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History of the British Kendo Association

By John Howell, Kyoshi 7th Dan, Past President BKA

First I would like to say that I have tried to give an accurate account of the birth of our Association with all the records that have become available to me, where there are gaps; these have been filled by numerous persons with their memories of the events incurred.

This is a general overview, to write in great detail would indeed be very boring in lots of places

Lets start as far back as is known.

The Early Years

This is an extract from the Times on Monday 12th January 1885.

“The fencing, as those who saw the display of masks, pads, gloves and bamboo swords sent from Tokyo gymnasium to the Health Exhibition will suppose, was quite unlike anything to be seen in Europe. The long bamboo rods are held in both hands, and the combatants, who were protected by a mask for the face of wire bars, with a quilted cover over the head, a sort of breastplate of lacquered leather, and padded gloves, strike and thrust freely. So well did the two performers warm to their work yesterday, that the umpire had to interpose himself and his fan between them two or three times.”

The next piece of information I have is as follows.

It was in 1937 when Mr Lidstone showed his skill in front of the then Prince Chichibu at a garden party given in his honour at Hurlingham London. The Anglo-Japanese Judo Club gave the display.

I understand that there was Kendo at the Shinto Ryu Kendo Club in 1962 with such persons as Mr.Lidstone, Jock Hopson, Keith and Brian Feltham, also Dr. Peter Parsons.

However I must start my story from 1967 when I joined the Association, for previous 5 years I am unable to give any information accurately, except to say that as far as I am aware The British Kendo Association was inaugurated by Mr. Roald Knutsen and a proper committee was formed in 1964. Although the BKA was I think started in 1962.  Mr Knutsen with Count Robert Von Sandor from Sweden set up the European Kendo Federation with other Federations in Europe. We are a founder members of the EKF.

After the Association was formed  I understand the main premiere Club in the UK at that time was Nenriki Dojo which was inaugurated in 1966 and after 2 weeks had 28 members, also at the same time there was Bushi Budokai (Portsmouth) Shinbukan (Liverpool/ Llangothen), Brighton Dojo, Zanshi in Bristol and Blyth Dojo. I am more then pleased to say that some are still going strong. The only other club in existence to my knowledge, when I joined the Association was the Shinto Ryu Club in London, I may be mistaken but at this time it was privately run. I do have a record of the then called London Kendo Club. (Shinto Ryu) being made a member of the BKA on 15th November 1968.  .

The Association’s first President was Sir Frank Bowden and Vice President was Mr. Kozo Takizawa 7th Dan Kyoshi and its first Chairman was Mr.R.A.Lidstone; Mr Knutsen took over as Secretary General with Mrs.Pat Knutsen as Treasurer. I started Kendo in early 1967 and came into the committee in 1968 as membership secretary.

In 1969 Mr.Lidstone died in Nenriki Dojo at the age of 72. His grade was 4th Dan and he was so respected by the ZNKR that they awarded him Renshi posthumously. Possibly the only ever 4th Dan Renshi

The Association carried on without a Chairman, run by Mr.Knutsen and his wife as Treasurer with some hiccups along the way, but seemed to be going ahead quite well up to late 1969. The committee then elected another Chairman Mr.Bill Prytherch, who served in this position until September 1975.

At that time we had a Japanese 4th Dan at Nenriki Dojo (Mr O.Fujii.) there were 6 other Japanese teachers in Europe as well. The All Japan Kendo Federation approached these Japanese teachers with a view to getting under way the 1st World Kendo Championships.

The 1970′s

In 1970, they were Mr. Fuji, Mr.Shiga, Mr Morioka, Mr Yoshimura plus two others whose names I cannot remember; one was living in Sweden the other elsewhere in Europe.

The job of putting together all the details and handling the grant from the ZNKR was down to Mr.Fuji. He selected a team that he considered was the best to represent GB.

For the 1st WKC these members were Jock Hopson, Keith Feltham, John O’Sullivan, John Howell, Len Bean, Victor Harris, and Deborah Hopson. The first 5 were the team and all 7 were to be in the individual’s matches.

Lots of strange things began to happen on the day before the Championships started.

Mr.Knutsen turned up with a second team stating that they were the official team which he had selected as he was the Secretary General of the BKA and had not been consulted about the make up of the team to represent GB.  This situation had to be decided before the next day, and as a result all the team members were up until well after midnight in consultation with our Vice President, Mr.Takizawa, who eventually said that the team selected by Mr Fuji was the one that would take part in the Championships and represent GB.  For an Association so young in experience the team did extremely well. Fighting ourselves through three rounds with Jock Hopson getting the better of the Captain of the Hawaiian team who was a 6thDan, myself managed the same thing in the individual matches. The 1st WKC and its upsets was the start of a lot of bad feeling within the BKA.

Later on there were many minor upsets within the Association, one I can remember quite well was a visit to the UK of a large Japanese delegation, which included a couple of 9th Dan.  Len Bean was asked if he could arrange the venue and food for this event.

