Duty of care 注意義務

Judging the outcome of shiai and handing down a decision may at first appear a simple task but, in fact, it is far from it. It would be more accurate to say that it is one of the most difficult of tasks. Perfect refereeing can be achieved only by the Gods alone – it is unnatural for one man to pass judgement upon another; thus, we cannot hope for faultless and perfect refereeing.

– Noma Hisashi, The Kendo Reader (1939)

A couple of weekends ago – for the first time in years and years – I attended a kendo seminar. Unlike seminars abroad, here in Japan they tend to be really small scale affairs, perhaps of only a few hours length, dedicated to a single area of kendo (i.e. shinpan, kata, teaching methodology, or grading). In fact, the whole (enjoyable!) “seminar” scene outside Japan simply doesn’t exist here (of course people get together for kendo weekends, but it’s a different experience you have in, say, America or Europe).

Anyway, the seminar I attended was a shinpan one and was taught by three local 8th dan teachers. The top teacher lectured us for an hour then, during the practical shinpan part, berated people constantly for their poor shinpan skills. Luckily – being a confident judge with lots of past experience – I evaded any criticism… but I must admit I was sweating it a little during my judging session!!

Today I’d quickly like to introduce (actually, reiterate) something important that was said to us repeatedly during the lecture as well as discuss a couple of points that were mentioned or came-up during the day.

The importance of a good shinpan (a.k.a. The effect bad shinpan have on kendo in general)

Let me start, if I may, with a quote from myself:

Kendo’s vicious circle circle, unfortunately already at play in various places where an established kendo infrastructure does not exist, looks something like this:

  • shiai too early + bad shinpan = bad points awarded;
  • bad points awarded = reinforcement of bad kendo;
  • reinforcement of bad kendo = a drop in the physical (technical) overall standards of kendo (yuko-datotsu);
  • a drop in the physical (technical) overall standards of kendo = a drop in the overall standard of grades;
  • a drop in the overall standard of grades = immature teachers (naturally bad shinpan);
  • immature teachers = students not taught correctly and put into shiai too early.

– George McCall, Kendo Coaching Tips and Drills (2012)

Perhaps I’d re-word it slightly now, but the point remains: there is a very real connection between shinpan skill and technical level of competitors. This influence, I posit, is often hard to see because it can take time to manifest itself in an observable manner. In larger kendo populations with a good infrastructure the change might even take generations. Most places outside of Japan have (through no fault of their own) a poor kendo infrastructure so the influence of shinpan over competitors (and, in extension, the general kendo populous) is both larger and more easily detectable.

The solution to this, according to the sensei at the seminar, is of course that people who shinpan must be active kendoka. It’s not that they should simply be doing kendo, but they must pursue it. Shinpan have a duty to understand what makes a yuko-datotsu, knowledge of which can only be gained through hard training over the course of years under the tutelage of good teachers. The ability to read (as well as execute) a good yuko-datotsu comes through this experience alone.

Above and beyond the physical and technical ability of the shinpan are of course a few other factors: shinpan must make decisions fairly, not based on personal bias; they must not favour one technique over the next; they cannot fail to award what seems like a good strike because they claim they have never seen the technique before; they should be well versed in the rules of shiai and how to act as a shinpan (how to move around the court, the calls); and so on.

Understanding how to referee is one of the technical aspects of kendo that you have to become used to and is therefore an important skill to acquire. What follows below are some of the most important points to be careful about:

  • Impartiality.
  • Use correct etiquette.
  • Become one with the competitors.
  • Make clear calls.
  • Respect the regulations.

– Ogawa Kinnosuke, The Kendo Textbook of Imperial Japan (1932, revised 37)

(note, all bullet points in this quote are abbreviated for this post)

Of course, it’s impossible to wait until people have mastered the (often mysterious and always difficult) inner secrets of kendo before they attempt to judge competitions…. not only because most of us will never reach that level, but because there are often aren’t enough experienced shinpan going around to judge competitions (this goes for larger competitions inside Japan as well).

There are many ways you could possibly tackle this problem, but i’d rather explore that in a different article. Today I think it’s sufficient to point out that the problem is a very real one.

Yukodatotsu - click to enlargen

A couple of interesting points

There’s a few things I picked up at the seminar that I could mention here but for the sake of keeping things short I’ll just mention two things: one interesting and one minor. Also, at the end, I’ll add in something I read in one of this months kendo magazines which came up by chance as I was writing this piece.

1. Change in positioning for a jodan competitor

One of the most interesting things that was said during the day was in reference to shinpan positioning when one of the competitors was a jodan competitor. Interesting because not only have I never heard this said before, I’m pretty sure it’s not in the rule book either! It goes like this:

In ai-chudan the three shinpan are organised in a triangular fashion. When one competitor is using jodan, however, both the chushin and the fukushin nearest the jodan competitor should move into a position where they can clearly see the competitors tsuki-dare. This is because tsuki is a common technique against jodan and it’s difficult to see if has struck properly. The triangle in this situation becomes slightly skewed.

