The Iaido Journal  Mar 2002EJMAS Tips Jar

George Izui and Seattle Kendo

I was saddened to read of the passing of Chicago's George Izui. So, in his memory, the following is from a letter he wrote me dated July 4, 1998 that describes training at the Seattle Kendo Kai circa 1933. Joseph Svinth.


At the age of nine, I began my informal training with my father. He gave me an indoctrination course on manners, attitude, seiza [proper sitting], how to stand, how to grip a shinai, proper kamae [postures or stances], etc. In 1933, at the age of ten, I was enrolled in the Seattle Kendo Kai. Umajiro Imanishi was the dojo kantoku (superintendent). A veteran of the Russo-Japanese War, he controlled us young ‘bucks’ as would a ramrod sergeant running his platoon. Unfairly at first, we young upstarts showed no love for him. Later we realized and began to appreciate the unselfish sacrifice he made in playing the ‘heavy’ role for our sake.

There was another young adult whom I should have called (I did sometimes) niisan, big brother. This was Kazuo Shoji, a sensei [teacher] of the present Seattle Kendo Kai until his retirement. He was a very strong person with arms as large as my legs. Noticeable with his aka doh (red breastplate), I admired his bold, strong, fearless kendo style.

The late Yoriaki Nakagawa, a Waseda University graduate, was the principal of the Japanese language school to which many of us were ‘encouraged’ to attend daily after the regular school hours. He was a tough disciplinarian who ran a no-nonsense school, and his kendo kamae was of the same nature. His refereeing (only one person officiating in those days) was something to behold: firm, crisp, decisive, and fair. The late Tamotsu Takizaki, who was our chief instructor, was a gentleman and a great teacher. A product of the old bujutsu, having been awarded a certificate of proficiency [menkyo] in martial arts, his kendo was kiru kendo (‘to cut’). His kendo was not of the light ‘razzle-dazzle’ flashy type, but grand, stately, immovable, ‘no-wasted-motion’ style. Although not a large man by today’s standards, to go against him was as though bumping against a brick wall in one moment, then his light body shifting left the attacker helplessly shooting off into space at the next moment. Recalling my practices, the very early stage of my training (maybe six months) was to sit properly in seiza and to observe my seniors. ‘Keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut’ was some early advice from my father. Then followed a long period of correct posture, footwork, holding a shinai, and finally a long session of striking in patterns (men uchi).

With no verbal explanation or instruction, a swift slap on the buttocks with a shinai indicated that I was doing something incorrectly. Any unnecessary conversation during practice brought the ever-alert dojo supervisor down our necks. Very boring and monotonous, and sometimes discouraging for a bright-eyed, eager ten-year old. Should I have uttered a word of complaint to my parents, they would agree with the instructor’s disciplinary action with an additional brief but firm admonishment. Takizaki Sensei conducted the special Sunday sessions. Among other things, some of us were privileged to be taught rokushaku (‘six-foot’) and shishaku (‘four-foot’) bojutsu (‘staff techniques’). The Sunday special sessions were quite severe until we developed the necessary stamina and endurance. They went from noon till around five or sometimes six o’clock, and took place in a vacant warehouse at the corner of 12th and Yesler. These sessions consisted of intense training, one person opposing approximately fifteen fellow students at a time. After this, some of us were taught kata or bojutsu.

Included in these special classes were successions of bumping practice (tai-atari). The object was not only to attack but also to be able to receive such attacks. Different from today’s kendo, the techniques of tripping, grappling, wrestling, and choking, which have been considered illegal since World War II, were acceptable in the earlier years.  An inadequate strike would warrant a shout of ‘Kirenai!’ (‘Does not cut!’) from the instructors. Whereas we see much renzoku waza (‘consecutive striking’) today, ippon giri de shobu o kimeru (‘a decisive single-cut determines the result of the contest’) was the atmosphere of the past."

For more on George Izui sensei please see:
and for his artwork see and
TIJ Mar 2002