He did so but on the afternoon that the teachers were due in London we were informed that Mr.Knutsen had rearranged things and had booked the venue and party at Woodstreet Police Station without notifying Len Bean. Many other problems like this arose, and things were coming to a head when in 1973 Mr Knutsen refused to allow any team to go to the 2nd World Kendo Championships, we were represented by Mr T. Holt who went as an Individual player.

Things erupted in 1973 when we had our AGM. Victor Harris was put up for the job of General Secretary against Roald Knutsen.  Votes had to be taken twice for this position, the first set of votes were by clubs only which resulted in a draw between the two. As I had been instructed to form a committee to write the first constitution in which as membership secretary I had included a vote per member, it was agreed that a vote should be taken on that basis the result was that Victor Harris was elected. Roald Knutsen was not satisfied with the results for it went against him. He complained that the Hopsons (Jock and Deborah) were not members of the Association. I had to contradict him as I had issued the membership cards to them at the beginning of the year and there was no reason to reject their applications. Things started to get ugly and in the end Sir Frank Bowden, who was chairing the meeting, ruled that Victor Harris was the General Secretary on the votes taken, even if there were only 2 votes in it. The new committee suggested, and was agreed by all the members there, to offer Mr.Knutsen a Life Vice- Presidency.

After much talking back and forward with the assembly he accepted the post at the meeting, but within a few weeks threw it back and started his own Association called Eikou Kendo Renmei the Japanese for the British Kendo Association, he also removed 7 Clubs, and their members, who supported him from the Association.

This you can imagine put the BKA in a very difficult position, for all the central contacts were with Mr Knutsen, so it was like starting all over again, we had a person as General Secretary who was also respected in Japan Mr. Victor Harris. We were lucky to have this person as GS at that time.

The Association was also extremely lucky to have the backing and counselling of Mr.Koichi Kikuchi 7th Dan Koyshi at this time, who was First Secretary at the Japanese Embassy, his work and advice enabled us to go forward and hold a World Kendo Championship. This highly respected person in Japan, we are pleased to say accepted a Vice Presidency of our Association. He was resident in this country from late 1972 to the end of 1976.

Prior to the meeting in 1973 GB had requested, from the International Kendo Federation permission to hold the 3rd World Kendo Championships in1976. This was accepted by Japan; Mr.Knutsen also expressed to Japan that for this event only he wished Mr. Schofield to be considered as Chairman of the 3 WKC.

Later in 1973 Japan was informed of the situation in our Association when Mr Kasahara said that they supported the then committee of the BKA.  .

Meanwhile the BKA was holding the Japan AirlinesTaikai, the Sir Frank Bowden Taikai, and the 1st R.A.Lidstone Taikai.

In the May of 1973 Zanshin Dojo invited the members of the BKA to participate in ”The Bristol 600”year anniversary fair, also in November of that year we held the first International Goodwill Match GB.v.France; this was the forerunner for the 1st European Championships, which was to be held at Bletchley Leisure Centre in 1974

April 1974 was the time for the EKF meeting and viewing of the venue etc: for the 1st European Kendo Championships.   It was at this meeting that again Roald Knutsen contested the validity of the BKA,

This meeting was being chaired by Count Robert von Sandor with Mr.Kasahara the General Secretary of the International Kendo Federation in attendance.

Because of his previous standing and the letters he wrote to the EKF members (Count Von Sandor said he had about 5 kilos sent to him) he was allowed to speak for only 10 minutes, where he claimed to have 24 Dojo and 300 members and was larger than the BKA, and on this basis he wished to put a Team into these championships. This of course was nonsense as he had only broken away from the BKA six months earlier. This was purely a paper work exercise to impress others.

All the countries present said that to accept two teams from GB was impossible and if the EKR wish to take part then they must join the BKA.  A vote took place at the General Assembly and the decision was made by all EKF member countries present that his Association would not be allowed to participate at the Championships, if however they joined the BKA and were selected, his members would be allowed to compete.  There would not be two teams representing GB. This was stated as unacceptable to him and to the EKR.

All the Countries voted that Mr. Knutsen Association was outside the EKF and therefore the IKF as well. The BKA was recognised as the only official body for Kendo within the UK.

GB took all six Gold Medals at the 1st European Kendo Championships.

The next International match to take place was the Goodwill between GB.v.Germany in London; again we won the medals, followed on by a goodwill match between GB.v.France in 1975 in Burge France. We did the same again taking all the medals. Meanwhile the Japan Airlines, R.A.Lidstone and the Sir Frank Bowden Taikai continued throughout the years.

In 1975 we started our own taikai, The British Open Championships.

The 3rd World Kendo Championships was held at Bletchley Leisure Centre in 1976, the Goodwill matches that preceded the Championships were held at Crystal Palace London.  A copy of the programme can be seen here.

We had great support from companies with materials and gifts in kind and of course our members. For example, they did the actual building of the wooden floor at the Leisure Centre in Bletchley to take the Taikai, working very late into the night before the Championships. The Japanese who arrived to see the venue the day before could not believe that everything would be ready in time; it was of course, due to our member’s hard work that night, and it was the start of the whole event being a success. The great thing about this was that we broke even on the costs. I know that this is correct, as I was the Treasurer for this event.

