Ken Kuramoto Presents Kendo

Japan Center directors Mariko Yokosuka and Kyoko Takano worked with ASIJ parent Ken Kuramoto on spreading the Kendo spirit at ASIJ. Mariko writes on the meaning of dou (道) and a recent kendo presentation to the Elementary School.

On Wednesday, April 12 Ken Kuramoto, a certified kendo seven-dan (second highest rank in kendo with eight-dan being the highest) with over 40 years of experience, provided an engaging demonstration-style kendo presentation for students in grades three, four and five. His teaching experience ranges from elementary to high school level students and adults in Tokyo, Kanagawa and New York. Ken Kuramoto has also developed a curriculum for the new elementary after-school kendo program at ASIJ, which kicked off this month.

Kendo, meaning “the way of the sword,” has its roots in the Japanese traditional style of fencing called kenjutsu. Kendo is a combination of a sport and an art which tests the balance and coordination of both the physical and mental state. Kendo embodies the essence of Japanese culture and spirit through respect, discipline and etiquette.

Ken Kuramoto immediately captured the attention of the elementary school audience by introducing a short video clip on Star Wars, the evolution of the lightsaber and its relationship to kendo. A compelling way to portray how traditional meets modern: kendo was the inspiration behind the evolution of the lightsaber! Star Wars resonates with many people and this helped to set a more familiar tone for students who may otherwise feel disconnected when introduced to a traditional Japanese discipline.

Students then learned the fundamental rules and movements—physical aspects of kendo. With piercing yells, or kiai, echoing throughout the demonstrations, students were captivated by the unfamiliar martial art. Ken asked, “what is the crucial difference between kendo and other competitive sports? The point you gain shall be disqualified if you behave in a certain manner, which is against the spirit of kendo… what might that be?” Students learned that the answer was showing joy for victory. This led the group to talk about the importance of form (形), gesture (所作) and manners (礼儀作法); showing respect to your opponent is part of kendo.  They also  learned that Kendo is not just a sport, it is the synchronization of ki (spirit/mind), ken (sword) and tai (body).

Each year, the Japan Center explores a different area of focus. This presentation was the last part to our Dou Initiative, in which we explored the theme of dou. The kanji character 道, read michi or dou in Japanese, translates to “path” or “the way of.” This is the term used to denote the fundamental principle underlying a system of thought or belief, an art or a skill. It is commonly used to describe the code of behavior in traditional Japanese disciplines such as sado (the way of tea), shodo (the way of calligraphy), kado (the way of flowers) and kendo (the way of the sword), all of which were introduced and implemented at ASIJ this year. It is important to note that in the spirit of dou, there is no end in mastering your craft or skill, as it is a lifelong study and a continuous improvement of oneself.  Ken’s presentation covered this important concept in an easy-to-understand way.

We would like to extend our deepest appreciation to Ken Kuramoto for providing this authentic learning experience to the community and we look forward to his continuous support for our kendo program.