Seeking the true way

I think it was about seven years ago but it might have easily been eight or six, a graduate from my kendo club came to my school with a gift. It was an older gentleman, someone who had graduated decades before I arrived, so not one of my direct students. I wasn’t around when he came, so another teacher received the gift for the club, after which he took it the dojo and showed it to me.  It was a “shikishi” – a square piece of cardboard (usually framed) with a message written on the paper glued to the front. Kendo people have almost  certainly seen them (and may have received one or two) over the years. 

The unframed shikishi

This one had the kanji 求道 (KYU-DO) written in beautiful calligraphy on the front. Not only was this a message I approved of, but I was happily surprised to see that the calligrapher was none other than my sensei’s sensei – Nagai Nagamasa hanshi. I am Nagai sensei’s “Mago-deshi” or “grand-student” (rather than grand-child). What a nice coincidence. I immediately took the shikishi and hung it at our shomen. I have been looking at and bowing to it before and after keiko since then. 

At some point over the last few years someone struck the shikishi with their shinai which broke the frame slightly. I don’t remember when exactly, so it was probably when I wasn’t around (or the students tried to hide the fact from me!). Anyway, I noticed the damage and taped it up and just got on with things. 

I have some shikishi hanging in my house (as well as ukiyoe). Recently I decided to change the frames on couple of them to something less bulky. One of the unneeded frames I decided to take to work and replace the broken Kyu-do one. I finally got around to it this week and was super surprised when – taking the shikishi out or the frame – I found a hand written explanation of Kyu-do by Nagai sensei sandwiched between the cardboard and the frame! 

The sandwiched note

I took the note out, photocopied it, replaced the frame, and re-sandwiched the note behind the cardboard. I taped the photocopy under the now-reframed shikiji itself so my students can read it (I also annotated part of it … more on that below). 

The note itself is pretty simple, so I decided to translate and share it here for kenshi 24/7 readers, because I know you like stuff like this. Enjoy!

btw I have no idea when the calligraphy and written explanation was done. Nagai sensei passed away in 1990, so it was obviously sometime before that.  

Nagai sensei is facing the camera (1971)

Translation: Seeking the true way

Those who seek to study kendo must never forget to follow The Way ("michi"). People follow a path to a destination, there is no need to rush down it; instead follow it correctly. In other words, following a path accurately is something that naturally protects the person who walks down it. 

If you truly seek this way, you must first (aim to) cultivate/discipline the self, and with this spirit face your opponent. This is the essential meaning of kendo. All humans have (or have the potential to have) a beautiful spirit; through self cultivation you can work to share this with others. 

If you forget this spirit and merely find joy in striking and defeating opponents, well that isn't real kendo. 

People who do kendo shugyo should seek the true way their entire lives and become a good *person.

* The original refers to “Japanese” person (日本人). I annotated the note in the dojo with 世界人 or “world citizen.”

The shikishi reframed with explanation below (pre-annotation)

By George

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6 replies on “Seeking the true way”

What serendipity! The older gentleman visiting with the gift, the striking and damage to the frame, your decision to replace the frame,… To think that that note had been sitting there unknown for all those years at the dojo – so close yet so far. I was touched by Nagai Sensei’s words of wisdom. Thank you for the translation and article George.

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