The Iaido Journal  Jan 2014
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Through the Mists of Time 14

copyright © 2014Douglas Tong, all rights reserved.

In this series of articles, we examine parts of Master Yoshio Sugino’s seminal book Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu Budo Kyohan (A Textbook of Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu Martial Training), published in Japan in 1941.

In this passage, Sugino Sensei discusses some important points about clothing.

“Clothes are all well-ordered. Simple and beautiful. Simple not gorgeous is chosen. Simply make is simple. If it was not necessary to have clothes to wear, then the student is falling, we cannot help but saying.

In old times, in our style, at any time from an enemy, you could be attacked. For a match, you could not specially change your clothes. In the past, you always wore a KEIKOGI.

For example, a headband, keikogi top with sleeves tied, HAKAMA, and strings to tie the hakama, taking these off was not done. For practice and coming and going, we didn’t change clothes. This was for both men and women always, ordinarily. So that you can practice, you must wear simple clothes.

Also, always, don’t be absent-minded about teaching this. This has come from recent days. Movement is easy in KEIKOGI. Styles in one set form, to make a set form, however for a school etc. can be done with a uniform. Also for practice with Japanese clothes on top, tie up the sleeves to do practice. Do not lose etiquette. It does not matter, but however, in front of the gods’ place, during a demonstration, wear a formal kimono with your family crest. It must be very formal.”

Sugino Yoshio

The 16th Year of Shōwa

Chiba-ken, Katori-gun, Katori-cho

Extract from:

Sugino Yoshio & Ito Kikue (1941). Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu Budo Kyohan.


Author’s post-script:

“Clothes are all well-ordered.”

In other words, clothes are not falling apart at the seams. There comes a time when you need to buy a new keikogi (top) or hakama. The old clothes are comfortable but they are showing their age. It is a sign of respect to not be showing up for practice in tattered clothes.

It will not do to think that one must have swords and clothing as fine as everyone else’s. It is sufficient to intend not to be unsightly.

Hojo Soun

Daimyo, Suruga Province

(1432-1519 A.D.)

“Simple and beautiful. Simple not gorgeous is chosen.”

I guess what Sugino Sensei is talking about here is the issue of being ostentatious in your choice of clothing and in your appearance. If we look at the definition of ostentatious from various online dictionaries, the common definitions are:

  1. characterized by vulgar or pretentious display; designed to impress others or attract notice, admiration, or envy.

We are there to practice, not put on a fashion show.

However, too simple to the point of being shabby will not do either. Simple and beautiful. That is the Japanese ideal. In everything, from clothes, to art, to rock gardens, to sushi, to colour schemes. The Japanese like simplicity. They revere simplicity. And there is a certain beauty in simplicity.

“If it was not necessary to have clothes to wear, then the student is falling, we cannot help but saying.”

This sentence is a little confusing, I must admit. It could be due to the difficulty in interpreting the grammatical structure of what was said in Japanese. Anyway, I will try to elucidate on what I think Sugino Sensei is trying to say but it must be remembered that it is only my opinion. I liken it to the situation where you need to have practice clothes (we say “dojo uniform” in modern times) for keiko (practice). You could practice in your street clothes, like they do in some countries and in some martial arts. But then there is no uniformity, there is no sense of belonging, of being part of a group or a team. A uniform also provides a visual and material reminder that you are participating in a class situation, a formal educational situation. When you change out of your street clothes into a martial arts uniform, you leave the street behind. You have that visual cue that you are now in a training environment and in class time. You are mentally cued into the fact that it is now time for training.

If there is no physical and mental changing of clothes, then students may bring their street mentality into the dojo. There will be less respect, less observance of rites, etc… Their mind has still not switched over. That switching over is very important. When you come to the dojo, you leave your other worldly cares behind. You are locked into the moment. Indeed, you need to have your full concentration on the training. It is important mostly for safety: your safety and the safety of your partners. If your mind is someplace else and not paying full attention, you may get hurt or may hurt someone else. For example, you forget to block at the right time or you forget to stop your cut at the proper moment, etc…

Also, if people just train in their street clothes, why have a formal environment like a dojo? Just train in the field. If you have a formal training hall and people show up dishevelled, in all manner of clothing, some tacky and tasteless, or shabby, or flamboyant and loud, you can see that discipline goes out the window.

