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
“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.