When a work assignment sent me to New Zealand’s Christchurch for 2 weeks, I was naturally excited at the prospect of practicing kendo with new people and experiencing a part of the world that I have not yet visited.
Following advice from the New Zealand Kendo Renmei’s president, Shizuoka based Graham Sayer-sensei, I promptly made contact with Dr Blake Bennett who kindly invited me to attend practice with Seitou Kenyukai (Canterbury Kendo Club) at Chuseikan Dojo.
With camera and bougu packed, I was on my way to practice in the 3rd southernmost kendojo in the world!
I’ll be honest with you, I was expecting a simple ‘kendo transaction’. I arrive, meet some people, do some keiko, take some photos, thank everybody and be on my way back to the beginning of ‘shiai season’ in Nagoya. What followed was a truly humbling experience that I feel has added real depth to my own kendo and helped me to forge friendships that I will always value. Sometimes the rabbit-hole goes far deeper than you had first imagined.
The story of Seitou Kenyukai, a club renowned for cultivating strong and correct kenshi, is one of perseverance, fortitude and grit ~ the type of story that deserves to be passed on. It’s for this reason that I chose to not only post a photo-essay but also felt compelled to go into more detail.
On September 4th, 2010 and later in February 2011, two devastating earthquakes hit Christchurch. The city was still recovering when the second one hit, tragically taking 185 souls ~ including 2 valued members of the Canterbury Kendo Club (Yuko Hirabayashi and Yuki Hamasaki) who, sadly, were in the Canterbury Television building when the disaster struck.
After the second earthquake (2011) the Canterbury Kendo Club was displaced after the CBD building, which housed the dojo, was structurally breached. Although still grieving over lost friends, not being the type to stay down, dojo members quickly rallied to find a new home for the club. Spearheading this effort was the club co-founder, the very esteemed Dr Alex Bennett, who was only a short distance away from ground zero during the violent quake. Dr Alex Bennett, whom usually resides in Kyoto, was visiting his hometown in the lead-up to the 15th WKC in Novara, Italy as the New Zealand National Squad Coach.
Less than a year later, Dr Alex Bennett personally mortgaged a commercial space which would become the new home of the club and Chuseikan Dojo was born. Further to this, he was able to enlist the help of a generous group of philanthropists who put up the funds needed to build the flooring required to practice budo in the new space.
Despite experiencing such adversity, I got a distinct feeling during my recent visit that the club members refuse to let the tragedies of previous years define them. Rather, they continue in their quest for self-improvement and cultivation – all the while nurturing a strong emphasis on community. This is, after all, what kendo is really about isn’t it?
Blake Bennett-sensei and other senior members run an incredibly tight ship yet they consistently find the intangible balance between discipline and benevolence. Not only are students of all levels pushed to improve, they want to improve. Ample opportunities for that are supplied through a peer teaching style. Sempai will give one-on-one feedback to kohai while complimented by technical supervision and direction from the line-up of experienced sensei. Perhaps this practical approach to maximizing student/teacher time is part of the secret to their success!
Saito-sensei, of Tokyo’s Senshu University, is one of the above-mentioned teachers. Some of his experience as a Japanese National Kendo Squad strength and conditioning coach has been dispensed through his publications (1 & 2). He currently resides in Christchurch while he conducts comparative research on junior athletes at the University of Canterbury.
All this and so much more is what makes Canterbury Kendo Club a hotbed of budo culture in New Zealand and a breeding ground for national and international level kenshi. The level of kendo, instruction and willingness to impart good knowledge is on par with anywhere I have practiced in Japan. Their history of rising again from the rubble of tragedy and overcoming obstacles is true to the dojo motto of Nana Korobi Ya Oki (Fall down 7 times, rise up 8!).
Article and photography by Andy Rogers
Author’s note: I feel that my photography is not up to my usual (low) standard here as I was too eager to get into bougu and join the action. With that said, I hope that the pictures below reveal some of the ‘feeling’ and ‘story’ of the Canterbury Kendo Club, it’s surrounds and the city’s ongoing efforts to recover from the earthquakes.
Further links and references: