Kendo Reader

The following is an excerpt from a famous book, "Kendo Reader by Noma Hisashi". Thanks to Mr. Gerry Kincaid of Scotland, the material was made available to us.


About Noma Hisashi

Noma Hisashi was born on 24th of April, 1919, in Tokyo. His grandfather, Mori Yozo, was a famous Bakumatsu swordsman and a senior student at the Dojo of Chiba Shusaku. His mother, who was the eldest daughter of Mori Yozo, was a skilled writer as well as an proponent of Kendo, Kusarigama and especially Naginata. In 1924, he enrolled at the Yushinkan Dojo where he received instruction from Nakayama Hakudo Sensei. At the age of 17, he began to receive instructions from Masuda Shinsuke. In the same year, the Noma Dojo was established and Hisashi began the instruction of children. On 1st of July, 1930, aged 21, he was presented with the Kendo Seiren award by His Highness Prince Nashimoto Miyamori Maso, chairman of the Dai Nippon Butokukai. Also, Hisashi began training under Mochida Moriji at the Noma Dojo. During 1934, he traveled to Kyoto and other parts of Kansai and Chugoku districts for special training. In September of that year, he entered and won the Army Kendo Championships. He received the trophy from Shirakawa Yoshinori, the Army Minister. On 1st of March, 1935, he was awarded the rank of Renshi. April that year was spent in Kyushu, and in May, as a Tokyo representative, he entered and won the tournament that was held before His Majesty the Emperor in honor of the birth of the Crown Prince. On 6th of July, 1937, he was awarded the rank of Kyoshi, and on the 7th of November of the same year, he passed away due to illness.

When we read the bare outlines of his life sketched out above, we can easily understand that here was a remarkable Kendo-ka who, sadly, passed away at the very moment that he was about to flower with his own deep insight into swordsmanship. But we do have his writings and these are also remarkable, for this young man was able to express himself in a clear and natural manner. He was a born communicator and throughout his book, he brings the reader a sense of his personal enthusiasm and deep love of Kendo. Not only that, he constantly refers to famous masters of the past to keep things on an even keel. A legacy that one could only otherwise acquire by placing oneself for many years under similar masters.

THE KENDO READER by Noma Hisashi (an excerpt)

Why Practice Kendo

"Why do it?" Before starting any activity this is the first question that naturally comes to mind, and when one has fully satisfied oneself as to the reasons for doing it and the task is begun, not only does one feel reassured that one's efforts will not be misplaced, but one is also able to concentrate all one's strength on what is crucial for its achievement; consequently the task comes to life. Even so, if we must always be asking ourselves the question "why do it?" but embarking upon nothing until we have worked out the reasons for everything we will do, we are likely to run into problems.

"Why was I born?", "Why should I carry on living?", "Why do I have to work?", and so on. This line of thought is not necessarily meaningless but if we try hard to seek answers to "Why do it" then our doubts and confusion will only increase, resulting in an unmanageable situation. Honen Shonin (1133-1212), founder of the Jodo sect of Buddhism, is recorded to have said, "Just continue, single-mindedly with the invocation" is a shortcut to nirvana.

Again, surely it must be said that there can be nothing more detrimental to our endeavors than to consider as most correct our own shallow and immature ideas and to decide for ourselves all the answers to the question "Why do it?" During one's years of immaturity, one must be especially careful not to become a victim of one's own dogmatic attitude. When one's ideas and thoughts seem incomplete, seek the opinion of others or else just follow the instruction given by those who are senior to oneself; this must surely be the correct path.

It is the same with the question "Why practice Kendo?" Because this cannot easily be answered, does one refuse to practice Kendo? Even if one inquired deeply into finding an answer to this problem one would find it a most difficulty problem to solve. Even if the problem could be partially solved, one's answer will not necessarily account for anything of real significance.

That being said, it may be that the dwelling on this problem would in some sense serve to heighten one's perception and understanding of Kendo. Below I have related some simple examples of observations and attitudes pertaining to Kendo. Among them, I have also added some of my own thoughts on the subject and I leave it to the reader to judge their merits for themselves.

