By David Broughton
Joining traditional arts clubs may seem like part of a quintessentially JET experience, but how folks end up in these opportunities can be a lot more up to chance and unplanned than we might expect. In this article, David shares about Kendo club, how he became involved, and cool opportunities that came out of his involvement!
David is a 2nd year ALT living in Kumakogen town of Ehime Prefecture. He works with mostly elementary students, but visits a Junior High School once a week.
How did you get involved in kendo?
Before coming to Japan, I had planned to start a Swing Dance Club as a part of becoming involved in my local community, however the remoteness and ease of access to a practice space made it difficult, and I wasn’t as involved in the community as I had hoped to be my first year in JET.
Come year two, and my neighbor Andrew, another ALT in Kumakogen, had gotten word that there was a Kendo Club at Kuma Junior High School. Curious about what Kendo was, together we agreed to ask our Superintendent if it would be possible to join for Kendo practice once a week. I’ve had a passion for Japanese culture ever since I was a kid watching godzilla movies on my Dad’s lap at 6 years old. The images of samurai, ninjas, and elegant fighters is a hallmark of what foreigners consider a part of Japanese popular culture. So naturally, having a chance to join a club dedicated to learning how to use a sword seemed super cool.
Kendo is the art of learning to use a sword, or a japanese Katana. After joining the Kendo club, our Sensei, Teacher Kan, adopted us as his students. He has been teaching the art of Kendo for over 20 years and has, in his stay, led the students of Kuma Junior high to some of the highest levels of competition in Shikoku and recently, came in first place for the girls team. At the time, when I had joined, Kan Sensei assigned Andrew and I as sprawling partners. We received our own hakama robes, Shinai bamboo swords, and even got to practice forms using real katanas!
Participating in the Ehime Martial Arts Showcase
After a few months of practicing once a week, the Kuma BOE superintendent got word of a Ehime Prefectural Martial Arts Showcase and Practice event being held in January at the Ehime Prefecture Budokan. Andrew and I asked if we could attend but the superintendent informed us that foreigners had never really participated in it before, and would have to check and see if we were even allowed to go. Come a week later, and we received approval to not only observe the match but to also participate in it!
On a cold Saturday in January, we ventured to the Budokan early in the morning and met up with Teacher Kan. He led us inside to our seats, where over the course of a few hours, we witnessed martial arts displays of different art forms: kendo, judo, sumo, aikido, kyudo (archery), Karate, Ninjitsu, and other art forms. It was a super incredible experience, something of which I’ve never seen before in my life. Masters of different martial arts, some of whom dedicated more than half their life to a single martial art were displaying their masterful techniques before our very eyes. To top it off, after a short lunch break, Teacher Kan told us to prepare our uniforms!
Nervous, Andrew and I had no idea what we would be walking into. We ended up on the floor of the Budokan, sprawling and training with these grandmasters of Kendo ourselves. It was a free-for-all, all out, battle of who could make the first strike against their opponent, and both of us failed grandly at landing a single hit on the masters themselves.
If Andrew and I had never asked our Superintendent whether we could go, we likely never would have been able to see and experience these art forms up close and personal while on our stay in JET.
To this day, I am grateful to have experienced such an amazing sport and have had the opportunity to learn first hand from Kendo masters. As for now, I’m not as involved in Kendo anymore, since it took place at Andrew’s school, and the team has been on recess for the summer. However I may consider joining again this year, assuming I have the free time to be able to.