Archive for the ‘Matsumoto Toshio’ Category

I have regular debates with a kendo friend who believes the way to improve is to understand your mistakes and to fix them one by one. His approach is to video his bad habits and then to try to correct them.  In contrast I firmly believe that the solution to improving your kendo is to find a model of what you wish to become and copy it.

Another kendo buddy who frequently overhears me haranguing my analytical friend sent me the following article in support of my argument.


As you would expect I agree wholeheartedly with most of the points that the writer makes, but in particular I buy into Daniel Coyle’s general thesis that “practice makes perfect “ and the first, second and last points in his article.

He tells us that students at Moscow’s Spartak Tennis Club are made to endlessly practice their strokes in slow motion whilst teachers make fine adjustments to their technique. This reminds me of the teaching style of the late Matsumoto Toshio sensei, who would devote an enormous amount of time to adjusting a student’s posture and kamae before commanding them to make a single strike. It also has enormous resonance with Chiba Masashi sensei’s story of practising 3000 suburi per day in his All Japan Championship heyday.

Points number one ”Stare at who you want to become”  and number two “Steal without apology” are what led us to this article. In my view, if you can find someone whose kendo you admire, you should watch them intently and copy their style, techniques and timing to the smallest detail. Kendo teaching has traditionally been based on demonstration and repetition. Ideally you will have someone in your own kendo circle to emulate, but if you haven’t, then look at DVDs, You Tube – any source of inspiration will do.  The tennis players at Spartak are discouraged from competition until they have got the basics right. I agree. Making it your own may be OK for the X-Factor, but putting your kendo to the test too early can lead to problems.

I concur too with Mr Coyle’s view on finding a teacher. If you want praise and encouragement talk to your mum. Whilst your instructor should of course be interested in you, he or she is there to tell you what’s wrong and how to make it right. They need to do this quickly and effectively at the right time. Lengthy discussion sessions may be appropriate after keiko in the pub or coffee shop, but their job in the dojo is to show you the right way to do things and make sure you stick to it.

If you have time read this article. It has some direct relevance to the way we should  learn kendo.

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I was fortunate to find a Youtube clip of Matsumoto Toshio sensei, posted by the ZNKR from the 1986 Kyoto Taikai. At the time sensei was aged 78 and Hanshi 9-dan  his opponent was  Shigeoka Noboru sensei Hanshi 9-dan, aged 77.

Here is the link:


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Matsumoto sensei

This document was written in Japanese by Matsumoto Toshio sensei and translated in 1976 by Yamamoto Hisami. The original translation was for my benefit; and at the time Matsumoto sensei was not satisfied that the document was of a high enough standard to put his name to. Unfortunately neither the author nor the original translator are with us today; and feeling that this document is worth sharing with other kendo enthusiasts, I have taken the liberty of rewriting it in more colloquial English. Any errors and inconsistencies are mine.

The aim of swordsmanship in ancient days was to overcome opponents through the application of sword techniques and physical power, but this has changed with the progression of time. Even so, kendo was born from the art of fighting with swords and even though today it is played with bamboo swords, it cannot be said to be kendo if it is practised without the concept of being a fight with real swords. You must train for kendo with the understanding that if you cannot cut your opponent, he is going to cut you. In other words, in its essence, kendo must be practised with the extreme instability of mind that would occur if you were facing life or death.

There is no doubt that the art of kendo is to strike down your opponents and not to be struck down by them. However, in order to be always ready to give an instant strike without missing any proper chances to attack whilst still keeping a perfect defence position, you must master the techniques and skills of kendo. These however, can only be well performed when you maintain a calmness of mind which enables you to fully display your trained technique.

Therefore, it is the true aim of kendo practise not only to try to improve your technique, but also to train your mind and spirit to find the rightness of mind (“no mind” / mushin), so that your mind, which is the source of the technique; will not be bound by anything.

