The white hakama of Yushinkan

Yushinkan was the dojo of Nakayama Hakudo (1873-1958) in Tokyo. Nakayama had a varied and rich budo life, achieving hanshi in all three arts promoted by the modern ZNKR as well as being a shindo munen-ryu swordsman amongst other things. Its impossible to do a full bio of the man here, so I will leave that for another time, instead concentrating on the content of this article.

Nakayama was highly influential in the Butokukai and therefore the kendo community at large. He practised around the country and many of his students went on to become kendo leaders in their own right. Quite a few of the innovations he came up with at Yushinkan (and promoted by him and his students) are currently taken for granted in the kendo community now, including parts of the reiho we use, and even the method many of us tie our men-himo. This article deals only with one such thing: the origin of the use of white dogi (hakama in particular). I’ve heard a lot of explanations for its use, from the ordinary to the mystical, with people sometimes even arbitrarily defining rules for wearing white. This occurs even in Japan. However, the reason for its initial introduction is as mundane as it can be, despite what connotations people may or may not give it now.

Since Nakayama was hanshi in kendo, iaido, and jodo, and due to his influence in the Butokukai, its obvious that what is said below – although it is aimed at kendo practise – follows on naturally to iaido and jodo as well. The following is what he had to say on the matter.


Naturally, during a some tough keiko sessions we sweat a lot. Taking a break in the garden between these tough practises people often drink something or even smoke a cigarette. This combination is perhaps more unhygienic than we imagine. Since I started a dojo and began teaching my own students I began to notice and began to pay it more attention to hygiene matters. Because keikogi and hakama get dirty very easy, I stopped the use of black and the then popular striped hakama, and forced the use of white ones on my students. Dirt on a white hakama stands out, so people tend to clean them as soon as they notice it has become dirty. This is a lot more hygienic than before (where dirt would not be noticed and the hakama continually used). In the beginning the move wasn’t favoured by some of my students, but as time went on it became more popular, and the amount of people washing their hakama after practise increased.

Whenever I went to other dojos as well, I would take this idea with me. At that time white hakamas were used only in temples and shrines, so it was thought that it was strange to use in the dojo. But after a few years I started seeing white dogi more and more at the Kyoto Taikai, and when we entered the Showa period (from 1925) it suddenly became popular. Nowadays we can see white being used everywhere. Some people suggest (gossip) that the use of white hakamas is the badge or mark of the Nakayama Dojo (i.e. Yushinkan), but the truth is the decision to use white was based only on what I wrote above. Sometimes I consider wryly that the only thing I will leave to the kendo community is the use of the white hakama!


Sources

中山博道剣道口述集。堂本昭彦 (原者:中山善道・稲村栄一)。スキージャーナル株式会社。2007年発行。

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George

I'm the founder and chief editor of kenshi247.net. Amongst other things I am a high school kendo club coach, an avid practitioner of classical swordsmanship, a history student, and a vegetarian.

20 thoughts on “The white hakama of Yushinkan”

  1. Sadly that practice was discontinued after the death of (Nakayama) Zendo Sensei (Hakudo Sensei’s son). The color of the hakama and keikogi is now up to the individual.. but that does not mean that hygiene is not important.

  2. @bushikan -> the article isn’t about why people choose to wear white now, but more about why (or at least a factor of why) the practise first started. I also assume that hygienic reasons were not an issue for some people who chose to wear white even while Nakayama was still alive.

    Thanks for the comments!

  3. (With my utmost respect) I understood that Mr. McCall. The article, however might lead one to assume that this particular tradition is still continued within the Yushinkan. Though a mook point… I was mearly commenting that it discontinued after Zendo Sensei’s death and that the Yushinkan now premits students to exercise their own judgement in choosing what color their hakama and keikogi maybe.

  4. @bushikan -> thanks for the clarification. (btw, call me George). Its my understanding that the Yushinkan no longer exists (at least the original building), so I assume you have (or were?) studying at a derivative of/successor to it? If so I am sure you have many interesting anecdotes you can share with us??

    For reference: 昭和2 1年 七十四歳、大戦終結に伴い、武徳会の解散、仝役員の免除、続いて戦犯容疑を蒙り横須賀拘置所に入り、無罪追放となる。戦後は、剣道関係団体の等の形式的な役などを務めた。敗戦の打撃は老の身に大きく響き、経済的にも破綻を生じ、遂に由緒深き有信館本部道場を 放棄せざるの止む無きに至り、関係者門人と共に血涙の惜別をする。

    @Josh -> I have removed the offending adjective so that there is no misunderstanding. Thanks for your comment.

    (updated: I removed what I considered to be a very rude comment from Mr Josh Keeley that he posted above.)

