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Famous Swordsmen of Japan: Muneari Goroemon Terada

by Yoshinori Kono

Aikido Journal #103 (1995)

Modern kendo using shinai (bamboo practice swords) and bogu (protective equipment) is generally believed to have originated during the Kyoho period [1716-1735] with the training methods developed by Kunisato Shirozaemon Naganuma of Jikishinkage-ryu, although he was probably not the only one to do so. In any case, uchiaigeiko (training through competitive matches between opponents equipped with shinai and bogu) evolved gradually, through a process of trial and error.

The shinai itself, for example, originated with the fukuro shinai (covered shinai) of Shinkage-ryu, which was covered with leather and relatively flexible. At that time, kanji characters meaning “to be flexible; bend” and “wrapping; bag” were both used to write the word shinai [in modern Japanese two kanji meaning “bamboo” and “sword” are used.]

The flexibility of early shinai gave them a feel much different from that of live swords or bokuto (wooden swords). Over time, however, more solid shinai were developed, eventually evolving into the type used today, which is assembled from four or eight thick strips of split bamboo.

As shinai became stronger and more rigid, bogu also had to be redesigned to absorb more impact.

Exactly when and by whom the modern kendo shinai was developed remains uncertain, but some speculate that it may have been Tanetake Chuzo Nakanishi, second headmaster of the Nakanishi-ha Itto-ryu. Influenced by the prosperity of Naganuma’s Jikishinkage-ryu dojo, Nakanishi adopted the practice of uchiaigeiko, breaking with the school’s ironclad tradition of practicing only kata and kumitachi (single and paired forms) using habiki (non-edged metal swords) or bokuto.

In traditional kata training, one’s progress depends on one’s sense for the nuances and details of the kata, as well as one’s ability to conceive of the kata’s deeper meaning. In uchiaigeiko, however, a certain level of mastery may be attained simply by “becoming accustomed to technique more than learning it,” as a certain saying goes. This form of training had greater popular appeal and people flocked to enroll in the Nakanishi dojo.

Still, despite the dojo’s prosperity, Tanetake’s decision to break with tradition and adopt uchiaigeiko was viewed critically in some quarters, both within his own dojo and in the martial arts world in general.

Muneari Goroemon Terada enrolled at the Nakanishi dojo when it was still led by the founder of Nakanishi-ha Itto-ryu, Tanesada Chuta Nakanishi. Terada was fifteen or sixteen years old when Tanetake assumed the position of headmaster and he was among those who questioned the new uchiaigeiko training. While most young people tend to embrace new trends and ideas, Terada rejected the newly adopted teaching method. Perhaps this attests to a certain maturity of judgment uncharacteristic of someone his age.

Enrolling in Heijo Muteki-ryu

Refusing to abandon his convictions, Terada withdrew from the Nakanishi dojo and enrolled under Nariharu Hachirozaemon Ikeda of the Heijo Muteki-ryu. The Heijo Muteki-ryu was founded by Renshin Yamauchi and was heavily influenced by Zen and Taoist thought. Like Mujushinken-ryu (which was to influence Terada greatly later on), it was one of the schools known as “shimpo (mind) kenjutsu” because of its emphasis on the mental and spiritual aspects of swordsmanship [shimpo contrasts with giho (the technical/physical aspects) and includes things such as maintaining awareness of your surroundings and keeping your mind calm and free of obstructions].

Terada studied Heijo Muteki-ryu for twelve years. He attained a menkyo (license) and came to be regarded as one of Ikeda’s top students. Unfortunately, the Takasaki domain that employed him had adopted Itto-ryu as its official style of kenjutsu, so despite his prominence as a swordsman, Terada was not permitted to teach kenjutsu to the Takasaki samurai.

Terada rejoins the Nakanishi Dojo

Ukyonosuke Matsudaira, lord of the Takasaki domain, regretted letting Terada’s talents as a swordsman go to waste and so ordered him to continue studying Itto-ryu at the Nakanishi dojo. The exact date of his return there is unclear, but it seems to have been sometime during the Kansei period [1789-1800]. Some sources suggest it was in 1796. He was, in any case, in his mid-forties or perhaps even fifty years old. Also, Second Headmaster Tanetake Nakanishi had passed away by then, succeeded by Tanehiro Chuta Nakanishi.

Given the social climate within such dojos, “returnees” were usually somewhat stigmatized. But Terada seems to have been given special treatment. He had, after all, returned on the orders of the lord of the domain and he was also a leading practitioner of Heijo Muteki-ryu. But most of all, he simply overwhelmed the others with both his swordsmanship and strong personality.

Perhaps the best evidence of the respect accorded Terada is the fact that he continued practicing only kurnitachi using bokuto and still refused to engage in uchiaigeiko, the very training method on which the Nakanishi dojo had made its name and prospered.

Terada finally received a menkyo in Itto-ryu from Third Headmaster Tanehiro Nakanishi in September 1800, at the age of fifty-six. Tanehiro passed away the following year, however, leaving Terada as the dojo’s senior practitioner. From then on, stories of “the great swordsman who practices only traditional kata” began to circulate in the kenjutsu world of the late Edo period, in which uchiaigeiko had become the mainstay of many dojos.

Terada was viewed in a number of different ways by his peers, which I will explore below.