In the practice of kendo, it is most desirable that the training of mind and technique should always progress hand in hand. A strike should not be made recklessly, but you should strike when the opponent’s mind is disturbed. Ineffective or hurried strikes are the causes of self destruction. The following are cited as good chances to attack:-

  1. Not to attack when your opponent is in replete condition, but try to attack when he is unaware and off guard
  2. Attack just before your opponent starts to take (initiates) his action
  3. Attack when your opponent is settled
  4. Attack when your opponent has exhausted his tricks
  5. Attack at the time that your opponent has doubt in his mind
  6. Urge your opponents action and attack the created off-guard position 

The three points that would be inexcusable to overlook are:

  1. Just when your opponent initiates his action
  2. When your opponent parries
  3. When your opponent has exhausted his tricks

These are again times when your opponent is off-guard.

In kendo there are four mental states that must be overcome. These are dread, fright, doubt and perplexity – all of which are disturbed states of mind. When your mind is disturbed, your posture is also disturbed leaving you off-guard and allowing your opponent the chance to attack. Unless you are constantly in full spirit, keeping your mind calm and open you cannot instantly strike your opponent off-guard, even when his spirit is no longer alert. If your mind is innocent (free of preconception), you can see through all your opponents actions and strike freely without any hesitation, catching every available chance.

In Zen Buddhism “voidness” is sometimes explained as “The true way of life is to always keep your normal mind”. It is considered to be a state of mind which has no preconceived ideas, free and active without being bound by egotistic interests. You may think that it is extremely difficult to have an innocent mind and that it is the highest condition of mind and impossible to attain, but one who is experienced in kendo to a considerable degree should achieve a similar mental state

When reflecting on a keiko or shiai, one sometimes realises that he has unconsciously made a very fine strike, although such experiences are rare. It is because the perpetrator was in full spirit and “innocent”, enabling an unintended and unaware strike. You must make every effort to increase these opportunities.

From a reversed perspective you need to maintain an undisturbed “ordinary” mind in order to defend well without being struck by your opponent. To keep disturbances from your mind you must:-

  1. Master the basic forms of kendo
  2. Understand and appreciate the theory of kendo and try to improve kendo techniques
  3. Have a firm belief that you are perfectly invincible against any assault

As stated above, the ultimate way of learning kendo is, both in attack and in defence, is to have a constant ordinary state of mind through the theory of the way of kendo. I believe that it is a virtue of kendo to bring to our social lives this developed ordinary mind, rich and level without egotistic interest and emotional influences.

Making best use of such an attitude, you will be able to take good advice from other people and clearly differentiate right and wrong, allowing for effective conduct in your job and at the same time working towards self perfection.

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My teacher, Matsumoto Toshio 9 dan

My teacher, Matsumoto Toshio 9 dan

It is often said in kendo that you can recognise the teacher from the student’s bad habits.  I believe that there is a lot of truth in this statement. It is therefore essential that new kendoka do their homework in selecting an instructor and more essential that those of us that teach do not get complacent and sloppy.

Kendo teachers should ensure that they spend as much time as possible learning from more senior sensei and treat every practise with students as if it were a grading examination or an enbu. That is not to say that they should not get hit, but should ensure that even when they give an opportunity, concentration, spirit and zanshin is not lost.  It is too easy to let concentration lapse in keiko with a less experienced player and if an instructor just walks away after an attack or does not maintain an attacking spirit, it is likely that a student will think it is the correct way to behave.  “Kendo begins and ends with rei” and reigi entails treating seniors and juniors with equal respect.

For students in search of a teacher, grade is of course a good indication of an instructor’s kendo ability and knowledge.  Whether or not their coaching style works for you is up to you to decide. Unfortunately it is hard to make that decision without some kendo experience and points of reference. Another thing to remember is that an instructor who is seven or eight dan grades above you might be the ideal person to demonstrate or describe what you should be doing, but may not be your ideal keiko partner. You also need some strong, encouraging sempai, who at a dan or two’s distance can set a good example and inspire you to reach your next kendo goal.

