The Iaido Journal  July 2011
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One-on-One with Makoto Adachi
(3rd dan, Kendo)
Part 1

copyright 2011 Douglas Tong, all rights reserved.

The following article is the first part of an interview with Makoto Adachi (3rd dan, kendo), who is a long-time kendo practitioner from Kobe, Japan. In this article, Mr. Adachi talks about his early experiences in kendo in Japan.

Author’s note: This interview was conducted in December 2010 in Mississauga, Canada. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Adachi when I was teaching at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario more than a decade ago. I also had the pleasure of doing some keiko with him once or twice and the lasting impression that stays with me from those intense sessions is that his kendo is very powerful. I also practiced some kendo when I was working in Japan at two different dojos and still continue to do some kendo now. So I have experienced a few different kendo styles, as he discussed. But Mr. Adachi’s kendo is the most power-based kendo I have experienced. I was impressed and a little intimidated at the same time. So, while Mr. Adachi is not a high-ranking practitioner or teacher of kendo, I thought his unique view of kendo, based upon his early experiences with his grandfather, his experiences in his formative years (he trained at Kokushikan University Kendo Club- the top ranked university kendo club in Japan), and the various police kendo dojos he practiced in, would be fascinating for our readers to learn about.

Part 1: Early Days in Kendo

Question: How did you get into kendo?
Adachi: I fought with my brothers a lot so we were punished by having to do kendo. So at first, it was a punishment from my grandfather.

Question: Why your grandfather? Was he living with you?
Adachi: Yes. In the same house.

Question: So where was the dojo?
Adachi: In Kamakura.

Question: Kamakura?
Adachi: Yes, we lived originally in Kamakura, in Hayama, which is a small bedroom community of Kamakura. It’s a quiet, rural area of Kanagawa Prefecture where the Emperor has his villa, his summer villa. It’s called “Hayama go-yōtei”.

Question: Whose dojo was this?
Adachi: It was my grandfather’s.

Question: Does it have a name?
Adachi: No. It’s a private house. It has no name.

Question: So the dojo is where?
Adachi: It’s attached to the house.

Question: Is it a small dojo?
Adachi: Yes, very small.

Question: What do you remember about the dojo?
Adachi: It was cold in winter. Hot in summer. Lots of vomit.

Question: Lots of vomit?
Adachi: Yes. When you do hard keiko, you sometimes vomit.

Question: So, you got into kendo as a punishment?
Adachi: Yes. He brought me and my brothers into the dojo. He would hit us with the shinai. So to protect myself, I picked up a shinai. As I got older, I learned how to use it. First, it was more like a street fight, like sword fighting in the street. You know, like in samurai movies, everyone is in the street trying to kill each other?

Question: So what do you mean?
Adachi: No rules, no bogu. Just shinai, trying to kill each other. Like beating each other up. Sometimes it was bokutō, not shinai. So you can get broken bones. But if you break bones, you get punished. So you learn control, not to break bones. You learn to hit hard but you learn how to control the shinai. Try not to waste your power.

Question: Tell me about your grandfather.
Adachi: He was just watching us learning how to fight. And if he saw us doing wrong movements, he would stop us and tell us. So I fought with my brothers and after he would come to me and tell me, “You are wasting your power.” So that’s how I learned the basic movements. Rules came after. That’s the basic police kendo.

Question: Why do you mention police kendo?
Adachi: Why? Because that’s what every police officer will experience.

Question: Was your grandfather a policeman?
Adachi: Yes, he was. He was a bureaucrat in the Police Ministry.

Question: Ministry?
Adachi: Yes. He was a bureaucrat in the Ministry of Police Force, in Tokyo. He was a policy maker.
* If he was a policy-maker then he must have been a high-level bureaucrat in the National Police Agency, which is the central coordinating body for the entire police system in Japan. It is responsible for determining standards and policy. For more information on the Japanese Police system, see: Law enforcement in Japan

Question: So he practiced kendo?
Adachi: Yes.

