kendo kenshi

27 teachings from past masters

The following is a list of sayings from three well known sensei of the past: Naito Takaharu, Takano Sasaburo, and Nakayama Hakudo. The former two are known as the fathers of modern kendo and were known as rivals.

Naito and Takano made for an interesting pair. Naito was a laconic speaker who emphasised the power of spiritual training over technical – large men cuts from a far distance with lots of kirikaeshi and uchikomi. He didn’t care for shiai, left little in the way of writings, and was often referred to as an “old warrior” type. Takano, on the other hand, was a technician who tended to discuss the more practical elements of kendo, particularly of its instruction. He left behind two seminal kendo books, one of which came to be nicknamed the “kendo bible” strongly influenced all kendo manuals (especially school instruction) that came after it.

Nakayama Hakudo’s outlook on kendo was of a slightly different kind than the two gentlemen above. Ten years younger than Naito and Takano, he spent his life dedicated to studying and learning not only kendo, but different budo, and is probably known more for his impact on modern iai than on kendo today.

The spirit of kendo shugyoNaito Takaharu (1862-1929)

  1. Kendo embodies the essence of the Japanese nation;
  2. Be as noble like the warriors of the past;
  3. Mutual respect leads to virtue;
  4. Being unaffected, sincere, and having fortitude are the qualities of a martial artist;
  5. Respect and esteem your teachers.

Ten instructions for kendoTakano Sasaburo (1862-1950)

  1. Keep yourself healthy: ensure that your whole body is well and be overflowing with vigour;
  2. Polish the spirit: as there is a delicate balance in play between spiritual health and technique, be sure to forge a spirit that can adapt to any circumstance;
  3. Devote yourself wholeheartedly to keiko: the most important thing you can do to bring the spirit and body together is practise;
  4. Research and try to work things out by yourself: as someone can become enlightened in an instant, one’s technique can also make sudden progression;
  5. Practise the basics: posture, kamae, tenouchi, metsuke, footwork, cutting, etc. etc., you must endeavour to perform the basics correctly/accurately, otherwise there can be no progression;
  6. At all times have a serious/earnest spirit: your spiritual condition can affect your kendo so always, in keiko and in shiai, endeavour to work hard to have a serious spirit;
  7. Be earnest from beginning to end: during your kendo shugyo you will face many difficulties. On top of this, your shugyo will last your entire lifetime. Aim to never relax your spirit or slack off in training;
  8. Don’t become self-conceited: In academic study, practical training, in your job, self-conceit is the beginning of the end. In kendo also, pride is the enemy.
  9. Be fair: it is forbidden to act unfairly or out of selfish desire during shiai. Sincere kendo is the path of self-improvement.
  10. Combine kendo with your daily life: because you are going through a lot of strenuous effort in the dojo, it would be a waste if you didn’t somehow use what you learned there outside of the dojo as well. If you are able to merge (balance) kendo and your daily-life in a harmonious fashion, I truly believe both will improve.

Twelve areas for kendo studyNakayama Hakudo (1872-1958)

  1. People who do kendo must know not only themselves, but others too. It’s impossible to be victorious without understanding the strengths of your opponent. Also, knowing others weak points but not understanding your own is the route to defeat.

  2. No matter what kind of shugyo you are doing, it is important to learn not only from those with skill, but also those who are unskilled. This is a basic principle of shugyo. However, if you are unable to (truthfully) measure your ability when facing such an opponent then it will not lead to improvement.

  3. Humans are ruled by their nature. When comparing the kendo ability between people then, real victory or defeat lies in the spirit; consequently, reaching the highest extremes of kendo lies in the ability to polish the mind and spirit and not on technical prowess alone.

  4. By “highest extremes” I mean the perfection of the Way (of kendo). The ultimate “aim” or “ideal” of kendo is to become a sincere human being.

  5. Beyond technical ability lies “ishindenshin” (non-verbal communication, tacit understanding), something that cannot be expressed through spoken or written language. It is only between people who have had the same experiences or discern the same things that this mysterious type of communication appears, and it is through this that people reach mutual understanding.

  6. Whatever art it is that you study, it is only through the heart and not technical ability where mastery can be arrived at. It is through the heart that the true splendour of life exists.

  7. The heart of kendo lies in the confrontation between two people, the fusion between yourself and others. Thus, after a confrontation you should return to a friendly state and forget what happened during your fight. In Zen, this is the ultimate nature of things.

  8. If you think about striking you will become confused. If you think about not striking you will become confused. It is when you are calm and not thinking about striking or being struck that real victory lies. Striking while confused is useless.

  9. Victory does not lie in yourself, rather it is to be found in the openings (weakness) of others. Defeat is not found in the skill of your opponent, rather in the openings you show.

  10. The idea of victory or defeat must first be removed from your thoughts before you are able to perceive properly; therefore the more you become absorbed in victory the less chance you will be able to grasp it. Consequently, if you forget about winning, victory will come naturally.

  11. Since the path of shugyo is never-ending it is impossible to perceive all. Therefore, while it is easy for juniors (kohai) to catch up to their seniors (sempai) it is extremely difficult for seniors to stay ahead of their juniors. “Be scared of the next generation” is a wise saying.
    (i.e. sempai have to work very hard to stay ahead!)

  12. If you wish to reach a deep understanding of the Way you must show kindness towards everyone. Living things, objects, plants, of course fellow humans, everything around us should be treated with kindness and respect. By doing so, everything around us becomes our supporter.



By George

George is the founder and chief editor of
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6 replies on “27 teachings from past masters”

Excellent material. If we forgot these essentials our practice will ultimately lead to nothing of lasting benefit. Bob Noha

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