RT2014, and a bit of kendo as well

RT2014, and a bit of kendo as well
By Ron Fox

Many of you have read my past articles for the Kendo World homepage. As you might expect, I have a professional (non-kendo) life. I work as a programmer for the National Superconducting  Cyclotron Laboratory at Michigan State University (NSCL). My speciality is the construction of software for real-time data acquisition from experiments performed at this facility. Our University and the NSCL have a grant to build a new U.S. Department of Energy Laboratory called the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB – http://frib.msu.edu).

But what does any of this have to do with Kendo World and its homepage articles? In late 2013, the FRIB data acquisition working group decided that it would be a good idea to put our thoughts out to the larger community. The clear venue for that was the 2014 edition of a conference called the IEEE Conference on Real-Time Computer Applications in Particle and Plasma Physics (RT2014 for short). The venue for this conference was Nara, Japan, May 26-30. I submitted an abstract, and when it was accepted I started planning the real purpose of the trip: the kendo before and after the conference.

I contacted the Hayashi brothers: Hayashi Tatsuo-sensei in Oita Prefecture, and Hayashi Nobuo-sensei in Tokyo, in order to pay a return visit to them. I also contacted KW’s own Alex Bennett (Kansai University, Osaka, my old stomping grounds in Japan), and Michael Ishimatsu-Prime (Tokyo area and member of Noma Dojo).Eventually we worked out the following schedule:

*  Arrive at Narita May 27 and visit Hayashi Nobuo-sensei from then until May 25 (Tokyo area).
*  Travel From Tokyo to Nara on the May 25 for the conference.
*  Nara May 25-31 for RT2014.
*  Travel to Beppu in Kyushu May 31 to meet Hayashi Tatsuo-sensei at the Oita Prefectural High School Kendo Championships and go with him from there to Bungo-ono to visit with him up until June 4.
*  Travel to Osaka on June 4 and stay in the Osaka area until June 7.
*  Travel back to Tokyo June 7 and fly out of Narita June 8.

I arrived on schedule in Narita on Thursday May 27 and was met by Hayashi Nobuo-sensei. After checking in to my hotel, sensei and I had a nice dinner of tempura with his wife  Yoshiko-san in Ikebukuro before I settled down for a good night’s sleep.

On the morning the May 23 the practice schedule began. Hayashi-sensei met me at my hotel at 5:30am for the first practice, Mitsubishi Shiseikan Dojo. Practice was about what I expected; I was crushed by pretty much everyone I faced. Towards the end of practice and in between aite, I noticed a familiar figure practising with Hayashi-sensei. Yamada Nobuhiro-sensei was stationed in Chicago about 30 years ago and during that time I had many chances to practise with him. I had heard that he practiced at Mitsubishi Shiseikan Dojo and was hoping I would be lucky enough to reconnect with him.

The afternoon of May 23 saw me at Hitotsubashi University where Hayashi-sensei is now the shihan. The students had just finished their gasshuku so only a few of them were enticed to the practice by their kantoku, Takeshita-sensei. After a short, and dynamic keiko, Takeshita-sensei took us out for dinner, and the mandatory beer.

The morning of may 24 was asageiko at the famous Kodansha Noma Dojo. Readers of Kendo World know the original dojo was torn down, but the new dojo is a beautiful space and once more it was a great opportunity to cross shinai with wonderful kenshi.

The afternoon practice was at Keio University for the Tokyo Gakuren alumni association. Yamada-sensei was one of the participants and practising with him after 30 years was one of the high points. Towards the end of the practice I benefited from Hayashi-sensei hand picking my aite to give me a variety of kendo experiences including against one of Toda Tadao-sensei’s nito students.

On May 25 before leaving for Nara, there was time for one last asageiko at Kodansha Noma Dojo.   That was also when Michael Ishimatsu-Prime and I had arranged to meet. After practising with several of the 8-dan sensei Michael and I made time to practise together, before the taiko drum signalled the end of keiko.

After breakfast with Hayashi-sensei and Michael it was on to Tokyo with luggage heavier by several kilos, not only due to sweaty gi, but also back issues of Kendo World courtesy of Michael. The last week of May was devoted entirely to RT2014. Once my bogu and gi were dry I shipped them down to Hayashi Tatsuo-sensei to make navigating the train stations easier.

I arrived in  Beppu, in the early afternoon of May 31. I met Hayashi Tatsuo-sensei at the Beppu Shimin Taiku-kan where the Oita Prefectural High School Kendo Championships were in progress. The tournament lasts for three days and on the first day a few individual rounds for both girls and boys are done in the morning, while the team competitions for both girls and boys are completed up to the semi-finals. This tournament determines which individuals, and which teams represent Oita Prefecture at the Inter-High. The competition was intense and fierce.

Hayashi-sensei and his wife Yoko-san kindly put me up at their house during my stay. Many thanks to her for her patience with my terrible Japanese language skills…

On Sunday June 1 it was back to Beppu for the conclusion of the team event, a round robin amongst the final four teams in the boys and girls team divisions. With the tournament done for the day, Hayashi-sensei and I went to practise at the Horyukan Dojo, a dojo with a long and distinguished history in Oita prefecture. The members were very welcoming and they pointed out who I should practise with and several members volunteered to give up their spots in line so that I could have as many chances as possible. We followed this up with a visit to an onsen to soak our weary muscles.

Monday was a sightseeing day. Oita Prefecture has many amazing tourism destinations, but  I’m going to name only two of the many places we visited. The ruins of Oka-jo (Oka Castle) are in Taketa City. Oka-jo is on top of a sheer mountain and the castle was never successfully stormed.  The keep was destroyed as a result of an earthquake during the Edo period, but the remainder was only destroyed as a result of a vote in 1874 that decided its fate along with the fate of four other castles in Oita. Oka-jo’s ruins inspired the composer Rentaro Taki to compose music for Kojo no Tsuki (Moon over Castle Ruins). There is a statue to Taki in the castle ruins. The song has been widely recorded including a jazz version by Thelonius Monk under the title “Japanese Folk Song” on the 1967 album “Straight, No Chaser”.

Another destination was Usuki, the home of several stone Buddhas (Usuki Seki Butsu) that were carved into the faces of mountains near Usuki around the 12th century. There are four groups of carvings in various conditions and the statues are were selected as National Treasures of Japan.

The following day saw another day of tourism followed by an evening of kendo with the Bungo ono City Keiko-kai at the Toka school gym. This is a group of mostly 6-dan and above, and included 5 8-dan participants the night I visited.

Finally Wednesday rolled around and it was time to head up to Osaka. The original plan was to visit Kansai University’s asageiko on Thursday with KW’s Alex Bennett, Shudokan Thursday night and Osaka university Saturday. Unfortunately by the time I left Oita one of my shoulders was not up to any more kendo. I could barely lift my right arm over my head. While I did show up at all of those practices I was reduced to mitori-geiko for all of them. I was especially unhappy to have missed practising at Osaka University as I had trained there 18 years ago for a summer and was looking forward to practising with Sugie-sensei and to crossing shinai with today’s crop of students.

No trip to Japan is complete without pictures, so here are some galleries:
Tokyo: http://kendo.msu.edu/joomla/index.php/home/galleries/kendo-in-tokyo-2014
Oita sightseeing: http://kendo.msu.edu/joomla/index.php/home/galleries/kyushu-2014

If you are on Facebook, Hasama-sensei of Horyukan Dojo was kind enough to take some pictures. Those are available at:

1 Comment

  1. Excellent! I feel rather exhausted just reading your schedule though. Well done.

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