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.

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Kendo is…

Sawaki Kodo (沢木興道, 1880-1965) is considered by some to be the most important Japanese Zen master of the 20th century. His parents died early and he grew up being adopted by a gambler and an ex-prostitute. When he was 16, he ran away from home to become a monk at Eiheiji, one of the two main temples of Soto Zen. At first unsuccessful, he was finally ordained as a monk and began his Zen studies.

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The concept of kendo in action

The following is a translation of an extremely interesting hand written note given to Jim Gucciardo (NYC kendo club) by Nishino Goro hanshi in 1998.

Nishino Goro hanshi was born in 1923 in Kochi prefecture. After graduating from Tokyo Normal Higher School he became a school teacher in Hokkaido. After the war he returned to his home prefecture and worked as a high school teacher. He has taken part in the Senshuken Taikai (“All Japans”), the kyoshokuin taikai (All Japan teachers championshop), kokutai, etc. He is the honourary kendo teacher of Kochi Prefectures Medical University.

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A brief investigation into the SHOGO system

SHOGO (称号) in Japanese translates simply as “title” or “rank,” and the word can be used in many areas, for example formal titles of nobility, military ranks, scholarly ranks, etc, and informally in the sporting world, between friends, etc.

The use of the word that I will look at here is of-course that to do with the budo world, and specifically the usage promoted by the Dai Nippon Butokukai (1895-1946), and that continues today in one of its spiritual heirs, the Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei (All Japan kendo federation). Please note that the Butokukai information presented here relates to Kendo (variously called gekkiken and kenjutsu) but that eventually all arts under the Butokukai ended up using the system (kyudo, jukendo, et al).

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