It is not certain just when the sword came into widespread use, but that they were in use in ancient times has been proved and is a fact of history. With the development of the sword, it also became necessary to research into the most effective methods of their use. Thus, the skill and development of technique itself became an ongoing concern which in turn ultimately gave birth to the Michi, or the Way of the Sword. We can say then that the wellsprings of Kendo were formed far back in ancient times.

Later, the systematized or organized forms and styles of Kendo and the ancestral families of Masters of the Art known as Shihan-ke seems to have first appeared during the Muromachi Period (1338-1573). From then on, the skill of swordsmanship passed through each historical phase through times of growth and decline, and while experiencing many changes over the course of time, it never really disappeared, which is something we should be grateful for.

From long ago, as is alluded to by the teaching Ken-Zen-Itchi, the Way of the Sword and of Zen as one, and with the same objectives, Kendo also has become to be considered in spiritual terms. Generally, however, as Bujutsu it was primarily developed with the aim of "destroying the enemy and protecting oneself." Even in this day and age, there are not a few people who continue to hold on to this primary objective.

To give one example, there is said to be an old master of swordsmanship living in seclusion somewhere in Hokkaido. Whenever anyone came to visit him and knocks at his front door, he is first heard to demand "Who goes there?", after which he takes hold of a pair of iron tongs and comes forward to greet his visitor.

Now, this may appear to be a rather eccentric way of doing things, but when we look at the records that describe the behavior of the Bugei-sha of old we discover much that is similar. One cannot discount out of hand this attitude as being, among other things, out of date for there is something about it that makes one stop and ponder. That old master in Hokkaido is not the only one of his kind; there are quite a number who view Kendo first and foremost as Bujutsu.

It is a fact that with event of the Haito Rei after the Meiji restoration in 1868, together with the combined influences of pacifism, the introduction of western thought, and the decline in the number of opportunities for the actual use of edged weapons, the age no longer permitted Kendo to be thought of solely in Bujutsu terms. Between the first and last years of the Meiji Period (1868-1912), the practice of Kendo suffered a serious decline. One reason for this decline, we may assume, was the result of it being viewed only in terms of Bujutsu. As far as the purpose and role of Kendo was concerned, a time for its reevaluation had come and it was studied from many different angles.

Now, I would like to tell you about an old man of very stern character whom I once knew. He had practiced Kendo for more than twenty years during which time he never missed a single days training. Regardless of whether it is extremely hot or cold, he continued to train with ceaseless enthusiasm. Through this period, he never had any particular desires or ambitions about becoming especially strong or skilled; instead, he just kept training for the simple reason that he enjoyed it. Setting aside the question of his actual ability, he told me that he had never once caught cold and that, as far as he was concerned, was all due to the training.

People practice Kendo for many different reasons. There are those who attempt to master it as Bujutsu, others practice it as a form of physical exercise, some emphasize it as a form of ascetic exercise, still others see it as sport, some simply because they enjoy it, and others because they have an interest in contest using Shinai. In general, however, it seems to be most broadly perceived to be either as a form of physical exercise or character cultivation and physical discipline. This appears to be the order of the present day as regards Kendo practice and it does appear to be a line of thought adapted to the times. Unfortunately, however, it also seems to indicate the tendency most people have of paying scant regard to the original Bujutsu role of Kendo, i.e., "to destroy the enemy and protect oneself."

Nowadays, apart from the unique situation that arise in times of war, there are almost no opportunities for us to cross swords in mortal combat. In the place of the sword, there are now far more advanced and efficient weapons available. Consequently, to say that the aim of Kendo is "to destroy the enemy and protect oneself" is naturally going to invite ridicule for such and outmoded idea.

No, within Kendo, there is something else to be sought of much greater value, something of profound spiritual significance. But to learn of this significance, one cannot bypass the original function of Kendo as Bujutsu, i.e., "to destroy the enemy and protect oneself." It is only through a deadly earnest razor edged course of Kendo training that one can truly experience the lofty Way towards spiritual understanding.

