Interview with Yukuo Iwao sensei on Passing 8th Dan

Interview with Yukuo Iwao sensei
Kendojidai 3.2010. Translated by Kazuyo Matsuda

Interview by Hideo Kobayashi(K)
Yukuo Iwao (I)

K) Congratulations on passing 8th dan. I have known you for decades and I am very grateful for your success as a member of Kanagawa Dojo Renmei as well.
I) Thank you very much.

K) You gave hope to teachers who are trying 8th dan especially as a 70 year old person. How did you feel when you were going to the venue on the day, 24th November?
I) My house is in Ebina City so I left home about 10am to go to the Japan Budokan. The registration was planned at 11:30am so I was quite calm on my way not having to worry about time.

K) The grading is special and on such a day, unexpected troubles usually happen, such as forgetting something or a problem with transport etc. These things always affect the grading performance – so you had no such troubles?
I) No, from Ebina to Shinjuku by Odakyu Line and from Shinjuku to Kudanshita subway. There was no trouble.

K) The first part of the grading was in the afternoon. What were you thinking about till then?
I) The current pass rate for 70 years old and over is almost zero. This time again I had to perform with dynamic and powerful Kendo, this is what I was saying to myself. I planned to demonstrate 10 – 20 years younger Kendo. This way I could show dynamic and powerful Kendo.

K) I see. They say ‘Elderly people should perform younger Kendo, younger people should perform clam Kendo like elderly people’. This may be a tip for a long-term improvement for everybody. How did you achieve this technically?
I) First is the Hassei, the utterance of voice. The voice and the Kisei should echo into the entire hall. Without an impressive Hassei, it is difficult to be noticed by the panellists.

K) That is important. I have an experience as well. After Sonkyo, you stand up and start Seme to each other, then tactics start from each other within the distance. But at the grading it is necessary that enough spirit be shown to the panellists through the good utterance of Kiai.
I) That’s right.

K) When I tried 7th dan grading, I was keen to demonstrate the ‘noble presence’ in style and the method that I used was to make a short voice. Later I saw 8th dan grading and the respectful teachers far beyond my level were performing with the best possible efforts with a sort of desperate tension without any styles. Kendo needs such desperate tension – I learned a lot from watching 8th dan grading.
I) They say Kiai should be done from Yu-sei (with voice) to Mu-sei (without voice) but such a technique of Mu-sei even for us is far beyond the highest level we can imagine.

K) It is quite natural to have large voice for younger people anyway. If large voice comes out of an elderly person, it reaches the panellists’ hearts.
I) I believe so.

K) So you successfully passed the first part of the grading. What were you thinking about from then till the second part of the grading?
I) I didn’t have to wait for very long as my first part of the grading started in the afternoon. I had about one hour to wait – I tried to stay calm.

K) I see.
I) Three years ago when I passed the first part of the grading I lost my calmness. As a hindsight I don’t know why that happened – I was over-excited. Then
the second part of the grading started. I was too nervous and couldn’t remember what I was supposed to do.

K) That happens. The status of mind hugely affects the performance.
I) I became greedy. I was too hasty to pass. I wanted to pass. This was running on its own. So this time I was determined to stay calm.

K) How did it feel after the second part? Your partner Mikio Watanabe sensei from Niigata passed as well. He was my colleague at Kanku School.
I) Is that so? During the second part of the grading, I tried to maintain the status of my mind to stay ordinary and be patient. I was thinking of that. I had an imagination of being patient then when the partner moves strike immediately. And fortunately this is what actually happened.

K) I was watching that too. It was fantastic.
I) Thank you very much. Then I remained calm and not to attempt unnecessary strikes.

K) You must have been looking forward to seeing the result.
I) To be honest, I thought ‘that felt like a pass’ but also at the same time, I thought that I could try again as it would have been close to pass.

K) It was definite pass.
I) At first I looked the result in the other hall. There wasn’t my number of course. I said to myself, I would try again. Then I noticed that I was in a wrong hall. When I found my number, I said to myself well done. After 20 years there could be one day that I could say this to myself.

K) Your students must have been so happy for you. Could you sleep that night?
I) No, I could not. I was too excited.

K) You have your own Dojo and it must have been difficult to find time for your own practice. What was the key for this in your daily practice?
I) A lot of people say this but I also practiced Shodachi during normal practice, with everyone.

K) I see. Schoolboys and girls have not yet established physical strength so there is no point in using power. It is important to strike in the perfect moment and strike without power – however this is not easy.
I) That’s right. I always practiced Debana-Men against elementary school students and Oji-waza against junior high school students as they start to establish faster movements. But it won’t be good for their practice if I just continue this so after the Shodachi , it is Hikitate-geiko.

K) What about with adults students?
I) I would never go backwards.

K) It is important during the grading to stay inside of your opponent’s area. For me it is important to stay on a higher platform – it is to say that when we stay in this mind, naturally there is no compromise in posture and the Seme would bear depth.
I) If the Kamae is correct and good enough, you can deal with your opponents’ strikes and when an opportunity arise strike accordingly. It is ideal to keep this mind throughout but it is not easy.

