Kesa no Hitotachi no Seishin

Even the gravest of sinners should be shown the path of good men…

When Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu was bestowed with the secrets of Battō from the god of the Kumano Myōjin Shrine in 1554, he was taught what has become arguably the most important concept in not only all schools of Iai branching from the original Hayashizaki style, but also unrelated schools founded since. “Kesa no Hitotachi no Seishin”. The teaching has existed in many forms throughout the evolution of the schools born of Hayashizaki; however, inside and outside of Japan it is rarely discussed.

Giving insight into not only how the student of Iai should compose themselves in conflict situations, but also how one should act in everyday life. Here is a translation of  it as it is found in Hayashizaki Battōjutsu Heihō Musō Shinden Shigenobu Ryū by Kimura Eiju, Sandō no Hanshi.

Kesa no Hitotachi no Seishin: The mindset of  Kesa no Hitotachi

“Do not draw, do not force others to draw. Do not cut, do not force others to cut. Do not kill, do not be killed. Even if one encounters the greatest of sinners, one should kindly offer sermon and show them the path of good men. If the worst occurs and they do not conform, then without hesitation apply Kesauchi and send them to Buddha”.

The Seishin(mindset) appears quite simple. In fact it has remained largely unchanged for the past 450+ years: It has only changed when the Japanese language has changed or someone changes a verb ending. However, in  Japanese it is riddled with ambiguities which I have tried to keep by leaving some of the Japanese terms most Iai/Kendō practitioners would understand as they are.

In Japanese:


万一、従はずば詮方無く  袈裟打ちをかけて成仏せしめよ

Now to expand on the linguistic points. The language used in Japanese is taking the imperative form (命令形) used to express direct orders or forbiddance. For example in the first line, [抜くな] “Do not draw”. The nuance of this point is lost/dulled down when translated into the English language, as we lack any verbal form which has the same impact as the Imperative form has with the Japanese. In addition, the second part of the first two sentences take the causative form (使役形) which is used to express permission. It is also used, as the name suggests, to express a cause and effect process of making/forcing someone to do something and this is where the first major ambiguity occurs.
If one translates Kesa no Hitotachi in the first way, with the mentality of “letting” someone do something: “Do not draw, do not allow them to draw. Do not cut, do not allow them to cut you…”, then we have a feeling of not giving the opponent the chance to do anything, completely suppressing them. This conjures a very dominant, controlling image, one that implies if the opponent even attempts to strike do not let them and use kesauchi. The second, however, implies the true form. We should not force anyone to draw on us, nor draw ourselves and thus encourage a response. “Even if the gravest of sinners… (大罪人たりとも…)” In other words one should avoid conflict even with the most evil of criminals in favour of showing them the true way. One must lead by example.

The next major stumbling block for non-native Japanese speakers and Japanese natives alike, is in regards to kesauchi. This is also the reason I left it as kesauchi in my translation. If I were to translate it in it’s true meaning then the ambiguity and “AH!” moment would have been lost. Again, had I mistranslated it to what most mistake it to mean in order to hide the hidden meaning, then the post would not have made sense.

In sword arts the word kesauchi (袈裟打ち) tends to go hand in hand with, and is often used as a synonym for kesagiri (袈裟切り). The obvious difference between the two are the suffixes, yet the first uchi (打ち) meaning to strike and the second kiri (切り) meaning to cut are often interchanged. For example: uchioroshi (打ち下ろし) and kirioroshi (切り下ろし) both refer to a downward cut with the sword; uchi-otoshi (打ち落とし) and kiri-otoshi (切り落とし) refer to cutting something off or removing something i.e. the opponents head or limbs etc.
Many koryū (for example Mugai Ryū) prefer to cut along the kesa (a roughly 45 degree path from the shoulder to the opposite hip) as opposed to makkō (a vertical overhead cut). One of the remaining Hayashizaki Styles still cuts kesa as opposed to makkō. Some reasons being that the torso is a larger target and thus easier to hit, there is also a greater chance of severing the major blood vessels or damaging the internal organs with even a slight blow, it is also harder to avoid an angled cut etc. Therefore, the majority of people assume the last sentence of the Seishin to refer to performing a cut.
“..then without hesitation apply kesauchi and send them to Buddha.”
in other words, if the opponent still does not venture down the right path then cut them down and send them to the afterlife.

