First comes respect, then comes the sword

Long ago, in Japan, during an age of feudalism, men relied on the blade and the lifestyle of Bushido – way of the warrior – for survival. The essential Bushido virtues of bravery, loyalty, honor, and self-discipline carry over into the modern art of Kendo – way of the sword.

On Saturday and Sunday in the UAA Sports Center, Alaska Budokan and Alaska Kendo Club helped to promote Kendo in Anchorage and at the university. They featured highly ranked Kendo Sensei's from Japan, Seattle, and several other United States cities.

UAA Kendo instructor David Seymour, in February, attained a fourth-degree black belt in Yondan Kendo and said he, luckily, received a second-degree in Nidan Latio.

When asked what inspires him to practice Kendo he said, “It's not just Kendo, I mean, it's not just the Kendo that inspires me, but by practicing, you learn respect. You learn how to face adversity without being afraid. And that carries over to every part of your life. It's changed my life, I can't say how much. It's just phenomenal.” Seymour quoted another eighth-degree black belt Sensei who said, “Without the respect and the acknowledgement of respect, Kendo is just violence, so in order to keep that from just violence, we have the respect. “

The event in the Sports Center gave an opportunity for Kendo members from around the world to practice Kendo kata – practicing form – and to finally spar against each other and against the masters.      

Present on Saturday were aspiring Kendo warriors garbed in the full protective bogu, of all ages from childhood to adult. Four out of eight UAA students who are pupils of Sensei Seymour attended.

The first thing new Kendo students learn is reigi (etiquette), and then they progress to learning proper footwork and how to swing the sword until they are ready to begin training with bogu (armor), designed after the style of the Oyoroi of the Samurai.

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Kendo incorporates the use of two types of wooden swords, one made of solid oak or another suitable wood, called the “bokken” or “bokuto”, and the other composed of four bamboo staves and leather, called the “shinai." The bokken is used for kata and the shinai is used for head to head contact sparring.

At the weekend event, participants engaged in kata in the morning that focused on building their spirit and stamina. Later, in the afternoon they engaged in free form spar matches. The Kendo kata pairs up two warriors, the Uchitachi and the Shidachi. The Uchitachi is the attacker and the Shidachi responds accordingly to the attack. Seven of the kata portrayed a technique of long sword versus long sword and three demonstrated short sword defending long sword attacks.

After a long day of kata, the kendo participants were able to put their training to use in spar matches against one another. Among the many fighters were the Miyazachi brothers, who are Kendo masters and have been Sensei's for the All Japan Kendo champions six times and for the world Kendo champions two times. Other Kendo warriors from around the nation including Seattle, Detriot, Denver, Los Angeles, and Hawaii had a chance to battle.

From the origins of modern Kendo in the late 18th century, Kendo has aimed to build character, self-discipline, and respect from all that practice the art rooted in antiquity. At a glance, Kendo may appear to be men beating one another over the head with sticks, but they possess a code of ethics much deeper than one might assume. It is an art form based on respect and one that holds sincere meaning to the followers as they enter the future.

“Hopefully it (Kendo) means growing. Right now, we're very small, and it is very hard to keep students because it is a very demanding art. They have one (Kendo club) in the University of Washington. I'm trying to mold this one after that, and hopefully, someday, we can take a team down there and compete against them,” Seymour said.