Interview with Mushinkan Dojo Founder Mark Uchida: Training with Giants, Part II

Mark Uchida first saw Chūshingura when he was a child and was immediately hooked on Japanese swordsmanship. Unfortunately, he never really found a place to train until 1973. From there, he dived deeply into both kendo and iaido, which he started learning a year after kendo. He would later become the first head of the All United States Kendo Federation’s Iaido Development Committee, setting the groundwork for many within iaido in the United States. Additionally, he established his Mushinkan Dojo in different forms since 1985 and has had extensive experience training in Japan with some of the top kendo and iaido practitioners of the time, including Tadanori Ota and Katsuo Oda. All images provided by Mark Uchida, except when noted. This is the second part of a two part interview. Read the first part here.

MAYTT: How would you describe your kendo training when you first began, and later iaido practice? How have you seen both kendo and iaido training change and evolve since then? Would these evolutions be considered beneficial to modern kendo?

Mark Uchida inspecting a priest’s sword collection while Uchida was in Japan.

MU: My kendō training was a rollercoaster, going from excitement and hardly being able to wait for the next practice to the opposite extreme of bewilderment and hatred of practice. My iaidō training had some ups and downs too, but mostly ups.

When I first began kendō, it was so much fun. I had looked so long for a teacher that I was in absolute heaven to finally be practicing. I lived and breathed kendō every day. The only thing I didn’t like was sharing the school’s sweaty, stinky, ill-fitting equipment.

My kendō quickly progressed, and the few who were senior to me were senior by age and not ability. It was at that point that I got caught in the middle of politics when the two teachers split, and both claimed me as their top student. I’ve been repeatedly forced into the mire of budō politics ever since. It’s the nature of the beast, I guess, but I hate it, nevertheless. It is something that is unavoidable the higher up the pecking order you go, but it has made me yearn for the days when I was just a student.

My iaidō started a little over a year after beginning kendō, and I approached it with the same level of excitement, but the split I mentioned put my iaidō training on hold until I moved to Los Angeles, California, and started learning both kendō and iaidō from Yamaguchi Takeshi Sensei.

Living in LA was fun. There were so many kendō schools that I would go to a different one every night. During the summer, there was a tournament every month. I was also so low in the pecking order that I was out from under the politics. It was heaven.

In 1979, I traveled to Japan and attended the international kendō camp in Saitama, Japan. There, I met Reverend Shunshin Kan, a pastor of the Buddhist Church of New York and a high-ranking kendō and iaidō practitioner. One day while conversing with Kan Sensei, I mentioned that it was my dream to train at Keishichō. Unknown to me at the time, Kan Sensei was friends with Onuma Hiroshi, the assistant director of the Keishichō kendō program and one of the camp instructors. Kan Sensei introduced me to Onuma Sensei who interviewed me and subsequently sponsored me to train at Keishichō. When I first arrived at Keishichō, I really didn’t know what to expect, but I was thrilled to be there. Thrill turned to pure hell. I was only the second foreigner allowed to train extensively at Keishichō, so my presence there was probably viewed as an intrusion on sacred ground. What made it worse was I didn’t speak much Japanese. For the first three months, practice was severe. I was hit so hard, the men-gane (metal face grill) of my headgear broke and I had to buy a new headgear. I managed to persevere through the months of beatings. Eventually the practices became less hostile, but no less intense. Practices were so harsh, I came to hate training and I didn’t know if I could continue, but I persevered because I couldn’t let Kan Sensei and Onuma Sensei lose face because of me. Years later, Ōta Sensei would tell me that the most intense training ever conducted at Keishichō occurred during the time I was there.

I had a three-month winter break from Keishichō when I went to live with my future in-laws in Nagano-ken. While there, I practiced at Suwa Shōbu-kan dōjō. To get to practice, I would ride a bicycle eight kilometers through slush and ice-covered roads. The dōjō was packed every practice. Genbe Sensei, an elder of the dōjō and the village, told my future mother-in-law that my coming to Shōbu-kan was one of the best things that ever happened to the school. He said that typical practices weren’t all that crowded, but after my arrival, word spread that an American was coming to the dōjō and routing everyone. This motivated all of their students, especially their higher-ranking members, to start showing up regularly so they could challenge me. I eventually became an honorary member. After receiving my 6th dan many years later, I was granted the privilege of wearing on my breastplate the Chiri-zakura (falling cherry blossom) crest that is reserved for members of dōjō affiliated with the great Nakayama Hakudō. The time in Suwa and at Shōbu-kan were enlightening with so many good experiences. I returned to Keishichō rejuvenated.

