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Thread: Old School Kendo

  1. #1
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    Default Old School Kendo

    I'm curious about something. I'm a kendoka, and here and there I've picked up little scraps of conversation or snatches of reading that talk about how rough and tumble kendo used to be compared to these days. Has anybody heard stuff like this before? I'm not talking about the nationalistic push of using kendo to psyche people up for warfare - well, maybe I am - I'm really interested in the atmospheric and practical differences between the kendo of today and the kendo of yesterday.

    For example, one person told me that when his sensei was younger, spontaneous grappling matches could break out when both opponents were in tsuba zerai. I've also heard that throws or trips were not discouraged. Also, these days when someone drops their sword or is disarmed, they grapple their opponent about the waist or arms and then the ref stops the match or the participants in jigeiko stop the match. In the old days, according to one sensei, you grappled the other person, wrestled him to the ground and fought him to submission in those cases!

    Anybody got any stories to share? Were the practices harder? The shiai any different? Please share, and thanks in advance.

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    While I was on the train to one of the Inter. Budo seminar, one of the guys was talking about this. He was studying before at a dojo, where they pretty much kept this style of training. Which I think he mentioned was pretty common pre-WWII.
    Interesting subject I also would like to hear more.
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  3. #3
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    Thumbs up

    I've also heard some interesting stories about "Oldschool" Kendo.
    A number of the senior students I have trained with a have gleaned various tricks from older teachers for closing with your opponent and grappling or throwing . There are a number of disarms that I have been told that senior Japanese Kendoka specialise in, and I believe there was an article in Dragon Times a few years ago that reprinted an Englishman's account of Kendo training around the turn of the century. I am told that such training sometimes even involved knocking an opponent to the ground and removing his helmet! When I trained with Kiyota Sensei at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I remember him being fond of throwing in occasional Judo throws...I even took ukemi in some public demonstrations that he gave!
    I would also love to know more about the history of early Kendo.
    Krzysztof M. Mathews
    http://www.firstgearterritories.com

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    My cousin's uncle, Dick Yamamoto, studied kendo in Japan pre WWII. ( No blood relation btw, so don't expect me to have any real useful information) Joe Svinth probably has more information on this than I do.

    But anyway, he was in Seattle in the late 80's for a funeral and I got stuck next to him at dinner and he proceeded to tell me about the old days.

    According to him, throws were very common, as were strikes, punches and in close strikes using the elbows, body slams, kicks to the shin, sweeps, were all used. Head butts were sometimes used as well.

    I don't recall him mentioning any intentional submission grappling but I do remember him saying sometime you ended up rolling around on the floor but it was always stopped right away. IHe also mentioned throws using the shinai and beating on your opponent once he was thrown.

    According to him, it was the way it should be, real kendo. None of this blind man with a stick stuff that passes for kendo nowadays. He then proceeded to tell me that he highly disapproved of my cousin doing aikido- that "Japanese dance crap" as he put it.

    Somehow, I was OK with him, in spite of my also doing some of that "Japanese dance crap".

  5. #5
    Don Cunningham Guest

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    When I lived in Japan, it was quite common to practice judo with the local police department clubs. Some were a bit more competitive than others, but they were still just basically judo. It was also a place where I could be sure to find other older judoka like myself, instead of young, lean highschool competitors who have no fear of injury, for themselves or their randori partners.

    So when I started practicing kendo with my engineering company's kendo team, I thought it would be a good idea to also try out the local police kendo club as well. My Japanese friends tried to dissuade me, telling me that police kendo is more like the pre-WWII kendo than the modern sport version. I didn't listen much, though, thinking it would be fun. I was a pretty badass judoka, so I wasn't worried.

    I thought I wasn't going to make it out of that practice session alive. I've never been kicked, footsweeped, head-butted, and generally just knocked about in any other practice before or since. I did learn a bit, though. They used the tsuka to strike the men facemask and even to entangle their opponent's arms. They would often try foot sweeps and trips (de ashi harai or ko soto gari) when in clinches. The meanest trick, though, was they would sit on a fallen opponent's head, then by pulling up on the bottom of the bogu do, choke them out. It wasn't a carotid choke, either, but puts incredible pressure on the airway instead.

    For the most part, I've found sport kendo to be more of a mental game instead of physical like judo. The timing and psychological elements are more important than the physical effort involved. If this is what pre-WWII kendo was like, though, I wouldn't have lasted long. It was certainly one of the physically toughest workouts I've ever endured. I also think that since more right-wing police are drawn to kendo than judo, it may have been a bit harder for my benefit. I can't imagine them working that hard when they don't have a gaijin to kick around.

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    Most of the police and "all" of the prison warders in my City have graduated from my school. A few years ago anyone not fighting back hard enough would end up on the floor with kicks, punches, throws etc . In addition to this I have seen as many as seven lying in the corner with contorted muscles due to oxygen starvation at one time. Comments are usually "Yappari yowai neh" (rather weak). A good stinging swipe across the backside really does get then to go through faster!