Check out this wonderful sketch by yours truly:


2. Red flag over white

When calling hikiwake we are taught that the red flag should be placed over/in front of the white one. We also wrap the red flag round the white one when we are finished using them. Interestingly, at the seminar we were told when cancelling a point the red flag should be above the white flag as well. If you pause for a second you’ll realise the position of your hands thus changes when you are chushin (red flag in right hand) and fukushin (red flag in left hand).

It’s a really minor point (and not that important I think) but it shows to illustrate just how particular some sensei are about shinpan methods!

3. Not allowing a jodan kenshi to take kamae

In one of the kendo magazines this month there was a shinpan question I thought interesting: “Is it illegal to stop a jodan kenshi from taking their kamae?” By this I mean the chudan competitor keeps going in to a close distance and smothering the jodan competitor so they cannot assume their preferred kamae.

There were two scenarios mentioned but it basically comes down to this:

“Is the chudan competitors actions a tactic used to proactively attack, lure, and/or forestall the jodan competitor? Or is he simply moving in close to stop the jodan competitor from attacking him (due to fear or lack of skill perhaps) and wasting time?”

If it is the first scenario then this is basically one of the strategies that can be used against jodan and is valid. The second scenario is, of course, illegal and should be penalised for not attacking and/or wasting time.

Shinpan gallery

Bonus: All Japan Kendo Championships 2015 Shinpan opinion piece

My sensei was one of the shinpan at this years All Japan Kendo Championships (held yesterday). At keiko today he (as he usually does when he comes back from large shiai or events) chatted a little bit about what happened and gave us his own insight into the event. Tonight he mentioned specifically about Katsumi Yosuke, the runner-up in the competition. Despite losing in the final, my sensei said that he watched his kendo style carefully and felt that he was a kenshi that does good kendo. Check out this super slow-mo clip courtesy of the ZNKR (more here):

All Japan Teachers Kendo Championships 第57回全国教職員剣道大会

A couple of weekends ago I found myself in Kyoto watching this years All Japan Teachers Kendo Championships. It was the first time I’d attended this event and was intrigued into how it ran.

The taikai was split into basically three competitions: ladies individuals, mens individual, and mens team, with all competitors either being a teacher of some sort (kindergarten, primary, junior high, senior high, university, technical college, support teacher, etc. etc.) or a staff member of their affiliated prefectures Board of Education (who usually have teaching backgrounds).

In the case of the individual competitions, all the female teachers were grouped into a single shiai irrespective of what kind of teacher they were or their age. The men were split into two groups, with all competitors being under 45 years old: group 1. kindergarten/primary/junior high; and group 2. senior high/university/Board of Education. The competitors from group 1 and 2 plus another from either group (all decided at preliminary competition at the prefectural level) were combined with another two members to make the mens team: Fukusho: between 45-55 years old (school type irrelevant); and Taisho: over 55 (school type irrelevant). It sounds complex, but it’s not really!

As with other shiai that have combinations of age, gender, and job (e.g. Todofuken, Kokutai, etc), this competition offers a wider variety of kendo than what you see at things like the Zen nippon senshuken, the Tozai-taiko, or the Hachidan senbatsu, and due to this it can be, at least in my opinion, a more interesting viewing experience.

I uploaded a simple highlight vid to YouTube last week and shared it on Facebook, where it well received, so I thought I’d post the vid here, as well as share a few snaps of the event. Enjoy!

Highlight vid:

A selection of snaps:

16th World Kendo Championships 第16回世界剣道選手権大会

I cannot, just by telling you about it, convince you of the pleasure of what happens at such as festival as well as you would learn for yourself, sitting in the middle of the crowd watching the arete of men and physical beauty, amazing conditioning, and great skill and irresistible force and daring and pride and unbeatable determination and indescribable passion for victory. I know that you would not stop praising and cheering and applauding.

Lucian (ca, 120-190 CE), Anacharsis (Athletics)

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the World Kendo Championships, held in the Nippon Budokan, Tokyo. I attended as neither competitor nor spectator, but as a volunteer staff member for the All Japan Kendo Association (ZNKR), which was a new – and eye opening – experience for me. In particular I got to see how things operated (specifically the media side of things), plus was privy to not a few highly interesting (and secret!) conversations. I also met a Japanese imperial princess, but that’s a story to be had over a beer or two. Due to my work situation I was only onsite on days 2 and 3.

I won’t bother detailing the flow of the competition nor the results – you can find all those on the official page or from your friends. My main goal with this post is simply to share some pictures and chat briefly about my experience.

Day 2: ladies individuals and teams

I rolled up to the Budokan just before 7am and was in for a long day: I didn’t leave until around 9pm. Other volunteers where there longer than that. This day was mostly spent acclimatising to the role so I didn’t walk around or take as many pictures as I did on the last day (which I now regret).