While at Shōbu-kan, I was invited to practice iaidō. They prided themselves on their lineage with Nakayama Hakudō, founder of Musō Shinden-ryū, but I chose to focus on my kendo. Truth be told, the iaidō instructor at the time did not take too kindly to me because I was a foreigner with a Japanese face. I experienced this kind of prejudice often during my time in Japan. Needless to say, I waited to resume my iaidō until my return to Tōkyō.

At some point in my training at Keishichō, Kubo Sensei started tutoring me in iaidō after the morning kendō practice. Later, Kubo Sensei introduced me to Taki Sensei who taught iaidō at the Honbu Keisatsu (police headquarters). To my surprise, Tanaya Masami Sensei, a legendary kendō and iaidō teacher, also taught at the Honbu Keisatsu. I had had the most memorable kendō practice of my life with Tanaya Sensei about two years earlier when he visited the US, so finding myself learning iaidō from him was beyond my wildest dreams.

Since my beginning years, I have seen both kendō and iaidō training in the US change to a competitive focus. Emphasis is no longer on refinement of skills and learning and applying the philosophies, but instead stress techniques to score points and mechanically perfect forms with no regard for function and essence. I feel this is taking kendō and iaidō backward and I fear that the younger generation that will soon be rising to instructor positions will lack the foundations of proper kendō or iaidō necessary to instruct others and pass on the arts. Without experiencing correct training that sets the foundations to know what to teach and how to teach, the arts are going to become nothing more than sport.

MAYTT: It does sound like a rollercoaster of training opportunities! When did you establish your Mushinkan Dojo? What factors influenced your decision to set up a kendo and iaido school?

MU: This is a long story, even in its shortest form. I consider Mushinkan’s establishment as starting when I founded the kendō program at the United States Air Force Academy, although the name Mushinkan was not applied until I moved the program outside the Academy.

It all started when I was selected to be a member of Team USA for the 6th WKC in Paris, France. I had a rather disappointing showing at the 5th WKC in Sao Paulo, Brazil, so I asked Onuma Hiroshi Sensei, my sponsor at Keichichō, if he could come to Colorado to prepare me for the competition. Onuma Sensei had to decline my request, as he was the coach for the Japanese team and could not spare the time. Instead, he said he would pick someone to come in his place. To my absolute delight, Onuma Sensei selected Ōta Tadanori. When I first started training at Keishichō, Ōta Sensei’s kendō struck me as the most beautiful kendō I have ever seen. Even to this day, the beauty of his kendō is unmatched. What also struck me about Ōta Sensei was his character; a perfect gentleman in every respect. After much negotiation with the US and Japan kendō federations, and cutting of Keishichō red tape, arrangements were finalized for Ōta Sensei to come train me, after which he would travel with Team USA to Paris as an honorary coach.

Uchida training during one of Katsuo Oda’s seminars. Source: Darryl Woods.

Shortly after making all the arrangements to bring Ōta Sensei to the US, I became aware of a situation that conflicted with my moral compass, and I made the decision to decline my spot on the US team. Although keeping a clear conscience, I was now left with the dilemma of Ōta Sensei coming to the US on the premise of training me for the world championship. As it just so happened, prior to all this, a new student, an Air Force Academy cadet, had joined the Denver Buddhist Temple Kendō Club where I was teaching. This cadet had asked me several times if I would be interested in teaching at the Academy. Not sure how practical it would be to drive 120 miles round trip to teach for two hours twice a week, I left the opportunity open without committing one way or the other. My dilemma got me thinking more seriously about this opportunity. I factored in that I used to cover a lot more miles going to different dōjō every night when I was going to school in Los Angeles, and that the drive from Denver to Colorado Springs was scenic and rather enjoyable – at least it was back then. There was also some turmoil going on in the dōjō I was practicing at, but this will be covered later. I made the decision and made the pitch. Japan accepted this proposition without hesitation; a Keishichō teacher coming to start a kendō program at the prestigious United States Air Force Academy. Ōta Sensei got us started in March 1985, and I taught there until April 1997.

