Kendo and Iai within the Renmei

Kendo first started in the British Isles in the early 1930’s after S/Ldr R.A. Lidstone (later 3rd dan), a noted Western fencing master, saw a demonstration given by Japanese naval personnel visiting New Zealand around 1930. The first dojo flourished in central London, (Lower Grosvenor Place), until bombed out in 1940. After WW II Kendo restarted in 1957, in Vauxhall, and Mr. Lidstone joined the new leader in 1960, continuing to practise until his sad passing in 1969.

The foremost leader from the outset in the post-war period was Roald Knutsen who worked very hard, together with his wife, Patricia, to establish Kendo not only here in this country but also to encourage Kendo to take root in France, Belgium, Germany, and Sweden. Their task was officially supported by such figures as Field Marshal Sir Francis Festing, Sir Frank Bowden, Mr. Basil Robinson, and Mr, Charles de Beaumont. However, the greatest praise should be given to the advice and encouragement freely given over the years from 1961 to the mid-80’s by a number of very senior and respected Japanese Kendo masters coupled with firm explanation and guidance from Dr. Benjamin H. Hazard, 7th dan Kyoshi, in California. In particular, the British Kendo Renmei is grateful to the efforts and invaluable support offered by the late Ozawa Takashi, 9th dan Hanshi, Koshikawa Hidenosuke, 9th dan Hanshi, Ohya Kazuo, 9th dan Hanshi, Yuno Masanori, 9th dan Hanshi, Watanabe Toshio, 8th dan Hanshi, and especially Arai Shigeo, 8th dan, and their very wide circle of friends who, between them, ensured that at least some of the teachings of the older and truer traditions should survive to the present day. Close contacts have continued with proper Japanese Kendo and, with the passage of time, even strengthened as the former students of these sensei take up responsible senior roles in succession to their teachers.

In Iai, the Renmei is indebted first to Takami Taizo, 6th dan Kendo and Iai, who established the foundations of the Hasegawa Eishin-ryu here in the early ’60’s (through Ozawa sensei’s introduction) and later, that sturdy master, the late Kamo Jisaku, 8th dan Kendo and Iai, whose iron discipline will long be remembered by those who had the good fortune to come under his remarkable instruction.

Within the Renmei the Iai comprises the late-16th century Hasegawa Eishin-ryu tradition and the late 17th century Omori-ryu tradition which developed out of the earlier style, interestingly because the master who devised the system around 1670 – 80 considered that ‘the young students of his day had far less ability and understanding of swordsmanship than their grandfathers’ who lived eighty years before’. The older style is Iai-jutsu, the latter style is Iai-do. Two other old traditions of Iai are also continued by the Renmei. The Renmei does not teach the modern forms of Iai-do devised in the late-20th century. It should be noted that at the present time more than thirty-five different traditions of Iai continue to flourish from the classical period but several hundred more styles were lost after Bakumatsu and the appalling wastage of WW II.

At the present time the Iai-jutsu and Iai-do is mainly taught in the Butokukan Dojo in Lewes and Brighton and, as with many of the classical traditions, students are only accepted subject to strict protocol.