My start with the art of kendo

By Eric Skier

As a former distance runner in high school and university, I have always been more than ready to sweat like a pig from rigorous exercise. But running wasn’t just an exercise of the body but also of the mind as it was always a great way to deal with stress – that was, until I came to Japan.

Living in central Tokyo, it was always dangerous trying to run as I was forced to dodge cars, cyclists and pedestrians. I would get my workout, but I’d be even more stressed than when I started my run. Having married my wife, a trained psychologist who I’d met in university in the United States, she could see that I needed some form of exercise to deal with the stress of everyday life. She then recommended, one day out of the blue, that I try kendo.

Having seen it on TV in Japan, I was a little familiar with it, but didn’t really have an opinion one way or the other about it. So, with an open mind, I called the local city hall and was sent an information pack with a list of dojos and contact info. After calling around, I decided to go and watch a practice. My wife accompanied me and what I saw resonated deeply in me. The teacher was easily in his 70s and there was a small group of 5-year-olds all new to kendo. He was teaching them the very basics: how to bow, to use a loud voice at all times when saying their greetings in Japanese, how to carry the "shinai" in a proper manner, etc.

As I had already been in Japan for six years, my Japanese was good enough to follow what was being said. And it was love at first sight! And yet not for any reason you may have in mind. I loved the fact that he was sincerely teaching the children. He was showing them that the "shinai" is to be treated as a katana would be and thus you need to carry it respectfully and hold it a certain way. He wasn’t just ordering the kids to do what he told them to do; he was also telling them why.

It was great and to this day I still consider Tsukamoto-sensei, who was teaching the 5-year-olds, a role model for me as I have now started teaching kendo. After they finished the one-hour lesson, I introduced myself and everyone was relieved that my Japanese was quite good, but I now know it wouldn’t have mattered. In the 14 years I have been practicing kendo, I have seen non-Japanese from all walks of life and all parts of the world take a stab at kendo (sorry for the pun) and regardless of language stills, teachers in Japan still do their best to teach.

Anyway, after the introductions, I said that I loved what I saw and Tsukamoto-sensei said the next practice would be the following Saturday and I was more than welcome to join the dojo. So I showed up the following Saturday and joined the kids in learning the basics of kendo. Being 187 centimeters tall and 27 years old at the time, joining the ranks of preschoolers may have been embarrassing for some, but I didn’t care one whit. With three little boys to my right and two little girls to my left, I am sure it was quite a sight to parents and anyone entering the dojo. I also learned that doing "seiza" was not as easy at it first looked – even with my flexibility from all the stretching I had done for years as a runner! There were a few sniggers at first, but I didn’t mind and always did my best. The following week I was measured for my hakama and gi and the week after that I was taught how to put them on properly.

Speaking of “properly,” that is a word that I just personally like and that may explain some of the attraction I have to kendo. It is also most likely why my wife recommended the art to me in the first place – she knows me very well, indeed! While kendo is a great way to exercise the body, it is also a great way to exercise the mind. But to do both, there is a proper way to do everything. While some may find that constricting, I like the order and the focus on limiting distractions or wasted movement. Kendo at its best is surprisingly simplistic – and yet it isn’t. Know what I mean? Probably not, but that is fine.

In short, I thought I would share my experience of taking up the martial art of kendo with the readership of JapanToday to possibly inspire others to follow in my footsteps. If you are looking for a “road” to follow, I think you could do a lot worse than take up a martial art. For me, I am still on the straight and narrow, and every once in a while, my teachers and I reminisce about my start way back when. And everyone says they are impressed that I am still at it. Of course, that is puzzling to me as these are men and women who have been practicing kendo for 40, 50, even 60 plus years. After 14 years, I am still a novice and I like that I still have a long way to go and still much to learn. For me, I have found a great way to exercise both my body and mind and of course the cold beer after practice never tasted better!

In the future, I hope to share more of what I have learned about life in Japan from a kendo practitioner’s point of view.

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i find the "kiai" in martial arts (includes speaking in a loud voice when greeting, answering, etc.) is just the ticket to rid myself of stress. After almost 20 years of martial arts training it spills over into daily life. i thank the lucky stars that lead me to karate and i look forward to more of your insights.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Ah...little grasshoppers.

Just a question sillygirl:

Do you yell on the phone on trains, buses and in public?

I gave you a thumbs up, but whispering would give the masses less stress.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

... I was forced to dodge cars, cyclists and pedestrians

I guess he's never heard of the Palace Run and never wondered why there are always so many runners there.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

japangal - i mostly yell in my car but i have been known to yell at my misbehavin university students - but that only happens once every few years. word gets around. seriously, though, greetings that are not mousey command attention - today`s young are too wimpy.

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Kendo no! Kenjutsu yes!

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I guess he's never heard of the Palace Run and never wondered why there are always so many runners there.

