By Julie Hsieh
“Gong xi, gong xi! Guan Zhang!” (Congratulations, Dojo owner!)
Wow! Am I dreaming? I just became a dojo owner in my hometown of Taipei, Taiwan. People have called me “doctor”, “COO”, and even “Lulu Fairy” (I host a kid’s TV show teaching Confucian values; yes, dressed as a fairy…). But Guan Zhang, I will have to get used to that.
It all started in 2009 when my husband David and I were living in Seattle and looking for a couple’s activity we could do together for exercise. Looking through our local community center guide, we narrowed it down to ballroom dancing, Kendo, and Naginata. I wasn’t a big fan of ballroom dancing, as it sounded a bit too graceful to me. How about Kendo or Naginata? We glanced at the age range for those groups. Kendo started at age 8 and Naginata started at age 16. David started having images of Kramer from Seinfeld becoming champion at his karate class against a bunch of little kids… So we signed up for Naginata and showed up to class without any expectations. We were kindly greeted by Kurt and Karen Schmucker and the Pacific Northwest Naginata Federation (PNNF) group. We were soon hooked, practicing Naginata first once a week, then twice, and then three times a week.
We continued to practice Naginata with PNNF for 5 years. Even through 2 pregnancies, I practiced Naginata (skipping bogu of course) until I couldn’t do haso anymore at around 5 months pregnant. And both times, I eagerly returned to practice one month—and not a day later—after giving birth.
When we moved to Taiwan a couple years ago, we weren’t sure that we would continue Naginata as there was no established group in Taiwan yet. But things progressed and soon the Taiwan Naginata Association was formed. We had our first official seminar with Kimura Yasuko sensei and Tamaki Katsuko sensei last May. There David and I tested and passed our sandan exam.
After getting sandan, I felt an even greater desire to introduce Naginata to more people. In Taipei, good practice space is hard to come by, with so many different groups vying for limited space. There was a storage space next to my office, so I resolved myself to get it remodeled into a dojo where we could practice naginata. And that leads us to the present. On August 6, 2016, we had our opening ceremony at World TV dojo, named after my parents’ company, the sponsor of our dojo. The ceremony started with kyudo demonstration by Poyao Hsu, a 5th dan from Meiji University and living now in Taipei. The dojo is basically too short to do Kyudo in it, but we used white drapes and pillows to devise a system that would safely/softly catch the arrow to prevent it from crashing into the wall.
Since people from Hong Kong where nice enough to come to Taiwan to attend the ceremony, we asked Roy Poon to participate and he demonstrated with David in a “solemn manner” the Shikake-ouji, i.e. the basics forms of Naginata set in 8 fixed patterns.
I also wanted to participate myself, somehow. I have been studying for a couple months Tankendo with Baptiste (maybe some of you have seen his NHK shows with Alex Bennett). He was a bit grumpy when I asked him if we could demonstrate the Tankendo-no-kata for the ceremony. He mentioned some obscure “not ready yet, grasshopper”-thing that I did not really understand, but anyway he finally accepted, saying that an “Enbu” was a good way to test one’s skills… So we did and I am glad to report that the demonstration went well 🙂
The opening ceremony was followed by a Naginata keiko led by Baptiste (he used to be in the IBU Naginata club) and attended by people from Taiwan and Hong Kong. 3 more sessions were also conducted that afternoon and the next morning/afternoon.
The World TV Dojo will hold Tankendo classes during the week and some Naginata during the weekend. People from other martial arts can also rent the space when we do not use it.
It is my hope that the love of Japanese martial arts will bring more people together and that it will continue to flourish in Taiwan.