A great Kendo master with Bushido Spirit (part 2)


This is the story how Mr. Jirokichi Yamada became the 15th successor of Jikishinkage-Ryu. 

Mr. Yamada was taught Kendo by Mr. Sakakibara between ages of 22 - 32. It was quite difficult to live only by Kendo. Even Mr. Sakakibara who was very famous as a master swordsman (剣聖) couldn't live easily.

Mr. Yamada did many jobs to continue Kendo. When he was 24 years old, he worked as a policeman. By hard training, his chest became big, so he could not wear his uniform. He cut both sides of uniform to use.

He studied pharmacy and osteopathy during that period. When he was 25 years old, he studied surgery and dissection.                                                                                                   

At age of 27 he sold baked sweet potatoes. At age of 28 he sold rice.

At age of 29 he sold tobacco and medicated plasters. Medicated plasters were sold well, he said. Mr. Yamada supported Mr. Sakakibara by building houses for rent.

Mr. Yamada visited famous Kaishu Katsu (勝海舟) who was a relative of Mr. Sakakibara who asked Mr. Yamada to build a house for a dojo. Mr. Katsu was vassal of shogun in the Tokugawa period and was assigned the role to hand over Edo castle to Emperor. He was a senior government official at that time. Mr. Katsu liked Mr. Yamada, so Mr. Yamada sometimes visited Mr. Katsu afterwards.

When Mr. Yamada was 27 years old, he was teaching Kendo in Tokyo University (department of agriculture) on behalf of Mr. Sakakibara. After Mr. Sakakibara died, Mr. Yamada continued to teach there as a temporary worker till the age of 41 years old. After that he became the teacher and continued teaching up to 63 years old. Totally 36 years.

30 years in the new era had passed and government started to realize that Japanese spirit of old time is important part of culture so Kendo was emphasized on once more.

When Mr. Yamada was 39 years old, students of Hitotsubashi University (at that time, college) came to see him and requested him to become Kendo teacher.

In the beginning their Dojo was a corner of a store room, narrow and dark filled with boxes and other items. There was a brick chimney at one corner which had seen better days. Even in these conditions Mr. Yamada put emphasis on the training of spirit rather than technique without showing any concern about surroundings.

Mr. Yamada was already famous as a master swordsman so another school also requested him to become Kendo teacher at their place.

From age 40 to 43: Tokyo University;

From age 42 to 57: No.3 Prefectural Middle school (府立3中、現両国高校);

From age 43 to 58: Prefectural horticultural school;

When he was 42 years old, Sakakibara dojo was shut down due to town re-planning so he made his own dojo and practiced in the morning and evening every day. He became very busy. He did not use vehicles to move around and sometimes he forgot to eat. He said to his pupils “I appreciate that because of my devotion towards Kendo I forgot to eat yesterday.”

Besides teaching Kendo, he studied Confucianism deeply and mastered Shinto. He also studied profound thinker Soko Yamaga (山鹿素行) and Shiryu Hirayama (平山子竜). He was unmatched in knowledge of that study. He studied all by himself and had tens of thousands books.

Mr. Yamada’s noble personality and determined sprit as well as broad knowledge and training attracted many people. Several thousand came to see and learn from him.

When Mr. Yamada was 40 years old, Mr. Yamakawa who was the president of Tokyo University sometimes came to dojo to see Mr. Yamada’s Kendo. President respected Mr. Yamada very much. “Mr. Yamada is really a master swordsman of present age.” That's what he usually said.

Mr. Matsudaira, who studied Kendo when he was in Tokyo University, became the Minister of Imperial Household (宮内大臣) later. He recommended Mr. Yamada for the position of the chamberlain of Emperor, but Mr. Yamada excused himself because he had to complete books about true Kendo for the future.

He sometimes said “Great philosopher hides himself in ordinary citizen.” (大哲は市井に隠れる)

Mr. Yamada was not only master swordsman but also great holy man who guided many people by teaching the rules of life without seeking fame.

