1. Who is the dojo’s founder and what prompted him/her to build the school? Is there any rich history behind its making?
Boston Kendo Kyokai was started by Mr. Nelson Sigelman, Mr. Jack Thayer and Mr. Naomichi Asano in 1980. Nelson had spent a few years in Japan studying kendo and had achieved sandan (3rd dan) in kendo. Upon returning to Boston he wanted to continue practicing kendo. There were no kendo dojos in Boston at that time, and few in the US, so he put up some flyers and soon got replies from Jack Thayer and Mr. Asano.
Jack had spent many years in Japan and had shodan (1st dan) in kendo and Asano-sensei was godan (5th dan) in kendo. Together they formed the Boston Kendo Club and started practicing regularly at the Tohoku Judo Club. Soon, other experienced Japanese ex-pats and some beginners like me joined and the club grew. Next year will be our 30th anniversary.
2. What forms of Japanese martial arts do you teach in your school? Can you please share with us the history behind them?
We only teach kendo, the way of the sword or the art of Japanese fencing. It is our belief that that is quite enough! Kendo has a long and rich history in Japan as its origins are rooted in the techniques, methods and traditions of the samurai. Kendo is one of the oldest and most celebrated of the Japanese martial arts and is held in high regard in Japan as an important cultural legacy. Kendo has transcended its bloody origins in Japan’s feudal past to become a modern martial discipline that instills courtesy, humility, self-control and fighting spirit through mentally intense and physically rigorous training.
There are two main areas of study in kendo: kata or forms, and shinai kyogi or practice with the shinai or bamboo sword.
Kendo kata are practiced with the bokken or wooden sword. No contact is made as each kendoka performs a specific technique with precision and control. There are ten kendo kata, seven in which each kendoka wields the odachi or long sword, and three in which one kendoka uses the kodachi or short sword. I view kata as the link to the historical kendo from which modern kendo’s philosophy and traditions were derived. On a technical level, kata describes the theories about the proper use of a Japanese sword: how to grip, how to swing, how to parry and deflect, etc. Today’s kendo kata were gathered from the various schools of classical swordsmanship and refined for use by modern humans for a different purpose: the cultivation of character.
Shinai kyogi is the more familiar practice of kendo where the two kendoka wear the protective armor called bogu and attempt to strike each other with the bamboo sword or shinai. Training in kendo is based on a variety of offensive and defensive movements or techniques (waza). Of these, the most fundamental (kihon waza) are stance (kamae), footwork (suri ashi), strikes (uchi), thrusts (tsuki), feints and parries.
Practice may consist of a drill in one or more of these waza, but free practice (ji keiko) is most common. Among these drills are sustained practices (kakari geiko) where students are compelled to attack over and over again, repetitive practice (kiri kaeshi) where students strike alternating diagonal cuts to the men, or tournament practice (shiai geiko). Most favored by kendoka is, of course, ji geiko where two kendoka fence freely attempting to out-think and out-maneuver other and ultimately strike a decisive point (ippon).
There are four prescribed points (datotsu) in kendo which must be struck with proper posture, intensity, precision, and must be accompanied by a spirited shout (kiai). These are a strike to the center of the face guard or obliquely to the temples (men), a diagonal strike across the trunk protector (do), a strike to the wrist (kote), and the only thrust allowed to the throat guard (tsuki).
3. What are the principles and concepts that you uphold and try to instill in your students?
There are seven virtues of kendo: Yuki – courage, valor, bravery; Jin – humanity, charity, benevolence; Gi – justice, righteousness, integrity; Rei – etiquette, courtesy, civility; Makoto – sincerity, honesty, reality; Chugi – loyalty, fidelity, devotion; and Meiyo – honor, dignity, prestige. Kendo strives to develop these virtues in its practitioners.
4. Why do you think it is important for people to learn martial arts?
Today, kendo is a modern art that aims to develop the potential of its students, both physical and psychological. Its most important philosophy is respect for others and respect for self. The ancient samurai used the katana, the two handed sword, to defeat enemies; modern samurai (kendoka) use the shinai, the bamboo sword, to defeat our own shortcomings.
Kendo training is difficult and sometimes painful, but by perseverance and patience the student overcomes limitations and bad habits. It is only by challenging ourselves can we achieve our goals, in kendo and in life.
5. What difficulties and obstacles have you encountered so far with regards to teaching martial arts and how did you overcome them?
The biggest difficulty in teaching kendo is gathering a sufficient number of students to be able to cover the cost of space. Kendo requires a substantial amount of space in which to conduct practice. Also required is a wooden floor such as found in a gymnasium. Gym rentals can be very expensive, particularly in big cities. Fortunately, Boston Kendo Kyokai has partnered with the Archdale Community Center, a City of Boston recreation center, to provide kendo at an affordable rate.
At one time getting kendo equipment was a major problem, but now with the advent of the Internet there are quite a number of online kendo equipment vendors offering excellent equipment at very good prices delivered quickly.
6. What advice and/or insights can you share with our readers who want to pursue their interest in the Japanese form of martial arts?
My advice is to find something that you truly love, whether it is martial arts, music, sports, whatever. And stick with it. Never give up. If you do choose a Japanese martial art, find a good teacher.