The Academy allowed outside participation in the kendō club at, I believe it was, a 3:1 ratio – three cadets per one outside member. When the outside interest grew larger than the cadet enrollment, I had to move the school outside the Academy, at which time my wife named the school Mushinkan. I think it was 2009 when I stepped back into a role as mentor/advisor and turned the school over to my senior student. Taking the Mushinkan name with me, the school was renamed Colorado Springs Kendō Kai. The “why” to all this is that after my Iraq deployment, I was hired for a job that required shift work. I would finish a twelve-hour day shift, drive ninety minutes to practice, teach for two hours, drive another ninety minutes back home, go to sleep, then wake up at 4:00 a.m. to go to work again. Of course, when I worked nights, I had to rely on my wife, who is fourth dan, and senior students to take over. I did this for three years, sunshine or snow. During this time, I turned fifty and my body and brain finally told me that enough was enough.

I hate to say, but iaidō was more of an appendix to my kendō up until my military mobilization when I used iaidō to prepare myself. I didn’t keep very good records of the early years of Mushinkan Colorado Springs and my memory is fading with my age. I did start an iaidō class at an aikido studio prior to closing the kendō program at the Air Force Academy. Before I ended the Academy program, a friend of mine invited us to use his karate studio as our new home. I moved both kendō and iaidō classes there. Sometime after hosting the 1997 national kendō and iaidō summer camps, we had to move to a new facility, and somewhere thereafter Mushinkan iaidō was put on hold. As mentioned, I stopped teaching in Colorado Springs around 2009. I continued training by myself, supported by Oda Sensei’s annual visits, but at this time Mushinkan existed in name only, as I was not conducting any organized classes. Instead, I was practicing at a kendō school in a Denver suburb and acted as a guest instructor. In early 2010, I made some home improvements that included the addition of a room specifically for my personal practice. Finding proper facilities, their availability, and affordability are probably the largest hurdles to establishing a school. Now that I had my very own practice space, and my shift work days having ended the previous year, I started pondering the idea of starting an iaidō class. In March 2011, I gave an iaidō demonstration at a Japanese Hinamatsuri Festival, after which I was approached by one of the spectators asking if I would take him in as a student. It was the last little push needed to get me off the fence. After some consideration, on June 17, 2011, I opened Mushinkan iaidō with a student enrollment of two.

In 2015, the instructor at the school where I was practicing kendō turned leadership of the school over to one of his students and then left. Five of the students subsequently came to me and asked me to teach them at my studio. I agreed. On July 12, 2015, Mushinkan Denver held its first kendō class.

MAYTT: Also, when did you first begin teaching and what was that experience like? How did that new role and responsibility affect your perspective on kendo and iaido, if at all?

MU: To tell you the truth, I really don’t remember much that was positive about my first teaching experience, but it started soon after returning to Denver and rejoining my first teacher, Yamamoto Sensei. It had been four years since I first left to go to school in Los Angeles and I was looking forward to returning. After a short time back, Yamamoto Sensei wanted me to share what I had learned in Japan and started having me lead the class. I had no desire for the responsibility, but I couldn’t refuse. The thing I do remember is students constantly questioning my instruction and wanting an explanation for nearly everything. This was perhaps partially due to my being younger than most of the students, or maybe because much of what I tried to pass along was completely foreign to them. However, I came to conclude that the largest factor was Westerners’ need to know details and understand the rationale behind everything. My iaidō teacher Oda Katsuo told me he experienced the same thing teaching in Europe. Being an American, I am not that much different, but when I was in Japan, my being language challenged put me in a place where I had no choice but to learn the Japanese way – you do what you are told, copy what you see, and understand the meaning of signals like being swatted across the back of the legs as you followed through a strike.

After a time, Yamamoto Sensei turned the school over to me so he could go into semi-retirement; at least that’s what he said. This was the farthest thing from what I wanted. I knew that even with all I had gained from my training at Keishichō, I still needed a teacher if I expected to advance further. After one practice, I had a private conversation with Yamamoto Sensei to explain this, but I ended up taking over the class anyway. I won’t go into details, but eventually Yamamoto Sensei started doing things to undermine my authority. Eventually, it got to a point where it was no longer tolerable. It was at this point that things happened; my arranging for Ota Sensei to come to the US, my resignation from Team USA, and the opportunity to teach at the Air Force Academy all fell into place. I would later come to find that my situation with Yamamoto Sensei is not that uncommon between teachers and students who train elsewhere and later return to their home dōjō.

The Air Force Academy being a more hospitable place to teach and under my sole control, I found myself with a huge responsibility. I don’t think people who strive to be teachers, or even the people who are in teaching roles currently, really understand what a responsibility and obligation it is. Especially in my case where I was the only instructor of a government sponsored program sixty miles from where I lived. I also had the additional challenge of cadets sometimes having military duties in the evenings. I would occasionally travel the sixty miles to find only one or two students, but I took the obligation and responsibility seriously. I set a motto for myself: Even if there is only one student there to learn, I will be there to teach.