He was actually a great philosopher of that time.

He always repeated “To study Kendo is to cultivate your mind and improve yourself rather than to learn technique. Mind and heart are much more important than technique to defeat others. You have to level up your personality and win by your personality not by technique. If you win by heart rather than technique, your opponent will accept you as a victor naturally.

It is the purpose of practicing Kendo to redirect oneself into the correct path as a human being. Ken (Ken means Tachi, Tachi means cut (断)) which means "to cut fault of the heart". Obtaining a proper heart is the goal which Kendo practitioner should strive after.

Mr. Yamada unified school of Shinai and school of Kata (型) (fixed sequence of moves by wooden or actual sword) in Jikishinkage-Ryu.

Kendo using Men, Kote, Do, Tare and Shinai was invented in 1712. Mr. Shirouzaemon Naganuma(長沼四郎左衛門) who was the 8th successor of Jikishinkage-Ryu thought it is better to use protectors for Kendo practices and matches so in time protective gear and Shinai became widely used. The length of Shinai became longer and longer, but when Mr. Seiichiro Otani became the president of school of military arts of Tokugawa, he fixed the length to one we are using now (3尺8寸).

Shinai approving and Kata groups looked down on each other.

Kata experts said “The player who uses protector cannot fight seriously because they rely on them and don't feel threatened. They are only beating each other up. They cannot train their spirit. It is necessary to develop mind which in situation between life or death stays calm as result of practicing Kata.”

Actually, an expert trained in Kata does not have bent back and is full of vigor with flashing eyes even they become old.

Mr. Yamada visited expert of Kata and studied. He went to practice Kata every day even in snow or rain and in time mastered the Kata.

Mr. Yamada thought “It is better to study Kiai (spirit)", "And right way to start Kendo is by learning Kata first and then practice with shinai next.”

Performance of Kata of Jikishinkage-Ryu is fierce. Actual sword was used in some Kata. 

When Mr. Yamada was 55 years old a new dojo of Hitotsubashi University which was biggest in Tokyo was made from donations mainly by OB or other various circles.

In that opening ceremony, Mr. Yamada showed Kata. That Kata called Kodachi(小太刀: short sword). One player uses usual sword. The other uses short sword. Mr. Yamada decided to use an actual sword. If both side’s movement does not match, it makes fatal accident.

He thought, when new dojo completed, student’s mind will tend to become loose. So, it is necessary to show his firm determination to all by demonstrating Kata while using actual sword at the risk of his life. It was prohibited strictly to use actual sword in this Kata from old time.

He requested Mr. Yanagi to become partner. Mr. Yanagi was a teacher of No. 3 Prefectural High School. He studied Kata earnestly from Mr. Yamada for a long time. He recovered from serious disease from the training of Kata.

Mr. Yamada said to Mr. Yanagi “There is nothing in this world we cannot do. It is prohibited to use actual sword, but there is no rule that we cannot do it.”

Mr. Yanagi considered many things - “I vomited blood before. I thought  that my time is coming to a close, but I was healed through the training of Kata. If I can dedicate my life to this road, there is no more honor than this for me. And if  the partner is Yamada-sensei, I have no regrets even I die.”

On the other side, Mr. Yamada studied the method of Seppuku (Harakiri) thoroughly. “I have nothing to worry about because my children are living their own life's already, but when I thought about Mr. Yanagi’s family, I could not decide easily. If I kill him, I will do seppuku at that place, I have made up my mind.”Mr. Yamada explained to others later.

At that day, both players came out with white cloth. After they prayed to god, both of them moved to their positions. Sword emitted fearsome light. Their Kiai(fighting yell) overwhelmed dojo. Kata progressed in innumerable changes, sometimes calm, sometimes like angry waves. Sparks flied. Especially the final Kata is violent. The player with short sword rush to stab the throat of the other player, the player with long sword bring his raised sword down on the other’s head. Both swords strike in front of both players’ face fiercely. Every audience there felt goose-pimply. When player finished and bowed to each other, sigh of relief came from audience.

