Torao "Tiger" Mori Sensei
His Sword and Life
When Torao Mori was in his 40’s both his sword technique and his personal life was at its most fruitful period.
The Powerful and Fragrant Ken
The strength of Mori’s swordsmanship was not only the technique and the power, but also the beauty of the zanshin.
There was a reverberation there, so people couldn’t help but fix their eyes on him. In one moment he would strike shomen uchi, the next moment he’d come to the left uchi, and if that was not sufficient he’d hit the right side with his left hand alone. His sword was hengenjizai (like a ninja), free and ever changing.
Do uchi was also one of his strengths. Even if the opponent was tall, Torao could find a small weakness and strike nikiri. His ten no uchi would be reversed, and the muscle of the sword stood kata zushi. Every time he did it, it was perfect.
The other technique in which he excelled was yokomen from the right side. The moment the opponent attempted the menuchi he would strike the yokomen from the right. Also at ma ai he attacked the opponent with the ki, so no matter who the opponent, once Torao managed to come close to the kissaki, he could win.
In close distance fighting he was confident he could win. If the opponent stopped, he would thrust. If he tried to hit, he would bring the sword above the mengane, change the body, and he would cut down the migi do.
In 1930 and 1931, when he was young, whenever he cut the do of the opponent he would hold with his left hand the opponent’s zanshin. It happened quite often that even though the opponent wanted to go to the next technique, he couldn’t. Tsubazeria was something at which the Yuushinkan kenshi excelled, including Hakudo Nakayama. Mori was also good at tsubazeria. He hit the left and right men and retreated, or he changed from men to the right do and made a strike. The reason why Mori was not afraid of jumping in closer to the opponent was that he learned judo when he was young so he could grab and throw. He could thrust and throw away using this technique in kendo. Mori had strong hips and legs so he could move from tsubazeria to a harsh technique. Thus he was performing a bujutsu-like kendo.
How did Mori’s sword change at different times of his life?
A collection of testimony from kendo people who fought with him or saw him.
The strong legs and hips trained by Judo, Dance and Leap Frog.
Until he was 15, at the end of junior high school, Torao’s last name was Noma. From birth Torao was always on the back of his mother or sister listening to the sound of the shinai. The first time he held the shinai he was five years old. After he went to live with his uncle, Noma Seiji, in Tokyo, he was forced to learn kendo and he didn’t like it at all. When he was nine Torao came to Tokyo to be a companion to his cousin. The cousin entered Ushinkan School from 15 years old and he also took lessons at the Otsuka police station.
In 1939 Noma Seiji had Shintsuke Masuda, who was a student of Hakudo Nakamura, join Kodansha as a kendo instuctor. 1939 was the year Torao was in Tokyo at 12. At that time, Torao was a small boy in the fourth year of elementary school, and he didn’t like kendo. He practiced the shinai crying.
Shintsuke Masuda spent a lot of time with Torao doing judo. However, Abe was well versed in children’s psychology. He believed you shouldn’t force hard training on children. He also believed children should try shinai of different lengths. They used the whole area of the dojo to train the legs and hips, just like a dancing lesson. Then, they would let them practice kirikaeshi and uchikomi. After that, the children would divide into two groups and play leapfrog.
Giichi Abe was the kendo instructor. Abe tried to attract the children by doing the hard things first and keeping the pleasure for later. Due to this type of instruction Torao kept going to class even though he didn’t like kendo.
At the Otsuka police the first year the students were not allowed to wear bogu (Armour). All their practice was for the strengthening of the legs and hips, footwork, then uchikomi and kirikaeshi. Torao had to wait until the 5th year of elementary school to wear men.
Noma dojo was completed in 1927, and the uncle, Noma Seiji was the head of the dojo. He continued to deliver his kendo lecture everyday. Noma dojo had several kendo instuctors including Masuda Abe and Hakudo Nakayama. The test for the promotion was conducted once or twice a year. As the youngest student Torao was just an observer.
When the summer session started in Noma dojo in 1927 Torao wore bogu for the first time and started practicing kendo seriously with his friends. Many famous instructors came from all over the country for the 5-6 hours of keiko, shiai and lecture. For the whole month Torao, a six grader, practiced the basics with his seniors and instructors. Torao stayed after practice, standing in front of a mirror trying to review why he had lost a shiai. Sometimes he stayed for an hour and even the instructors were impressed to see him practice hard.
Because Noma brought famous instructors from all over the country to teach the children, Torao firmly acquired the basics of kendo. He learned from kamae, ma ai, issokku and itto to shomen uchi and tsuki, over and over. As he was mature enough he started to understand both the hardship and pleasure of kendo.
The Time at Sugamo Junior High School
The sword that never knew defeat was polished by top instructors.
From Furitsu Jr. High School he moved to Sugamo Jr. High School. At one match, SJHS was defeated. This experience made him feel more responsibility; from that time he practiced Kendo in full scale. At that time SJHS Kendo Club had two instuctors, Takano Yoshinobu and Keiji Araki, who were both to protégé of Sasaburo Takano. At that time Torao was much taller; he especially had heavy bones and hands, and his legs were big. In junior high one starts to participate in shiai with other kendo schools. At this time, the best technique was his left hand thrust which he learned in Noma dojo. Later, his left hand thrust will bring a victory to SJHS in a national inter junior high school competition. He would go forward and thrust or move backwards and thrust.
Torao was able to practice on an equal basis with his cousin and his seniors at SJHS. Jiro Sasaki, Katsu Urata, and Koichi Takeda made his ken even stronger. But the best medicine in making his ken strong was his experience in losing in a Inter school shiai, and his feeling of kuyashii (vexation).
