen students would attend in the evenings.

From around 1926 the ageing Naito’s health began to worsen, and Ogawa was selected to take over the senior teaching role. During this time he was awarded hanshi by the Butokukai. When Naito passed away suddenly in 1929, Ogawa was appointed as Busen’s principle instructor. He would keep this job until 1944 when he himself petitioned for retirement (perhaps due to the over-arching control Japan’s military government was exercising on the Butokukai?).

The 1920s and 30s can rightly be seen as the period where kendo – it’s philosophy, ideology, as well as physical execution – began to finally take a consistent form. The driving force behind this was mainly the Butokukai and the teachers (and graduates) of Busen. It’s not too much to say that Ogawa was in key a position of authority and influence during the majority of this time.

Reading scores and scores of kendo books from the post-war period, Ogawa’s name comes up time and time again: it’s obvious that he was high respected and that many many Busen students regarded him as their teacher. Unfortunately, Ogawa himself was far from prolific when it came to written material: he only authored a single book in 1932 (revised in 1937) called Teikokuku Kendo Kyohon: The Kendo Textbook of Imperial Japan.

After the war ended, like all the senior pre-war guard, we don’t really hear or see much of Ogawa until he is awarded 10th dan from the newly formed Zen Nippon Kendo Renemei in 1957. (All the 10th dan recipients were Naito students and Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseijo graduates.)

Ogawa sensei passed away in 1962 at the age of 78.

Although the original/second generation of Kodokan that Ogawa ran and where Busen students practised no longer exists (between 1924-1934 Kodokan was located in Chomyoji, from 1934-1945 inside Ogawa’s private residence), the group continued after the war (at first run by Ogawa’s son, who was 9th dan) in various locations and still exists today.

If you want to visit something associated with Ogawa then you should attend keiko at the Butokuden and – before or after – take a short walk to Chomyoji and pay respects at his grave.

Saimura Goro (left) vs Ogawa Kinnosuke (right) at the 1940 Tenran-jiai:

Teikokuku Kendo Kyohon

Click here or on the image below to see more information about Ogawa sensei’s book, Teikoku Kendo Kyohon (The Kendo Textbook of Imperial Japan), translated and published by yours truly!

Even if you are wearing steel sandals, find a good teacher 良い師匠は鉄の草鞋をはいてでも探せ

The first half of this article is a short translation. Enjoy!

Up until I was a third year junior high school student (14/15yrs old) I lived in Tottori prefecture. I started kendo in first year but was very weak and lost many competitions. I was so weak that sometimes people would even taiatari me out of the shiai area.

After graduating junior high school I moved to Osaka and naturally joined the kendo club of the senior high school I started going to. However, of course, as I was so weak at kendo, I was treated as nothing more than a burden, and my sempai often got angry at me.

In my second year of high school (16/17yrs) I started attending keiko at Shudokan, the dojo inside Osaka castle park (pictured top). One day a small statured gentlemen walked into the dojo and it was obvious that he was someone of importance by the way he was treated. When keiko started all the Shudokan teachers – those of 6dan and 7dan level – lined up to keiko with the small statured sensei and I was amazed to see that none of them could even touch him. He destroyed them all.

Steeling myself, I joined the sensei’s line for keiko. When it was my turn I stood up from sonkyo and, all of a sudden, I froze: “What should I do?” My breathing became laboured and I felt as if my legs and feet were bound, as if I were paralysed. The atmosphere had suddenly turned severe, making me both scared to strike or be struck. The pressure was intense.

This is kendo!”

I remember feeling both physically paralysis and mental fear in that instant. “From today I’m going to make kendo my life” I thought, and spent that entire night sleeplessly thinking about nothing other than kendo. This was the first time I met Ikeda Yuji sensei.

From that day on I started attending those dojo that Ikeda sensei taught at: “Strike large with a vigorous spirit!” – this is what Ikeda sensei told me every-time I had a chance to keiko with him. The majority of the instruction I received from Ikeda sensei was uchikomi and kirikaeshi, on which he forged my kendo.

Fast forward to 3rd of November 1984: I was standing calmly in the middle of the Nippon Budokan – it was the final of the All Japan Kendo Championships. “Hajime!” I stood up and almost immediately – and unconsciously – struck a large men. I fought at my own pace and managed to win the competition. After the award ceremony was over, with the certificate in one hand and the Emperor’s cup in the other, I sought out Ikeda sensei to say thank you. He said in a quiet tone: “Harada-kun, congratulations!” At that time I recalled clearly that first keiko I had with Ikeda sensei in Shudokan all those years ago …..

