The following article was first written in the 1970s with the aim of helping experienced and newcomers to Kendo and Iai to understand more of the cultural background to these genuine martial systems than is normally done in the present day. The position then, compared to fifty years later, has hardly improved so this version of the original, with some editing and re-appraisal, is offered in the hope that it may help those who are looking for the serious background to the ‘classical’ development rather than the very one-sided image presented by ‘sport’. I make no apologies for the views expressed here; they are entirely my own as are the conclusions I have reached through the teaching of a number of very fine high-ranking masters both in Japan and here.
These notes on non-verbal ‘Orders’ that are sometimes given by means of the taiko (drumbeat) or the wooden hyōshigi (signalling billets of hardwood) are based mainly on my own experiences in a very limited number of ko-budō dōjō in Japan, and, more reliably, in personal teaching initially by both Harry Russell-Robinson (The Royal Armouries) through the late-1950s to the 1970s, and Dr. Benjamin Hazard, late-Professor of Japanese and Korean History, in California, both acknowledged authorities on Japanese culture and military history, as well as a number of senior high-ranking kodansha in Japan.
There is always pleasure in reading some authors who have taken a deep interest in subjects close to one’s own heart; this is particularly true of Japan since almost every writer seems to give a fresh insight into this fascinating culture. It doesn’t seem to matter if these writings were penned a hundred or more years ago, they come across the interval of time fresh and often stimulating. One of these authors was the remarkable Lafcadio Hearn who resided in Japan between 1890 and his death in 1910, precisely at a time when the Edō period was still a vivid memory to most of the population and this mediaeval culture had yet to be significantly influenced and modernised by outside events and ideas.