To class Kendo as merely another form of physical exercise is to view it as another form of sport, and that, I think, is to miss the mark completely. Having said that, I do not want it to appear that I do not acknowledge the excellent attributes that sport has to offer, not only from the physical aspect but also the spiritual aim. It is just that Budo was devised for and deployed in situations where one's life itself was at risk. For this crucial reason it differs greatly from sport, ant it is on this point that the true value of Budo is to be found. Therefore, I must emphasize strongly that if one ignores the original function of Kendo as Bujutsu, where life and death are held in the balance, then one greatly diminishes the value of Kendo. Although it is quite all right to view Kendo in the light of physical exercise and character cultivation, if on forgets the primary role of Bujutsu, one will not be able to comprehend the true meaning of Kendo. As was said earlier, in the present age there are practically no opportunities for mortal combat with sword (Shinken Shobu). If that is the case, how is one then to come even close to experiencing the mental state of Shinken Shobu, or bringing Kendo to life as Bujutsu? The answer is to attach great importance to the outcome of one-to-one engagements (Shohai). In Budo, Shohai must be held in the highest regard. Questions of Shohai may have to be set aside for the purpose of instruction and so on, but Shohai is the difference between life and death, be it with the real sword or the Shinai. It is vital to realize that to be defeated means that one's life is lost.

The method of achieving victory is encompassed within Michi. To put it another way, through long and serious training and investigation into the ways and means of taking victory, one finally becomes master of them, and this is the path of Michi. The word "Michi" encompasses both art or skill, and ways and means. If we delve even deeper to the ultimate concept, we discover that it includes the Will of God, the Law of the Universe and Truth itself. Where the Will of God, Law of the Universe and Truth are revealed, there lies the Law of obtaining victory, and this is the law we shall arrive at if we comprehend the principles of Shohai. In Buddhism, this understanding is known as Bodai or Satori. Through Ken we may awaken to the meaning of life, and even beyond to the Laws of Heaven and Earth and the Truth of the Universe. This, I think, may be said is the ultimate aim of Michi.

To understand the basic law of one Michi is to comprehend the laws of all others. This is the great value of the Michi. Thus, it is not enough to study and master Ken alone. This "principle of Michi" is known as Ippo Banpo, and is supported by the words of Miyamoto Musashi: "Trusting all to the laws of Heiho (arts of war) in mastering the arts and skills and in all things, I have no need of teachers."

Concerning the aims of Kendo, Yamaoka Tesshu wrote the following.

"People believe that the reason for mastering swordsmanship is to be able to cut down one's enemies. For myself, however, I seek to master swordsmanship because through it I seek divine principle. If once I attain this, my heart will be as still water, calm and quiet, like a clear mirror lucid and bright, able to cope instantly with any situation. For when faced with any incident my spirit will react of its own. Of what comes to pass, my comprehension of it will be instantaneous. To truly attain to this plane is to be one with the Way of Heaven. Throughout earnest training and by clearing the mind (Kokoro), I seek only to awaken to the one root principle of the Heavens."

Tesshu, who emphasized the practice of Ken as Bujutsu, here indicates clearly the higher aims of Kendo. The above passage was written by Tesshu when he was a mere 23 years of age. Later in the Kenpo Jaseino-Ben, he wrote,

"The secrets of Kenpo do not stop at merely being the secrets of Kenpo. Having gained this knowledge one may apply it on the battlefield, in government, in diplomacy, in education and religion, in trade, manufacturing and farming; only good will result from it. This is why I say that the 'Truth of Kenpo' is part of the ultimate Truth of all Creations."

Does this not settle the point of how all human action is intimately connected to the highest aims of humanity? Therefore, simply put, I like to think that the highest aim of humanity is to make this place (world) a better place, in accordance to the Will of the Highest and Almighty. And although it may be necessary to view Kendo from various angles, in the end, by attaching the value of Kendo to the highest aims of humanity, we will, I believe, be adding more to the achievement of this quest.

I have raised a number of points above, but after all is said and done, Kendo is not something to merely theorize about; it is something that must be put into practice. Or rather, we can say that the true value of Kendo lies at the point where theory and action come together in unity. Old wisdom says, "What cannot be put into practice does not exist within Michi."

Shugyo No Dotei (The Process of Shugyo)

In Shugyo training, there are two paths that can be taken: the first is path via the training of the heart and the mind, the Kokoro, and the second way is a path via the training in the physical form, or Katachi. In Kendo, Shugyo practical experience is highly valued so emphasis is placed on execution rather than on theorization; hence to begin via Katachi is considered to be the normal course.