K) Yes it is difficult. Grading and Shiai are not basic exercise but an application of basics. We need to demonstrate correct basics, which we have learnt and apply them into ‘practice’. In order to do this one should consider the way of the regular training.
I) I agree completely.

K) Were you considering ‘Tenouchi’ in the regular practice?
I) Yes, and I still am. Waza should be sharp and only with a correct Tenouchi creates such sharpness. I practice in order to strike with such sharpness, using the correct wrist movement. For example I studied your Men strike too. You never step backwards but slowly approach forward then lightly attack, Men.

K) oh well..
I) For me there have been fewer opportunities to go outside the Dojo and practice with 8th dan teachers. So when there were seminars and joint practice I tried to make the most of it and tried to absorb everything these teachers had. Wearing of bogu, etiquette, sonkyo, kamae etc. I wanted to steal all that they had.

K) These days we don’t seem to use the word ‘steal’ any more. But the arts of any kinds have that nature. I didn’t get much ‘teachings’ from my own teachers either. I had to imitate what they were doing.
I) I think so.

K) What about ‘ma-ai’?
I) I am short as you know, I am only 160cm tall. So I cannot strike from a far distance. I need to go closer than other people, for my distance. Therefore I practiced to strike the moment it became my own distance. Quite a few times I was told that I was too close but that’s my distance.

K) It is basic that you strike from the correct distance. During the grading there are cases where people attempt striking from a distance from which they cannot reach – this is a mistake and would lead to failure.
I) As you try to make up the distance if you made a mistake at the first instance this would force the posture to be wrong. With the wrong posture, the strike would be forced as well resulting it not counted as a satisfactory valid strike even if it just reaches the target.

K) Yes, this is a forever theme for us. By the way Iwao sensei, do you have particular preference in Bogu?
I) Yes, because I am not tall, it is especially necessary that they match my body size. Men, Kote, Do and Tare are all custom-made size. Hakama and Keikogi are the same.

K) Wearing is important. When wearing is good, their Kamae seems much better and this draws teachers’ attention.
I) I imitated 8th dan teachers.

K) What about Shinai?
I) I use 38. I used to use 39 but it doesn’t suite the body. I also try to maintain the length of the Tsuka. When tsuka leather stretches this affects the Kamae and it won’t be the same.

K) I see. Is there anything else that you pay special attention to?
I) I always listen to what others have to say about my Kendo. I don’t know if I always have done this but I listened carefully to what 8th dan teachers have said about my Kendo.

K) We tend to be convinced that we are correct and the best. But in fact this is wrong. There are many bad habits etc. It’s important to be honest and open minded.

K) Iwao sensei graduated from Takushoku University then got a job at Kanagawa Police. But you were working in the detectives department not like me who was teaching at the Kendo department. So you were a detective. I suspect your job demanded irregular working hours and it was difficult to continue Kendo practice?
I) There were people who were pretty strong but left Kendo for good. I loved Kendo therefore I wanted to keep up with the Kendo department colleagues.

K) I see. You also obtained the grades very fast.
I) At that time university students could pass 5th dan. When I just started working at the Kanagawa Police I was 5th dan. Then 6th dan when I was 24 years old. From Sakuragicho Police Station I carried bogu to go to the grading.

K) I remember very well as we were working at the same place at that time.
I) The youngest 7th dan could be 38 years old. There were lots of my junior colleagues at Police Kendo Department who were passing 7th dan. I was biting my fingers but as a detective I could not have much time for practice.

K) I bet. But you continued with much enthusiasm and this time made such an achievement. I understand 10 years ago you retired from the Police and have run the Dojo full time since. Is there something that you were trying as a daily basis?
I) Strengthening of the lower part of the body. My expert was to walk. In order to catch criminals and suspects there were times when I was walking 7 hours a day. The lower part of the body and walking is essential for any job, and of course for Kendo. Even now I walk 90 minutes per day when there is no practice.

K) 90 minutes… that’s quite something. You have no pain anywhere?
I) Luckily no. I thank my parents for that. When walking I sometimes I imagined Shiai and so exercised stamping footwork. I tried not to do too much as people would think I am strange though..

K) You practiced Kendo at all times.
I) Yes, and I really like Shiai. I have participated in the Elderly Kendo Taikai every year. Also University Graduates Taikai. The stamina is necessary for tournament Taikai and for this I tried my best in maintaining my stamina by walking.

K) There are some people who stop participating in Shiai before their grading. Sensei wasn’t one of them.
I) No. Shiai is fun. That tension is what I like. There is nothing similar to that tension. That tension is useful in grading as well. So I have attempted as many Taikai as possible. It is now shame that I cannot participate in the Elderly Kendo Taikai as I have passed 8th dan.

K) That is quite right. ‘regular practice should be like Shiai. Shiai should be like regular practice.’ For people who haven’t experienced that tension in Shiai, it is not possible to imagine the Shiai situations at regular practice.
I) That’s right. Also the opportunity of strike is the same in regular practice and Shiai.

K) Some people hate posture breakage.
I) Yes, Shiai could not continue if you are struck. If you are experienced in Shiai, the defence mechanism works naturally and that’s when posture breaks. It is difficult.