– Harada Tetsuo, Kyoto Police Dept., 1993.

In 1984, at the age of 29, Harada sensei won the All Japan Championships and was a member of the winning Japanese team at the World Kendo Championships. He is now kyoshi 8dan. Check out his tachiai at the 2011 Kyoto Taikai. It starts 3 minutes into this video, Harada sensei is facing the camera:

Ikeda sensei mini gallery


Ikeda sensei died in 1991, before I even started kendo, so of course I never had the chance to meet him, but – in a way – I could be described as what’s termed his mago-deshi, that is, his “grand-student” (the same grand as in grandchild). Although a seemingly vague relationship, it exists because I have spent over 10 years practising at the dojo he was mostly associated with in Osaka – Yoseikai – and have studied kendo under some of his direct students. It’s impossible to know how much of Ikeda sensei’s kendo exists within mine (perhaps/probably little) but I’d like to think that it might, if even a little.

For a more complete bio on Ikeda sensei please read this article.

btw, the article’s title – Even if you are wearing steel sandals, find a good teacher – emphasises the importance of studying under a good teacher. No matter how long you walk, no matter how long you search, if your sandals are made from steel (rather than straw or cloth) they won’t wear out. Keep going and going until you arrive at the thing you seek… which is, in our situation here, a good sensei.



追想生涯一剣士 池田勇治先生。勇剣会。1993発行。非売品。

Asagawa Haruo hanshi 浅川春男範士

This years All Japan Championships were won by 21 year old Takenouchi Yuya, a 3rd year student at Tsukuba university, one of the top kendo universities in the country (not to mention the direct descendant of one of the most famous kendo establishments that ever existed: Tokyo Shihan Gakko). It’s only the 2nd time in the competitions 60+ year history that a student has taken the title (it’s important to remember here that there were grade restrictions for part of that time) and the first time since 1988 (and before that 1980) that it hasn’t been won by a policeman. His road to success in the shiai – though a lot faster than most – follows a familiar pattern (YMMV):

  1. Start kendo very young.
  2. Attend a good kids (shonen) kendo club.
  3. Achieve (some) junior high school kendo success.
  4. Go to a well known kendo high school (possibly scouted).
  5. Achieve (some) high school kendo shiai success.
  6. Go to a well known kendo university (possibly scouted).
  7. Achieve (some) university kendo shiai success.
  8. Join a regional police dept. or Keishicho (recruited).
  9. Spend a few years training very hard and competing in police competition, perhaps even making it to the All Japan Champs themselves.
  10. Win the All Japan Championships (possibly after multiple attempts).

This is pretty much the usual route of most if not all modern All Japan Championship winners (male) for as long as I can remember (again, YMMV). Even if a particular competitor gets to step 9 success in the All Japans itself doesn’t come to everybody, especially when there is a some dominant competitors around making things awkward (e.g. Miyazaki Masahiro and Uchimura Ryoichi). Note that shiai success as a policeman is one of the most important keys to a possible professional kendo teaching position post-tokuren (mid 30s).

Takenouchi is in the unique position of achieving number 10 while still being on step 7. What this means for him personally I have no idea, but I can guess that recruitment offers will increase (which is awesome for him as most Japanese university students struggle to find a job after graduating).

But anyway, discussion of the All Japan championships is not really the point of this article and, honestly, I’m not too interested in who wins or who doesn’t anymore. Personally, I’m far more interested in the process that people went through to achieve “success” in their kendo lives, whether this be in shiai or what not. As such – and to serve as a counter to Takenouchi and the pattern described above – I’d like to introduce kenshi 24/7 readers to the story of Asagawa Haruo sensei, winner of the 4th All Japan Kendo Championships way back in 1956.

The following is a highly abridged and freely adapted version of an interview from the very late 70s (published in 1981, I’m not sure of the exact interview date).

Asagawa Haruo, kendo hanshi 8dan, iaido kyoshi 8dan

“My family were descendants of Heike warriors who fled defeat in the wars. Originally they worked the land selling many types of products. Eventually, however, the business collapsed and the family moved onto other work.

My father was a barber and had 5 kids. From 8-14yrs I learned kendo from a very unique school teacher called Taika sensei. Although we only had 12 kids in the kendo club he was a really good teacher and he helped me develop quickly.

