Shodan Shinsa – Spring 2012

The following members have been advanced to Shōdan rank under the authority of the British Kendō Renmei at the Shōdan Shinsa held at the Tunbridge Wells Dōjō on Sunday, 25th March 2012.

Virginie Bayle (Butokukan)
Melanie Carr (Butokukan)
Arran Crutcher (Butokukan)
David Munn (Butokukan)
Jessica Waring (Butokukan)

Congratulations from all our Kendōka and our Japanese Kendō friends.

Inoue Tomoshige-sensei

It is with the deepest regret that we have received a report from Kōbe of the sudden and unexpected passing in mid-September of our very good friend over many years.

Inoue Tomoshige-sensei
Inoue Tomoshige-sensei (right), d. Sep 2011

Inoue-sensei, whose command of English was excellent, had been a great help to us in many ways over the best part of the last twenty or more years. He was the chief point of reference in arranging on our behalf the technical side of a number of visits by our members and direct contact with various sensei within the Hyōgo Kendō Renmei. It was he, who as leader of the Kōbe International Kendō Club, arranged the excellent two-month long training in Kōbe for Thomas Bowen, sandan, from the Butokukan. Several members will remember with gratitude and pleasure their practises with Inoue-sensei and members of his dōjō and Ōzaki-sensei’s Isshinkan Kendō Dōjō. Both Pat and Roald Knutsen had many long and frequently humorous telephone conversations with him and were deeply grateful for his support and many kindnesses.

What it means to belong to a Dōjō

A personal view – by Paul Whiteman, go-dan

Observations made in Japan taught me that in order to be considered a true member of a dōjō, purely turning up for practice on a regular basis was not enough. A true member requires a level of awareness of what is going on around him within the dōjō itself. Being mindful of the needs, wishes and expectations of your seniors and teachers alike, and to always put others first is fundamental. A difficult concept for us in the West but by no means impossible.

The simple act of sweeping and washing the dōjō floor before a practice session demonstrates an attitude of unselfishness worthy of any samurai in the past. In a dōjō there are teachers and there are students. It is the students responsibility to train hard and correctly so that all members of the group can advance in their Kendō. By ‘correctly’ I am talking in terms of posture, strikes, the use of ki-ken-tai, zanshin, and so on.

What all members must be especially vigilant of is the creeping in of bad habits such as bobbing and weaving the head like a boxer would. This kind of movement has no place in Kendō. By moving one’s head like this to avoid being hit will not only mess up your own Kendō but also cause your opponent and fellow classmates to have to alter their perfectly straight strikes in order to land a cut. It doesn’t take long before everyone is doing crap Kendō!

To inadvertently cause your classmates to pick up bad habits is wrong. You and your fellow students are all in the same boat and all share the same goal; that is to master the techniques of Japanese swordsmanship. A desire to gain respect from your teacher is also an important thing to have. A good teacher will always want his student to attain a higher level of Kendō even than themselves. A teacher, (whether it is a Kendō teacher or any other kind), will be able to spot straight away someone who is passionate about learning, so they will push that student harder, nurturing them as they go, praising them when they can demonstrate an understanding of what is being taught. A student without this hunger to learn and train hard will soon get left behind.

A dōjō can take on a ‘family’ element with socializing after practise sessions, especially if they are weekend sessions! There was a group of Kendōka from the All Japan Agricultural Corporation who used to come to the Soushinkan Dōjō (where I trained) on Saturday’s during my time in Japan. The practise session would start with thirty minutes kata followed by ninety minutes of kirikaeshi, kakari-geiko and a bit of ji-geiko at the end. Anyone who still had any energy left was made to do a final kakari-geiko from hell! I say ‘made to’, but in reality we all wanted to impress the owner of the dōjō , Kaneko-sensei, because it was he who made this dōjō possible. Getting back to this group of guys, they always brought with them a mountain of meat and vegetables that we would cook up at the dōjō and chaw down in sensei’s room. The beer and o-sake flowed and we juniors would always be ready to fill someone’s bowl or glass when it became empty. Evaporation is a huge problem in Japan! It was a pleasure to be part of that dōjō’s family atmosphere. Having to tidy up afterwards didn’t feel like a chore at all.