We cannot imagine how much both players were delighted.

“If we do something wholeheartedly, no mistakes can happens.”

Mr. Yamada understood the truth that pure sincerity reaches to god.

Right after Kata were completed, Mr. Yamada found many small broken pieces of sword on his forehead. He picked them out one by one, so he told  later.

Mr. Yamada’s way of life was “everything that happens to me is all my responsibility and that is the opportunity God gave me to overcome.” He was broad-minded to others but very strict to himself.

When he was 50 years old, he had an accident. He drank diluted solution of corrosive sublimate by mistake. Pest prevailed in Tokyo at that time. Diluted solution of corrosive sublimate was scattered in the playground of school.

Mr. Yamada had schedule to teach from 2 o’clock afternoon in No.3 Prefectural middle school.

A soldier came to see Mr. Yamada in the morning for a long time. He liked sake. Mr. Yamada drunk with him. When Mr. Yamada was under the influence of alcohol, he never practiced. But he was careless at that time.

After hard practice in the school, he felt thirsty unusually. There, a school boy came carrying a water bucket. Mr. Yamada asked a cup of water. The school boy, who didn’t know that is not water, said “You're welcome” and Mr. Yamada had drunk some of it.

Mr. Yanagi, a teacher of that school, came to see Mr. Yamada. He was eager pupil of Mr. Yamada. His face turned pale and said “Sensei! Vomit all what you drunk!” and tried to ask doctor to come. But Mr. Yamada rejected to ask doctor and also rejected to vomit what he drunk.

Mr. Yamada said “It is very happy I can drink such things which I cannot drink in usual time. Maybe, God made special arrangement for me to train myself much severely. I really thanks to God.” He was delighted.

Mr. Yamada did not listen to Mr. Yanagi, and said “mouth is for putting food into stomach. To vomit is against the natural rule.”

He drank pure water to dilute as much as he could. Then he returned back to dojo. He did much more hard practice than usual.

Mr. Hotta, the president of that school, rushed to dojo. He also had great respect towards Mr. Yamada because of his high character and cultivated presence, so Mr. Hotta had asked all students to practice kata.

Mr. Hotta and Mr. Yanagi as well as some students followed Mr. Yamada to his home and did not want to go back. Mr. Yamada said “Thank you very much for your kindness, but it is troublesome for me if you stay in here. Human body has a great power to recover from illness by itself. I can recover naturally certainly, please feel easy and return back.” Only one school boy stayed.

Mr. Yamada explained later. “The chest was in pain at the beginning, then abdomen swelled. I cannot explain that pain, cannot compare to any other pain. I could not lie down and also sit down. Standing was rather better. I hung waist band from upper place and put my jaw and spend whole night standing. Next day, anus swelled like apple. I tightened my loin cloth and pressured it.”

From next day afternoon, he practiced Kendo as usual. He said he forgot pain when he was practicing in dojo. He continued hard training every day. He did not take rest even only one day.

When pupil came to ask after his health, he said “I have big enemy in my body, so I cannot stop concentrating for a second” and laughed out loudly.

He had deep knowledge in western and oriental medical science, so he understood the affection of the solution of corrosive sublimate. But he still had big trust to the great power of spiritual strength and the power of Mother Nature. So he stood against such big suffering even betting his life and he got precious experience.

In Hitotsubashi University, after training of Kendo, students sometimes asked Mr. Yamada to explain things about Kendo.

When Mr. Yamada was 50 years old, he explained as hereunder.

“In our Kendo club, we have to view our practices in two parts. One is practicing Kendo technique and the other is cultivating spirit. We call this as outside practice (外修) and inside practice (内修). In other dojo, they usually think practicing kendo is training of outside technique. But in our dojo, progress of Kendo technique and cultivating of spirit are both important. And I think inside practice is much more important than outside practice. Inside practice is spiritual and formless; we cannot see, hear or count, so it is much more difficult than outside practice.

