Just over five years ago one of my sempai suddenly said – knowing I am a kendo book addict – that he was cleaning out some of his stuff and would I take a couple of boxes of kendo books from him. “Of course” I replied, and soon after he gave me a trove of 80+ books. Most of the books were just your average kendo fare, but some were real treasures. One such book was 現代剣道百家箴 (liberally translated as “Counsel from the greats of modern kendo”), published in 1972 as part of the ZNKRs 20th year anniversary. The A4 sized book contains articles from 150 different kendo teachers, all of whom are no longer with us. The articles come in different flavours, some discussing kendo experiences, others sharing wisdom, but all are highly informative.
As kendo is going through a crisis of sorts at the moment, I selected one of the articles to translate (abridged) that might help people see things a little differently. The author was one Katoku Taihei (hanshi hachidan) who, to tell you the truth, I don’t know anything about save what is mentioned in the article. Anyway, here goes.
[ btw, the ZNKR started to publish some of the articles online (in Japanese) last year as part of its efforts to give kendo people something to read whilst away from the dojo for extended periods of time. This article happens to be one of them. ]
Most importantly, I was blessed with having Kondo Tomoyoshi (graduated Busen 1916 and instructed there until 1930; hanshi kyudan) as a teacher. He started instructing me in 1926 and his teachings have been indispensable, even nearly 50 later. In my 20’s keiko with him in Kyoto (i.e. at the Butokuden) was so tough that at times thought I might die. At the time he said the following about me:
“Katoku is not very proficient at kendo, but his zeal for kendo will lead to success.”
An accurate assessment. I decided that I would try to catch up with everyone else by doing keiko two or three times more than them.
I don’t want to only talk about how good my kendo life was however. The tough experiences and bitter memories I had have also, in a broad sense, benefited me.
During the war I become the director of a prefectural Butokukai branch (a very good kendo position) but, after the war, due to the expulsion order (the Butokukai was dismantled by GHQ and all members purged from government positions), I lost my job. Then there was the kendo ban.
Robbed of my sword (i.e. profession) in my 40’s, the only thing I could do was live as a farmer: growing and eating my own vegetables, as well as selling them. However, even though my life had sunk to rock bottom, my passion for kendo continued to burn within.
When the military police were not around my comrades and I would go to parks or school yards (always changing location so not to be caught) and practice. The sound of clashing bamboo was not extinguished. Even in such a difficult situation (postwar occupied Japan) kendo saved me and gave me hope.
Kendo restarted soon after the occupation ended. The feeling of joy after struggling hard for so long was huge.
In my 60’s I suffered a bout of eczema that covered my upper body and head, irritating me constantly night and day. The doctor said that if I didn’t stop kendo it would never heal. If I took a break from keiko, indeed I felt much better, but if I abandoned kendo what would be left of me?
I decided to deal with the eczema as best I could, and I continued to practice everyday without break. It took eight years of struggle before I was able to heal completely. Through this trial, my body and mind became far stronger. This is why I think difficulty can also be a blessing.
Kondo sensei was in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped but he managed to hide himself under a desk and suffered not a single scratch. “Kendo saved me” was one of his favourite sayings. He passed away last August at the age of 85.
I must also have confidence that kendo is saving me.
Katoku Taihei (1972)