Wednesday, 24 December 2014

One-On-One With Satomi Matsuhashi - Part 4

Copyright © 2010 Douglas Tong, all rights reserved

Photo above: Matsuhashi senshu (1st line, 3rd from the left) marches into the budokan with her team at a regional high school kendo championship. The first two lines of competitors are from her high school (her team). Matsuhashi senshu served as senpō. This photo was taken by a photographer from the local newspaper as part of a story about this tournament. 

Question: Let’s go back to talking about your teacher. You said he made a big impact on your life?

Matsuhashi: Yes, he did.

Question: But you said he was very hard and unforgiving on you?

Matsuhashi: Yes. But he didn’t give up on me or us (that group of students who joined the first year he came to the school). He cared about us.

I remember when we competed at the Tohoku Taikai*. You would think that he would be nervous and uptight and bark commands at us and yell at us for making mistakes.
(*at the Tohoku Chūgakkō Kendo Taikai (The Tohoku Regional Junior High School Kendo Championships), which is a regional championship covering 6 prefectures: Aomori, Akita, Fukushima, Iwate, Miyagi and Yamagata prefectures. It is akin to competing in a large regional championship involving winners and finalists from 6 provinces. You have to be at a very high-level to qualify and be eligible to participate in this tournament. This tournament is one step down from the national championship.)

But quite the opposite. Before our matches, my teacher simply said, " Just do your best and enjoy this moment." And he cheered for all of us like he never did before. 

After we lost the matches, he said, "Don't cry. Let's watch rest of this tournament until the final because all of you deserve to be here," while patting our shoulders. It was BEYOND rewarding!

Question: Why?

Matsuhashi: Well, he had never said things like "you deserve..." or "enjoy this…" before. What he had told us was that it was absolutely our mission to win at the final of any tournament. As senpō, there was not any moment to relax from the pressure of being undefeatable for my team. That was the expectation.

So, unlike all the other local tournaments where we, as a team, or I, individually, won medals, trophies, and flags, this particular moment at this huge a tournament was truly unforgettable. His action made me realize so much the value of what I had accomplished personally* and the value of what he taught me over the years.
(* i.e., how much she had grown and matured as a kendo practitioner.)

Question: Why?

Matsuhashi: Before, I thought I should feel a lot more rewarded by receiving them* each time I won. But I didn’t. (* i.e., winning trophies, medals, and ribbons.)

One small part of the collection of medals won by Ms. Matsuhashi.
(They are golds and silvers, for various 1st place and 2nd place finishes respectively.)

Then, one day, my teacher told my team that we had started to have ego in our thoughts and that it showed in our kendo.

He said, "Fight with nothing in your mind. It has to be clear. No doubt. No ego. Think nothing. Your shinai and body will take action without thinking. If you can overcome yourself, you can win against anyone. " (cf.
mushin: “no mind”.)  So, this made me want to work on my “inner strength”. And once I started working on this, I found that I was not getting distracted by thoughts of getting medals and things. I knew that finding value and strength inside would take a lot of hard work. And if I achieved it, it still wouldn’t be anything that one can easily show-off to others, like a fancy technique. But, in truth, it has enriched my life in many ways and is a useful life skill, so as to be able, as I said before, to face life’s many challenges.

Question: So, you respect this teacher?

Matsuhashi: Yes. He gave me values in life.

Question: What do you mean?

Matsuhashi: He taught me how to face difficulties in my life. That one value I learned from him means more to me than any trophy from any tournament. Because medals or trophies are just shiny objects. It’s just a thing. It’s nice to show it off but really, it’s just an object. But the values I gained from my experiences with him will stay with me for the rest of my life. They are part of me now and so it is something I’ll never forget…

Author’s post-script:

Another important issue here. A diligent kendoka strives to improve himself or herself. Recall the fourth and seventh articles from the Purpose of Kendo as outlined by the Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei (All Japan Kendo Federation):

4. To strive for improvement in the art of Kendo.
7. And to forever pursue the cultivation of oneself.

In Japanese:
In English:

Her teacher did not yell at them anymore, once they had “arrived” at the regionals. They had fought hard to get there and once there, regardless of the result, they had accomplished their goals as a team. They had earned his respect. For their skill, yes. But more important, for their character. They had matured. They had grown as human beings. As Ms. Matsuhashi said: “He gave me values in life.” 

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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