By Katie Marx,Kate Sylvester
Photos by David Weng
The first half of 2011 has seen a new event in Antipodean Kendo – a seminar and taikai held exclusively for women. Over a hot weekend in February, women kendoka from across Australia and New Zealand came to Sydney to attend the inaugural Oceanic Womens’ Seminar and Taikai, presided over by two Japanese female sensei.
Why was this event important? In part, it has much to do with certain numbers:
There are a high number of women training in Japan, approximately 110, 000 are registered with the AJKF (AJKF, 2008), totalling 24% of all registered kenshi in Japan. However, there are very few women in executive and teaching positions. There are presently no 8th dan female senseis, and the traditional focus on hierarchy means that the international kendo community currently has only very limited access to female sensei as rolemodels outside of Japan. This may explain the following (2010 collected) statistics: In Australia 22% of registered kenshi are female, 15 % of dan holders are female. This ratio is not unique, statistics from Canada (17%, 13%) and Italy (16%, 11%) are similar.
Although kendo in general is equally encouraged to men and women outside of Japan, the style of kendo that is practised can be problematic. Kendo styles outside of Japan often over-emphasise physical strength, a fact that can marginalise and discourage women from long term involvement in kendo. In addition, many women have responded to this power-centric model by shaping their kendo to an oji waza style of kendo, which can in turn also influence a counter attacking, passive aggressive style, rather than an shikake waza (assertive, creative) style. In Japan a balanced style of kendo is practiced by women which can reflect physical aggression (not mistaken for the over use of power), assertion, precision, timing, intuition and use of aiki and skill. The above points present a good argument for the necessity for female sensei to teach seminars and provide a source of inspiration and support for non-Japanese female kenshi.
Participants were enormously lucky to benefit from the teachings of two highly respected senseis from Japan, Kanzaki Satoko Sensei, Kendo Kyoshi 7 Dan and Abe Tokiko Sensei, Kendo 6 Dan. Kanzaki Sensei dan and Abe Sensei dan are both graduates from the famous Tsukuba University. Kanzaki Sensei’s husband (Mr Kanzaki Sensei) is the well known 8 Dan sensei instructing Kendo at Osaka Taiiku Daigaku and was the 2009 WKC All Japan Women’s Team Coach. Both female senseis brought experience, humour and huge passion to the seminar.
In teaching, they focused on the concept of aiki – connection. This focus was apparent right from the beginning of day one, with Abe-sensei leading paired warm exercises that simultaneously prepared the body and spirit. In working with a partner, and connecting with a partner, even in warm ups, participants were able to understand the importance of aiki when it comes to improving one’s kendo. The potential for improvement through an aiki focus was driven home when participants put on full bogu and engaged in waza practise. From connection, a kendoka can develop timing. With timing comes a precision and effectiveness that strength and power cannot achieve. Many women kenshi lack physical strength or power. Many others (male and female alike) will find their physical powers diminishing as they age. In this sense, a focus on aiki and timing is crucial for any kenshi with long-term aims in kendo.
The seminar was punctuated by an Australia vs New Zealand team shiai. Although - for 2011 at least Australia proved the victors, both teams played with an intensity and sense of connection that did the seminar’s teachings credit. A kyu-grade specific taikai followed, the importance of which is again is again demonstrated in statistics: 22% of registered Australian kenshi are women, but when we narrow the pool to dan-holders, women have only 15% representation. This suggests that women experience a higher rate of drop-off while moving up through the kyu-grades and into dan than men. Consequently, there is a need to support female kyu and low dan players, both in shiai and beyond. For many participants, the kyu taikai constituted their first formal shiai experience – one more first in a weekend of many.
The seminar and taikai held many new experiences for Oceanic women’s kendo, and it is hoped by all who attended that this will be the first of many events to come. The teachings imparted by Kanzaki sensei and Abe sensei were unique, and the chance to meet and train with other women kendoka, invaluable. In total, 47 women came and took part. They will in turn will pass their experiences on to fellow kenshi - male and female alike. The 2012 Oceanic Women’s Seminar and Taikai with be held in Melbourne.