Beginning his martial arts journey in Germany in 1957 with Judo, Walther von Krenner spent the next sixty years training in various martial arts, from aikido to kendo. Today, Krenner took some time to talk about his kendo training, which started with Hiroji Miyahara, his son, Maki, and the famous Torao Mori. All images provided by Walther von Krenner.
Martial Arts of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: Thank you for returning to talk once more, Walther von Krenner Sensei!
Walther von Krenner: Thank you for inviting me and I’m happy to answer your questions the best that I can!
MAYTT: As stated in your previous interview, you arrived in Los Angeles in 1960 to continue your judo training under Harold Sharp. It was also around this time that you took kendo. What drew you to kendo at that time? Did you find any parallel between kendo and judo?
MAYTT: From my research, kendo has strong ties to its Japanese heritage, making it popular among Japanese Americans and other Asian ethnicities. From your memory, what were the demographics of the average kendo practice session? Were there more Asian Americans than White or Black Americans, or given the diversity of the Los Angeles area, was it a mix of different ethnicities and cultures?
WK: If my memory serves me correctly, I would say that eighty percent of kendoka were Japanese at that time, or at least in that dojo. We gaijin [foreigners] got the feeling that we were not particularly welcome, or at least not part of the family. They struck me as very cliquish. But perhaps as a novice student, I had not earned my welcome yet.
MAYTT: I see. When you began your kendo training, Tarao Mori and Maki Miyahara, two influential practitioners in California kendo. Could you tell me a little bit more about that experience?
WK: Actually, I started kendo with Maki Miyahara’s father, Hiroji, in his Pasadena Dojo. He must have been around sixty-five or seventy and I was in my early twenties, so he seemed very old to me. Maki was probably forty years old then. Hiroji Sensei was teaching once a week and the training was very hard in the basic stage.
We moved a little later to a dojo in Los Angeles, close to the part of town we called Little Tokyo. Hiroji Sensei did not teach there anymore, and Maki Miyahara took a more active part. Torao Mori showed up occasionally for a class but was not a regular instructor. He was very active in teaching and coaching Western fencing as far as I remember. Dr. Warner, a gaijin kendoka with one leg (!) came to visit a time or two while I was there. Mori Sensei was a judge at a few tournaments I was in, and I think he was the highest ranking at that time.
MAYTT: Additionally, you studied iaido under the two aforementioned instructors. How much emphasis did they place on iaido training compared to kendo? Was kendo seen as the primary art, whereas iaido was the secondary art?
WK: Iaido was not part of the regular teaching schedule of the kendo dojo. It was a personal choice and seemed related but apart. Don Angier and I practiced a lot of iai and live sword waza together and did a few demonstrations at the Token Kai and other places. In those days, we watched a lot of Japanese chambara samurai movies and got inspired.
MAYTT: How exciting! What was the most influential lesson Mori and Miyahara taught you that carried the most weight and impact on your kendo training?
WK: Nothing in particular I remember, except I was impressed and inspired with Mori Sensei’s sword demonstrations.
MAYTT: In 1967, you took your first trip to Japan to study at Aikikai Hombu Dojo. While you were there in the country, did you consider training kendo simultaneously? Would it have been possible?
WK: Yes, it would have been possible, but by this time I was totally focused on aikido and I had lost interest in kendo. However, my interest in sword continued both as a collector and practitioner.
MAYTT: With aikido having some focus on the sword in its training, how did your time in kendo assist in your learning of aiki ken? Were there any similarities between the two arts regarding the sword or were the two arts like night and day to each other?
WK: I must say that kendo and sword training did influence my aikido in a positive way. There is a certain focus on attacks in kendo that most aikido uke have totally missing. Plus, the proper understanding of sword work does greatly improve your tegatana in aikido.
MAYTT: Final question. There is a saying that a great swordsman shows himself in the quality of his skill with a brush. How have you seen kendo’s influence on your shodo and sumi-e?
WK: Absolutely, good brush work needs focus and power and both arts are related in this aspect as strange as it may seem to a non-practitioner.
In parting, I would like to say that those events in my life were sixty years ago and I might have forgotten or not remembered names and occasions correctly and that the statements I made are and were my opinion only. I would like to thank Antonio Aloia for this interview.
MAYTT: Thank you for taking us through your kendo journey, Krenner Sensei!
WK: It was my pleasure.