A dojo is a formal learning environment. So what Sugino Sensei is saying is that when you get too relaxed about observing this, then the students will literally “fall from grace”.

“… in front of the gods’ place, during a demonstration, wear a formal kimono with your family crest. It must be very formal.”

Why is clothing important? When you are careful in your selection of what to wear and how to appear in front of your peers and your elders, you are saying that you are being considerate of how they will feel about how you present yourself. You are also representing them: your teachers, your students, your organization. Putting on a good face and a good image in front of the public.

It is a sign of respect. Respect to the gods. Respect to the audience. Respect to your teachers. Respect for your students. Respect for your company or dojo.

“Do not lose etiquette.”

Etiquette is at the heart of Japanese budo. Etiquette is about propriety.

There are certain boundaries that cannot be crossed and should not be crossed. Also, traditional martial arts are about learning and practicing respect, honour, tradition. In this sense, it is a formal art. It is a formal affair. You do not go to the dojo to fool around. It is a formal learning environment.

Training in budo is also a practice in proper manners, proper behaviour, proper outlook. Education is socialization, learning the social customs and mores of the community and the nation, of moulding the character.

This all goes back to the purpose of studying martial arts. Are you there just to learn deadly killing techniques? As I discussed in a previous article, it is about developing character. For the teachers, there can be no more important purpose. Sasamori Sensei, the 17th generation headmaster of Ono-ha Itto Ryu, said in my interview with him when I asked him what he tried to achieve in the teaching of his students: “I hope they become a better person.”

Also, always, don’t be absent-minded about teaching this

You may think that it is a minor issue. It’s only clothes, you say. But actually, it is an important issue. It is part of the samurai moral code, part of their ethos. One of the virtues that the Japanese value is frugality, another variant of that idea of simplicity. In this case, it is simplicity in one’s means of living and control of one’s spending.

For clothing, anything between cotton and natural silk will do. A man who squanders money for clothing and brings his household finances into disorder is fit for punishment. Generally, one should furnish himself with armor that is appropriate to his social position, sustain his retainers, and use his money for martial affairs.

Kato Kiyomasa

Daimyo, Kumamoto Province

Senior general under Toyotomi Hideyoshi, then Tokugawa Ieyasu

(1562-1611 A.D.)

Wikipedia defines frugality as:

“Frugality is the quality of being frugal, sparing, thrifty, prudent or economical in the use of consumable resources such as food, time or money, and avoiding waste, lavishness or extravagance.”

Some key words to focus on: prudent, lavishness, extravagance.

Prudence is a good word to describe the Japanese mindset. Japanese also are not big on extravagance, or flamboyance. That is not their cultural expression. That is not what they value. Being flamboyant or ostentatious are not the type of virtues that the Japanese extol.

Concerning matters of dress, no matter by whom one is being seen he should not appear shabbily, and even if he is mixing with the lower classes he should dress to a moderate extent. When often in the midst of humble people, one should not repeatedly dress splendidly. A person with sensitivity will be prudent in this matter.

Hojo Shigetoki *

Shugo (military governor), Suruga Province

Deputy of the Shogun, Kyoto

(1198-1261 A.D.)

So, why does Sugino Sensei remind us to be mindful of this matter? Because it is at the heart of Japanese culture and thinking. Since learning budo is about learning virtue, we cannot forget to pay attention to this simple but extremely important issue.

“Every morning, the samurai of fifty or sixty years ago would bathe, shave their foreheads, put lotion in their hair, cut their fingernails and toenails… and without fail pay attention to their personal appearance. It goes without saying that their armor in general was kept free from rust, that it was dusted, shined, and arranged.

Although it seems that taking care of one’s appearance is similar to showiness, it is nothing akin to elegance. Even if you are aware that you may be struck down today and are firmly resolved to an inevitable death, if you are slain with an unseemly appearance, you will show your lack of previous resolve, will be despised by your enemy, and will appear unclean. For this reason it is said that both old and young should take care of their appearance.”

Yamamoto Tsunetomo


Mr. Tong can be contacted via email at:
Mr. Tong also writes many articles on teaching martial arts. You can read them at: Physical Training: Fitness for Combatives Electronic Journal

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