    I have seen other kendo teachers in other dojo getting very physical, but in the wrong way. More like bullying than physically pushing someone to extremes and taking advantage of weak unbalanced posture.

    Haven't had too many rough and tumbles really.
    One visited policemans tsuki gave me a bloody mouth and I was forced to lay him out. Someone else put two very badly centred thrusts into side of my throat without so much as an apology. He took off to fly backward through the door, (the door was closed). Some years ago I would never have let anyone come to the dojo to watch.

    Things are mellowing now, and so is the kendo. We even have a girls team!

    So, I get invites to events. The Japanese police hold an all encompassing martial arts competition (mostly judo, karate and kendo) which includes a no holds barred event, Choose your weapons shinai, tanto etc kicks, punching throws allowed. They use three shimpan to see all angles but judging isn't up to much, as most of them specialize and would not recogize an alternative ippon if they saw it.

    My private teacher's teacher was Oasa Yuji sensei (Japans last living tenth dan) Practice was rather more physical to say the least among his deshi.

    I think we have to visualize the older style kendo to understand how physical it could be. There was "lots" of tai-atari and tsuba zeriai. Much more chance to do things close up, rather than quickly seperate. Using the opposite end (tsuka) to thrust with. Entangling the other persons tsuka to throw him. Grabbing the tsuki flap of bottom of the do to up-end him, elbows, headbutts, swiping throws with the shinai at the side of the neck. There is that one one point after fumikomi when the back foot is coming forward and the opponent is "very" unbalanced" Oops maybe Iv'e said too much?

    It's just not fun anymore!

    Hyakutake Colin

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    I practiced kendo with the riot squad police in Kanazawa City, Ishikawa Prefecture for more than a year and a half (when I was younger and stupider). Practice was usually 5-6 hours a day, morning and afternoon (I attended the morning session and practiced kyudo in the afternoons).

    Practice was, shall we say, intense. It was characterized by:

    * liberal application of the tsuki (one guy got a cracked rib from taking a body thrust to the sternum)
    *various leg sweeps from tsuba zeriai (usually an outer leg sweep accompanied by presssure to the opposite side of the neck with the shinai)
    * very heavy and effective use of tai atari. I was on the floor more often than not, and it was alli I could do to keep my feet. When I got back to the States, I knocked a couple of guys over with tai atari numerous times during a match. One guy got so pissed that after the third time he tried to kick me in the nuts while he was on his back, and the other guy hit his head on the floor and knocked himself out. Of course, nobody on the police squad even blinked at my tai atari. They just weren't used to it here.
    * grappling. One time, both guys lost their shinais and wound up on the ground. Everybody stopped practicing and gathered around to egg them on as they thrashed around. After a couple of minutes with no clear victor, the wrestling was halted.
    * Rush and grapple if you lose your shinai. I was up against a guy once who had forearms like Popeye and the wickedest makiotoshi I ever saw. I simply could not hold on to my shinai. So, after getting disarmed for the umpteenth time (he was using me as a makiotoshi prqactice dummy that day), I rushed him and grappled (badly, and after getting hit on the head three times on my way in). I got him around the waist, and so he just dropped his shinai, stepped back, and I went face down on the floor. He straddled my head and reached down and pulled my doh up until it was pressed against my throat. I couldn't breathe, and after thrashing around for a bit and realizing I was helpless, I tapped out after I realized I would be choked out if I didn't give up. After I had regained my breath, if not my pride, the sensei told me I had done it wrong: you're supposed to grab the nodowa with one hand, put the other hand on top of his head, and twist in opposite directions.

    Works like a charm.
    Earl Hartman

  8. #8
    Aaron Fields Guest

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    I've heard similar stories about the pre WWII kendo in the Seattle area. That is kendo I could get into.

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    Question Crazy

    Hi all,

    I have a quick question on this topic -->

    (or rather, your opinions on the matter)

    Was this stlye of kendo something that happened because of the situation within Japan - military wise - in the run up to WWII ?

    Was stuff like this happening within Kendo during the 19th Century (and before) ?

    I am using the term 'Kendo' to mean 'japanese-fencing with bogu', because - of course - there were different terms used and different schools.

    Just a couple of things Ive thought about before and this thread brought them up again.

    I am thankful that I didnt have to go through that

    Cheers,

    - George McCall
    Seishinkan Kendo Club, Edinburgh, Scotland
    http://www.edinburghkendo.co.uk/

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    * very heavy and effective use of tai atari.
    .......
    Thats the way to go Earl.

    I usually get put on the receiving end and everybody else lines up on the other side.

    Absolutely amazing how fast they go through if you do step to the side. An invaluable method of practice.

    Hyakutake Colin

  11. #11
    Don Cunningham Guest

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    After returning from Japan and moving from North Carolina to Illinois, I thought about getting back into kendo. I went for a practice at the Chicago Buddhist Temple. During randori, my opponent rushed me, we clinched, and then I shoved him and he tripped backwards, falling to the ground. While he was still in the air, I scored a perfect men strike.