However, as with most aspects of Budō the meaning of kesauchi is far deeper than a mere cut. There are no teachings of harming others within the dreams Hayashizaki received from the god of the Myōjin Shrine. In  Japan buddhist priests wear a small scarf or a shawl hung diagonally from shoulder to hip, known as a kesa (hence the diagonal cut became know as kesagiri).
Often seen in Jidaigeki dramas or old Japanese cinema, when a buddhist priest wishes to save someone from their misdeeds, they would take off their kesa and place it around the neck of the sinner in order to absolve them, rescue them from punishment and teach them the way. In turn, they would become a fellow monk walking the true path, shave their heads and their previous form would vanish from this world.

This shows that the teachings of Myōjin instruct that the Kesa no Hitotachi (The Kesa Sword) refers to the way of never harming the innocent, and that even if one encounters someone guilty of a crime the “Kesa Sword” should be drawn, kesauchi be performed and send them on the true path to Buddha. One must overcome one’s own difficulties and show others a self without sin. By aimlessly cutting people one falls into sin oneself, so all conflict is avoided unless to save others. If someone tries to cut us down, we must show them the path in order to save others. After all, if one is killed then one has failed to protect the next victim from being killed, too.

One further interpretation can be found if kesa and uchi are separated, and it read as uchikakeru (打ちかける). Uchikakeru is the old reading for bukkakeru, meaning to throw something onto something, or over someone. This also adds a further level of mystery and ambiguity as it would obviously refer to casting the scarf around someone’s neck.

An additional comment expanding on the meaning of Kesa no Hitotachi can be found in Kimura Sensei’s book, and was also passed on by his student Nukata Hisashi (Iai Hanshi Kyūdan, Kendō Hanshi Hachidan) and his students.

“That is to say that because the opponent makes contact with his sword, we make contact with our sword. Because the opponent begins to rise up, we also begin to rise up. Because the opponent attempts to draw and cut, then we seize the initiative and perform Nukitsuke first.”


There are some more interesting linguistic points used in this follow up sentence, again I have tried to keep a level of mystery in the translation as best I can. Usually in Japanese the dictionary form (辞書形) followed by “kara” (から)  means because. Therefore the sentences would become:

because the opponent makes contact with the sword, we make contact…” 

Once again we can see that the true nature of the Hayashizaki style is one of reaction, and avoidance of conflict. Further reiterating the fact that even if we sense malcontent we do not act upon it unless (until) the opponent acts upon it. In addition to this, the sentence also does not say anything about the opponent grasping the sword, merely putting his hands on (刀に手をかける). The moment one grasps the sword is the moment one has shown intent to draw. So in reaction to a slight movement we merely make contact with the sword in a slight movement, still not making an effort to draw until the opponent has whole heartedly decided they will attempt to cut us down.

There is also a further emphasis on not harming the opponent unless absolutely necessary by the wording in the last sentence. In reference to the opponent it says “If the opponent attempts to draw and cut” (抜きつけ切らんとする). The fact that it says “attempts to” is extremely important here. It states that the attempt is not successful as we seize the initiative (その先を取り). It further mentions says how we perform nukitsuke (…抜きつける…). By saying nukitsuke and not nukitsukekiru (as it did with the opponent), it demonstrates that the cutting aspect is not present in our actions.

Kamimoto Eiichi (Iai Hanshi Kyūdan, Kendō Hanshi Hachidan) mentioned in an interview (recorded in the book Iai no Meijin (居合の名人) that the suffix tsuke(ru) used in the term Nukitsuke refers to the controlling and forestalling of an opponent (…相手の機先を制すということ…). The nukitsuke performed using Kesa no Hitotachi no Seishin is the same. One should perform nukitsuke to control the opponent just before they cut you, therefore giving them the option to stop at anytime (referring to showing them the true way which is not of killing, the path of good men). But if they do not yield (if they do not conform to the path of good men) then one applies the true principles of Kesauchi, absolving them of their sins and sending them to Buddha.

I have never heard this concept discussed outside of Japan, nor even in Japan until relatively recently, yet I feel it is a crucial part of Iai that one should always bear in mind while training, or dealing with everyday situations.


「林崎抜刀術兵法夢想神傳重信流傳書集及び業手付解説」 木村栄寿著 木村茂喜発行 1981年
「居合道名人伝 上巻」 池田清代著 スキージャーナル刊 2007年
「天の剣」 小野蓮山著 中村秀雄発行 1993年

Hayashizaki Kumano Shrine

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