Question: Police kendo?
Adachi: Yes. My grandfather sometimes brought me and my brothers to various kendo dojos for police officers, from the local level to the national level. He did this I guess so that we could experience different kinds of players, different kinds of strategies, different kinds of movements, different kinds of characteristics*.
* character traits, personalities.

Question: Can you explain more?
Adachi: OK. For example, some people are small and really fast. Some people are big and slow but very accurate. Some people are like from a textbook. I mean they are very exact. Other people are non-textbook style players, like street-fighting style.

Question: You mean, unorthodox?
Adachi: Yes, unorthodox. So there’s lots of different types of kendo players, so it depends where you’re from, who were your teachers, how you were taught, etc…

Question: So kendo is not uniform?
Adachi: Although Japanese kendo is now more organized or standardized, there’s still slight differences depending on your experiences in your younger times.

Question: How do you mean?
Adachi: In Japan, you would be taught different types of kendo styles by dojo, by school, etc…For example, for kendo in junior high school, high school, and university, they all have kendo clubs. So when you practice with them, you do their kendo style.

Question: So you learn many styles of kendo?
Adachi: Yes. But in principle, whether you will or will not be changed by those experiences depends on your character. If you feel that the kendo style where you belong is sweet to you, if it fits you, you want to practice more in that way. But if you feel that that particular style does not fit you and you want to do kendo in the way like you did in your younger days, well, some teachers would not allow you to do your previous style. But some would. It really depends on the teachers.

Question: OK. Are there any dojos from your youth that you remember vividly?
Adachi: Kokushikan. My university dojo. Kokushikan means “house for the people of the country”.
* Kokushikan University Men’s Kendo Club has won the All Japan University Kendo Championships a record 11 times and were runners-up 5-6 times. It is the top kendo institution in Japan.

Here are some interesting links to read up on this incomparably strong kendo club:
Kokushikan Men’s Kendo Club records greatest number of wins in All Japan University Kendo Championships
Forum discussion on Kokushikan Kendo Club
58th All Japan University Student Mens Kendo Championships

For more information about Kokushikan University, see: Kokushikan University

Question: Why do you remember this place?
Adachi: Because it was the roughest keiko ever.
* Kokushikan University Kendo Club also has a reputation for being the strongest and toughest kendo club in the country. Here’s an example: Kokushikan University kendo player kicked to death by his sempai

Question: Why?
Adachi: Well, it has been said that people from that university either become police officers, teachers, or yakuza.* It’s just a rumour… but then again….
(He raises his eyebrow.)
* Japanese mafia. For more information, see: Yakuza



Author’s post-script:

I thought what Mr. Adachi said about different styles of kendo was interesting. As a kid in Japan, he experienced many styles of kendo. As he said, in junior high school, you might encounter one style of kendo in that club. In high school, you will experience another type of kendo and in university, still another brand of kendo. And students in junior high or high school or university may also belong to a local private kendo club unaffiliated with their school, which would teach their own style of kendo. I know this from personal experience because the kendo clubs which I studied at in Japan all had students of varying ages in their evening classes. So contrary to popular belief, or what some people would have you believe, the art of kendo has its own shades of colour. Not the one monochromatic colour scheme.

Miyamoto Musashi said the very same thing:

“… different branches of schools give different interpretations of the doctrines. In as much as men’s opinions differ, so there must be differing ideas on the same matter. Thus no one man’s conception is valid for any school.”
Miyamoto Musashi
The Wind Book

So the idea that there is only one way to do things is a dangerous one. That is when our thinking gets rigid and inflexible. We have seen such thinking before: Ours is the right way. Theirs is the wrong way. Ours is the legitimate way. They are illegitimate. We have the scrolls. They have someone else’s scrolls. And so on and so forth…

Or else, in other cases, such statements are made for political purposes, either out of a sense of wanting to gain something or out of fear of losing something.

As we have seen, even in kendo (where there is a general perception that everything is very standardized) there is more than one way to do kendo.


 Mr. Tong can be contacted via email at: doug@dragonfencing.com


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