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Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2001

New Zealand kendo practitioners publish quarterly journal in English

Staff writer

KYOTO -- Having practiced kendo for over a decade, Alexander Bennett and Hamish Robison have long been aware of the lack of English reading material on the sport, aside from technical manuals. The two New Zealanders thus decided to rectify the situation.

News photo
News photo
Kendo practitioners Alexander Bennett (top, right) and Hamish Robison use a computer to work on the first issue of Kendo World, a comprehensive magazine in English due out this weekend, when they are not practicing the traditional mrtial art at Kyoto University.

Kendo World will be a quarterly journal in English, with its first issue to be mailed to subscribers in Auckland from Saturday.

The two men edited the 80-page issue in Kyoto and sent the manuscripts by e-mail to a printing house in Auckland.

"We are printing in Auckland solely for financial reasons," said Bennett, 31, who holds a fifth-dan grade. "The cost of printing there is about one-third of the cost in Japan."

Dan describes an advanced practitioner, the equivalent of a black belt in judo. Dan levels range from 1 to 10, with 10 being highest.

A subscription costs $40 per year for four issues, with a $5 postal charge for those in New Zealand, $9 in Australia and $22 elsewhere.

Bennet started practicing kendo when he attended a high school in Chiba Prefecture as an exchange student. "I thought it seemed fun because it was like a fight in 'Star Wars,' " he said. "But as the practice got harder and harder, I wanted to quit and did not think I would do kendo again after the one-year experience at the high school."

He was wrong. After going back to New Zealand, he began to feel uneasy about not practicing kendo. So he opened his own kendo school and there met Robison, 33, who now holds a fourth-dan. Each later studied kendo for one year at International Budo University in Chiba Prefecture.

Their appetites for kendo still not sated, they kept coming back to Japan to practice. Bennett earned a master's degree in literature at Kyoto University and later undertook a doctoral course at the same school in human and environmental studies.

"In Japan, we can always ask questions to grand masters at kendo schools, while such opportunities were rare in New Zealand," Bennett said.

"Even minor advice from grand masters can lift you to a higher grade."

Such information is exactly what they want to give to kendo devotees overseas.

"When we go back to New Zealand, our kendo friends come to us for information about kendo," Robison said. "They are desperate for information about kendo."

"I used to read the novels 'Miyamoto Musashi,' by Eiji Yoshikawa, and 'Bushido,' by Inazo Nitobe, to learn about kendo, because they were the only materials available in English, though they did not have so much to do with kendo itself," Bennett said.

Among the stories to be found in the magazine's first issue are articles on the history of the protective equipment worn in kendo, the meaning of meditation in kendo training, as well as a report on the All Japan Kendo Championship held in November.

Bennett, Robison and their colleagues videotaped the championship.

An edited version will be available on a 40-minute CD-ROM that comes with the first issue.

"I think this will be the first time the championship can be seen on this format, although a number of kendo fans have long been waiting for something like this," Bennett reckoned.

Currently, 41 countries and regions are members of the International Kendo Federation, an international governing body of kendo, and some half a million people practice the sport outside Japan, according to the IKF.

An IKF official said that kendo is practiced in some 80 countries.

Bennett and Robison hope that the English magazine helps the enthusiasts understand not only the technical aspects of kendo, but also the cultural, historical and philosophical sides.

"We just hope to help foreign kendo practitioners by providing information only otherwise available in Japanese so they can in some way be linked," Bennett said.

So far, Bennet and Robison have received over 200 applications for the magazine from some 15 countries, with American readers on the top of the list.

"I think potential readers are waiting to see if the magazine is serious, because so many English magazines on martial arts are sloppy," Bennet said.

"But our magazine is very serious (and) also fun to read for anyone who practices kendo and other martial arts at any level.

"I would not have come back to Japan unless I practiced kendo. It is more than just a sport. It is a barometer of life."

Kendo World's Web site address is www.kendo-world.com

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