Most Judokas (judo practioners) are familiar with Dr. Jigoro Kano, the founder of modern Judo and the Kodokan, the organization he created to spread his art around the world. What is not common knowledge, however, is that for most of the first half of the 20th Century there were two major Martial Arts organizations in Japan who trained Judokas and awarded Judo ranks. One was Kano''s Kodokan. The other was the Butokukai.
The Butokukai was established in 1895 by the Japanese government to train Martial Arts teachers. In 1911 the organization opened its martial arts training school, the Bujutsu Semmon Gakko, largely known as the Busen. Its aim and purpose was to promote and cultivate Budo in a true Samurai spirit, and to produce teachers to go out and propagate the Japanese Martial Arts throughout the world. Zen Judo''s origins are closely connected to the Butokukai through one of its leading graduates, Sensei (teacher) Kenshiro Abbe.
Kenshiro Abbe, the founder of the Kyu-Shin-Do, was born on December 15, 1915 in the Tokushima Province, Japan. He was the fourth son of Toshizo and Koto Abbe, in a family that had four sons and five daughters. Kenshiro was their youngest child. His father was a school master and a Kendo (way of the sword) teacher. Unfortunately, Kenshiro''s father died young at the age of 51 on September 4, 1919, drowning in floodwater during a Kendo weekend course in the mountains. His sudden death brought the family together and helped to create strong ties among its members.
It was Mr. Manpei Hino, a 20-year teacher, who became a father figure to Kenshiro and introduced him to the martial arts. Mr. Fukiwara, Kenshiro''s grade school teacher, also helped allowing the students to play Sumo wrestling in their physical education classes. Kenshiro would win many school tournaments in Sumo, eventually becoming the wrestling champion of Tokushima''s schools.
At the age of 14 Kenshiro joined Kazohira Nakamoto''s Judo dojo. Sensei Nakamoto, a former police officer, became Kenshiro''s main Judo instructor until he entered the Busen. That same year Kenshiro received his Shodan (1st degree black belt) rank in Judo. A year later he attained the rank of Nidan (2nd Dan or degree black belt), and the following year he was promoted to Sandan (3rd Dan), when he became the champion of the Tokushima High School Judo League. Sensei Shohei Hamano of the Butokukai was the one who awarded Kenshiro with the rank of Sandan. Kenshiro was the youngest Judoka to receive that honor.
But it was during his Shodan examination that Kenshiro caught the attention of the Butokukai experts. One of the masters from the Butokukai, Mr. Shotaro Tabata, acting as a referee in Kenshiro''s testing, had suggested to Abbe''s Sensei that Kenshiro should consider applying for the Busen. With the help of one of his teacher, Mr. Nakano, Kenshiro prepared for the school''s entrance exam in Kyoto. 300 candidates took the entrance exam. Only twenty would be chosen for Judo and twenty for Kendo. Kenshiro was one of the candidates who got accepted into both programs. He moved to Kyoto with his mother and sister, Toyoka, to attend the school.
At the Busen Abbe received instruction from Ogawa Hanshi (genius), the Butokukai Judan (10th Dan) sword master. While at the Busen Kenshiro also enrolled in Mr. Gen Tanabe''s philosophy class, at the Kyoto Teikoku University. That early encounter with philosophy would be influential in the formation of his system. While the training was arduous at the Busen, Kenshiro managed to receive his Yondan (4th Dan) rank in Judo, being again the young Judoka to attain it. His sister, Toyoka, decided to take Martial Arts too, enrolling in Mrs. Mitamura''s Naginata class. She would dedicate the rest of her life to the practice of the art.
Judo matches were held at the Busen every Saturday afternoon. Kenshiro usually competed in them, being very seldom defeated. Each Saturday session involved fighting five opponents in succession, with each bout lasting five minutes. In the Fall of his second year at the school Kenshiro received his Godan (5th Dan) in Judo. By then he was fighting twenty opponents in succession. Kodokan instructors heard of Abbe''s prowess and send representatives to work out with him. Abbe''s relationship with the Kodokan would be rocky given his views of what traditional Judo should be like. After graduating from the school Abbe was invited to become a teacher at the Busen. He was also invited to teach at the Kodokan, but he decided to accept his alma mater. He taught Judo at the Busen until 1937.
In 1937, at the age of 23, Abbe was awarded his Rokudan (6th Dan) rank and in June of that year he enlisted in the Japanese army, serving for four years in a garrison in the Toan-sho Province in Manchuria. It was during the time in Manchuria that Abbe began formulating his theory of Budo (the Way of the Warrior), Kyu-Shin-Do. And it was also at this time that Abbe was invited by O''Sensei, Morihei Ueshiba to study Aikido under his care.
Returning home to Kyoto in 1941, he met Keiko who became his wife. The Abbe''s had two daughters, Junko and Noriko. In 1945 he received his Shichidan (7th Dan) rank in Judo and his Rokudan (6th Dan) rank in Kendo from the Butokukai. After Japan''s defeat in the war all forms of Budo were forbidden, so the Butokukai and the Busen were temporarily disbanded. But Abbe obtained a position as Judo teacher to the Kyoto police department and was allowed to continue his practice. In 1951 he would become editor of the Judo Shinbun (the Japanese Judo magazine) and director of the Judo Social League. He was also the official referee for the All-Japan Police Championships and National Tournaments.
After the birth of his third daughter, Yayoi, Kenshiro resigned from his post with the Kyoto police. Feeling that Japanese Judo was in decline, he decided to go overseas. He arrived in England at the age of 40 sent by the International Budo Council, which had been founded that year. Abbe took residence at the London Judo Society. A year later he and Bill Woods formed the British Judo Council. Kenshiro spent 1956 teaching and studying Judo, Kendo, Aikido, Karate and Katsu (Shiatsu massage).
His time in London lasted nine and a half years. At the end of this period his organization, the Kyu-Shin-Do, had over 3,000 members. For a while Abbe taught Martial Arts around Europe, returning to London from time to time. A car accident in 1960 forced his early retirement. Eventually he returned to Japan in 1964 during the Tokyo Olympics. There he lived until he died in December 1985. His long absence from his family, during his European tour, took a toll on his marriage and Kenshiro ended up alone at an old people''s home. His funeral was held at the Zuigen Temple in Tokushima, where Kenshiro was buried in the family grave.