The Japanese journalist Soichi Ohya wrote ‘After the war, two things became stronger in Japan: women and socks.’ I have never tried pre-war socks but the emancipation of women is obvious in all areas of Japanese society.
Closer to home, this is clearly reflected through current trends in Kendo. There are an increasing number of women nanadan and sooner or later one will break through the hachidan ceiling. More obviously the strength of women’s kendo is visible through the growth in Japan of “housewife” kendo and of the number of women and girls taking up kendo internationally.
Kendo is the one martial art where men and women can practice together on an even basis. Strength, height or weight gives no advantage, so although we are segregated in shiai, we can practice flat out against each other in keiko.
Currently three of my favourite opponents in the UK are Emiko Yoshikawa, 5 dan, who actively pursues an international shiai career, Hyonga Cho 5th dan, former captain of the Korean Ladies Team and current GB Ladies Coach and Geraldina Matteson 4th dan, GB Ladies Captain.
Several sensei have written articles on how men should practice with women, but frankly, I cannot see the need to differentiate. It is common sense and standard kendo etiquette not to use unreasonable force with kendoka who are lighter or smaller than you, regardless of gender. It is also conventional wisdom to use a reasonable level of control against less experienced opponents, male or female. Quite simply it is a matter of practicing kendo with a positive spirit and respect for each other.
I know a number of kendo couples who I suspect are sometimes tempted to use the dojo to relieve marital tensions. One of the most interesting demonstrations of this was from Sumi Masatake sensei, hanshi hachidan and his wife Kaoru who is a naginata kyoshi. After a five minute demonstration match where neither gave the slightest thought to anything other than dominating each other, they turned back into the harmonious couple that they are.