A Biography of Kenshiro Abbe
A short anecdotal
biography of the Master's activities throughout the years
Ukikoto no arumi no
My potentiality has got a limit
Kenshiro Abbe was born 15th. December 1915 in the Tokushima
Province of Japan. He was the fourth son of Mrs. Koto Abbe
and father Toshizo.
In 1955 at the age of 40, he came to England to introduce
the International Budo Council. This organisation as a whole
was founded only a little earlier that year. Upon his arrival
in London, Abbe launched his own Theory of Kyushindo and this
became well known in the Budo field, which at that time consisted
of Judo alone. Abbe was the master who introduced Kendo, Aikido,
Karate, Kyodo, Jukendo, Iaido, Yarido and Naginatado to Europe.
Abbey Sensei's eccentric behaviour in London did not endear
him to too many people and he was often at loggerheads with
Budo Authorities. Famous anecdotes of his eccentric methods
and behaviour included training sessions in swimming polls
and allowing birds to fly into the dojo. Kenshiro was very
fond of small birds! There is also tale of him 'borrowing'
a tethered horse and riding it through the London streets.
At that time any Japanese face in London was relatively rare
- one on horseback was extraordinary! Bill woods, co-founder
of that first dojo together in Kings Cross would become accustomed
to Kenshiro's unpredictable behaviour and would be kept busy
for many years to come in the role of 'right hand man'. Kenshiro
Abbe did invite his family to live with him in London however
they refused, apparently not at all attracted by the life
style that Kenshiro offered them in England. Within the context
of this "anecdotal biography" of Kenshiro's adult life and
activities in Budo only, I shall not concern myself here with
this complicated mans childhood, adolescence or the family
affairs or his respected ancestors of the past, present and
future. All other information available to me is available
to anyone via the Internet and various other 'hard copy' books.
Outside of Japan the Tokushima Budo Council of Europe is the
only authorised guardian of Kenshiro's legacy of Kyushindo
Theory study and practice.
Abbe cooled somewhat towards his own organisation and decided
to begin travelling alone. He bought a van and set out to
first visit Marseilles, Nice, Monaco, Turin and Rome. He became
a drifting teacher, with few or no belongings. Wherever he
was in a town he would simply ask for a small space in a church
or warehouse or perhaps even set up outdoors. He would spread
his 15 Tatami mat and teach Judo to young children and adults.
It is known that he later also visited Sweden, Athens, Dakar
and Abaysinia. He returned to Japan for the first time in
1964 and worsening health following a recent car accident
caused his to cease his wanderings for some time. Following
a remarkable complete recovery in 1968 he began to teach again
in Europe, returning to London from time to time. He returned
to Japan for the second time in the late seventy's and stayed
there until he died in June 1986.
Abbe had his first Satori (revelation/enlightenment) at 18yrs
old and then spent 24yrs in maturing and developing his ideas
before launching his personal theory of Kyushindo in 1955.
He had a second Satori in 1969 after reading the teachings
of Nichiren. However, not having trained four five years and
being impaired by old training injuries and the previously
mentioned car accident, he was unable to physically and mentally
control himself and this frustration caused him to become
unstable in himself. His inevitable retirement had begun.
In 1938, at the age of 23 (the youngest ever) Abbe was awarded
6th Dan and called up for his military service.
It was during this period that he first formulated his theory
of Kyushindo Budo, although he did not reveal it publicly
at that time. It was also at this time he was selected as
a student by Morihei Ueshiba, the creator of Aikido. Aikido
was at this time still secret and Ueshiba Sensei only selected
special students. Abbe was to study for ten years under Morihei
Ueshiba and became his senior student of Aikido. Ueshiba Morihei
was the greatest personal influence on Kenshiro's life in
In 1945 Kenshiro was graded 7th. Dan Judo and 6th. Dan Kendo
by the Butokukwai but at the end of the war the Occupation
Forces disbanded the Butokukwai and it became illegal to practice
martial arts. By 1949 Budo was again legalised in Japan.
In 1951 Abbe became editor of Judo Shinbun, the Japanese
Judo Magazine and Director of the Judo Social League. He was
also Official Referee of the All-Japan Police Championships
and the National Tournaments.
By 1957 Abbe had formed British Councils for various martial
arts including Judo, Karate and Kendo. By 1964 the Judo Council
was the second largest Judo organisation in the country whilst
the International Budo Council had members all over the continent,
the USA, Australia, Africa and the Far East.
In 1960 a car accident dislocated and permanently damages
his neck. Further nerve damage caused prolonged physical illness
and mental disturbance. Kenshiro eventually found himself
in constant pain and unable to think clearly.
He returned to Japan for the 1964 Olympics. His worsening
condition prevented him from returning to London for several
years, during which time the International Budo Council lay
virtually dormant apart from Kendo.
In the first week of October 1968, he read the writings of
a great Buddhist leader, named Nichiren Daishonin. He read
for six hours, put the [unknown. ed.] book down and
found himself completely well again. Apparently for the first
time in nine years his mind and body were sharp and clear
again. He had no pain in the body, although his weight had
dropped to eight stone. Born anew or 'transformed' he began
his life again.
was swift to express great displeasure at the way his group
had been run and decided that it was necessary to start again
from basics and build up a new spiritual growth for the organisation.
It was his opinion that instead of wishing to study the truth
of Budo, most members wanted only physical instructions which
they could then warp, twist and teach to their own students
using his authority. He decided that it was necessary to break
down the Councils and start again from scratch. He therefore
did so, virtually destroying the organisation.
By 1969 Abbe returned again to Britain, took the title of
"Docho" or "Creator of a System" and started the British
Judo Council with Bill Woods 2nd Dan. This was located at
first in a disused school and transferred later (following
the incident with the birds) to a room above a pub. O'tani
(a lifelong training partner of Abbey) later took on this
responsibility and continued this until his own death.
The mortal remains of Kenshiro Abbe were donated to the Saitama
Medical University. His funeral service was held in Zuigen
Temple in Tokushima City on the 10th. June 1986 and he is
commemorated in the family grave.
In a life mixed with much courage and sadness; he had reached
the heights of acclaim and the depths of despondency. Abbe
was the master who introduced Kendo, Aikido, Karate, Kyodo,
Jukendo, Iaido, Yarido and Naginatado to Europe yet he died
almost totally alone and forgotten by most.
In his early years Kenshiro was known as a serious person,
even when it came to social activities. For instance, at the
Busen* he was bewildered at the antics of the students
at a welcoming party. They plied him with alcoholic drinks
that he politely declined, but he could not refuse to take
part in some of the entertainment. He was invited to sing
a children's song and though insisting that he would not sing
he agree however to recite a "Waka" (a 31 syllable poem).
It went: "ukikoto no arumi no chikara tamesan" - its translation
being "my potentiality has got a limit". He recited it in
a serious and solemn manner, perhaps not aware then just how
prophetic and appropriate these words would be for his own
life during which he would continually challenge his own limitations.
*Busen - is the exclusive teacher training college
of the Butokukwai in Kyoto. The main studies were Kendo and
Judo. Abbe received instruction from Ogawa Hanshi, the Butokukwai
10th. Dan Sword Master.
During his time there Kenshiro gained his Yodan (4th. Dan)
-again the youngest ever to do so.
As indicated at the start of this article - no attention
has been given to Kenshiro's early years, though by all accounts
these times also were remarkable. Kenshiro it seems was a
born leader, deep thinker and most courageous master and Docho.