The process is known as entering via form to exit via form, to pass by way of Katachi (training the body) to reach the way of Kokoro (training of the mind and heart) and finally to graduate away completely from both. The ultimate aim is to comprehend the formless mysteries. At the beginning of Shugyo the essential task is to perfect one's physical skill. For this propose, it is important to master the basics of Kendo, the Kihon of Kendo. Kendo Kihon are as important as the basic movements and opening in the games of Go and Shogi (Japanese chess). In Kendo, it is of the utmost importance to correct one's posture and striking skill. At the beginning, one must refrain from concentrating too much on contest Kendo, or upon trying to rush one's progress. The shortcut is always the longest way. Rather, one must work at it properly and correctly, and to that end, one must never be swayed by one's own opinions. Always aim to follow exactly what one is taught. If one trains with a modest attitude of mind, one will acquire the basics correctly and to some extent, progress will follow naturally.

The painter also pays careful attention to the way of sketching before using paint and the calligrapher masters the manipulation of his brush. In this way, one can see how important it is to master the basics of any activity. In the case of a larger tree when the roots are well spread and sturdy, the branches above flourish.

In Zen Buddhism, there is the teaching Shu-Ha-Ri. If we take for example the game of chess, Shu, to obey or adhere, corresponds to the first stage of practice when one studies and adheres to the basic moves that have been set down by others. When a certain amount of progress has been made through one's own efforts and ability, one begins to break away from this mold, and this is the stage of Ha, to break. If further progress is made with the training, eventually a natural breaking free from the conscious attempt to be different will occur, and finally without being aware of it, one will part entirely from all such intentions and establish one's own individual path, though remaining within the bounds of the original principles and rules. This last stage is known as Ri, to separate. In the beginning, however, one must not fail to be obedient to the instructions given by the Sensei.

In Kendo, there is the following teaching: Dai-Kyo-Soku-Kei (largeness, firmness, speed, alacrity). These are the qualities to aspire to for physical perfection, though it would be very difficult to grasp all four at the beginning of training. First, one's efforts should be concentrated upon achieving the first two, i.e, Dai and Kyo; and with progress in Shugyo go on to acquire the final two, i.e., Soku and Kei. As in the art of calligraphy, where there are three stages called Shin, Gyo and So, so too in Kendo Shugyo there is a natural progress of stages. By taking each one step at a time, one eventually reaches the desired destination; this after all is the only shortcut. Any attempt to rush through this process, in the main, gives rise to doubtful results, and more often than not, entry into the inner sanctuary of Michi becomes impossible.

Moreover, the one thing that is especially important for the Shugyo-sha, or trainee, to keep in min mind is NEVER TO GIVE UP OR QUIT SHUGYO. During the course of Shugyo training, one develops and suffers from many doubts and dilemmas, and because of these, one's zeal for training disintegrates. However, it is only by resisting the urge to quit and carrying on, such problems that arise will eventually solve themselves, and without fail one's vision becomes clearer. The passage below is from a lecture given by Yamaoka Tesshu to his students. In it, he tries to explain the process of Shugyo.

"There are three methods the carpenter adopts when using his plane. They are rough planing, medium planing, and finish planing.

"To practice rough planing, make your body firm, stretch out the stomach, and brace the lower trunk, then with equal strength in both arms, plane to a rough finish. In other words, use the strength of your whole body without relaxing it. If you do not use sufficient effort, you will not manage to rough plane.

"Next, there is medium planing. With medium planing, it is not merely a question of using all your strength, you must plane the surface flat by adopting a natural modulation of strength in the hands. This is to prepare it for the finish plane. However, without the experience gained from rough planing, it will not be possible to succeed with medium planing.

"Finally, there is finish planing. This time the wood that was earlier prepared by medium planing is made even smoother and free of flaws. To do this you must plane with one single stroke at a time. From one end of the timber to the other. If your heart is not calm when you make this simple stroke, you will score many flaws and faults into the wood, and if there are flaws the timber has not yet been finished. For the carpenter in his use of the plane this is the most important stage.