Being subservient to a certain degree is a good thing in a dōjō in England, but more so in Japan as the hierarchical system run deep. One of the hachidan sensei, by the name of Iwanaga-sensei, from Kitakyōshō, would drive fifty miles or so to our dōjō every Wednesday. He was a real character and if you were a few seconds late refilling his glass or lighting his cigarette, he would say: ‘No, too late! You had your chance!’ He was, of course, joking but he kept everyone on their toes. But it was this friendliness that was so appealing.

I, personally, am filled with a sense of gratitude to my seniors and teachers both here and in Japan for their help and support throughout my Kendō career. In the same way that we would be stuck if we didn’t have doctors or surgeons when we get sick, if we didn’t have our seniors and teachers to help us, our Kendō would stagnate into something that resembles a chicken fight. Appreciate what you have because a life without it doesn’t bear thinking about. A dōjō only exists because of its students. Even, on some occasions, you don’t fancy going to Kendō practise tonight, because you had a hard day or were stuck in traffic or something, just pick up your bogu, get into your car, drive to the dōjō and train! You’ll feel the better for it, I guarantee.

Dr Gordon Warner

It is with deep regret that we must mark the passing of Dr Gordon Warner who died on the 4th March, 2010 at the great age of ninety-seven.

Dr Gordon WarnerGordon Warner was one of the very first foreigners to train in Kendō whilst living in Southern California, studying under the great Mori Teraō, Hachidan Kyoshi, as far back as 1937, He also trained at the famous Noda Dōjō in Tokyo until just before the outbreak of the Pacific War, leaving Japan in 1939.

In 1943 he was severely wounded at Bougainville when the tank he was in was hit by Japanese fire, shattering his left leg (which he subsequently lost). At that time he already held sandan rank although for the remainder of his long Kendo and Iai-dō career he always held that rank was of no importance to any student other, possibly, to give some indication of progress. He, together with Ben Hazard, founded the Berkeley Dōjō at the University of California, still flourishing to-day.

I first met Warner-sensei on my initial visit to Japan in 1967 through the introduction of Benjamin Hazard, Nanadan Kyoshi, and Donn Draeger-sensei. It was an introduction that I shall never forget. I was kneeling seiza at the side of the great Tokyo Budōkan, putting on my bōgu as I recall, when I became aware of a deep voice far above me saying my name. I looked up, first at white hakama-covered knees, then up to the chest, by now craning back my neck, and at the very top under a canopy of white hair, was Warner-sensei – all something like two full meters tall! At this point a beaming Hazard-sensei introduced me! I recall Draeger-sensei coming up at this point – and he was not far shy of two meters, himself – but here looking considerably shorter than Warner! The conversation that followed still is within my memory.

The occasion was the happy World Goodwill Kendō Taikai (which eventually led to the first World Kendō Taikai in 1970 – a very different affair, unfortunately). In the individual matches at the Budōkan Warner- by now rokudan, faced a young Japanese sandan. With his great height and upright stance because of his artificial leg, Warner took his usual hidari-jōdan, towering over his diminutive and slim opponent. After some fast footwork the Japanese lad threw caution to the winds and attacked hidari-kote – and struck beautifully. There was a stunned silence for a second or two then the whole audience and the assembled Kendoka came to their feet to applaud – (no shouting, just applause that was well deserved). Warner-sensei lowered his shinai and bowed, too, in appreciation. I think that lad, now around sixty-five or so, has never forgotten! Just think that he achieved this remarkable feat in front of the Crown Prince, now Emperor! He lost, of course, but who cares? Gordon Warner was the first non-Japanese to attain nanadan in Kendo and held the rank of rokudan in Iai-dō – ōmori-ryū I think. I met him again in 1970 and briefly in 1975, but also kept up an occasional correspondence. After that he remained in Okinawa as Minister of Education. It is worthwhile noting that Dr Warner married a Japanese lady who was the grand-daughter of the famous Satsuma-han patriot, Saigō Takamori, who, in an oft-remembered final battle of the 1877 civil war, committed seppuku in a cave in Kyūshū along with a number of his followers. Mrs Warner came from a very high-ranking family, indeed.