However, my family were so poor at the time that I shouldn’t really have been spending my time doing kendo. When I got home I had to look after my younger brother. If I said I had been doing kendo my father would scold me.

There were times when I’d carry my baby brother on my back and take my other kindergarden-aged brother by the hand and lead them to school. Taika sensei would tell the girl students ‘Asagawa is going to do kendo, so look after the kids’ and off I would go to practise. When I returned home my father would scream at me.

I continued to practise secretly like this during my youth and was berated countless times by my father.

After doing this for about a year or so our school won a prefectural level school competition. News of it appeared in the newspaper, and the bicycle shop owner – whose shop was next to my fathers – walked round with the paper and showed my father: ‘Look, Haruo is in the paper!’ My father react as a pigeon does when hit by a peashooter, he was shocked: ‘When did this happen? Where?’

After winning this competition my father started to understand a little bit more and he allowed me to practice kendo as well as relieving me of having to look after my younger brothers. I went on to win many competitions at this time and my nickname became shobu-Asagawa.”

After graduating from elementary school (at 14) various junior high schools tried to recruit him.

“My family was too poor to think of continuing education even though I was being recruited. My father wanted me to continue the family business but I was dead-set against doing that.

There was a kendo/jukendo teacher called Yoshida (a military school instructor) at one of the schools who basically demanded that I attend his school. ‘You don’t need to pay a school entrance fee, you don’t need to pay tuition fees… in fact, we will give you some pocket money’ he said. Taika sensei went to my father and beseeched him ‘It’s such a waste for his kendo career to end before it started’ he said. Eventually my father relented and allowed me to go to junior high school. This was the start of my real kendo shugyo.

Yoshida sensei was a strong teacher and training was hard. I attended practice those 3 years whether it rained or shined, travelling 40 minutes by bicycle to school. We trained everyday until the sun set, even the long summer days. As he was from a military school, the training was regimental. Over the 3 years he gradually increased our skill so that we were able to win many tournaments including the prefectural tournament and becoming 2nd in All Japan Junior High School championship (editor: at this time the shiai were kachinuki style, Asagawa was the sempo and beat 4 teams – 20 people – himself).

After Yoshida sensei finished his 3 year position at the junior high school he became a kendo/jukendo teacher for the navy and eventually died during the war in Shanghai.”

At the age of 18, Asagawa graduated from the junior high school in 1937 and became a substitute primary school teacher, despite not having any qualifications nor knowing how to teach.

“I had no dream of becoming a teacher, all I wanted to do was earn money (because my family was poor) and, as such, I studied to get a proper teacher license and would take on extra kendo instruction duties here and there for money. Eventually I realised that being a teacher was never going to make me rich, so I started to think about quitting and going to Manchuria or something. Eventually, in 1939, I joined the army. I was 20 years old.

During army training I did really well and I aimed at becoming an Company Commander. My superiors saw that I had enough ability and were keen that I get promoted to that status. However when they looked at my school record they found that I didn’t study enough and had bad scores. Because of this I couldn’t receive a recommendation and so could not be promoted. This shocked me and I decided to re-think my attitude, which was to change the direction of my life completely.

Upon completion of my training I worked for a year as a leader of an army education division, after which I was ordered to take a teaching position at a newly created army reserve officer training school. This was around the time of the start of the pacific war. Here I taught military drills, jukenjutsu, and kendo. At the time I had the highest available rank of 5dan in both arts (editor: note that he was issued his 5dan both by Toyama Gakko and the Butokukai).

When the pacific war started I asked to be sent to the front lines but was denied the chance. Eventually, however, I was ordered to go to Singapore in February 1944. At that time it was said that something like 80-90% of the boats heading that way were sunk. Luckily I reached my destination safely and upon arrival I was attached to a special group that gathered people with special skills together. My job was to teach kendo and jukenjutsu to officers from various battalions. I was 25 at the time.

People who practised with me then came from Busen, or had graduated university, however, I never lost to any of them. The time I spent in this job was highly beneficial to my kendo shugyo.

As things worsened we built caves and stayed in them until the end of the war (editor: as you can imagine, there is little discussion about combat or anything in the interview). “

Asagawa returned to his hometown in 1946. It was a time of great hardship throughout Japan.