Although I miss the days where I was nothing more than a student, the experience has brought tremendous gratification. Teaching is to touch a life. I have had students, some no longer practicing and others currently practicing elsewhere, contact me decades later just to say hi and to tell me how much the experience of learning from me has meant to them. I have had two students tell me that I have changed their lives, turning them away from dropping out of school to motivating them to become college graduates. So, my experience may not have directly changed my perspective of kendō and iaidō, but it has changed my perspective of how they are taught.

Uchida (left) paired with Tadanori Ota (right) in Taos, New Mexico, August 2019; this was his last trip to the United States.

MAYTT: According to the Mushinkan Dojo website, you and the school share a lineage with both Tadanori Ota and Katsuo Oda, two influential practitioners in kendo and iaido respectively. Could you tell us more about them and how they inspired you and your training in both kendo and iaido?

MU: I’ve already explained how the connection between Mushinkan and Ōta Sensei came about, but all the ways he has influenced and inspired me? It’s difficult to know where to start. He is much more than just my teacher and dōjō mentor; he is a member of my family. He is a close friend and father figure to me and my wife, and my daughters consider him their third grandfather. We all address him as O’Sensei. This name came from my daughter Jennifer when she was about three years old and spoke in toddler. Instead of saying Ōta, she shortened it to just O’. The name stuck. After Oda Katsuo Sensei came into our lives, the nickname became useful in keeping conversations clear about which teacher was being referred to.

In kendō, Ōta Sensei’s form is always impeccable and his movements graceful with nothing wasted. What also captured me was his modest, gentle character. When Ōta Sensei first visited Los Angeles as part of the blood-deal I had to make to bring him to the United States, one California teacher commented: “Kendō like that hasn’t been seen since the days of Mori Sensei.” As I mentioned earlier, Mori Torao was one of the great pioneers and legends of kendō in the United States. I remember one day at Keishicho, the Saitama Police kendō team came to practice. One of the Saitama members faced Ōta Sensei in jodan-no-kamae, the guard posture where the sword is held overhead. To this day, I have never seen anything like that match. The fluidity, form, and timing of Ōta Sensei’s parries and counter strikes were pure artistry. Just watching him and trying to copy his form changed my kendō immensely. Thirty-five years later, during free practice at the All Japan Dōjō Federation training camp I attended in preparation for my kendō seventh dan exam, I watched students who were challenging for eighth dan practice with Ōta Sensei. It was breathtaking and beyond words. Ōta Sensei was seventy-four and some of the eighth-dan challengers were more than twenty years younger, yet none could touch him. I recently watched a YouTube video of Ōta Sensei’s match at the 62nd Tokyo Kendō Festival held in April 2022. At age eighty-two, his kendō looks as sharp as ever. He once told me that achieving a rank comes with an obligation to continue to progress forward and never go backward – the higher the rank, the greater the obligation. I remind myself of this before every practice.

In contrast to Ōta Sensei, Oda Katsuo had a rather unsophisticated character, but had a heart of pure gold. He was quite the personality outside of the dōjō, always making plays on words and cracking dad-jokes. He loved parties and being with people, and, to the detriment of his health, loved to drink. Even though my wife and I would watch him like a hawk and warn others of his health issues, whenever our backs were turned, he would always manage to coax people into giving him a “taste” of whatever was being served. Although nearly the exact opposite of Ōta Sensei, he and Ōta Sensei got along smashingly well.

Years before meeting Oda Sensei, Yamaguchi Sensei in LA came to me and told me that I needed to find one teacher, and to only follow that one teacher’s instruction. At the time, I didn’t quite understand what he was trying to say to me. What most people don’t know is that although he learned his basics from Mori Torao, Yamaguchi Sensei was largely self-taught. When he told me to find one teacher, I believe he was telling me that I had reached a point where he could teach me no more. His words to only follow that one teacher’s instruction was a warning that if I tried to learn from other teachers, my iaidō would never be more than a hodgepodge of this teacher and that teacher and I would never develop a solid foundation from which to blossom. This is the problem I see in practitioners in the US.