The highlight (!?!?) of the day was a large-ish earthquake that happened in the middle of the ladies award ceremony. The Budokan shook back-and-forth quite a lot and the ceremony was suspended for a few moments to ensure everything was ok. In Kansai we don’t experience quite as many earthquakes as they do in the Kanto region, so I was far from impressed!

Here are some pictures from the day…

Day 3: mens teams

This day saw the largest turnout spectator-wise, especially from the afternoon. I spent some pre-opening ceremony time watching the warmup of a few teams. The warmup area was in an ad-hoc tent that was set up in what I believe was part of the parking area! When the competition started proper I did some wandering around taking random shots, both of the shiai itself and of other stuff that was going on in and around the Budokan.

One thing that (happily!) surprised me over the day was the realisation just how technically proficient some of the teams have become over the last decade I’ve been in Japan, especially some of the European ones. There was some really athleticism on display as well as some precisely executed waza and nice seme-ai. Watching some of the tall and muscular young guys I started to feel inadequate!!

Check out some pictures…


Team snaps (random):


Behind the scenes

I spent a lot of my volunteering time posting on twitter, taking pictures for flickr, uploading stuff to the kenshi 24/7 facebook page, and monitoring Ustream comments. One thing I’d like everyone to know is that this is a massive operation, especially the Ustream -> YouTube process. Although there is a lot of self-automation, there is constant manual monitoring and intervention if required. It’s really quite impressive how something that was live-streamed a few moments ago get’s shifted to YouTube so quickly. There were also ippon collections and slo-motion vids that got uploaded super speedily.

Although some people had problem watching Ustream, most didn’t. The former we couldn’t really help as any strangling/blocking of the streams were happening at their end. Why some ISPs blocked some channels but left others open I have no idea. At any rate, those that couldn’t see things live could wait a few moments and see the recorded version on YouTube anyway… if they had the patience!

At the same time as all this was happening the scores were being recorded digitally and fed into the official tournament system. Part of this system also updated the official site the instant a point was made (input). It was all rather cool.

Although it was a very exhausting couple of days for me (and I didn’t even work that hard!!), I consider myself lucky that I was allowed so much access to what was going on. I think we need to thank the ZNKR and it’s team of volunteers for going to so much effort.

Some pics from behind the scenes…


To tell you the truth, more than watching the competition itself, I got a lot more joy just walking around, taking pictures, meeting some very old friends, and chatting to new people. Quite a few people came up to me and said “Are you George?” and thanked me for kenshi 24/7… which was unexpected but very nice!

Of course, I did watch a lot of the matches, and I not only enjoyed them immensely but came away with a new found respect for the increase in technical ability shown by everyone. This – assuming it is coupled with a deep understanding of the culture of kendo – can only lead to bright things for the future of kendo. Exciting times!!!!


Special thanks go out to Paul Carruthers from Newcastle who kindly donated a couple of spare tickets for day 3. I managed to get both tickets into needy hands pretty quickly (one person from Hong Kong, another from Osaka) – cheers Paul, I owe you a beer!

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.

1934 Tenran-jiai (illustrated)

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

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

(Links to related articles are after the pictures.)

Emperor Showa watching the shiai:


Shinpan and competitors:

Kata (Nakayama Hakudo and Takano Sasaburo):

Competition winners (note Noma Hisashi on the right):

Finals of the professional kenshi division:

Finals of the prefectural kenshi division (Noma vs Fujimoto):

Special demonstration match (Mochida Moriji vs Ogawa Kinnosuke):

Special demonstration match (Oshima Jikida vs Ueda Heitaro):

Special demonstration match (Takano Shigeyoshi vs Nakayama Hakudo):

Special demonstration match (Saimura Goro vs Nakano Sosuke):

Special demonstration match (Jukendo):

Special demonstration (teaching children):

Various matches from throughout the two days:

Related articles on kenshi 24/7

Teikoku Kendo Kyohon – the book written by Ogawa Kinnosuke, a shinpan and special demonstration member.

The Kendo Reader – the book written by Noma Hisashi, the winner of the prefectural kenshi division.

Fujimoto Kaoru – a look into the life of the person Noma defeated to take the title.

Takano Sasaburo – the most senior sensei in attendance and head shinpan.

Saimura Goro – a shinpan and special demonstration member.

Nakayama Hakudo – a shinpan and special demonstration member.

Takizawa Kozo – information about post-WW2 Tenran-jiai and Saineikan.

(I’ll probably expand on this list as time goes on)


The following video is NOT from the 1934 Tenran-jiai featured here, but one held 6 years later. Although a different shiai, I think we can assume that the execution is pretty much the same:


昭和天覧試合 : 皇太子殿下御誕生奉祝。宮内省 監修。昭和9発行。大日本雄弁会講談社。