7 minutes reading time (1474 words)

Kenshiro Abbe

15/12/1915 – 1/12/1985

kenshiro-abbeKenshiro Abbe's introduction to the martial arts began with his father, Toshizo Abbe, a kendo teacher and school master. However, with the death of his father in a flood during a kendo weekend course on the 4th September 1918, he received little kendo training.

Kenshiro first developed an interest in Sumo when wrestling with a family friend Hino Manpei. In conjunction with Hino Manpei, Kenshiro received instruction from his primary school teacher, Fujiwara. Whilst at school he took part in many tournaments, both at school and elsewhere in the province. At  13, Kenshiro started lower secondary school in Kawashima, there was no Judo-Bu so Kenshiro took up basketball. However, in his second year, Kazohira Nakamoto founded a Judo-Bu at the school, which Kenshiro joined. When Kenshiro reached his third year at the school in 1930 he was awarded his Shodan (1st Dan), with his Nidan (2nd Dan) being awarded the following year and at 16 he was the champion of the High Schools League at Tokushima and was awarded his Sandan (3rd Dan) by the Butoku-kai, the then controlling national body of martial arts.

During his 5th year at school (1933) he entered an inter-city tournament involving 30 towns, representing the town of Kawashima as captain. Being very fast and light he threw every opponent and was given the nickname of Pegasus, the winged horse.

Upon leaving lower high school in 1933, Kenshiro took the entrance exam for the Botuku-kai's special teacher training college, Budo Senmon Gakko (aka Busen), with the help and instruction of his teacher, Kazohira Nakamoto and with the endorsement of Shotaro Tabata and others in the Botuku-kai.

Upon starting at Busen, Kenshiro trained hard under Korei Isogai and in his first year he became the youngest student to gain his Yodan (4th dan) in judo. Korei Isogai was said to be a hard task master, every Saturday afternoon tournaments were held at the Busen which involved Kenshiro fighting five opponents in succession with each contest lasting five minutes. In one tournament Kenshiro had to take on two 2nd Dans, two 3rd Dans and one 4th Dan student for a trial and took less than a few minutes to defeat them all. He was then instructed to repeat the line up again and did so with the same result. Sometimes he was instructed to fight three or more trials involving as many as twenty opponents in succession. In the autumn of his second year Kenshiro was awarded is Godan (5th Dan).

Whilst at Busen, Kenshiro also took up Kendo from Ogawa and was also a prolific reader of philosophy, which most other students found to be far too difficult. During his third year at the Busen he read Tetsugaku Tsuron written by Tanabe Hajime but could not understand it, so decided to attend one of Hijime Tanabe's lectures at  the Kyoto Imperial University hoping that he might then be able to grasp his line of thought. Having made the effort to attend he still could not grasp the thinking of Hajime Tanabe's philosophy and felt quite upset. He felt this way despite the fact that he was the only student from the Busen to attend the lecture. This study was to eventually lead Abbe into his own theory of Kyushindo though he did not officially 'launch' or expound it publicly till many years later.

In 1938, Abbe received his Rokudan (6th Dan) and then was enlisted into the army, despite wishing to continue his studies at Busen and joined the 11th Division, 43rd Infantry Regiment of the Imperial Japanese Army, based in the Tokushima Province. He was then moved to a garrison in Manchuria where he spent the next 4 years unable to study Judo. In 1943 he was released from his service and returned to Busen, aged 28 and already going bald, but after his years in the Japanese Imperial Army had has lost much of his fitness. He trained hard to regain his fitness and within a few months was back at his peak. However, he then met his old commander, Ochi, from the 43rd regiment who insisted he re-enlist and a few days later he once again received call-up papers and was assigned to a supplementary unit in the Tokushima province where he studied and mastered Jukendo, the way of the bayonet.

In 1945, the Butoku-kai granted Abbe his 7th Dan judo and 6th Dan kendo, but at the end of the war the Butoku-kai and Busen were both deemed to be 'radical organisations' and disbanded, and budo became illegal banned by the American Army.

All of Abbe's successes had led him to become arrogant, something which he admitted himself. Henry Ellis reported the following story which demonstrated Abbe's attitude at the time, but also documents his first meeting with Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido and how Abbe was accepted to train under Ueshiba.

It was during a train journey in Japan that Abbe first met Ueshiba, Abbe didn't know who he was and he reacted to Ueshiba looking at him, saying: "What are you staring at, old man?" Ueshiba replied: "I know who you are", to which Abbe modestly retorted: "Everyone knows me, I am Kenshiro Abbe, Champion of All Japan". Ueshiba then introduced himself as the Founder of Aikido, and was told by Abbe that he didn't look strong enough to be a martial arts master. Ueshiba then offered Abbe his little finger, and said: "But young man, you look very strong indeed. Please break my finger". Abbe at first declined, but eventually accepted the challenge, presumably to shut the old man up. Abbe claimed that, as he took hold of the old man's finger and tried to break it, he found himself on the floor of the carriage and totally immobilised. Whilst on the floor Abbe asked the Founder for permission to study under him. Abbe studied for ten years under Ueshiba and became one of his senior students and it was during this period that Abbe started formulating his own budo philosophy of Kyushindo.

In 1955, after an invite from the London Judo Society Abbe, now an 8th Dan, came to the UK. The initial invitation was to become the chief instructor but after a series of disagreements he parted company with them and launched his own philosophy of Kyushindo. Within two years he had formed a number of martials arts councils, including: British Judo Council (BJC), British Kendo Council, British Karate Council, as well as an overall governing body - the International Budo Council (IBC).

In 1957 Abbe received a letter from Morihei Ueshiba, stating that all instructors outside of Japan now had permission to teach aikido to anyone who wished to learn. He was the first master in the UK to be allowed to teach aikido outside Japan as before that time the teaching of aikido was kept solely for the Japanese.

He began teaching aikido at the Abbe School of Budo, otherwise known as 'The Hut', a small wooden building behind a pub in Hillingdon, London. Training with Abbe was very physical and, due to his English not being very good, corrections were often made with a hit to the offending part of the body with a Shinai. Henry Ellis, an original member of the club, reported that Abbe would often say "My English is poor but my shinai speaks fluently".

As well as introducing aikido, he was also instrumental in introducing kendo (the way of the sword), ky?d? (the way of the bow), jukendo (the way of the bayonet), iaido (the way of sword drawing), yarido (the way of the spear) and naginatado (the way of the halberd) to Europe.

By 1960 he had about 25,000 students following his way, but a serious car accident left Abbe with chronic neck and back injuries making training for him incredibly difficult. During his time based in the UK he was also rumoured to have travelled far and wide, visiting Marseilles, Nice, Monaco, Turin, Rome, Sweden, Athens, Dakar, Ethiopia and Abyssinia. While there he would apparently ask for a small space, put mats down and teach judo to children and adults. But in 1964, after only nine years in the UK, he returned to Japan in time to see judo as an event in the Olympic Games.

On the November 17th, 1985, whilst on a cycle ride with Goto from the old people's home, Kenshiro suffered a major stroke. He was rushed to a hospital near Seibu-Chichibu Station, but never woke up again. He died on the 1st December 1985. According to his will, his body was donated to be dissected at the Saitama Medical University. The funeral was held in Zuigen Temple in Tokushima City on the 10th June 1986 and his body buried in the Abbe family grave in Tokushima, the Prefecture in which he was born.

 

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