But if we throw away this inside practice because it is difficult and only become the expert of outside technique that is useless like a wooden statue with no soul, which is a dead thing. Kendo is valuable when it has the power of spirit.

If you think you want to train yourself through Kendo, I hope you would practice to seek infinitely applicable complete Kendo.

Purpose of kendo is to get immovable mind by cutting selfishness and cultivating honest and open mind. Immovable mind means we are not moved like a big rock even against angry waves that attack us.

We have to keep calm inside and outside every time like quiet water. If not, when serious problem happens, we will forward and will be defeated without putting up a fight.

Kendo exists not only in dojo. Purpose of Kendo is to make a profound spiritual influence on others. If you cannot create emotional effect within other person, you will suffer a big loss.

This sympathy can be cultivated if you do everything with sincerity every day.

Ken called Tachi(太刀=断ち). Tachi means to cut and divide goodness and evil and also cut down selfish mind, avarice, fear, suspicion, trouble, looking down self-conceit etc.

Then you can get back clear mind which you had originally.

Ken, Zen, Shinto, Buddhism and others are all same family. They seek to reach to the high moon. But practice by Ken is the shortest way to reach because practice by Ken is serious, we meet life or death directly in a moment.”

Many pupils came to practice Kendo in Mr. Yamada’s dojo. But there was a big distress in his mind. He could not find out or make successor of Jikishinkage-Ryu. There were no people who wanted to live only by Kendo. Even if some pupils want to do so, Mr. Yamada wasn't satisfied with them.

For the person who is devoting his whole life in one way, it was so sad and lonely that there was no good successor.

He worried about this every day. “I may become the man to stop the long-held tradition of Jikishinkage-Ryu, and become the delinquent of that.

I apologize to the founder and successors and my teacher and many other seniors.”

He explained his distress to his main pupils and asked their advices.

A pupil who was Buddhist monk said “You should better leave after yourself books writing the result of your study and wait for someone to succeed your way in future. To achieve this, you have to close your dojo and reduce Kendo teaching in schools and devote your whole energy to make such books.”

After deep consideration, he decided to do so. He closed his dojo and resigned from Tokyo University. At age of 60 for 7 years, he published many books.

<Memory of Mr. Yamada from his son>

l  He was very strict farther to a son, but very broad-minded to his pupils or others.

l  He did not stick to money, but he said to children not to handle money carelessly.

l  When he was asked by his pupil to scold his dissipated son, Mr. Yamada entertained pupil’s son warmly. That son came to see Mr. Yamada often after that day, stopped dissipation and changed to a good young man.


<Memory of Mr. Yamada from his granddaughter>

l  He was training his mind and body every day. He was never indulgent to himself.

l  He disliked luxurious life. He usually said, gourmet and love of fine clothing are the most ashamed things to do as a person.

l  He didn't look shabby when he went out wearing properly plain kimono with hakama. On the contrary, he was imposing appearance. I liked to go with him.

l  He sat at his desk whole day when he did not go out. I never saw him sit at ease.

l  Every day, he took rubdown with wet towel even in winter.

l  I did not see him using uchiwa (fan) however hot in summer it was.

l  He never treated things roughly.

l  What he liked the most was to go out to used book stores in town and walk here and there. When he found good book, he sometimes paid much more than the price saying such valuable book is too cheap to sell by this price.

l  He continued to study how to eat minimum food and not to become inconvenient in any adverse circumstances. One go (一合0.18litter) unpolished rice and small quantity of black bean were his meal a day. He ate side dishes only half of usual person. He usually said if you use food roughly, you will harm your destiny.

l  He also usually said you should not leave beautiful rice field(property) to your descendant, but you should leave goodness (respect from many person) to your descendant.( 子孫に美田を残さず徳を残せ)


<Memory of Mr. Yamada from a caption of Kendo club>

l  When I entered Kendo club, Yamada-sensei was 42 years old. I was very surprised sensei was very polite to student and was severe to him every word.

l  Practice was fierce. I felt crashing against big pine tree. Sensei did not move even if I hit or push. When I was attacked by Sensei, I nearly fainted. Sometimes I was pushed against the wall by Shinai after “tsuki”. It was actually an excellent practice.

l  Sensei came to teach Kendo for the purpose to train our spirit not technique.

l  Around 60 years old, he asked for resignation but we begged him to stay.