A few years later in 1992, we had the fortunate opportunity to host Oda Sensei’s teacher Haga Tadatoshi. Not only was I impressed with his iai, but Haga Sensei was the first teacher I had known to expound that kendō and iaidō were the same. Sure, there are obvious differences, but they are both disciplines of the katana and, therefore, they are fundamentally the same. After that, I had a clearer understanding of iaidō and kendō, and I knew Haga Sensei was the teacher I was looking for. Unfortunately, because of his age, that visit was one of Haga Sensei’s last trips abroad. Fast forward five years to 1997 and the first AUSKF Iaidō Summer Camp where Oda Sensei was one of the instructors. After being impressed by Oda Sensei’s iai, I learned that he was Haga Sensei’s number one student. The match must have been destiny because Oda Sensei took a liking to me and even gave me his practice sword, which I still have and use. And, yes, he taught the same philosophy that iaidō and kendō are one and the same.

Yoshitsugu “Pat” Murosako (left), Uchida (center), and Tom Bolling (right) at the 2012 US Iaido Summer Camp in Tacoma, WA.

In the dōjō, Oda Sensei had two personalities. When he was teaching at seminars or people who were not his students, he was always friendly and gentle, and would generally let people slide if they weren’t getting what he was trying to teach; however, the one thing he despised most was arrogance, and if he sensed even the slightest arrogance coming from a person, he would put them in their place or would have nothing to do with them. With his own students in Japan and with me, Oda Sensei was a very stern teacher. I don’t know what his teaching style was like when he taught in Europe, but when teaching me, his style was very much the Japanese method – do as he says without question, and if I didn’t get it right, I would be scolded to no end. There were visits where he changed the things that he had taught me on his previous visit. Confused at first, I quickly realized that I had achieved what he had taught before, and now he was taking me to the next level. That’s the way he taught, teaching me only what I needed to advance one step at a time, and leaving some things for me to figure out on my own. He could also be relentless in driving home a point. One time, we practiced just chiburi (movement to remove debris from the sword blade) hours into the night and almost into the next day. He did show his soft side once in a while and would throw in his quirky humor at just the right moments, but he expected me to give him one hundred percent effort one hundred percent of the time without exception. This along with his inspirational iai and endless wealth of knowledge propelled me to levels of success I never dreamed of achieving when I first started iaidō.

Oda Sensei passed away in April 2020. Nearly three years later, once in a while the thought still crosses my mind that we need to start planning his next visit – then I remember… I sure miss him.

MAYTT: Who do you feel was crucial and influential in their endeavors to spread and solidify kendo and iaido in the US? What made these individuals stand out from their contemporaries?

MU: In the history of kendō in the United States, beyond the early pioneers who established kendō here, I believe there is only one person of note, Jeff Marsten. There were many people instrumental in the formation of the All United States Kendō Federation, Jeff being one of them, but as its first president, Jeff made unprecedented advances in making the federation a true national organization. What set him apart?  First, he was a true organizational manager. Having been an engineer and manager at Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace corporation, he knew the ins and outs of successful global corporate operations, and he had the skills and experience to succeed in achieving such results. In fact, Jeff is the only real corporate manager the national organization has ever had amongst its leaders, past and present. Yes, there are some professionals on the board, lawyers, physicians, and such, but professional thinking has a narrow focus, and professional credentials do not equate to corporate management ability at any organizational level. Jeff understood the importance of time and resource management, accountability for results, having a corporate vision, transparent operations, guiding policies and procedures, etc. – and he implemented them all. He also knew how to manage people, and had the political savvy to bring people together, get them beyond personal differences to work together for a common goal. Above all, Jeff Marsten understood that the board of directors existed to serve the membership for the benefit of the membership. His leadership and personal conduct were always directed to that end and were an example that inspired people to follow. The results from his leadership were a period of unprecedented growth, both in terms of programs and membership. During his tenure as president, he also represented the US at the International Kendō Federation, bringing his corporate skills to use at the international level.

Others would argue that recognition needs to be given to more than just one individual, but from my being so deep in the politics and inner workings of American kendō and iaidō for so long, and being privy to thoughts abroad, I know these peoples’ true motivations and agendas, and truth behind their claimed accomplishments. This is why my list is limited to just one, the only person I feel whose actual efforts and results are deserving of this recognition.

MAYTT: I can see why you chose Marsten. 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?

MU: This is a hot topic of debate. Kendō matches, once a way to test one’s abilities outside actual duels, was advanced into competitions as a means to raise public appreciation of the art of kendō and popularize it so the art did not die along with the samurai class. Introduction of changes such as this to keep arts popular and pertinent to the times can be seen across all arts. I am grateful for this, otherwise there would be so much culture lost to the times. However, in such preservation efforts, it is necessary to carry forward the historical essence, especially for arts such as kendō and iaidō that would otherwise exist only as skeletal remains of what once was. It cannot be forgotten that kendō and iaidō are budō, military disciplines, with their own history, culture, and philosophies that influenced the shaping of an entire culture.

