Cook Ding’s Kitchen
The Origins of the Kyoto Taikai and its Place in Kendo Today
Posted: 06 Sep 2019 05:00 AM PDT
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
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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