"First of all, you must be in possession of mind, body, and technique. For the carpenter, mind, body, and technique equal plane, man, and timber. If the man thinks to plane, the plane will catch; if the plane is thought to plane, it will rise off the timber. To posses mind, body, and technique is represented here by the action in one place of plane, man, and timber. If this is not mastered thoroughly, however much you train to be a carpenter, you will never plane timber well.

"In order to become proficient at planing timber, the most effective way is to begin training in the way of rough planing. If you can do this well, you can also manage medium planing and finish planing.

"However, in order to finish plane well, there is a secret. Although I say it is a secret, actually it is nothing so special: just put mind, body, and technique out of your head and plane away. It is by doing it in this way that you do a good job. And here, without being aware of it you will have mastered the secret of finish planing. There is something quite interesting about this secret, I think. Before you have mastered this for yourself, nothing that is taught you will be of any real use. Thus, there is no other way than to try to discover it for yourself. No matter what you do, there is no way that anyone can communicate this to you."

An important lesson worthy of consideration from a great master of the Way of Kendo.

Dojo No Saho (The Etiquette of the Dojo)

In Kendo the greatest importance is attached to proper manners and etiquette, but what is required above all is a serious attitude towards the Michi. If one can fully appreciate from the bottom of one's hear the value of Kendo as Michi, then everything in relation to Michi will be done with an attitude of serious and modesty.

If this is the case, it is only natural that the Dojo where Michi is pursued will be considered a sacred place. We are taught to correct our manners starting with outward appearance, so when entering the Dojo one must be suitably dressed, i.e., if one is wearing Japanese clothing a Hakama should be worn.

At every Dojo, one will find venerated upon the altar the martial deities Amaterasu Omikami, Katori Myojin (Futsunushi No Mikoto), and Kashima Myojin (Takemikazuchi No Mikoto). When entering and leaving the Dojo, always make a reverent bow towards the altar as a sign of respect. One must also make a bow towards the altar before and after each and every match or practice.

It may be asked why the deities are present upon the altar and why we respect them in this way. Well, there are various reasons for doing so and one reason is to nurture the feeling of awe that is always experienced when one is conscious of their presence. Also, we do not wish to lose the open and fair spirit, free of shame that one feels compelled to maintain before such holy onlookers. Moreover, Kendo is the path by which one seeks to be one with the deities and thus ennoble oneself, so it is fitting for us to train before the representatives of these high ideals. In the Dokugyodo, Miyamoto Musashi has the following admonition for the Shugyo-sha:

"Pay homage to the deities and Buddha, but do not seek of them."

However, this was written for the benefit of the more accomplished amongst us. For the novice, on the other hand, it would not seem to be an inappropriate course to seek the deities' aid in, for example, taking victory in a tournament or for making progress in general.

As mentioned earlier, proper manners are of the greatest importance in Kendo, so much so in fact that one always begins and ends all procedures with a reverent bow. Also, one must behave correctly, not only before one's masters and seniors but also before one's peers and subordinates. Bad manners must be admonished.

During Shiai or Keiko, one must not forget to be serious and correct in attitude and action. Unnecessary chatter or laughter by participants and spectators should be censured, especially during Shiai. Again, what is particularly reprehensible is the indiscriminate criticism of others when it is not for the purpose of serious study.

Bogu and Shinai must be handled with care. The Bogu is one's suit of armor and the Shinai is one's sword, so care must be taken to see that they are not thrown around, sat upon, or otherwise treated with disrespect. It need hardly be mentioned that it is with minor details of this sort that bad habits easily develop. However, if one is truly earnest in one's attitude towards Michi then all due care and attention in such matters will be naturally maintained.

It is not enough, however, to say that one knows that the Dojo is a sacred area, or that the Bogu and Shinai should be handled with due respect; the primary concern is whether or not one appreciates the value of Michi. The warrior in the past looked after his sword as his soul. It may also be said that he looked after it because it was deadly weapon, but more than anything else his respect arose from this high regard for Bushido, the Michi of the warrior. In Kendo, this high regard for Michi is a prerequisite; if one is at least possessed of this then all else will follow in good order.

Dojo-Kun Jukkajo (Ten Rules of the Dojo)