After several months planning, the first Kendo World Tokyo Keiko-kai was held at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo on Saturday 30th June, 2012, in the No.2 and No.3 dojo. At first, it looked like we were going to be denied access to the Budokan as the entrance that we were going to use was roped off and the member of staff on duty did not want to take the responsibility of letting us through. This was because the Korean K-pop group “Boyfriend” were performing at the Nippon Budokan on their “First Date” in Japan. It seemed like every girl who was under 16, from Tokyo and beyond, was there at the Nippon Budokan at 0900, with their mums. After eventually finding someone to let us in, we made our way down to the No.2 and No.3 dojo.
48 people from 16 different countries gathered beneath the Budokan’s main arena for the keiko-kai. We were also joined by seven 8-dan sensei and two 7-dan sensei. Before the keiko-kai began, H8-dan Masago Takeshi-sensei, a director of the All Japan Kendo Federation, gave a welcome speech. After that we were treated to a demonstration of the Nihon Kendo Kata by K7-dan Kouno-sensei as uchidachi, and R6-dan Katsura-sensei. Both of these sensei are students of H8-dan Inoue Yoshihiko-sensei who was also there. After only ipponme it was quite clear that this was going to be no ordinary demonstration of kata. Kouno-sensei’s cut from hidari-jodan, was incredibly fast. Katsura-sensei stepped back even faster and also made a cut with speed and power, stopping her blade just millimeters above Kouno-sensei’s head. There was a sharp intake of breath, followed by the sound of jaws hitting the floor as the kata was done with mogito, not bokuto. I do not think that I was the only one who feared for Kouno-sensei’s safety. The kata continued on in this manner until it was finished. After, many people said that it was the best demonstration of the Nihon Kendo Kata that they had ever seen. We would have to agree.
Before we put on our men and kote, Inoue-sensei lined us up in two rows. First we had to practice stepping forwards and backwards while in chudan. The point that Inoue-sensei thought that we needed to work on was to make sure that our trailing foot was brought or snapped in quicker. Then we practiced making men cuts. At first, Inoue-sensei said that our kiai was too weak. He said that he is 84 years-old, and there should be no reason why he could kiai louder than us. Then, while making sure that our cuts were big, fast and strong, we went from making one cut to two, then three, four, five and six, all done with one breath while stepping backwards and forwards. This, Inoue-sensei said, was the ideal way to do kiri-kaeshi as well.
After that we had to practice tobi-komi – moving the entire length of the dojo making repeated cuts with one breath and a continuous kiai. The idea is, when you stop to inhale, you are in a state of weakness. Your opponent can then seize upon that weakness and strike you. Therefore, if you can last for one strike longer than your opponent, you have the advantage and can take the victory.
We then put on our men and kote and practiced kiri-kaeshi, in one breath, and strikes were to be made in the manner in which we were practicing the men cuts earlier. After that we practiced men-taiatari. A point of instruction for the motodachi was not to step back when receiving taiatari. Rather, they should meet the kakarite’s taiatari by pushing forwards and putting weight onto the front foot.
When we finished taiatari practice, we had a short break and then the 8-dan and 7-dan sensei as well as Kouno-sensei and Katsura-sensei donned their bogu for shido-geiko. After practicing with these sensei, many participants chose to move to the smaller dojo to challenge each other.
Keiko lasted for about 40 minutes until we stopped at about 1220. To finish, Inoue-sensei made a speech saying that we should be grateful for opportunities like this, and that we have only one life, which is precious, and we should therefore make the most of it. Kendo was a way in which this could be done.
Front Row L-R: KW's Alex Bennett, K8-dan Kawanabe-sensei, K8-dan Ozawa-sensei, K8-dan Shigematsu-sensei, H8-dan Masago-sensei, H8-dan Inoue-sensei, K8-dan Hirakawa-sensei, K8-dan Mochizuki-sensei, Participant Jonathon Ogura-Levine, K7-dan Kato-sensei, K7-dan Oya-sensei
Once keiko was finished we made our way to the Budokan restaurant for lunch and quiet reflection over some chilled beverages. K8-dan Shigematsu-sensei from Chiba police made the opening toast before the festivities began. This was a chance for new friendships to be made and for a lot of people to catch up with old ones.
Alex Bennett then explained the meaning behind the Kendo World tenugui that was given to all participants. It features Kendo World’s motto “Crossing Swords and Borders” and its Japanese translation “交剣無境” (literally ‘Crossing Swords, No Borders’). Alex explained how the first rendering in Japanese nearly said, “Crossing Swords, Illegal Aliens” (交剣超境). However, thankfully that was corrected and changed in time!
Unbeknownst to all except for a few who were in the loop, Inoue-sensei was asked to closely watch keiko and choose three people who he thought were deserving of a fighting spirit award. Three exclusive Kendo World shinai bags, hand-made from old kimono-obi by Mrs. Shishikura, the mother of Kendo World’s designer Kan, were presented to Stuart Gibson of the UK, John Doherty of Ireland, and Kate Sylvester of Australia. Also, a presentation of two shinai from Kenbudo kendo shop went to Curtis Marsten and Terry McManus who had come from the U.S. A shinai bag, also from Kenbudo, was presented to Ryosuke Onizuka who came all the way from the southern islands of Okinawa especially for this event.
After that, a raffle was held and some of the participants went away with signed copies of Inoue-sensei’s book on the Nihon Kendo Kata, as well as copies of Ken Zen Sho, The Kendo Grading Book, Budo: The Martial Ways of Japan, Budo Perspectives and copies of Kendo World together with some other prizes from Kenbudo. Jon Braeley, a documentary filmmaker from Empty Mind Films, who was there to video the event and interview Inoue-sensei, kindly donated a few copies of some of his DVDs for the raffle which were greatly received. It’s a shame that everyone could not go away with a prize.
The Darwin Awards went to Sid from India who left his camera, two tsuba and two tsuba-dome in the dojo, and Esteban from Colombia who managed to lose his mobile phone in his own bogu bag for a few hours, worrying everyone in the process…
The meal finished with a Japanese song by Inoue-sensei before participants dispersed. Many ended up in Shinjuku at The Dubliners Irish Pub for a further debrief, and a few of those then ended up bothering the locals in a karaoke bar nearby well into the night. You know who you are.
All in all it was a great event. We have received some good feedback from the participants with plenty of suggestions on how to make the event even better next time around. We want to make this a yearly event so keep watching this space.
Thank you to the Bekkasei from the International Budo University in Katsuura, Chiba, for helping us out on the day, and to everyone for taking time out of your busy schedules to join us. Also, a great many thanks to the sensei who gave up their time to be with us at the Nippon Budokan.
Kendo World depends on all of you in the kendo community to keep going. Thank you, as always, for your continued support.