“After being demobilised I returned a different man to a country where the fields were burned, kendo was banned, and living an ordinary life was difficult. Even though life has become better since then, the mental scars of living through such a tough period are still with me today.

Ono sensei, who currently (at the time of the interview) is a director of the ZNKR and in the past was the director of both the imperial guards and national police, used to bring people together and secretly practice kendo in the local Butokuden. His (brave!) excuse was that even though it was banned in schools, there was nothing stopping people from privately practicing.

When shinai-kyogi came around I also practised that, and won the National Athletic Meet, after which my nickname became ‘shinai kyogi Asagawa.’ I didn’t like this at all so I decided to work hard at practising iaido (I already knew Toyama Gakko battojutsu). Although I started serious practise of iaido in order to clear my name, I kept going at it and am currently kyoshi 8dan. I believe that kendo and iaido are two sides of the same coin, and I know that Kamimoto Eiichi sensei (iaido hanshi 9dan, kendo hanshi 8dan) thought the same way. Whenever we did an iaido seminar we told everyone to bring their bogu, and we’d practise kendo no kata as well.

After this I was commissioned by Gifu city police dept. to teach kendo, but as I couldn’t earn enough to live, I also started a commercial industry side job as well. However, doing 2 jobs at once wasn’t working well, so I decided then to concentrate solely on kendo. I was working at police dept and teaching at a high school, but it still wasn’t enough. My wife then helped out by finding work in a traditional dance troupe. From the ages of 26-29 all I did was kendo and, my father getting sick of it, kicked me out. I ended up living in a primary school gym’s night guard station. There were only 2 rooms there, and it was when my son was about 6 or 7 years old.

Despite working multiple jobs (police kendo teacher, high school kendo teacher, and as the attendant at the primary school gym I was living in) plus my wife’s dancing, we still didn’t have enough money to live. At the time the police system was under reform and I wondered if I couldn’t get a proper full time job as a police kendo shihan. At this time the idea came to me that if I won the (recently begun) All Japan Kendo Championships then I’d get offered a full time position somewhere. With this in mind I took the money we had saved for my son’s school tuition, and embarked, in 1955 at the age of 36, on a musha-shugyo.

The first place I went to was Keishicho in Tokyo and after that I walked around Kanto for a month doing kendo here and there. The last place I arrived at was Mito Tobukan. I spent a week in the dojo practising multiple times a day. Kowaza sensei would ask me ‘Don’t you miss your wife?’ ‘Of course I do’ I said, ‘I am fighting hard to continue this hard shugyo.’ Kozawa sensei said ‘What you are doing is admirable, but you must look after body more carefully. It’s about time you went home.’ The next day, after a warm friendly handshake from Kozawa sensei, I headed home. I was resolved to use this experience in challenging the following years All Japan Championships.”

The following year Asagawa sensei qualified as the Gifu prefecture representative to the 4th All Japan Kendo Championships.

“When someone secured their position as a prefectural representative there would usually be gifts and celebratory parties. However, I refused all of these things and set off towards Tokyo secretly in a late night train one week before the shiai. Nobody saw me of at the station but my wife. I got off the train in Kanagawa and practised with the police department. I was in amazing form, as if the ‘shobu-Asagawa’ of old had come back! However, even though I was in great form I couldn’t relax. I played some pachinko and I couldn’t relax. I visited Hachimangu shrine in Kamakura and still couldn’t relax. Lastly I visited the Kamakura Daibutsu. There I sat facing him until the sun came up.

What I realised during that night was that I desired to win to much; I was trying too hard. I decided then to just give up, to stop thinking only of winning. Then, finally, I felt clear.

So I had thrown all thoughts of victory out. It was my first time in the competition after all, and there were famous competitors such as Nakakura Kiyoshi and Iho Kyotsugu taking part. Probably because of being known as ‘Shinai-kyogi Asugawa’ nobody thought I had a chance. At the party before the event when all the competitors were in attendance, one of the top sensei stood up and said ‘Good luck Nakakura, good luck Nakamura (Nakamura Taro was the previous years winner. He won the title twice and was runnier up a further twice)!’ but nothing to me. ‘What about me?’ I asked, to which he replied smoothly, half in jest ‘Oh yeah, good luck Asagawa!’ Thoughts of ‘I’m going to beat you all tomorrow’ started to swim in my head but I tried not to think about it and jinx my chances.

