Showa no kensei (昭和の剣聖)

This small article intriduces the “Showa no kensei (昭和の剣聖)” or “The Sword Saints of the Showa period.” All of these kenshi are widely known within the Japanese kendo community, and abroad as well, but I thought a quick article in here would serve as a useful reference.

I hope to expand on this and write longer and more in-depth articles about various kenshi from by-gone years (and not limited to just kendo or renowned personages).

In particular, I feel that Takano Sasaburo’s impact on kendo is not fully understood by many modern practitioners, myself included. Doing research for these articles gives me the chance to learn more and clarify my own thoughts and ideas about kendo, which can only be a good thing!

Takano Sasaburo (高野佐三郎)
1862 or 3 – 1950. Ono-ha itto-ryu, kendo hanshi.

Notable events in his career:

1879 – Entered Yamaoka Tesshu’s Yubukan
1986 – On Yamaoka’s recommendation he was appointed as a kendo instructor at Keichicho.
1888 – Became a police instructor at Saitama prefectures Police HQ and built a new house and dojo (named Urawa Meishinkan) in Urawa City (now Saitama City).
1896 – Became a chief bujutsu instructor at Saitama Police Academy.
1899 – Established Tokyo Meishinkan (at this time there were 41 sub-branches of Meishinkan around the Kanto area, and he was said to be teaching around 10,000 people, including police and students).
1907+ – Took the lead in teaching kendo at various specialist institutes and universities: Tokyo Koto Shihan Gakko Gekkiken Koshi, Tokyo Koto Kogyo Kendo Shihan, Waseda Daigaku Kendobu Koshi, etc
1911-1917 – Was entrusted by the Butokukai as one of the people to help create/establish kendo no kata.
1913 – Awarded hanshi.

Continue reading Showa no kensei (昭和の剣聖)

Kamidana Statistics

Kenpō Nagasaki is a bimonthly kendo publication available to subscribers in Nagasaki prefecture. Each issue features shiai and seminar reports and articles by sensei on various topics.

Recently the magazine featured statistics about dojo in Nagasaki prefecture, including a survey on how many dojo have kamidana or Japanese flags at their shōmen. I have translated the statistics from this section of the survey here:

Area No. of dojo Kamidana only National Flag only Neither Both No Answer
Nagasaki City 34 4 10 16 4 0
Seihi Area 4 0 3 1 0 0
Isahaya City 17 2 13 1 1 0
Unzen City 5 3 1 1 0 0
Minami Shimabara City 9 2 2 1 1 3
Ōmura City 15 4 7 3 1 0
Higashi Sonogi Area 9 1 1 5 2 0
Saikai City 8 0 1 5 0 2
Sasebo City 20 5 1 11 3 0
Kitamatsu area 2 1 0 0 1 0
Hirado Area 13 1 5 5 0 2
Gotō City 8 5 2 1 0 0
Shin-Kamigotō City 10 2 1 5 0 2
Iki City 9 0 0 9 0 0
Tsushima City 18 2 0 15 0 1
Shimabara City 5 1 0 2 2 0
Matsuura City 9 4 1 3 1 0
Total 195 37 48 84 16 10

It is interesting to note that 43% of dojo have neither a flag nor a kamidana, and only 8% have both. This is in contrast not only to the western image of Japanese dojo, but the to general Japanese image of dojo as well. Continue reading Kamidana Statistics

The Student-Teacher Relationship, Seitei and "Traditional" Iai

Like many, my first step into the world of iai and traditional Japanese sword arts was through the Zen Ken seitei-gata and for several years my experiences there strongly colored how I viewed iai, koryu arts and budo in general. Now anyone who has spent any amount of time on online forums or interacting with senior practitioners in various iai and sword related arts, both in Japan and abroad, will know that the seitei-gata “system” (for lack of a better word) can be and is controversial in some circles. The usual arguments typically being along the lines of the kata, being assembled from bits and pieces of various traditional ryuha lack something in technical coherency and depth, or that the technical fundamentals taught by the seitei have a strong tendency to “pollute” whatever koryu the practitioner happens to also practice. In either case, the seitei “system” is seen as being not “traditional” and having some sort of negative influence on more traditional iai arts and people’s views of budo.

Continue reading The Student-Teacher Relationship, Seitei and "Traditional" Iai

Womens kendo in Japan: a survey

The following is a very brief synopsis of questionnaire results that were featured in an article by Kendo Nippon (Dec 2008) entitled “女性剣士の現状と「これから」” (The present condition of womens kendo and its future). I will list the questions and there results but will leave you to draw your own conclusions from there or to discuss in the comments. If you want to find out more then please buy the magazine!


Q1. Do you feel its necessary to have a “female quality” in kendo? (剣道において、「女性らしさ」の必要性を感じるか?)

Feel that it is: 66%
Feel that it isn’t: 22%
Other: 12%

Q2. Are there times when you feel that practising kendo as a woman is inconvenient? (女性は剣道を行なう上で、どのような時に不便を感じるか?)

12 respondents – Family doesn’t support me
9 respondents – Can’t ensure the Keiko time/place
7 respondents – No or few keiko partners
6 respondents – In the evening/holidays I can’t go to keiko
6 respondents – Its incompatible with my job
5 respondents – Feel a difference between the level of the mens keiko
4 respondents – Easily get sick
4 respondents – Period / period pains
3 respondents – Can’t take part in a shiai (can’t make a team)
2 respondents – I have other things that are more important
8 respondents – Others

Continue reading Womens kendo in Japan: a survey

Lose and cut

Recently I’ve had a few people telling me the same thing: I take it easy in ippon shoubu, and need to attack more. For most people who know me and how much I thoroughly hate losing, this might raise a chuckle. After all, how can I have produced the results I have to date by being lazy in ippon shoubu of all things? And one thing I love doing is the old barrage attack that overwhelms people into making mistakes.

So this got me thinking, what am I supposed to think about or do with advice like this? Inevitably, it’s when I am practicing with older people. Since coming to Japan I’ve heard it or it’s equivalent four times, and all from people who are either considerably older than me (ie a good twenty years) or from people watching my keiko with higher grades. Upon thinking about it I remember one consistent point between each keiko. I knew that if I moved, I was going to get hit, so instead of simply using my reach and speed (I’m always being encouraged to think past reach and speed), I tried to think around it and create a better or proper opportunity to allow me to attack freely. Weather I managed it or not is a different question, but the comments that came afterwards, from either the person I was practicing with or the busy body watching was that I should attack more against older people, or much higher grades.

Continue reading Lose and cut