The popular believe among my Japanese colleagues is that the runners are allowed to run there because they will filter out all the particles and heavy pollution from the air with their own lungs, thus making the air more enjoyable for the Emperor... Of course, this is just a rumour : wink wink...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Interesting ... I hold (make that held, as years ago I both tore up and threw away the certificates) third dan in karate and second in kendo. I reject martial arts as a form of any development. It's just the strong against the weak and reinforces ego rather than subjugates nor disposes of it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Pure ego reinforcement, with pretty language. My advice (not that you'll take it of course) is go back to running and pick a better area.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

darkbob - you sound bitter and probably had questionable teachers/other students. the martial arts i have participated in teach none of that garbage. so sad. most martial arts teach respect, concentration, control, i could go on.

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Thanks for sharing Eric. I wanted to practice Kendo since I arrived here 8 years ago but unfortunately a car accident prevents me from walking properly.

darkbob, The Cobra Kai "Way of the fist" is not proper Karate. Mr. Miyagi proved that.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )


Any half-way decent MA Instructor may he/she be KMA, JMA or CMA can/will compensate for that.

I myself trained with people that had physical/bodily probs and some of my students also have them. Myself got a shot lower back, busted knee plus another prob and still going strong.

Granted depending on your Body maybe Kendo might be a bit tough but there are other MA out there and Japan has got some top-rate teachers even in Korean and Chinese Martials Arts.

Just be careful most if not 90% of the teachers(worldwide) are in it for the money, etc they got skills and are often worldwide recognised but they do sell their arts short.

You will need to find a good instructor that will take you in as a Deshi or as an "Inner door student".

Also try to get into classes at your local Police HQ, their Judo, Kendo & Aikido is way different from what is taught at your average commercial Dojo.

To give you an Idea I got 37yrs in the arts(various) I was never expected to bow to anyone, wear specific clothing, etc. Those are all trimmings that are NOT needed for true MA skills, ditto for belts and so on. Most of those were invented by Kano Jigoro as were many other unneeded teaching habits.

Also beware of any teacher that refuses to give the names of the styles and teachers he studied under. Those are easily checked and verified and his/her teacher will know all the people he gave permission to teach.


1 ( +1 / -0 )

Forgot to add.

If your Sensei/Shrfu refuses you to study other arts/styles drop him like a hot coal. Here is an insider view:

There are NO styles/system all that exist are "training systems". Granted some to offer "more" than others(on the surface) but in the end they all teach the same and try to reach the same goal.

I am mostly into CMA but I met few BJJ/MMA guys that take can take me down on the same token I have met few people that can meet me on sensitivity. I spar with many guys/gals.

Simple reason sensitivity training may it be Pushing hands, Rolling Hands, Chi Sao, ... are a MAJOR part of MA as are ground-fighting skills, ditto for gripping and ripping techniques(Chi Sao in Chinese). Neither are advanced techniques, etc nor are there any hidden techniques in MA.

Too many people think the forms/kata are the techniques, those are training/conditioning methods but a good teacher will have you ready to defend yourself within 1hr.

Yes, the forms do contain sample aggressive/defensive moves.

I get many students from other styles, etc and they all felt I added to their skills. Nothing special but others can do the same once they strip the muck from the arts and yes I also used to run Self Defense classes(overseas) one student defended herself and gave the guy a dislocated shoulder and a ruptured kidney(big girl and she did shot-put) after one lesson.

What I am saying MA and SD skills don't need to take years. They didn't in the past as they were used to train military, etc.

Anyway, start diving into MA and it will take you places under a good teacher.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

thanks It's me.I appreciate the advice. I'll look into that.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

@Its me - thank you so much for putting all that into words. i will say one thing and i hope i doesnt sound corny - but after almost 20 years in the marial arts i have found "secrets" and those secrets are within yourself and you unlock them yourself through training with a good teacher. those secrets are things like self-confidence, fears and how to overcome them, kindness and respect for other people and other martial arts and that learning is lifelong and you can learn from anybody - young and old. i thank my wonderful teachers for that.

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You are right there.

Here is how one of my teachers explained the learning process, you are on a spiral staircase. At first your view is limited but as you climb more and more flowers will open up and your horizon will expand till you are surrounded by a huge field of flowers, each being an achievement of yours. Most of the flowers will be small ones but there will also be bigger ones. Don't look for the big ones and forget the small ones.

He also always said, your daily training should be like your meals. Do you skip meals because eating is a chore, you are short of time?

We were always taught that 90-95% of the training and study happens outside the Dojo.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I've been practicing Kendo 7 years already and I'm still in love with it. Kendo is not just martial arts, Kendo is a way of life. 剣道の二段 (^_^)

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Really, BlueWitch? I had no idea. Good for you and I agree "kendo is a way of life."

PS I am a huge fan! Thank you for sharing so much in your posts! :-)

PPS Why don't you offer your services and write a column here on JT? I am sure you have many insights to share and I think you already have quite the fan base, too. ;-)

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I’m not going to debate the merits of different styles of “martial arts” but would like to point out the opportunity of attending one of the koryu schools while in Japan, or locally if you are lucky.

I also recommend doing a thorough and on-going study of Japanese history up to and including the Meiji era.

Here are 3 books to get you started.


Go Rin no Sho


I especially recommend reading the first 2 over and over again.

Practise regularly. Don’t distinguish between your training and the “real world”. They are one and the same.

If nothing else, remember sincerity is the key.

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