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JULY 2005
Issue 062

Alex Bennett, Kiwi kendo master

Alex Bennett has been involved with kendo (Japanese fencing) for over 18 years. He has trained under the best sensei and travelled to many countries promoting the art. He currently holds the rank of 6th dan and has represented New Zealand. He is the author of more than a few books on budo (military arts) and bushido (the way of the warrior).

He is the editor-in-chief of a kendo website and magazine, recognised as the leading source of information in English on the sport.

Home for Bennett is Christchurch. Rare is this sport in these parts. A high school exchange sojourn to Chiba in 1987 was enough to convince a teenage Bennett to take up kendo, and the rest, so the cliché goes, is history. He completed a masters degree followed by a PhD at Kyoto University. His doctoral thesis entitled “In search of a definition of Bushido” (written in Japanese) was completed in 2001. He is currently employed as an Assistant Professor at Nichibunken, the International Research Centre for Japanese Studies in Kyoto.

Kendo is a martial art with a long history, and is synonymous with legendary samurai warriors such as Miyamoto Musashi. Five hundred years on from the medieval Japanese battlefields where combat systems and swordsmanship were perfected, it is estimated that over 500,000 people practise kendo outside Japan, in over 100 countries. Kendo is a form of physical and mental training.

“It is a life philosophy, and is also a competitive sport that is very spiritual in nature.” says Bennett.

“There are many aspects of kendo that are difficult to express in words and the act of trying to do so makes for countless hours of philosophizing and self-reflection. The many kendo enthusiasts one encounters in their eighties and nineties in Japan attests to the fact that kendo is something you can keep studying actively for as long as you can hold a shinai (bamboo sword) … As your kendo progresses, it becomes easier to draw analogies between what happens in the dojo and what happens in everyday life.”

For the many years that Bennett has been active in the world of kendo, he is aware of the lack of reliable information concerning the art in English, or any other language for that matter.

“In Japan you have the luxury of picking and choosing dojo and sensei. You can also pick from an extensive range of literature penned by kendo masters on every aspect of the art imaginable. If you are Japanese, you can even read them.”

Recognising the need for information in English, Bennett and long-time friend Hamish Robison started their own magazine, Kendo World in 2001. Lending the help of volunteer writers and Kyoto based designer, Graham Ansell, Kendo World magazine is published quarterly and contains detailed articles on kendo and other related budo arts such as naginata and iaido.

Within the pages the reader will find information pertaining to anything from training in techniques, advice on injury prevention, the philosophical, historical, or cultural aspects of kendo, as well as domestic and international tournament results. They also maintain a website (www.kendo-world.com) which provides a break down of the magazine with plenty of additional information, and is a place where kendo aficionados can discuss kendo in the forums.

The reception of kendo world magazine and website speaks for itself. In 2001, 30 people subscribed to the first edition of the maga-zine. To date there are over 3,000 people worldwide who've signed up for their quarterly instalment.

The All Japan Kendo Federation, the leading body of kendo in Japan, also provides support for the Kendo World project. Federation President Takeyasu Yoshimitsu says “I am delighted to see that two kendo enthusiasts from New Zealand are making such efforts to help in the dissemination of correct kendo information in the form of an English language magazine.”

There are more than just two kiwis involved now, and it is thanks to a host of volunteer contributors in Japan and around the world that the magazine continues to thrive.

Kendo World magazine and all of its valued contributors are bridging gaps with the work they are doing. “Crossing swords and borders” is no small task, nor is it one taken lightly. However, the need for contri-butions of this kind is apparent, and so too is the drive to see that this is done.

Text: Renee Karena
Photos: Courtesy www.kendo-world.com

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