    This was normal kendo even in my semi-competitive company kendo club in Japan. Afterwards, one of the main instructors in Chicago admonished me, saying that such "rough kendo" was inappropriate. My opponent kept repeating that the score was improper since he was falling when I struck. If this is the state of modern kendo, I prefer not.

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    Default Such great responses.

    I couldn't be happier with this thread! This is exactly the type of stuff I was looking for! Y'all reminded me that I heard that before about grabbing the men and pulling it down to blind the opponent - choking someone with an air-choke using the do is all news to me, though! Holy moly!

    As for the state of modern kendo, well, it reaches a broader audience than it used to. Obviously, not everybody doing kendo is a cop - especially not in the States! We also have to contend with a generally softer attitude toward combative sports, and we're lawsuit and insurance-crazy here in the States, non? I can understand your experience with the Chicago dojo, Don - a great dojo, BTW, I know some of those folks from Midwest Kendo Fedaration (I'm from Michigan).

    What I notice most lately is if you do a technique well and it comes off a little rough, no one should complain, they should compliment you. In other words, if your tai-atari is good and it knocks me on my butt, shame on me. If you are not utilizing good technique, though, and are just shoving or tackling - well, it's like what Mr. Hyakutake said about that guy that tsuki'd him off center - lousy technique that filled his mouth with blood, the guy shoulda known better, so sensei, errr, took issue with him.

    This is all too cool. I can only imagine kendo this way. I find myself often seeing openings for throws when in tai-atari or tsuba-zerai and thinking, What if...? Once in jigeiko I dropped shinai, grabbed my opponent's arms and boxed him on the side of the head (not hard) before I knew what I was doing. Another time in tournament I was getting relentlessly shoved towards the edge of the ring and, again, without thinking, I grabbed my opponent around the waist o-goshi style and kind of carried us both away from the edge. I was expecting a scolding for that one but it didn't come, maybe because my opponent was manhandling me.

    I understand there are attempts here and there to revive this type of kendo in pockets of the American community. If such a thing were to be done in most dojos here, I suspect it would simply have to be an inner ring of the more accomplished students practicing on their own aside from the rest of the club, all of them accepting the harsher treatment. Part of the problem is that if you're doing kendo on a hard wood basketball-type floor, honest throwing isn't very safe.

    I'm also really interested in what George was talking about. I asked about "pre-War" kendo and not 19th-century kendo because I knew there's probably nobody alive that could tell us about the 19th century kendo experience. But I'd love to learn more.

  13. #13
    Don Cunningham Guest

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    I didn't mean anything negative about the Midwest Kendo Club here in Chicago. I found them to be really nice people. It's just the state of sport kendo I was referring to, not them in particular.

    I am constantly researching information on jutte technique. I read an interesting theory about how some of the jutte disarms developed in Nawa's book, <em><u>Jutte Jiten,</u></em>. Basically, he believes that some of them are an extension of using the tsuka to pry the opponent's grip from their sword. He cites several such techniques which are still in use within police kendo. For example, from a block clinch, let go with the left hand, snaking the end of the tsuka around your opponent's wrist with the right hand. Regrip the tsuka with the left hand and use a sideways leverage to twist their shinai out from their grip. I can't speak to the historical accuracy of his thesis, but it does seem to make sense.

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    Oh, hey, yeah, sorry - didn't mean to twist yer words there, Don. I get you, though.

    Interesting about jutte; I'm trying to picture what you just described. Maybe we'll try it out at practice this week. When you say snake the tsuka around opponent's wrist, is that right wrist or left wrist? I'm thinking right wrist...


    Also, FYI, some neat, probably staged images from the clipart archive that show kendoists grappling. You may have to cut and paste the links below...

    http://204.95.207.136/vbulletin/show...p?threadid=463

    http://204.95.207.136/vbulletin/show...p?threadid=468

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    Dear Colin, Don et al:

    I am continually asked to explain the difference between Kumdo and Kendo and usually have little trouble as there are a number of biomechanical landmarks. I raise this however, to share an interlude that occurred at the Kumdo school at which I practice here in Chicago.

    Though most of the practitioners participate in sparring and adhere to the equivilent of Kendo rules, I was intrigued to watch our head instructor and the Director animate a discussion they were having to themselves by a series of moves which would have done any Hapkido class proud. The variety of thrusts, traps and locks using the grip of the sword as well as the use of knee elbow, sweep and throw to drop a partner were plainly evident.

    I have never been a big fan of running around barefoot on a hardwood floor trying swat another adult male with a stick. On the other hand there is considerable material that I am sure is disappearing that inter-relates emptryhand and weapons work only because such "barbarian tactics" are considered uncivilized by our current culture both inside and outside of the MA.

    Excellent String!

    Bruce
    Bruce W Sims
    www.midwesthapkido.com

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