Sunday, 21 December 2014

One-On-One With Satomi Matsuhashi - Part 3

Copyright © 2010 Douglas Tong, all rights reserved

The following article is the third part of an interview with Satomi Matsuhashi (3rd dan kendo). In this article, Ms. Matsuhashi talks about an unpleasant moment in kendo.

Photo above: Matsuhashi Sensei participating in keiko at Nikka Gakuen Kendo Club

Question: Do you still do kendo now, in Canada?

Matsuhashi: Yes, I do. A little bit but it is more teaching.

Question: For our readers, can you tell us where?

Matsuhashi: At the kendo club at Nikka Gakuen, the Japanese school. *
(* one of the Japanese schools in Toronto. Matsuhashi-san is one of the assistant instructors at the kendo club.)

Question: You volunteer to help instruct the kids' kendo class at Nikka Gakuen. It is very far for you to travel. Did you look into other kendo dojos near where you live?

Matsuhashi: Yes, I did. Well, I looked into one kendo club near my house first. However, I did not like the impression I got from the instructors.

Question: What happened, if you don’t my asking?

Matsuhashi: They were sort of looking down on me with an elegant* attitude. That bothered me. But what bothered me much more is when they quickly changed their attitude towards me as soon as I told them I am from Japan, I was trained in Japan, and have a 3rd dan from Japan. Those three points changed their impression of me significantly. I could not believe this. There were other visitors there at the same time as myself. And one of the instructors treated one other visitor with the attitude like "you are below me". There was no respect.
(* i.e., superior attitude, arrogant, condescending, etc… Far from reflecting of the
7 virtues of Bushidō, the Japanese warrior’s code of ethics. This is why some teachers in budo insist that teaching morality is as important as teaching technique...)

Question: Can you give us more details of what happened?

Matsuhashi: Well, when I arrived at the dojo, I approached one Caucasian guy first to see if they were still accepting beginners. He said no and pretended like he was too busy to talk to me. After a while, I again asked him if I could watch for a while. He said curtly, "I suppose so, but stay at the back as much as possible."

I observed him bowing and greeting very nicely to the older senseis as they arrived, who were Japanese and Asians. l decided to approach to one older Japanese man who had a Japanese tare* because I thought he might be a person with a higher position in that club and hopefully could give me some better information.
(* tare is the protective apron around the waist that kendo players wear. This person had his name inscribed on his tare in Japanese kanji.)

He was very polite and kind. He advised me to talk to a Korean fellow who was one of the instructors. He was standing with the Caucasian man who I had just talked to. The Korean man was polite and asked me general information, like if I have a
bogu* to use, did I have any experience in kendo, and which Dan, if any, I had.
(* kendo protective armour)

So, through the conversation, they found out that I am originally from Japan, that I was trained in kendo in Japan, and that I passed Shodan-shiken in Japan. At this very moment, this Caucasian man said, "Oh, why didn't you say so?" I could not believe how much his attitude changed in a second!

As we were talking, one university student came up to him (a Caucasian student), and asked if there were any openings in the beginners class. Of course, he was choppy* and gave him very minimal information and tried to get back in conversation with me by saying, "So, did you bring your Bogu? I have to learn some of your techniques from you…"
(* i.e., brushed him off)

It made me feel sick to my stomach.

I watched him practice kendo with the others. He was trying to show off and show how much better he was than everyone else.*
(* being able to defeat everyone; to be superior, to dominate, to win)

I am sure he has a higher dan than me and maybe with a title in this club. But this was not true Japanese budo spirit. It was very sad.

Question: So, in your opinion, what values are important to learn through the study of kendo?

Matsuhashi: Modesty, patience, and quiet wisdom.

These might not be noticeable immediately, but I think these are very important. Your true character is reflected in your attitude…*

Satomi Matsuhashi Sensei (2009) 

* cf. Nobility of thought and action.

“Noble thoughts make for a noble person...”
James Allen
As a Man Thinketh (1902)

Author’s post-script:

A very important issue here. Technical prowess, no matter how talented or skilled, does not make up for deficiency in character. Recall the purpose of kendo as outlined by the Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei (All Japan Kendo Federation):

Purpose of Kendo

To mould the mind and body.
To cultivate a vigorous spirit,
And through correct and rigid training,
To strive for improvement in the art of Kendo.
To hold in esteem human courtesy and honor.
To associate with others with sincerity.
And to forever pursue the cultivation of oneself.

Thus will one be able:
To love one’s country and society;
To contribute to the development of culture;
And to promote peace and prosperity among all peoples.

In Japanese:
In English:

Note the sixth article: to pursue the cultivation of oneself.

If we think about the higher purpose of kendo, or any Japanese sword study, it is not to kill as many opponents as possible so that you can be the best around. You don’t need training to do that.

For those of you who have read my interview with
Kajitsuka Sensei, he put it perfectly when he said that the higher purpose of sword study (The Way of the Sword; ken no michi, ken dō) was, for warriors, the way “to grow a soul”.

Douglas Tong began his studies of Yagyu Shinkage Ryu with the late Mutou Sensei (Kajitsuka sensei’s teacher) in Zushi in 1992. Mr. Tong can be contacted via email at: or at

He can also be reached at 519-942-6381


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