Having had several requests to write about my early experiences in kendo, I have decided to give in and put together a few words on the subject. I am not a particularly nostalgic person and I must say that the period Ihave always enjoyed most in my kendo career is the present. I very seldom think back to the start of mytime in kendo, because although I had a great time; moving to Japan after a few years of training in the UK, necessitated my forgetting everything I learned and starting again from zero.
I started kendo in 1969 at the age of 19. I had been practising judo since my early teens and loved everything about it; but had seen several kendo demonstrations, read about Dr Gordon Warner in Blackbelt Magazine and had seen clips of what was supposed to be kendo in several James Bond films and decided to give it a try.
At the time the centre of British kendo was Nenriki dojo at London’s Elephant and Castle, (Nenriki is still going strong). I together, with a friend from judo went along one Friday evening and we were immediately welcomed. Organised beginners courses did not then exist, so we were drilled in suburi and footwork by a senior student whilst the keiko session was conducted by such luminaries as the late Mr Lidstone and Roald Knutsen. After a few weeks, my judo friend drifted away and I became integrated into the twice weekly keiko sessions. The ethos at the time was very much that of “crash and bash” and the equipment was either hand-me-down or improvised. I solved the keikogi problem by cutting half the sleeves off my judo jacket and dying it black.
A new buzz was introduced to the scene with the arrival of Fujii Okimitsu who had been transferred from Japan to work with a recording company. As a Japanese fifth dan, we saw him as the “real deal”. He became manager of a then famous pop group, but still had lots of time for kendo. I and another friend took to following him around the country, discovering dojo and new kendo friends in places such as Newcastle and Bristol, travelling by bus and sleeping on floors.
We also tried a few new kendo venues in London and even managed a practice or two in a hall in “The Regency Club” which was an east-end nightclub, owned by the infamous Kray twins. We decided to move on after the judo club that used it regularly, alledgedly found some hand guns hidden under their mats. Nenriki however, and The London Nautical school where Jock Hopson was teaching, were our main haunts and during this period, I regularly trained for four days each week.
I passed first dan within a year and took second dan at the first attempt; participated in every shiai and made the British team for the 3WKC in 1976. This World Championship was held in the UK, so the world came to us. This for me was a life-changing event. Having seen the kendo of The Japanese team and the mohan-geiko of the senior sensei who attended, I realised that there was a whole new dimension to kendo so decided to move to Japan.
Within six months I had found a job in Osaka and moved with my wife to a 1DK in Kobe. After a brief settling in period, I followed up on an introduction to one of the teachers of Osaka Police. At our first meeting he sent me off with one of the female tokuren and asked her to put me through some footwork drills. Sensei came back to watch after 20 minutes and immediately kicked my instructor on the backside before walking out. Having realised that I was not even good enough to be kicked personally, I re-evaluated my kendo self image and started again.