<Memory of Mr. Yamada from a student>

l  When I visited sensei (Mr. Yamada was 58 years old) to say Happy New Year. Sensei said “A person said Happy New Year to me, so I said I am not happy because there may occur big earthquake near future in Tokyo area and die many people.” Three years later, big earthquake broke out, and many people died as he predicted.

l  He had many books which reached to the ceiling in his sitting room. But he did not recommend any book from his side.

l  He said “Things which are by our side will be gone sooner or later,(くっつきものは離れもの) parents and children, brothers and sisters, husband and wife, position, honor, property, belongings and others, everything we have now will be separated from us someday. So we should not long for these things. Even if we really want to do so, it will not always be as we hope it will.”

l  He said “You can spend winter only in summer clothes, you are necessary to wear winter clothes same as other person.


<Memory of Mr. Yamada from a student>

l  When sensei was 65 years old, I went to his home to ask him to decide which claim is right between me and my uncle. I quarreled with my uncle. When I sat down in front of the Great Sensei, sensei said “You quarreled with you senior this morning. I understand without hearing from you, you are wrong.” I felt my blood run cold. Sensei could see my heart.

l  When I graduated University sensei told me “You could put steel into your mind. You may be promoted to department manager or director in future, but when you meet unfortunate situation, at that time, you must have courage to repeat same way returning back to an unimportant employee any number of times. If you cannot do so, you are a useless man.

l  He always said “Real power comes out when you practiced again and again and exhausted your energy and forgot yourself. You have to get that feeling.”

l  He said “One go(1合,0.18 litter) masu (wooden square measuring cup) can put only one go into it. Oneshou (一升,1.8 litter) masu can put one shou into it.” (一合枡は一合枡、一升枡は一升枡) Sensei taught us basing on our level of progress about the deep pool of truth. When we hit small he sounded small. When we hit strong he sounded strong.

l  He said every time “You should not worry about whether you win or lose. You should do right Kendo. It is important to use spirit, which was trained by Kendo, in actual activity in the society.” And also said “You should not be obsessive about the technique of Kendo. Ken is lifeless thing, Ken is only a tool. To train person strictly by using this tool is Kendo. Important thing is Human being itself.” “There is no other way besides continuing training tens and thousands times to get to yourself” (百練自得).


<Mr. Yamada as a person with preternatural power>

After long severe training of Kendo and studying of many things, he had preternatural power in his old age. He said, “After continuous training of Kendo, we start to understand other person’s occurrence. When it is right, there is no problem, but if it is not correct, it creates a problem. So we have to take care.”


He trained himself to walk around dead world. He reached the state of freedom from all ideas and thoughts. He could understand, in his room, the actual conditions which were happening in place 20km away from his room.

When he was 67 years old, he said “I can talk with dead people freely anytime these days. I am very happy to do that.”

Someday, two students visited Mr. Yamada to talk about Mr. Yamada’s book. When they wanted to say good-bye, Mr. Yamada said” Mr. Uesugi will come 10 or 15 minutes later. So you better wait him.”

Student asked “Sensei! Did you make an appointment?” Sensei replied “I did not make an appointment, but I feel Mr. Uesugi entered station 30 minutes ago to come here.” Mr. Uesugi came 12~13 minutes later just as Mr. Yamada said.

