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 enso 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)
- 1. When entering and leaving the Dojo make a deep and reverent bow.
- 2. Do not enter the Dojo untidily dressed; if dressed in Japanese style a Hakama must be worn.
- 3. Maintain a respectful attitude and the most correct posture.
- 4. Be quiet and conscientious; do not engage in noisy chatter, laughter, clapping of hands, or cheering.
- 5. After eating, allow a suitable amount of time to elapse before training.
- 6. If you have taken alcohol do not enter the Dojo, let alone engage in training.
- 7. The sword is one’s soul, the Bogu is one’s armor; handle them with respect according to the correct method.
- 8. The Dojo interior must be cleaned morning and evening and kept tidy.
- 9. Do not comment on other styles of swordsmanship or in each other’s technique.
- 10. For those who are training in swordsmanship, take caution against shortness of temper or selfishness; do not be quarrelsome, but always remain serene of heart.