K) I see. As your dojo is below your house, did you do Hitori-geiko?
I) I often checked my Kamae in front of a mirror. If one’s Kamae is poor his Kendo doesn’t look strong from the start. Kamae (=preparation) should apply to both body and mind. I tried to practice Kamae that applies to both.

K) Fu-kaku (noble presence) and Hin-i (elegance and pride in presence) are necessary in the grading. Both should appear in the natural standing Kamae. There are a lot of panelists who look for this during the grading.
I) I studied everyday, thinking ‘how can I make 8th dan teachers’ kamae..’

K) Kamae tells us the person’s attitude towards Kendo and it should come with the correct Tenouchi, stance, and footwork and with maintaining the correct posture. All these should have such efficiency that nothing should be done without necessity.
I) No one can obtain such skill in Kamae in a short period of time. I continue to study this everyday.

K) For you Iwao sensei, you are an exceptionally healthy person. This I believe is the source of your energy. This energy keeps you young and a good balance in Kendo.

K) In 1979 you opened a Kendo dojo with the aim; healthy and disciplinary education of children. The dojo saw its 30th anniversary last year. I was also present at the opening ceremony – time flies it’s been already 30 years. December last year the dojo held such a large-scale 30th anniversary championships.
I) Yes time flies indeed. At that time I was lucky to have such an understanding boss at the Police*. I built dojo on the ground floor level and my house above it. There weren’t any houses around here at all at that time but it is now a residential
area. We were able to continue running of the dojo throughout with the neighbours’ understanding.

K) What was your reason for opening a dojo?
I) I am from Oita Prefecture. During my high school time I didn’t have enough practice at the school so I started to commute to Beppu dojo in Beppu city. I did this for 3 years. There Norio Ono sensei was the dojo Shihan. He was such a nice teacher and I loved the dojo very much. The journey to Beppu took 1 hour by train so I would come home after midnight. I would go to bed at 1am. But this continued for 3 years.

K) I see. You were impressed by the dojo education.
I) Yes. There were many adults who came to practice so it gave me a physical and mental strengthening. I just loved the three-generation teaching method. It was all of this at the Beppu dojo that helped me to go to Takushoku University with a special entry from their recommendation. I wanted to create such an atmosphere in my dojo. There are many things that I have learnt from children even after becoming 70 years old.

K) How many students do you have at present?
I) Including junior and adult members it is about 70, there are a lot of mothers who are members and they are fun to have.

K) That’s great. It seems as if you have no influence from the decrease of children population at national level.
I) Yes, we have a lot less students, almost half of what we used to have when the members hit the largest numbers. There is a problem such as decrease of children in general plus children have more choice in activities. I try a few things so that they come and try Kendo.

K) How do you advertise? Do you distribute flyers etc?
I) In the past news paper’s advertisement worked very well but nowadays it is not so effective. Words of mouth through mothers seem to be the best marketing device. So it is important to increase members but also similarly important to keep the mothers group members so that they understand Kendo with a positive view.

K) The increase of members is important but try not to lose members is similarly important. When people leave Kendo, they tend to have bad impression about Kendo.
I) Yes. At my dojo the upstairs is my house so I try to create an ‘at home’ atmosphere.

K) Do you have a good idea how to increase Kendo population?
I) More exposure to the media, perhaps. When I was a child, there was ‘Akado Suzunosuke’ on TV. Sometime ago there was ‘Musashi no Ken’. TV’s influence is large so if there is such things again..

K) Last year the media wrote quite a lot about WKC. I hope this will become a permanent interest.
I) Yes. Also it is quite simply possible if the current Kendo practitioners bring in their friends one by one.. If they bring in one per person, the population will be doubled.

K) I see. Finally going back to 8th dan topic again, what was the main reason for pass?
I) I never gave up. It took me 20 years and 33 times attempts. I never thought of giving up. I think my profession as a detective helped a lot. We would wait for the suspects on rainy days and windy days regardless of the weather condition, for so long. This perhaps was connected and helped my Kendo.

K) Your patience won the 8th dan.. Thank you very much.
Yukuo Iwao
Born in 1939, 70 years old. After Hiji High School, studied at Takushoku University and graduated. He worked for Kanagawa Police. In 1979 he opened Seidokan Iwao Dojo for children’s disciplinary education. He taught Kendo to local children. Currently President of Ebina City Kendo Renmei. Kendo 8th dan Kyoshi.
Hideo Kobayashi
Born in 1942, Kumamoto. Graduated from Chinsei high school then worked for Kanagawa Police. He was selected to participate in the All Japan Kendo Championships, has won the National Kendo Championships etc. He was the male team’s coach for the 12WKC. Currently honourable Shihan of Kanagawa Police, president of Kanagawa Kendo Renmei and Tokyo University Kendo-Bu main Shihan. Kendo 8th dan Hanshi.

*Footnote by translator
Police officers were not allowed to run a private Kendo dojo at that time but Iwao sensei managed to make a special deal with his boss with three conditions: not to make any money, to make good relationship with the neighbours and not to compromise his main job as a detective in terms of working hours and standards

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