The next day I met last years winner Nakamura and his friends travelling to the venue. ‘Hey Asagawa’ said Nakamura ‘Please carry the winners flag for me’ he demanded in jest. I carried if for him from the station to the venue. Little did I think I’d meet him in the final of the competition later that same day.

The shiai

My first round fight was a no-show, but in the 2nd round I faced difficulty versus Takano from Kanagawa. This was the only difficulty I was to face that day until the final. After this fight I sailed smoothly through the rounds until I faced last years winner Nakamura in the finally.

Actually, a few days early when I practised at Kanagawa police dept. Nakamura was there. I asked him for a fight and – because I was on excellent form that day and he saw that – he refused. This decision of Nakamura’s, I believe, changed my life. Had he accepted that challenge that day and we keiko-ed together then perhaps there would have been no strange feeling during the final that day. Perhaps I might even have lost. However, he had refused due to fear, and now he must face it. He had too much pride and was scared to lose to someone such as me.

When the shiai started I thought I’d attempt a kote-dou, hoping that my kote strike would take the mind of his dou just enough so I could strike it. However, when I went for kote I raised my hands too much and he struck my dou immediately. Ippon. Nihon-me. I changed my tactic and started aggressively attacking his kote. His movement was fast so every time I’d attempt to get debanagote we’d do ai-uchi and end up in tsubazeria. This happened a number of times. However, when he tried kote-men I was able to strike his kote successfully. Ippon. Shobu. Nakamura was strong in shiai and would strike me the minute he saw any sort of opening. However I was ready for him and struck his dou. Shobu-ari. Everyone on the venue was clapping and so were the shinpan.

When I returned to Gifu there was a big reception awaiting me at the train station: my wife’s dancing students, policemen, members of the public, and even an open roofed car. I tried to avoid all the fuss by getting off at the other side of the train, but I was soon discovered and pointed towards the celebrations. At 37 years old, it was the first time I had ridden such a fancy car in my life.

However, even though I trained hard, devoted myself to getting a full time police kendo teaching post, and won the All Japan Championships, I wasn’t given such a job. ‘There is no quota for such a position in Gifu police department’ they said.

Although my economic situation didn’t change because of the win, I started to become known amongst the general public. Due to this some nefarious people would drop my name when trying to make deals to build gyms and such like. Tiring of all this, at 39 years old I decided to rid myself of kendo once and for all. I planned to rip up my All Japan Kendo Championships winners certificate and go into some sort of business to make money.

Just at that time a city council member said he had some land near where I live. He offered to rent it to me and suggested that I should build and run a dojo on it. However, I had no money at all. My friends and my wife’s students got together and worked out the details: ‘lets get together and build a dojo’ they said. The ‘Asagawa dojo support group was founded with 60 starting members. It was settled then, my destiny, my life, was to be kendo. We built a dojo called ‘SORYUKAN’ (雙柳館) to teach kendo and traditional Japanese dancing.”

Asagawa sensei would go onto run multiple dojo’s and be one of the starting members and serve on the executive committee of the All Japan Kendo Dojo Renmei (an association of childrens dojo that exists beneath the ZNKR). He was awarded 8dan in 1969 and hanshi in 1974. In 1979 he attained iaido 8dan.

Note that Soryukan still exists in Gifu today. It looks like it’s run by Asagawa sensei’s son and maybe grandson. It seems – at least to me – then that his kendo life was extremely successful.

I’ll end this article with a last quote from Asagawa sensei:


“The educational objective of kendo for me is this. Even if you become the best in Japan it won’t allow you to eat. Kendo itself is useless. The point is that the kendo spirit is the means to forging the self, and it’s through this that you can lead you to become successful in todays society.”


私の剣道の修行 (第2巻)。「剣道時代」編集部。
Pictures from 雙柳舘 淺川道場.

Kurai wa Momoi 位は桃井

Edo in panorama, 1865 or 66
Edo in panorama, 1865 or 66

Edo, December 1865. Momoi Junzo and 8 of his disciples were walking home in the fading evening light after finishing their end of year keiko. Despite the cold and the late hour, the city was still busy preparing for the upcoming end-of-year and new-year celebrations. Coming down the hill at Choenjizaka and tuning into Ichigaya they came face to face with a group of horsemen travelling in the opposite direction. As the street was narrow Momoi and his disciples moved to give the horsemen space. Suddenly, one of the horsemen shouted brusquely:

“This is the city patrol, get out of our way!”

