Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, there are still two cups at my table.


Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Friday, September 06, 2019

The Origins of the Kyoto Taikai and it’s Place in Kendo Today

Below is an interesting excerpt from a post that appeared at Kenshi 24/7

The full post may be read here.


From the very founding of the Butokukai in 1885, there has always been a gathering of budoka in Kyoto once a year for a Butokusai, or a martial arts demonstration. This included not only kendo, but (events changed over time) kyudo, judo, marksmanship, swimming, sumo, naginata, koryu (see below) etc. This has continued over the past nearly 135 years except for exceptional circumstances (Tenran-jiai or war).

Although the main art demonstrated has always been kendo (judo being a close second), nowadays it has become an almost exclusively kendo event (with some ZNKR iaido and jodo).

In the past, the Kyoto Taikai served as THE event that brought disparate and far-flung groups of practitioners together. It was there that shogo (seirensho/renshi, kyoshi, hanshi) were awarded and grades decided (pre-war that would have been up to godan, post war up to judan). Nowadays there are far more people doing kendo, and gradings and shogo are decided across the country, so the Kyoto Taikai’s influence here has been vastly reduced (in the past, shogo and grades were awarded AFTER your tachiai, nowadays it is before).

Today, the Kyoto Taikai serves as a central event for experienced practitioners to meet, do kendo, and socialise. People who are not yet eligible to do a tachiai not only have the opportunity to watch famous kenshi from across the country (world) do their tachiai, but they may even get the chance to keiko with them.

Money-wise, the taikai is a massive source of income for the ZNKR. Thousands of people compete, each paying around 3,000 yen for the privilege.

When thinking about the culture of kendo, however, talk of money goes out the door: doing a tachiai (whether kendo or whatnot) in the Butokuden is a direct link to the history of kendo, and being part of the taikai itself is seen as an honour.


The point of embu

As stated above, initially this particular embu was one to not only friendship and to show your skills, but also served as an event where you could be promoted within the organisation (Butokukai). This has changed over time as gradings have become more democratic, have been moved to other locations as well as placed before the embu itself in Kyoto,

However, some people reading this might think of an “embu” as something where koryu are demonstrated rather than kendo, and usually – but not always – in a shrine or temple. As this is the norm nowadays I can understand why people believe this, but in fact, the whole concept of “koryu” or “kobudo” really only started in the 1920s and 30s in Japan, a good 30-odd years after the Butokukai began it’s embu event. Koryu embu were for self-promotion, that is, to attract people to study the arts so that they didn’t die out completely. They also served as motivation to study about and polish your own ryu-ha’s skills (seemingly, the state of koryu at that time was dire).

So, kendo-wise the point of holding the embu in Kyoto has, since the grading element has been removed, become more of a traditional event. People from all over meet up, do some kendo, and socialise. Koryu-wise, the initial motivation was to basically ensure the survival of the arts (they were about to be eclipsed by kendo, judo, et al), but expanded to include serious historical and technical study.


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