Saturday, 27 December 2014

One-On-One With Satomi Matsuhashi - Part 5

Copyright © 2010 Douglas Tong, all rights reserved

The following article is the fifth part of an interview with Satomi Matsuhashi (3rd dan kendo). In this article, Matsuhashi sensei talks about why she continues to practice and teach kendo.
Part 5: Teaching Kendo

Photo above: The instructors at Nikka Gakuen Kendo Club.  From left: Hamaba sensei (JCCC), Sumi sensei (JCCC), Matsuhashi sensei, Mr. Tong

Question: You continue to practice kendo. Why do you do it?

Matsuhashi: Well, I am a mom now with two kids. My son has a medical condition so it is hard at times. I was looking for a place to have "time to be me again". When I am in my bogu, I can try to be ME again.

Question: Can you explain in more detail what you mean?

Matsuhashi: Finding my weakness and working on it by refocusing and meditating. This is what I was taught by my teacher. It helps me to be away from my duty at home for my son for a little bit and allows me a chance to refresh my mind. So that I can go home to be a better mom.

Question: You volunteer to help instruct the kids' kendo class at Nikka Gakuen. How did you find them?

Matsuhashi: After I came to Canada, I hadn’t found a kendo dojo I really wanted to join. Someone suggested that I go to the
Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre and I went there and tried a few classes. I got a taste of doing real kendo again at the JCCC. I liked it. I really did. Then, the network of Japanese moms told me that the Japanese school Nikka Gakuen* had a kids’ kendo club. So, I contacted them.
Nikka Gakuen is a Japanese school in Toronto.)

Question: Why did you choose to join Nikka Gakuen Kendo Club?

Matsuhashi: I talked to Sumi-sensei on the phone briefly and went to see the kendo club at the school. What I saw was not what I expected as a Kendo club should be, just like he told me. *
(* the club had just started and did not have anything for the kids, like equipment or uniforms, or even a dedicated place to practice. But the kids were enthusiastic.)

But I thought those kids were so innocent and I saw that Sumi-sensei* was being a really good role model for the kids, teaching them with passion.
(* Hideki Sumi Sensei, 6th dan, Instructor at
JCCC Kendo Club, captain JCCC Kendo Team)

Also, I talked to my friend's husband*, who has a lot of experience with various martial arts, about my wanting to find a kendo club to practice at and my one bad experience with the kendo club near my house. He said to me, "Find a teacher you truly respect and follow him or her".
(* Mr. Douglas Tong, the author of this article.)

So, all these things made me think "this place might give me some good learning experiences", instead of getting quick satisfaction by, like just going in and out of a gym for exercise. 

Matsuhashi sensei helping out feeding the kids at Nikka Gakuen Kendo Club’s  Kagami Biraki ceremony. Kagami Biraki is a traditional Japanese ceremony to mark the start of a new year. For more information, see: Kagami Biraki.

Question: It is very far for you to travel. You are not paid for your gas or your time. So why do you continue to help?

Matsuhashi: Well, yes, there have been some moments that have made me think “maybe I should quit”. But one of the senseis I work with said to me, "Kendo practitioners always have to step forward, no matter what." *
(* i.e., take a leadership role; lead by example; take the initiative; volunteer; help out; contribute.)

And my mother told me in those moments when I told her I was discouraged, "Satomi, there always will be wind against you when you try something different or new. Don't let it take over you."

I thought about what they told me for a while, and I realized I had emotionally kind of started feeling attached to those kids and also my daughter was enrolled in this club. She looks at me as a role model.

I thought about all the pictures I showed my daughter of my early kendo days, my talks with her about not being discouraged about being called "small", she remembered all that. And here I am thinking about quitting...?

These things, in a way, keep me in this club. I often think "what makes a good teacher?", "how can I guide and encourage these kids in a better way?", "how can I be useful to this school?"

I honestly do not care about getting paid even a penny because it’s not important.*
(* As a matter of fact, none of the instructors at Nikka Gakuen Kendo Club are paid. They all volunteer their time and energy to come and teach the kids, free of charge, week after week. Ms. Matsuhashi travels approximately an hour to come to the school and Mr. Tong travels about an hour and a half to come to school.)

The Nikka Gakuen Kendo Club. 

I don't know how long I can do this due to my son's medical needs. I don't know how long my daughter will come with me. But I have to try as much as I can because if I quit, that is not what I learned from my teacher.*
(* i.e., it will contradict everything she had been taught by her teacher.)

Question: Can you elaborate on why it is important for you to be a role model for your daughter?

Matsuhashi: My daughter is short. So she does not like to be acknowledged as such when people say, "Oh, you are so tiny" or some parents use her height to show how big their own kids are. So it hurts her a lot especially if they are younger than her. I do know exactly how she feels (as you notice I am short, too). So I want to encourage her more than ever. Being small should not limit her will if she is willing to fight and persevere.

My parents used to remind me, "Oh, Satomi, why did you choose Kendo? You know you're not gonna do well. Plus it is a very aggressive sport. You are more like a rhythmic gymnastic type of girl, like your sister.”

My sister was a very smart girl without much effort. She always teased me that a small person would never do well without specific skills.

I had to prove myself.

Author’s post-script:

The first and second articles from the Purpose of Kendo as outlined by the Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei (All Japan Kendo Federation):

1. To mould the mind and body.
2. To cultivate a vigorous spirit.

Having to prove herself made her a fierce competitor in kendo. Matsuhashi senshu is an excellent role model from a technical standpoint. Her kendo is very strong, powerful, clean, crisp, and precise.

But she is also an excellent role model in terms of character as well. Her dedication to volunteering at the Nikka Gakuen Kendo Club, for the benefit of the kids without pay or reward, epitomizes the very highest principles of kendo.

“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.”
The Purpose of Kendo
Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei 

This is service to the community, giving back. And like her teacher before her, guiding and nurturing the next generation of citizens by instilling values and building character. This is the spirit of kendo.

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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