Despite the rude manner, Momoi replied calmly:

“Please, pass by.”

“Get further out of the way!” one of the horsemen shouted. “We need more space, move! We are the Shinchogumi under command of the Sakai family from Shonai domain. We are charged with policing the city. Move!”

“We saw that you were patrolmen and moved to let you pass. As you can see, we cannot move further than we have. Surely you can squeeze past?” replied Momoi.

“What?! Are you disobeying our order!” barked one of the horsemen, at which Momoi’s top student Ueda Umanosuke lost it:

“What the hell !?! I can’t forgive such insolence!!!!”

Immediately a number of the Shinchogumi as well as Ueda drew their swords and moved towards each other. All hell had broken loose.

In that instant Momoi stepped in-between the drawn swords. He faced the man who seemed to be the Shinchogumi’s superior officer and said gently:

“Excuse me, but I think you can see that we moved aside for you. Do you have any intention to rein in your men? Or are you planning to allow them to cut us down?”

The calmness of Momoi’s question disarmed the superior officer and he made no reply. Momoi then stepped forward, grabbed the still-mounted officers hakama, and pulled him strongly:

“Now, get down of your horse, I want a word with you.”

The dismounted officer and Momoi stood face to face:

“My name is Momoi Junzo, and I am a Shogun-appointed kenjutsu teacher at the Kobusho. Even though you are a follower of the Sakai family from the Shonai domain and an officially appointed patrolman, I can’t forgive your outrageous actions. If it’s a fight you want then I won’t stop it.”

Motioning towards his top student:

“This here is Ueda Umanosuke. He has a reckless disposition and it looks like he didn’t use up all his energy at keiko today.”

The officer, immediately realising just who it was he had crossed, meekly apologised, followed by his red faced men, and the whole affair was settled.

Momoi never drew his sword.

The dignity of Momoi Junzo

Momoi has dignity, Chiba skill, and Saito power

Known mostly nowadays as the 4th generation master of Kyoshin meichi-ryu, Momoi Junzo (1825-85) was a highly significant kenshi in the late Edo/early Meiji period. He first reached fame while teaching kenjutsu in central Edo in the 1850’s. His dojo, Shigakukan, was one of the most renowned dojo in the city, ranking with Chiba Shunsuke’s Genbukan and Saito Yakuro’s Renpeikan (collectively they were know as the “3 big dojo’s of Edo”).

His prowess was awarded with promotion in status and a teaching position at the highly prestigious Kobusho (Bakufu military training academy). From this position – and through his students – he would go onto to influence (directly and indirectly) on what would later become kendo.

 Konda hachimangu

Finding Junzo (field work)

Although I’ve known that Momoi moved to Osaka during the Bakumatsu period for a number of years now, I hadn’t really bothered rolling up my sleeves and poking around to see if I could find any remnants of the man… mainly because there was – as far as I knew – no physical structures left that I could go and visit. Recently, however, I accidentally discovered that in later life he had worked as a shinto priest just south of Osaka and that his grave was in the vicinity of the shrine. Using the excuse of a sore elbow, I decided to skip keiko one Saturday and go exploring.

The grave: Momoi’s grave is located in the far corner of a gravesite situated on the edge of a Kofun, a type of very old and, usually very large, key-shaped mound grave unique to Japan. The particular mound is called Hakayama Kofun and is located very near Furuichi station in Habikino, south Osaka. I guess nobody really visits the area much as there are almost no sign posts and very little information on Momoi save a very old and very faded bio of his life. Momoi’s wife Fumiko is also interred at the same site.

The shrine: A short 15 minute walk from the gravesite takes you to Konda Hachimangu (originally constructed in 1051), the large and spacious shinto shrine where Momoi spent his final years. Although there would’ve been a dojo in the grounds back in the day, there was no sign of one now.

Although there isn’t a lot of physical remnants of the Momoi left to wonder at, it’s nice to put the shinai and the books down now and then and actually get out and visit somewhere. It also served as a great impetus for revision.

If you are in Osaka and looking for something alternative to visit rather than the usual places, then I can recommend this as a nice afternoon out. Check out the gallery below for pictures of his grave and the shrine.

Keishicho kendo teachers - Naito is second row from the bottom, first on the right

Kyoshin meichi-ryu and keishicho

The marriage of keishicho (Tokyo metropolitan police force) and kendo dates back to 1879, when it’s first Superintendent-General – Kawaji Toshiyoshi – published the Gekken Saikoron, his thoughts about why kendo should be included in the police system. Kawaji’s arguments won the day and within 2 years of the Gekken Saikoron being published, it’s first kenjutsu instructors were employed.