  5. George, you (and your reference) are correct. The Yushinkan was effectivly abandoned for financial reasons after the Second World War. Interest in Budo hit an all time low and Meijin like Hakudo, Zendo, and Hashimoto (Toyo) Sensei were forced to leave the confines of the Yushinkan and seek other means of employment. The maintained positions of Kendo and Iaido instructors at several institutions around Japan. Though they lost the status that they once commanded. It was during this time that Shindo Munen Ryu Kanto Ha was taken underground (in a sense). Hakudo Sensei named Zendo sensei the 8th soke of Shindo Munen Ryu and awarded him Menkyo Kaiden in Muso Shinden Ryu and Shinto Muso Ryu (Zendo sensei would also go on to earn 10th dan, Hanshi in Kendo and Iaido from the Butoku-kai). Zendo Sensei had many students, however a only select few were chosen for training in (what one could call) Yushinkan Ryu-gi. Prior to his death Zendo Sensei awarded Menkyo, shihan licences to three individuals, and Menkyo-jo (the equivalent of Menkyo Kaiden) to 2 others: Saeki Souichiro and Ogawa Takeshi (making Saeki Sensei the 9th and Ogawa Sensei the 10th soke of Kanto Ha Shindo Munen Ryu and full certification in all other taught). Zendo Sensei also created ”The Society to Preserve the Teachings of Nakayama Hakudo Sensei” (TSPTNHS) to ensure that all Ryu (SMRK, MSRI, SMRJ, Kendo) would be passed along in their entirety for generations to come. Saeki Sensei was a ten year veteran of the Yushinkan prior to it’s closing (he was one of the few allowed to join as a child). Though advanced in age Saeki Sensei opened Shindo Munen Ryu to the public, but passed away within a few years do to his advanced age. Thus Ogawa Sensei took his place as the 10th successor of Shindo Munen Ryu. He (Ogawa) having been Zendo’s sensei’s closest student recieved permission from the Nakayama family to re-open the Yushinkan to it’s current location in Tokyo. Even to this day the Ogawa Sensei still has the Nakayama family’s complete support and maintains all arts as passed on to him by Zendo Sensei (Shindo Munen Ryu, Shinto Muso Ryu, Muso Shinden Ryu, Kendo) and currently holds the position of teaching master of the ”TSPTNHS” while the current matriarch of the Nakayama Family remains as the head.

    I have been luck enough to have benifited from Ogawa Sensei’s teaching for years now. Though I fail in any comparrison to him, my semapi, and members of the past.

  6. Could Bushikan please confirm (with source) the exact license held by Nakayama Hakudo in Shindo Muso Ryu and from who he received it. Thank you

  7. Thanks George, fascinating as always.

    Do you know anything about the folding metal do that Hakudo used when travelling? (it’s on display at the Budokan in Tokyo). I couldn’t find any pictures on the web.

    Rob

  8. Nice one George. I wish white was more acceptable nowadays as it would make washing (both me and my kit!) much easier.

  9. >Could Bushikan please confirm (with source) the exact license held by Nakayama Hakudo in Shindo Muso Ryu and from who he received it. Thank you<

    Josh,

    Unfortunately I cannot give you any sources at the moment. I had a book detailing all of the dates on which Hakudo Sensei recieved densho (including Yamaguchi Ha Itto Ryu). I however to conserve space left my notes back in the states before I returned to Japan last year (a very bad laspe on my part). They are all packed away in a storage center. It maybe a while before I get them back. The Yushinkan website (before it was taken down 3 years ago) also had the dates.. we hope to have to website up within this year (though again my sempai said the same thing last year ..lol). If it is any reassurance Ogawa Sensei maintains that Hakudo Sensei recieved Menkyo Kaiden in Shinto Muso Ryu from Uchida Sensei (the Nakayama Family maintains this as well). I understand this has come under alot of criticism by others (exspecially Matsui Kenji). Matsui goes as far to say that he believes that Uchida Sensei did not received Menkyo Kaiden… which does not make sense. People seem to forget that Uchida Sensei was Shiraishi Hanjiro Shigeaki "senior". This makes Uchida more "senior" than Takeda Kiroku, Shimizu Takaji, and Otofuji Ichizo (one needs not only experience to acchieve this… but proper licensing as well aka. Menkyo Kaiden).

    Anyway until I get proper documentation this is the best I can do

    Best

    appologies

  10. Speaking of storage…

    I went back to Canada a month ago, and while rummaging through my books in storage to bring back here, I found my old copy of Kendo: The Definitive Guide. Haven’t looked at it in years. It was interesting to see that one of the things it stresses is to wash your hakama after every practice. And that’s a pretty modern book. I don’t know where (some) people get this idea that it’s okay to only wash your hakama and keikogi when cockroaches and vermin defer to those who wear them.

  11. Hello George,

    thank you for all the information giving through your blog 🙂

    As i´ve seen, you are also some times dressed in white.
    Do you have any magical tips or tricks for keeping/getting white kendogi and hakama white?
    Mine will keep the blueish Indigo stains from the himo even after repeated washing.
    I also tried bleach and oxiclean stuff, nothing really removed those stains….

    Any helpfull advice would be highly appreciable.

    Best regards,

    Mat 😀

  12. We had this rule in judo. You will have a blue and white set for the taikai but we were only allowed a white one for the renshu so I have never give any supernatural meaning to white set in Kendo when started. Still wear it occasionally.
    Tomasz W Rogut

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