The following is a translation from a privately published 1928 book entitled “Noma dojo ki.” I assume that a set number of copies were printed and distributed to Noma dojo members only (it was finally re-published publicly in 1996).
The book is essentially split into two halves: the first discusses Kodansha founder Noma Seiji’s ideas about kendo and education, and the second is messages from the various kendo teachers there at the time to Noma dojo members. These included Nakyama Hakudo, Saimura Goro, Oshima Jikita, Hotta Sutejiro, Yamamoto Chujiro, and Nakayama Zendo (there is also a smaller section where the young Noma Hisashi and Masuda Shinsuke offer advice as well).
Note that this book was published just before kendo became immensely popular and Noma dojo itself a kendo mecca. Both happened due to the fallout of a single event: the 1929 Showa tenranjiai (a story for another day).
The small section I present today is by Oshima Jikita, a gentlemen I introduced on kenshi 24/7 recently. Again, like all my recent translations, this is perhaps more interpretive than literal. I hope you enjoy it.
Oshima Jikita’s advice for Noma dojo practioners (1928)
Like the saying “DAI-KYO-SOKU-KEI” (big, strong, fast, light) suggests, your strikes should incorporate all these elements: “DAI” means that your techniques should use large movements; “KYO” means that your strikes should be firm and accurate; “SOKU” means to attack smoothly without delay or doubt; and “KEI” refers to being able to move your body swiftly and lightly in any direction. If you attempt to strike with only strength your body will stiffen-up and you will be unable to move smoothly. To strike quickly, then, you must get rid of unneeded power.
During keiko it’s important that you not over emphasise trying to strike your opponent in a skilful manner. Don’t be overly concerned with victory or defeat, simply attack with abandon (sutemi). However, you should realise that in the instant of victory there also lies an opportunity for defeat, and in the instant of defeat there is a chance of victory. That is, defeating your opponent is not due to your skill but, rather, it’s their fault for allowing an opening to appear. In defeat too, it’s not because your opponent was strong, but because you allowed an opening to appear.
A note to Hisashi (Noma Seiji’s son, the future owner of the company):
In order to use maai in a skilful manner you should make a distance where you feel far to your opponent yet he feels close to you. For your kendo, I think you should fight from a far distance (about the distance where you and your partners shinai tips are touching) and strike men from there. Remember and put power in to your left leg in particular.
I think the most important thing in kendo is the battle to take and act on the initiative (debana). If you feel that you haven’t quite caught the instant correctly, you should prepare to defend yourself.
Sometimes when seeking to strike a debana technique we find ourselves moving seemingly without reason towards the opponent and striking. Hitting them we may feel in a way that it’s more of an accident or luck than anything else, but you shouldn’t think like that. Often it’s simply “inspiration.”
When it comes to shiai the following are important: power of observation, judgement, strategy, bravery, and composure. You should know how strong/skilful your opponent is before the shiai, though you could observe it during as well. Generally, however, all five of the elements mentioned above should be at work during a shiai without conscious effort. Please pay attention to this.
Also, like the phrase “attacking is proof of victory” suggests, it’s important to attack with abandon (sutemi). However, attacking blindly is foolish: it’s important to attack with abandon only at the right time.
One day, one waza
I think it’s good that you keiko with a goal in mind. It’s hard to practise every technique every time, so it’s better to be selective: “today I’m going to practise attacking from a far distance,” “I’m going to practise oji-waza today,” “I’m not very good at dou cuts, so let me work on them today” etc. etc., I think it’s good if you pick something and work on it. If you focus your daily practises like this and not worry too much about striking or being struck, then I think it’s a great way of improving rapidly. However, “I’m only going to practise techniques today” or “I’m only going to practise training my spirit today” is not thought a good method of quick development.
This are only my ideas. Although I think it’s important to listen to advice, I also believe it’s important to use your eyes and watch what people do and how they move. I believe that this type of research is essential to your improvement.
Shouting (kiai) and spiritual power
Unless your entire body is filled with spiritual power you will be unable to shout effectively. It is only when your spiritual power has travelled through your entire body and has reached it’s peak can you shout effectively.
For example, when labourers or sailors are tired and someone leads them in a sing-song, their tiredness disappears. The use of shouting in kendo can have the same effect.
You have to shout from the very bottom of your stomach so that when you strike your opponent they believe they have been cut down.
– debana men: when the opponent attempts to strike your men strike their men while going past them to the right or left.
– Debana kote: when the opponent steps in to strike you strike their kote.
– Debana dou (nuki-dou): the instant your opponent steps in to strike you cut their dou.
– Debana tsuki: the instant your opponent moves forward tsuki them (*editors note: not a popular waza nowadays because it’s dangerous)
In basic technique practise like this the attacks and counter-attacks are pre-arranged. Despite this, you should strike with full intent and only after you are in synch with your partner.
During dou strikes you shouldn’t just hit and stand there as it will become ai-uchi. Instead, after striking you should release the grip on your left hand and go past the partner in a smooth action.
There are various ways in which to execute techniques, how you do so depends on the situation.
Kirikaeshi and katate-uchi
For kirikaeshi start from a far distance and step in and strike men before doing sayu-men. Keep striking sayu-men until you are exhausted, then step back to a far distance and start again. Each set must be done in a single breath only.
Attacking from a far distance not only will improve your footwork but you will become more familiar from attacking from afar. Once your men attack from a far distance has improved somewhat you can add in tai-atari.
Executing a one-handed (katate) strike when there is no opportunity to attack is meaningless. If there is an opening and you have practised so much that you are able to execute one-handed techniques effectively, then it’s fine to use them. However, you must be good at using two-handed techniques first.
If you don’t follow this process, that is to become good at two-handed techniques before attempting one-handed ones, then you will be sorry in the end. I suspect that people who ignore this have some sort of spiritual or emotional problems.
Examples of good one-handed waza include katate-men against someone who has just finished executing a technique; katate-yoko-men against a small men or kote attack; threaten to attack kote and then strike katate-yoko-men; etc.
Tenouchi and tsuki
Regarding tenouchi, as soon as you have made a strike return to your kamae. Like the shrine maidens of Ise shrine who shake bells while dancing, when you think something is out of your hand it’s actually in it, and when when you think it’s in your hand it’s actually loose. This way of gripping is important.
Within the different techniques that we do in kendo, tsuki waza are amongst the most feared. If you are good at tsuki then your opponent will be scared of you. Conversely, if you are facing an opponent whom you know to have a strong tsuki then you may find yourself cowering uselessly in fear before them.