japanese kenshi

The stream of tradition

The building my main dojo is based in is undergoing renovation. Part of the work involved includes increasing the size of an already existing office at the back of the dojo and to so were told that we would lose a little bit of the space in our changing room (luckily the dojo will remain as is). Due to this we had to completely clean out the changing room, which meant disposing of unneeded bogu and contacting those that didn’t come to keiko often to come and pick their stuff up. Hidden in the back of the changing room, in amongst all the kote and keikogi, was a large horizontal picture frame with some beautiful calligraphy. Quite unexpectedly one of the head sensei turned round to me and said “Do you want it?” A bit surprised I said “Are you sure?” and – after some persuasion (light I must admit!) it was a done deal.

Mori Torao (l) vs Noda Ko (r) in Los Angeles, 1959.
Mori Torao (l) vs Noda Ko (r) in Los Angeles, 1959.

The calligrapher

The kanji is the hand of Noda Ko sensei (1901-1984). Noda sensei became the CEO of Hankyu department store (based in Osaka) in the late 50s and was extremely influential in the resurgence and development of post-war kendo.

After the war he worked with Sasamori Junzo sensei in Tokyo to establish a softer, westernized version of kendo called shinai-kyogi – something more palatable to the occupying Americans. This served its purpose as a Trojan horse and eventually kendo was reborn and shinai-kyogi subsumed within the new kendo federation.

In those early years Noda sensei held various executive positions in the fledgling kendo associations: e.g. vice-president of the All Japan Kendo Federation (ZNKR), president of the Osaka prefectural school kendo association, president of the Kansai universities kendo association, etc. He also served as the honourary president of the Osaka kendo association from it’s foundation in 1954 until his death 30 years later.

A member of the Butokukai before the war, when kendo was finally rebooted and the Kyoto Taikai began again, he would invite such kendo legends as Saimura Goro, Ogawa Kinnosuke, Miyazaki Mosaburo, and Mochida Seiji, to his Hankyu dojo in Osaka (the 1st dojo was built in 1958, a 2nd in a new location in 1978), thus helping to promote and spread traditional kendo in the Kansai area. Included in these keikokai’s would be future leaders of kendo in the area, such as Ikeda Yuji sensei and Matsumoto Junpei sensei.

Not only this, but Noda sensei travelled abroad a bit and had a an interest the development of kendo in America, particularly on the west coast. He practised with Mori Torao in L.A. in the 1950s, attended the 1st and 2nd American Kendo Championships, and invited the American team to Osaka and his dojo after the Sapporo WKC (1979).

Iaido hanshi 9dan, kendo hanshi 8dan, he worked as passionate about expanding the success of his business as he was the promotion of kendo.

Obviously there’s a lot more to the man himself, but I have focused on giving a very brief outline of his kendo background here.


The meaning (流河一)

It reads IKKARYU or maybe ICHIGA-NO-NAGARE (theres a few ways you could pronounce it). The literal Japanese meaning is “one stream” but the image is more likely a large, single, slow-moving river (in classical Chinese the 河 kanji means a large river, but in modern Japanese it’s more likely to be a small stream). Researching the meaning more we can find references to the karmic cycle, of birth and rebirth, but – after discussion with a professional teacher of Chinese classics (who is also an Aikido instructor) and some advice from an extremely knowledgeable iaido teacher, I came to the conclusion that the meaning of the kanji probably refers to tradition.

Imagine that tradition is a large, slow moving river. It exists, always moving forward yet almost unchanging, as a single, branchless, entity. Today we, as those that lived before us did, sit at the bank of the river, cup our hands, and drink from it. In a (roundabout) way, the karmic cycle exists within this tradition, in that what you are taught you pass on to your students ensuring that – even after your are physically no longer on earth – a part of you continues on through them. I guess, in a way, the “stream” flows through people, from one to another, and this is “tradition.”

Like most serious budo practitioners, I believe it’s my duty to pass on what I have been taught in some way. Although it will probably never happen, it’s my dream to build my own dojo one day and to teach both kendo and classical swordsmanship to a younger generation. When the time comes, I will hang this in my dojo to remind myself that I must respect what I have learned from my teachers and – for myself and my students – to point out that although our length of experience may be different, we are drinking from the same river (師弟同行).

For the time being the frame will be cleaned and polished, wrapped up, and placed somewhere safe out of harms way. Before then, I thought I’d share it here on kenshi 24/7. Hopefully I’ll be able to unwrap it and hang it somewhere soon.

By George

George is the founder and chief editor of
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8 replies on “The stream of tradition”

You probably meant to say read from right to lebt 🙂 Congratulations in acquiring such a beautiful piece! Here’s hoping the time is not too far away for you to be able to hang it in your very own dojo. I also associated the “ryu” as in school/way, ie. Katori Shinto Ryu, etc. Seeing it like this I’d interpret it as something along the lines of “all ways are one” or a unified way, no matter what specific art or school you might be following, but maybe that’s just me.


Very interesting article and a very interesting story. I find it surprising that they just had that there, without paying any attention or importance to it…!

Btw, you said this in the article “it’s my dream to build my own dojo one day and to teach both kendo and classical swordsmanship to a younger generation”. What do you mean by classical swordsmanship? Do you practice any koryu ryuha…?

What you are saying speaks so true. I have recently been given the opportunity to introduce the stream to my students. It happened faster than expected, and I still feel like I am not worthy. Who am I to argue, and I will do everything to aid those wishing to see the river. Thank you for this article.

Simon – Yeah I think that bit is confusing, so I’ll remove it. At least I knew what I meant !!!! The “ryu” doesn’t mean “school” per-se, rather the “ryu” in Katori Shinto Ryu etc means “stream” .. if that makes sense ! It’s actually part of a Buddhist phrase.

Eduardo – I was surprised as well! And yes, as someone serious about the tradition and culture of kendo of course I do (^。^)

Quinn – good luck !!!

Very nice! Didn’t know about that…! So, can you post here what is the koryu you practice I frequently come to the site (although I am still new to this) and I find it very interesting to see kodansha kendo people that also practice some koryu besides kendo…!

There are plenty of kendo people who do koryu. If it wasn’t for the Butokukai and kendo – I’d strongly posit – koryu would be extinct by now (or on the verge of).

Well, in Japan it seems to be more common… Here in Europe that doesn’t seem to be the case, even with the kodansha kendoka. Of course, we also don’t have as many chances for koryu practice as in Japan, especially with kenjutsu ryuha…

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