About Kanto (area surrounding Tokyo) big earthquake, Mr. Yamada predicted 3 years before. A Japanese newspaper published in Los Angeles informed about this.

News writer of “New Era” was surprised by Mr. Yamada’s many predictions. Mr. Yamada predicted that flu prevailed worldwide, the outbreak of First World War and shortage of salt. All came true.

The writer was writing “There is a man called Ittokusai(一徳斉) Jirokichi Yamada who mastered old Kendo and he is keeping aloof from the world. He is now living in Ueno and teaching Kendo only in No.3 high school and Hitotsubashi University. And never does self-advertisement. Kendo teachers in town are usually trying to get on good side with powerful or rich people, but Mr. Yamada never does that.

His super-mundane large minded spirit attracted many believers already.

He believes mystery and also he believes he can do it. He predicted in spring occurrence of worldwide influenza, and the shortage of salt, these have happened already.

By the way, I will write down here his new prediction for the future. Mr. Yamada said “In few years’ time, there may occur a big disaster in Tokyo, maybe big earthquake, and 70~80 thousand people will die.” I cannot say anything but we should be careful.

When earthquake occurred, Mr. Yamada was talking with a graduate that graduate turned pale by the prediction of earthquake. Mr. Yamada was not surprised and said to the graduate, “concentrate your whole strength in your solar plexus.”(臍下丹田).And took out glass window not to be broken and continued eating and drinking calmly. He collected books more than 30 years. Books about martial arts were thought to be without equal in the world. He prepared everything very carefully. He was ready for any emergencies without losing self-control. Tens of thousands of books were put in order, so he could take out even in dark place. Soon, fire broke out. Mr. Yamada said “These disasters are made by God, we human beings cannot do anything for this. You should not take out books, household belongings and equipment.” And he left every books burned.

He took out only one Furibo (10貫, 37.5kg), an iron charcoal brazier which was used by Sakakibara family and manuscript of his book. He escaped to Ueno Mountain supporting Mrs. Sakakibara who was sick in bed.

When Mr. Yamada was 67 years old, he visited his pupil (student of Hitotsubashi University) who was sick in bed, he explained three stages of progress in Kendo.


First stage: Recklessness, attacking to the opponent madly and desperately and train body basing on the natural reason.

When you do not know anything and you are reckless, you will only rely on your power or technique and if you are superior in these, you think I am really strong, but this stage is only the beginning. I also experienced such period. I won every match at that time, no player could beat me. I was self-conceited.

Second stage: Practice to be beaten. You should not mind to be beaten, and appreciate that and grasp the way to beat the opponent.

You should not dislike to be beaten by opponent. You should accept fact that you were beaten willingly and figuring out good ways and dash to opponent without any thought.

You should not hide your week point or not trained point and expose these and train these weak points.

If you reach this stage, you feel your ability is going down no matter how much you practice. You become weak and become afraid even from children.

This is the time you started looking new moon and you go into the true road.

Third stage: To grasp the way to make opponent surrender without Ken or without fighting.

Skillful or clever person cannot become great person or great master. They usually easily rely on their ability and not put in all possible effort. But if they work hard continuously figuring out good ways, they can become great masters.

It is important to go back to your original intension with modest feeling. Worst thing is to become too familiar with the daily practice, it is needless to say, to become self-conceited. To become self-conceited is the beginning of backward step and foolishness. Practicing continuously with modest manner like a beginner makes great master like the excellent sword.

Every time with modest mind without giving up and with constant attitude, overcoming many difficulties, failures, misfortune and utilizing them to level up yourself, then you can graduate the second stage and go into the third stage.

The person who overcame many difficulties and hardships can become the greatest authority. Comfort dug out from difficulties and hardships can be saying as true comfort.

Mr. Yamada was not born in Bushi’s family but he lived real Bushi-do through his whole life and gave a large spiritual influence to many people.

Bushi-do is the base of moral of Japanese. Yamada-sensei showed us noble spirit of Bushi-do.