Shigeshi Takei began training kendo while in middle school, later meeting Michihiro Nakashima through the late Atsushi Hori, and the two founded Studio City Kendo Dojo. Today, Takei spent some time today discussing his kendo journey. Special thanks to Carolyn Yatomi for proctoring this interview.
Martial Arts of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: Hello and welcome Takei Sensei! Thank you for joining us today.
Shigeshi Takei: I look forward to your questions.
MAYTT: How did you find yourself first starting kendo? What made you continue your journey and does that facet still motivate you today?
ST: When I was a junior high student, I decided to join the kendo club because of its refined style. I continued to find myself as a Japanese person.
MAYTT: How have you seen kendo training evolve and change since you began practicing the art? Would these changes be for the betterment of the art; how so?
ST: Through sweat, tears, and pain, I learned to overcome my weaknesses. Then, I did not know kendo as an art. Kendo purpose was found in competition and to be strong.
MAYTT: How did you and Michihiro Nakashima come together and establish your Studio City Kendo Dojo? What factors influenced both of your decisions and what goals were you trying to achieve when you first began?
ST: The late Atsushi Hori Sensei, who was one of Long Beach Kendo Dojo’s top sensei, introduced me to Nakashima Sensei. Hori Sensei asked me to help Nakashima Sensei to establish Studio City Kendo Dojo. Our goal was to spread kendo in the Studio City area.
MAYTT: When you assumed the role of instructor, how did that experience change your perspective on kendo? Did you find that there were some habits that needed to be fixed and strengthened?
ST: Nakashima Sensei was a captain at his college kendo club. There was severe discipline in the club. As a member of the club, you must obey seniors no matter what. Nakashima Sensei did not like it that way. I agreed with him. Instead of ordering students around, we decided to explain and persuade students. We want students to enjoy kendo practice and to continue.
MAYTT: Who would you consider to be a pioneer of kendo in Southern California, both past and present? What sets these individuals apart from the rest of their contemporaries?
ST: I do not know who started kendo in Southern California first. I believe they were famous yet unknown sensei from the past who were the pioneers.
MAYTT: To many observers, kendo is not as popular as other Japanese martial arts like judo or karate. Why do you think the art is not as popular with most of the population and have there been programs or plans, within both Studio City Kendo Dojo and the Southern California Kendo Organization, to remedy the situation, barring the current situation?
ST: Observers cannot know how to judge a match, win or lose. New observers may feel that the hitting and shouting are too violent. Many people like kata. Karate has kata competition. Maybe kendo can have kata competition, then these people may become interested in kendo much later.
MAYTT: Many schools, manuals, and practitioners emphasize kendo’s purpose for self-betterment; however, it utilizes matches, and to a further extent, competition to reach such a goal. In your opinion, how does kendo and its community keep the balance between self-betterment and competition in its training? If kendo becomes competition-centered, how will that change the art; would it be considered kendo at that point?
ST: We cannot deny young people want to compete. Senior kendoists enjoy “ko ken chi ai” or “making friendship with fighting.” There is a process of learning the basics of practice by doing them over and over again, developing techniques, and using all you learned through competition to finally enjoy kendo practice.
MAYTT: With everything that is currently happening in the world in regard to the pandemic, what do you think kendo’s future will look like? Will there be a resurgence of practitioners, or will there be a further decline in numbers? How will the art adapt to these constant changes?
ST: I believe no matter if a pandemic happens again, kendo practice will never change as long as we have kendo lovers who will promote kendo. Even during World War II, when the United States banned kendo, many kendoists started practicing kendo. Everything depends on people’s passion. If we do not have those people, eventually numbers will decline.
MAYTT: Thank you again for discussing kendo with us!
ST: Thank you for having me.