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With Matsumoto sensei

With Matsumoto sensei

I had a really interesting email from David Pan of Seattle, who saw my mention of Matsumoto Toshio sensei and wondered if I could identify a xeroxed book by Matsumoto sensei. I believe that the book was published posthumously from notes on lectures given at Matsumoto Kenshyukai in the 70s and 80s. As one of the 21 members of this group I have many of the original notes, but unfortunately my reading and writing abilities are close to nil. However I did find several translations by the late Yamamoto Hisami sensei and am posting it here. I have rewritten this fairly extensively, but have tried not to sacrifice accuracy in the interest of readability.

Correct Chudan Kamae and Attack Action

A lecture by Matsumoto Toshio

Hanshi 9th Dan

Delivered on March 6th 1980 at the 44th Meeting of

Nishinomiya Matsumoto Kenshyu Kai

Recorded in Japanese by Sakagami Takashi, Kyoshi 6 dan

Translated into English by Yamamoto Hisami Kyoshi 7dan

Chudan Kamae


The left forearm should be at 45 degree angle to the ground and the thumb of the left hand should point to a spot about 30 – 40 cm in front of the big toe of your right foot. The thumb of the right hand should point forward almost at a horizontal angle.


The left foot should touch the floor at the point between the ball of the foot and the plantar arch and the heel. The toes should touch the ground in the way that is called, “a cat walking” * as if a very thin sheet of paper is placed between the toes and the ground. By raising the left heel from the floor, the distribution of weight becomes 70:30 between the left and right leg and 70:30 between the front and back of the sole of the left foot. The back of the left knee must be tense.


Attacking Action – Primarily against Men


The left heel which is now raised, should be slightly lowered. This will redistribute the weight 50:50 to the back and front of the left sole. The toes of the left foot which have so far pointed slightly to the left should point straight ahead. Now with the motion of stepping out from the left ankle, you should push your right foot forward.


Now the tension behind the left knee moves to a point of about 6cm above the back of the left knee and tension is applied to a slightly lesser degree to the same point above the right knee, the left hip can then be pushed forward.


Step within easy reach of your opponent, without changing the position of your hands. The left hand is then raised with the right hand following in a natural movement in line with the path of the shinai. This action will cause your right shoulder to draw back. At this point the right hand is acting as support to the left and it is wrong to apply force with the right hand in order to raise the shinai. It is important that you raise the right hand with the feeling of squeezing in which will protect your kote against counter attack as you raise your hand.


You should strike at the same time as you draw the left foot towards the right foot. At this point, the right hand, which so far has not been used to apply force is given the work of hitting together with the left hand, making use of the right elbow to indicate direction. Make maximum use of the power and flexibility of your wrists and use the integral power of your waist, back, shoulders and arms. (You should pursue the correct way of hitting so that it becomes possible to concentrate all your physical force into one strike*) When you make the strike the distribution of weight between your left and right legs will change to 40:60.


When you strike men, the thumb of the right hand is directed to the front as if to poke into your opponents eyes. For tsuki the thumb naturally angles downward.


When your opponent is in Nito or Jodan, his posture is referred to as floating and therefore is different to chudan. A chudan player must raise his hands a little to fight against Nito or Jodan to be in concert with the opponent’s floating posture and movements.


* “A cat walking”, means the way of walking without making a sound. In the case of pushing from the left foot to attack, it is recommended to ease the force in the toes with the feeling of bending them slightly upward. This will increase the power of your forward step.


Photograph shows me with Matsumoto sensei in 1979

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Matsumoto Toshio senseiWhen I lived in Japan, I was lucky enought to be invited to join Matsumoto Sensei’s practice club. At that time I was the most junior member of the group, so did not have the nerve to ask too many questions to or about him.

He achieved the grade of 9th dan, which is rare for a non professional sensei (not police or education sector) and he was unusual in that he explained the theory of waza in detail in a period when most instruction was of the JFDI kind. His motto was “Ken Ri”

I was aware that he studied with the great pre war sensei from pictures of Saimura, Mochida and Nakakura in his home. His chudan was acknowled to be exceptional, see the pic above!

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