Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, 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, July 31, 2020

The Philosopher of Kendo

Over at Kenshi 24/7, there was an article about one of the seminal works regarding the theory and philosophy of Kendo, the One Hundred Keiko. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

Following on from my last post I’d like to introduce to readers my favourite kendo (note-like) book: Ogawa Chutaro’s epic “hyaku-kai keiko” = “one hundred keiko.”

I have written a little bit about Ogawa Chutaro (1901-92, hanshi kyudan) in a couple of articles before. Just to remind you, he was:

“…  a kendo student at Takano Sasaburo’s Shidogakuin/Meishinkan before being taken under the wing of Saimura Goro (and later Mochida Seiji) and attending the newly founded Kokushikan (he eventually taught kendo there as well as at Keishicho). Right from the beginning, his teachers noted that he wasn’t the usual type of kendo student, that there was something different about him. He came to believe that there was something deeper to be had from kendo than mere fighting with sticks.
He studied zen and kenjutsu, and placed emphasis on the process of shugyo more than anything else. In the early 1970s, when most of the older generation of kenshi were complaining about the shiai-centricity of post-war kendo, he was charged with re-defining what “kendo” was by the ZNKR. The result, published in 1975, was The Concept and Purpose of Kendo.”
Ogawa sensei was – in my considered opinion – the only real kendo philosopher (a sort of public kendo intellectual) in recent kendo history. In the same vein as Yamaoka Tesshu or Naito Takaharu, he looked beyond the mere physicality of kendo itself and into deeper spiritual (even mystical) realms. His background in kenjutsu – rather than the new “pure kendo” of the vast majority of his peers – gave him a deeper historical and cultural understanding as well, allowing him to remain more “grounded” in tradition than he might have otherwise. 

Since his death I have yet to hear about, read books by, meet, or talk to anyone who comes close to his intellectual stature in the kendo community.

The quite-chunky book “One hundred keiko” consists of note like entries written by Ogawa Chutaro between the 16th of November Showa 29 (1954) and the 5th Of November Showa 36 (1961),  a 7 year span. The entries chart the one hundred times Ogawa practised with Mochida Seiji – what he was working on, how the sparring unfolded, what he felt, the advice he was given, etc. It also includes copious amounts of Buddhist terminology as well as discussions on kenjutsu theory and its application to kendo.  

Mochida, a graduate of the Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseijo, was a direct student of Naito Takaharu and – like Saimura Goro – followed his sensei’s teachings: large strikes from a far distance and lots of kirikaeshi and kakari/uchikomi geiko. A highly skilled kendoka with a modest character (a rarity then as now!), he was a highly popular and respected teacher.

In 1929, while he was teaching kendo on the Korean Peninsula (in Pyongyang), he won the first of the three Showa Tenran-jiai. After this success, he was recruited by Noma Seiji the following year to teach at his dojo in central Tokyo, Noma dojo.  It was there, via the introduction of Saimura Goro, that Ogawa was to meet and start doing kendo with Mochida. 

It wasn’t until after the war in 1954, however, that Ogawa started his one hundred keiko project. At the beginning of the process Mochida was 69 years old and Ogawa was 53.

As noted above, this book of notes is my favourite kendo book. Some of the entries are small, many are long. Not a few use very complicated terminology including deeply difficult Buddhist terms. It is a book that I will pick and re-read multiple times over my life. Today I want to pull out, translate, and share a small handful of interesting passages. 

If there was one kendo book that would inspire me to study Japanese if I didn’t already know it, this is it.

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