The first batch of instructors were chosen by Sakakibara Kenkichi (perhaps with input from Momoi?) and included the following of Momoi’s students: Kajikawa Yoshimasa, Ueda Umanosuke, and Henmi Sosuke. More of Momoi’s students were also employed by keishicho later, for example Sakabe Daisuke.

It was these kenshi that would put together the Keishi-ryu gekken and battojutsu kata, both of which include a single Kyoshin meichi-ryu kata each.… all that is left of the school today. It’s important to note that this was the first ever attempt at trying to standardise a set of kata to be taught to swordsmen from differing backgrounds, and as such can be considered a forerunner to kendo kata.

In the years that followed, young keishicho kenjutsu teachers/students would go on to include Naito Takaharu, Takano Sasaburo, and Monna Tadashi amongst others… all of whom would receive instruction under Kyoshin meichi-ryu kenshi (i.e. Momoi’s disciples). They would all also be involved in the creation of kendo kata in the future.

Nowadays it’s hard to measure exactly what impact/influence Momoi had on keishicho and modern kendo (especially since Kyoshin meichi-ryu is now no longer extant), but we can probably surmise that it wasn’t insignificant.

The location of Shigakukan in Tokyo is marked with this sign


1825: born in Suruga province, Numazu domain (present day Shizuoka prefecture) as the 2nd son of the samurai Tanaka Toyoaki. His childhood name was Tanaka Zinsuke and his adult name Naomasa.

1838: went to Edo (Tokyo) and began studying Kyoshin meichi-ryu at Shigakukan under the 3rd generation teacher of the school, Momoi Naokatsu.

1852: became the 4th generation master of the school, taking on the hereditary name of “Momoi Junzo” (by this time he had taken the current teachers daughter as a wife and was adopted into the family).

1856: The Tosa domain samurai Takechi Hanpeita comes to Edo and enters Shigakukan (already an accomplished swordsman, this shows Momoi’s fame). Spotting Takechi’s talent, Momoi makes him the chief student of the dojo.

1862: The shogunate promotes Momoi, making him a direct retainer of the shogun. He is then ordered to become a kenjutsu teacher at the shogunate’s military training facility for senior retainers, the Kobusho. Other instructors included Odani Seiichiro and Sakakibara Kenkichi (Yamaoka Tesshu entered as a student and became an assistant instructor).

1867: is made the head bodyguard of Tokugawa Yoshinobu when he goes to Kyoto after which he is appointed a kenjutsu instructor at the short-lived Kobusho in Osaka (at Tamatsukuri). Disagreeing with the Boshin war, Momoi and a few of his students withdraw to the south of Osaka.

1868: government forces expel the shogunate forces from the Kansai area and burn down Osaka castle. The shogunate attempt to recruit Momoi to their cause again but he refuses. Instead he takes up an offer from the loyalist government to teach kenjutsu to soldiers from Satsuma, Choshu, and Geishu who would be responsible for policing Osaka. A dojo was built for this purpose in a now no longer extant temple in Tenma.

1868-70: after the prefectural system was set up and “Osaka prefecture” came in to being, a more official policing structure was started called the Naniwa-tai (it began with 80 members). Momoi was 1 of the 4 leaders of this where he continued to teach kenjutsu. At its peak, there were over 600 peace keepers in the system. In 1870 the organisation was split up as the civil war was over (the modern police system would not begin until later). During this period a new Shigakukan based in central Osaka was built and he taught kenjutsu here as well.

1875: becomes head priest of Konda-hachimangu where he built a dojo and taught kenjutsu, and Chinese classics.

1884: becomes the official kendo instructor for Osaka prefecture

1885: dies of cholera.

2005: is awarded a posthumous citing from the All Japan Kendo Federation

1. the terms kendo, kenjutsu gekken, gekiken, shinai uchikomi are often used synonymously in this article.
2. the kanji for “Momoi” is sometimes read “Momonoi”


This article is based more on “pulp” sources rather than academic or original sources. There is nothing online in English about Momoi at all, so please consider this simply a basic primer about the man, rather than something academically substantial. Note that I used some artistic licence in the introductory part of the article!!

Shigagukan picture taken from this website.