With that said, how to keep balance between self-discipline and competition is a daunting challenge. The Japan kendō federation has struggled with this for decades, trying to find ways to stress competition as a means to reinforce one’s practice, and dissuade practice for competition. Despite all efforts to fortify the concept that kendō and iaidō are budō, there is overwhelming attraction to the rewards and recognition of being competitive, and this in and of itself has influence.

The US federation has not had the same problem as Japan in finding balance, as the AUSKF has placed its full efforts into competitions and even has a VP of Competitions board position. If balance is to be restored, attitudes will need to be changed. But I believe changing attitudes is hopeless given the emphasis on competitions, and especially fielding a national team, coaches, and officials to the WKC, that the competition budget for one WKC was well over a quarter of a million dollars. In contrast, the budget for education that same year was a little over ten thousand dollars. Also, champions are elevated to national stardom, and people see their practice as a model for them to follow. Few recognize that winning does not equate to good, proper kendō, or iaidō.

To be honest, I became disheartened with kendō and iaidō years ago. Kendō videos have captured competitors getting away with intentionally falling to avoid being hit or to stop the match to get a rest break. One video captured a competitor flipping his opponent over his shoulder and only receiving a minor penalty. I have also heard firsthand accounts of violent tournament practices where methods aimed at injuring the opponent were encouraged. For iaidō, my disheartenment came after asking a prominent teacher a question regarding judging two practitioners, one who’s iai form was perfect, but had no essence and had a fixed gaze vs another who’s form was slightly less but projected the power and feeling of actually combating an attacker. He answered that the person with the perfect form should always be picked over the other. I followed with a question about the fixed gaze. His answer was that there was no regulation against it. I left it at that so not to be rude, but I so wanted to pull out the regulation manual and instruction guides that clearly detail the importance of proper gaze, projection of feeling and spirit, and iaidō that is “applicable as budō.”

I see the future as dim. The aforementioned plus hearing what is currently being taught in schools, workshops, and seminars all confirm my beliefs that kendō, outside the professional realm in Japan and a few outlier schools in the US, has become nothing more than a game of trickery and speed – “fighting with sticks,” as my mother described it; and iaidō nothing more than a performance of form without reason or essence – judged on the mistakes that are made and not the criteria that was established to gauge the whole of one’s iai.

It has been long debated if kendō – and you can throw iaidō in as well – is an art or a sport. I think the appropriate question to ask now is, can they ever be brought back into the realm of art?

MAYTT: Final question. With the Covid-19 pandemic seemingly receding here in the US, how do you foresee kendo and iaido recovering from this event? What do you think kendo and iaido will look like in a post-Covid society ten years in the future?

MU: I believe we will be dealing with Covid for many more years to come, but efforts to combat the illness within the United States has, and will in the future, be successful in mitigating its spread and symptoms. To keep students safe, leaders of kendō and iaidō will need to continue adjusting safety protocols accordingly. I do believe medical advances will get us to a point where life will return pretty much as it was before the pandemic, and precautions will be on the same level as those taken during the flu season.

Recovery should not be that much of an effort. Although the national and regional federation membership numbers are down, I speculate that the actual number of students enrolled at the dōjō level has not changed that much. In fact, if I were accepting new students, my dōjō would have grown during the thick of Covid in 2020-2021. With revival of support programs, membership numbers should begin to rise; however, numbers will probably not reflect the actual number of students enrolled in schools, as the pandemic has created a number of other avenues for students to obtain instruction and support without federation affiliation.

The only change I foresee in practice is the common, voluntary use of protective measures, such as masks and face shields. Given the difficulty in using such protection during hot weather, it would not surprise me if a more effective permeable barrier were invented that could be integrated into the kendō headgear that is an effective aerosol barrier but allows airflow and does not obstruct the vision or alter the traditional appearance of the equipment. Even if Covid is eradicated, I believe we will continue to see people wearing masks as a precautionary measure. Before, people would have thought it peculiar to see someone walking around wearing a mask. Nowadays, no one gives it a second thought. Kendō and iaidō will be no different.

MAYTT: Thank you again for joining us for this interesting and in-depth conversation!

MU: Thank you! This has been a true privilege!

This is the second part of a two part interview. Read the first part here.


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