Four Strikes with Hawaiian Kenshi Jack Yamada: The Kenshikan

Jack Yamada began training kendo under his father, Katsumi Yamada, at a young age. His father headed the Kenshikan Dojo for two decades before passing the position to Garrett Matsumoto. Today, Jack Yamada talks about some of the history of Kenshikan and his father. All images provided by Jack Yamada.

Martial Arts of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: Welcome Yamada Sensei! Thank you for taking the time to partake in a quick interview!

Jack Yamada: It is a pleasure being here!

MAYTT: Your father, Katsumi Yamada, was the Chief Instructor of Kenshikan Dojo before the current Garrett Matsumoto. Could you tell me more about your father and how he assumed the role of Chief Instructor? In your opinion, how did he help disseminate and solidify kendo in Hawaii?

JY: My father started kendo in Japan when he was an elementary student. He quit for a while and started again when I was born. He always supported the late Shigeo Yoshinaga which built a big trust and loyalty. Shigeo Yoshinaga retired and passed the chief instructor position to my father which he was a chief instructor for more than twenty years. I was in Japan for almost twenty years and I wasn’t around the dojo for a long time, but I did visit and practice at Kenshikan once a year when I visited Hawaii. At that time, I noticed my father always gave a straight answer, scolded people with the right and wrong, never chose favorite people, and was always fair to EVERYONE and he just did his best to make everyone feel comfortable in the dojo. Many students and teachers stayed with Kenshikan because I think my dad was fair to all. The other instructors really did support him every time. Garrett Matsumoto really helped him and was very loyal, which my father chose him as the next chief instructor.

Jack Yamada passing his rokudan test while in Japan.

MAYTT: I see. Before your father was Chief Instructor, Shigeo Yoshinaga held the position, who was also the founder of Kenshikan. How did Yoshinaga come to found Kenshikan and what do you feel was his lasting impact on Hawaiian kendo?

JY: Mr. Kenshiro Otsuka was the person that donated a lot of money to build Kenshikan. I believe Mr. Otsuka and Yoshinaga Sensei were friends. Before Kenshikan, we practiced at YBA (now PBA) at Nuuanu. Yoshinaga Sensei’s strong impact was having the students practice Nihon Kendo Kata, which is a requirement for the exams. In Japan, I hardly practice the Nihon Kendo Kata unless my exam was near. Regardless of the exams, Yoshinaga Sensei always had the students do Nihon Kendo Kata.

MAYTT: Throughout my research, I have found that practitioners in kendo have many family members training in the art, spanning over a few generations to the present day. Why do you think kendo has that type of familial connection within its practitioners? Would this be tied to Japanese culture and tradition or is it something else that kendo draws families in?

JY: Kendo is Budo, meaning bushido. The Kanji means bu (Samurai), do (Road or Path) which teaches you loyalty, respect, fairness, honesty, and makes your heart and mind strong by bearing with things and many more. I think most people do kendo because they like the samurai culture with all the swords and equipment, etc. I am not really sure why many families are involved but for myself, I was forced to do kendo. As well as my sister, which she quit many years ago. When I was a child, I hated kendo so much. I’d rather be playing with my friends but, my father NEVER allowed that. Even if I had a cold, sick, flu, he made me go to practice.

MAYTT: Final question. Hawaii is a hub for prominent kenshi and pioneers. Who, in your opinion, was instrumental in pioneering and solidifying kendo in the Aloha State? What set these individuals apart from their contemporaries?

JY: I think the board of Hawaii Kendo Federation (HKF) and the HKF president really made what the HKF is now. We are very friendly to guests that are from other islands, mainland, and international which they always come back every year.

MAYTT: Thank you again for offering some insight into Kenshikan’s history!

JY: Thank you for having me!

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