Koresuke Nakanishi

Koresuke Nakanishi (later called Tanemasa Chusuke Nakanishi) was the fourth headmaster of the Nakanishi dojo and he learned kurnitachi from Terada. He wrote about Terada in his work, Itto-ryu Toho Kigen (The Origin of the Fukuro Shinai in Itto-ryu).

“The dojo prospered under the leadership of Tanehiro Chuta Nakanishi, but regrettably he fell ill and passed away in February 1801. Among the members of the dojo at that time, only Muneari Goroemon Terada had set his mind on learning true kenjutsu and had achieved a deep understanding of the school’s teachings. For that reason I studied under him for a number of years after Tanehiro Sensei passed away. Although I had succeeded to the head of the Nakanishi family, I knew that my kenjutsu was not equal to the position. To avoid disgracing the Nakanishi family, I focused on studying the true meaning of kenjutsu under Terada and asked him to teach me. He understood my request and easily agreed to give me an outline of the style. He said, ‘There are many things written (densho) on the traditions of Itto-ryu. But if you rely on written documents they may consume you, for they speak only of theory and details. If you learn only the names of techniques and kata, then you would cling to them and lose sight of their true meaning. The exclusive objective of heiho (tactics; strategy; martial arts) is not to overcome yourself through training, but rather to overcome your enemy. Heiho consists of techniques for winning in a conflict, techniques that decide life or death. When you have thoroughly understood the principle (ri) of life and death, and when you are free from partiality, doubt, perplexity, and delusion, then your mind becomes calm and unfettered by thought and undue discretion. Then you can respond freely to your situation.”

Clearly, Koresuke Nakanishi regarded Terada as his teacher.

Shusaku Chiba

Shusaku Chiba, who later founded Hokushin Itto-ryu, studied Nakanishi-ha Itto-ryu kenjutsu under the fourth headmaster, Tanemasa Chubei Nakanishi. He also learned kumitachi from Terada. In his work, Kempo Hiketsu (The Key to Swordsmanship), Chiba recounts a famous episode that points clearly to Terada’s talent as a swordsman and also portrays the complications involving factions within the Nakanishi dojo in those days.

“There were two masters, Goroemon Terada and Toru Shirai, in the Itto-ryu dojo of Tanemasa Chubei Nakanishi. Both were great swordsmen, each with his own style and approach. Their teaching methods were different, not only from one another, but from Headmaster Nakanishi’s, resulting in three factions within the Nakanishi dojo. Some students learned from Terada, others from Shirai, and still others from Nakanishi, and the differences in training frequently led to disputes among the students. As for myself, I learned Terada’s style and that is what I still teach my own students.

“Terada claimed that ‘flames’ shot from the tip of his bokuto, while Shirai insisted that ‘rings’ emanated from his. Both were fine swordsmen without a doubt, but of course there really were no flames or rings—they simply meant that the feeling generated by their bokuto was so sharp that no one could attack or even approach them.

“Terada never used bogu and shinai, and he only practiced kata. On one occasion he was challenged by some of the dojo’s students who trained primarily in shinai geiko. Terada replied, ‘As you know, I train only in kata, but if you wish to have a match, I will not deny your request. I will use a bokuto and will wear no bogu, as usual. You may wear your bogu and you may try hit me anywhere you please if you find any opportunity to do so, which I think you will not.’ Angered by Terada’s supercilious manner, one of the students quickly tied on his bogu and stood up to face him. Terada turned to him calmly, holding a bokuto slightly more that two feet long. All eyes, Nakanishi’s included, were on the match.

“Just as the challenger was about to strike at his head, Terada spoke. ‘If you try to strike my head, I will parry your shinai with an upward sliding movement and strike your do (waist).’ Then later, as his challenger was about to strike at his wrist, he said, ‘If you try to strike my wrist, I will knock your shinai down and skewer you.’ Terada read his opponent’s intentions so perfectly that his opponent was unable to launch a single attack. Filled with new respect, the challenger stood down. A few others came forward to try their hand, with similar results. Following the incident, complaints against Terada and his training methods vanished, and he was admired and respected.

“Our tradition has cultivated fine swordsmen the likes of Takayanagi, Terada, and Shirai. This is because Nakanishi was a fine swordsman with much experience and skill. The incident above affirms the need to train seriously and vigorously in kata, for unless you do so, you will fall apart in actual conflict. However, kumitachi and kata are training in principle, while shinai geiko is training in actual application of technique. The two are just like a pair of wheels on a cart or the two wings of a bird, so we need a well-balanced mixture of both in our training.”

We can see from this passage that while Chiba admired Terada’s ability, he also felt that uchiaigeiko has its purpose as well. (Koresuke Nakanishi probably held a similar opinion.)

Toru Shirai

Toru Shirai and Terada were originally fellow students in the Nakanishi dojo. Later, however, Shirai became Terada’s student. In Kenpo Hiketsu Shusaku Chiba mentions that the Nakanishi dojo had a Terada faction and a Shirai faction, but it occurs to me that by the time Chiba enrolled there Shirai and Terada would have already established their student-teacher relationship. I suspect that while Shirai probably was Terada’s student at the time, he had already started to follow his own path and Terada did nothing to interfere. I will discuss this further in a future piece on Shirai.

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