After the All Japan competion sponsored by Waseda University in September 1930 Torao served as team captain. This was Soichiro Ono’s idea. Also, Torao’s sword was highly accomplished (sophisticated) as well as powerful and beautiful. He not only looked beautiful in his posture and movement, but also he had a maturity and elegance.
Some of the competing team, against the outstanding ken of Torao, even made allegations that SJHS was using professionals. In his senior year Torao had 4 dan. In the current system he got his highest dan. He concentrated on kendo but he was competent academically as well.
He did iai as well. Torao took advantage of the Eishin Ryu Iai, which he learned from Hakudo Nakayama, as a way to make a proper utsu thrust. Torao also had some experience with the way of the cane, and that must have been reflected in his flexible body movement. He was the type of person who was very curious about anything and ready to learn it if it enlarged his personality.
1934 Before and after the Tenran Jiai
The Nothing- to-Lose Swordsmanship of his lifetime teacher, Mochida Seiji
After graduating from SJHS Torao began to work for the Houchi [sports] newspaper. Even so, he never gave up practicing from 6:00 in the morning. He also continued a kendo training tour in preparation for the Tenran Jiai of 1934.
Both Torao and his cousin, Tadashi, were practicing as serious as shinken [real sword] shiai. Tarao’s kakegoe was very deep and his voice alone overwhelmed his competitors. The Noma dojo taught their students to practice kakegoe-- men, kote, do and tsuki -- every morning using their hara. Therefore, from the very beginning of tachiai, their voices were very deep. Torao used to say, “Sorea, doko i na! Hore kita!”
In a rehearsal practice Torao always won an ippon at the start. Sometimes he won three in a row, one after the other, and no one could fight with him on an equal basis. Especially his tsuki technique was very strong. But he never tried to throw away his opponent by thrusting the kissaki at his throat, or break the window and then go out. At the final of the JHS competition of 1931 he made the strongest one hand tuski in which his tsuki was so strong that his opponent’s shinai was bent like an arrow.
Later, Hakudo Nakayama commented on Torao’s Kendo saying, “Nobody in Japan, including the experts, can fight with Torao in an official 3-point match and win. Maybe in Japan there are five people among the experts who will be able to have an interesting 1-point match with him.”
By the way, regarding Torao’s posture, the kissaki is slightly higher directed at the opponent’s left eye. His left hand is one hand grip distance from his belly button: it is flexible and defensive at the same time. When the opponent tried to strike, he would turn and do a kaeshi do or he would hit the yokomen. By doing that he always made sure to move quickly to five meters to have enough distance for zanshin. He practiced efficiently with 100 % devotion. He tried to grasp the sense of the opponent’s heart that is emerging before it shows in form, and he would win.
In 1934 during the final of the Tokyo preliminary for the Tenran Jiai, Torao lost a very easy game. People thought he gave a win to his cousin. His cousin died just after. Since then, Torao’s ken was not to be seen often.
The excellent technique using applications of fencing technique.
By the time Torao was 20 he was 5-dan renshi which is equivalent to 7 dan. He also had lived through. His quality of ken was supported by the experience of actually fighting. Soon, he left for the US to search for his way of life and also to be trained in fencing. He didn’t want to be confined within the frame of kendo. He wanted to challenge his possibilities in a greater world.
Fencing is the western style equivalent to kendo. For someone as curious as Torao this was something he could adapt to easily. In 1938 he became number 1 on the American West Coast, and 2nd in the all US competition. He became a champion only after a half a year. Because he had some previous experience in dancing, his mastery was quick. Also he had something the westerner’s didn’t have: the ability to sense the opponent’s mind. He was far more sensitive than others.
By the time he returned to Japan, Torao had applied in his ken a technique from his fencing. That was the quick technique using the grip of the saber. What this means is that you grip the saber with the thumb, index and middle fingers when you hit, and when you thrust you pull with the ring and baby finger. So this hitting and thrusting which uses the principle of a lever makes one move into the opponent faster than the technique used in kendo.
In 1940, during a competition in Manchuria, Torao had a chance to fight against his teacher, Seiji Mochida. By then, Torao was the head coach af the Japan Fencing Association and he was 2nd in the US Fencing ranking. He won 2 points from Mochida. One point was, with only his right hand, he cut through below Mochida’s left hand drawing a do. At that time, the saber technique was alive. How did he strike? Mutually opposed in segan, Torao returned his right hand 90 degrees to the left and from that position stepped forward to the right front and cut through a few milimeters below the left hand of Mochida Seiji. Mochida was still posing in segan, so in a way that’s the way Nihon kendo should be. Rather, Torao should have felt awkward about it. Later, Torao was approached by Hakudo Nakayama, who was the judge, and he was told, “Torao, that was taken only because it was you.” In other words, it was because he was known for his technique in do-uchi, and because he had had real fighting experience in the “sword’s law”.
Later, after the war, Torao became a little distant from kendo. He was busy as a fencing coach. After he returned to America he didn’t have enough people to practice kendo and he was busy with his work. He became independent, and started his own company called Mori securities. With the profits that he earned as a security analyst, he ran a professional fencing dojo called Mori Academy. Meanwhile, he gave instruction to the kenshi from all over the US. Whenever there were visitors from Japan with whom he could practice on an equal basis his legs became impatient. In 1952 Mr. Torataro Nakahata of Yamaguchi prefecture came to LA as an immigrant. Nakahara, who later became a president of the USKF had a pretty high technique, but with Torao he couldn’t fight at all.
During the 1967 Friendship Tournament Torao Mori demonstrated kata with his respected teacher, Seiji Mochida. People said that it was a kata with much power and vigor. Only two years later came Torao’s sudden death.
Source: Unknown. However, I believe it was a translation of a Japanese book on Tiger Mori's life.
(If you know the reference, please email us so that we can properly attribute it.)