Budo World

Creation of the Kōbusho

During the Edo period, the Tokugawa shogunate severed all relationships with foreign countries except on rare occasions. It was a period of peace for more than 260 years with almost no civil strife to speak of. Therefore, the martial arts matured into a culture comprising of both facets of character building and competition. However, at the end of the shogunate with the arrival of Perry’s America East India fleet, the re-opening of the country drew near as pressure from foreign powers became stronger. The shogunate sensed an impending crisis and started to reform its military system. The Kōbusho, a place for bujutsu training, was established to bolster Japan’s military preparedness.

The Kōbusho primarily emphasised kenjutsu, sōjutsu, and gunnery as necessary training for the battlefield. The training in gunnery was based on Western artillery, and kenjutsu and sōjutsu revolved exclusively around competitive training. Instructors were not selected through lineage but on their skill in the martial arts. For example, Odani Seiichirō from the Jikishinkage-ryū and Kubota Sugane from Tamiya-ryū Iai Kenjutsu were selected as instructors, whereas the Shogun’s instructors from the Yagyū family or the Ono family were not appointed.

Odani, as the head of the Kōbusho’s kenjutsu department, decided to regulate the length of the shinai (this was a step towards “sportification”) to approximately 117cm. The idea was to keep the length close to a real Japanese sword (about 100cm), but with a slightly longer tsuka in order to grip the shinai more easily when wearing kote (protective gloves). It was regarded as the perfect length for actual fighting, and expected good training results with the regulated length and weight.

Because the training at the Kōbusho was focussed solely on shiai (matches), barriers between the different ryūha gradually vanished and exchanges between exponents from the same ryūha increased. This can be considered as an important step towards the unification of kenjutsu after the Meiji Restoration (1868). Nevertheless, the Tokugawa shogunate’s efforts were in vain: the shogunate collapsed with the Meiji Restoration, and Japan entered the modern era.