Later in 1976 we had another International Goodwill Match with Germany in Berlin, success again. April 1977 the 2nd European Kendo Championships took place in Brussels this time we took Silver. At the latter part of April 77, we did a demonstration at the Queens Jubilee at Crystal Palace Sports Centre.

Again throughout 77 The Sir Frank Bowden, Japan Airlines, Lidstone and Northern Kyu Taikai were taking place.

1977 we became a founder member of the Martial Arts Commission.  MAC was disbanded by the Sports Council in 1992. During its period we managed to obtain quite a considerable amount of grant money for our International Matches.  The Sports Council then devised SCAGMA (Sports Council Advisory Group for Martial Arts) we were one

of the 7 bodies accepted, and this continued until the reorganization of the Sports Council into its regions. It was part of the strategy of the Sports Council to let it die out on the new organization changes.

MADEC (Martial Arts Development Commission) a successor to MAC continued from 1992 to about 1999.

Throughout our membership of MAC we were looked on as the most respected member by other Martial Arts.  We kept out of all the in fighting and our opinion was always respected.

1975 a Dojo Leaders I day course was run at Nenriki Dojo, which led to the establishment of our Coach Awards, MAC used the pattern we set up for it’s own Coach Awards System.

In 1978 the 3rd European Kendo Championships were held at Chambrey France we managed individual Silver here. All our standard Taikai’s took place during this year.

1979 saw another International Goodwill Match in London against France, on this occasion we put forward 2 teams, the result was “A” team lost “B” team won.

This year was also the 4th World Kendo Championships, which were held in Sapporo Japan, our team came 6th on points, a wonderful result.

The Story of Iai

The year 1979 was one of the milestone in the BKA; Jock Hopson was living in Japan and during the summer he met Ishido Sensei, and his concept of Iaido was completely changed. To quote Jock he thought that Iaido was “something best done alone, without an audience and in the dark” but after training with Ishido Sensei he found that it was difficult, complicated, mentally and physically demanding. Ishido Sensei travelled to Supporo to watch the World Kendo Championships. I met Sensei then and that was the first contact with the BKA.

As Sensei had never been to Europe he returned with Jock to the UK.

Their first trip was to Glasgow, he was not impressed with what he had seen, asking quietly in Japanese if they would like to be flattered or told the truth, well the students chose the truth and the stage was set for 25 years of unfailingly honest and unflattering instruction in Iaido and Jodo which has benefited the BKA and it’s reputation in Japan.

His next trip was down to Vic Cooks dojo, Vic like Jock had been well under whelmed by the Iai he had seen up to that time, but when he saw the 34 year old 7th Dan going through his paces with speed, skill and smoothness, he said “if this is how Iaido can be done, then I want to do it too”

As the years passed Ishido Sensei’s visits continued; to date he has made over 200 trips to Europe and South East Asia on private and AJKF sponsored teaching trips. To the enormous long term benefit to those practicing Jikiden-Ryu Iaido, Haruna Sensei joined him for the summer seminar for the first time in 1981.  The following year the famous Jodo teacher, Hiroi Sensei joined the party and the summer seminar grew to include both Jodo and Iaido training under 8th Dan instructors.  It is without doubt due to the commitment of these teachers, their teaching skills and enthusiasm that many of the early students now hold 6th and 7th Dan themselves.

Over the years, the summer seminars have generated enough interest for our Association to increase the number of teachers invited. As an Association, we have been extremely fortunate that many first class young Jodo and Iaido teachers of several styles have accompanied Ishido Sensei on his summer visits to the UK.

To my knowledge at the European Iaido Championships GB Teams took Gold in 1996, 99 2001, 2, 3, &4 and Jodo 2003 &4.

It is most unfortunate that I am unable to list all the achievements of our British Iaido and Jodo teams, they have won so many Gold, Silver and Bronze medals in the various category’s at the European Championships and friendly international matches,

I hope later that a complete listing will become available and will be published.

To jump forward some years, it has been with great pride that the title of Shihan for Iaido and Jodo to this Association was accepted by Ishido Sensei in 2004.

The 1980′s and 1990′s

On the occasion of the 4th and 5th European Kendo Championships GB Team took 3rd place and in the 6th Silver, the 7th Fighting Spirit and the 8th in 1987 again 3rd place.

During the time from 1987 to 1990 the 10th EKC where we again took 3rd place there were many goodwill international matches such as the Paris International and the Italian International in all of these we were in the medals.  At the 8th World Kendo Championships in Toronto we reached the highest place coming 5th in the world. Our next success was in 12th EKC 1993 again 3rd place and the 13th EKC held in Glasgow 3rd Place.

1994 was not a good time for the Association. We found financial misdealing by our Armourer of around £9000. We went to the Police at Crawley and put the case to them, they passed it on to a policeman who had just come off the beat and joined the fraud squad; the outcome was that it was presented badly to the DPP and was rejected, so no prosecution resulted.  When the papers were collected from the police station in Horsham which was close where I worked, I was informed that if it had been handled correctly there would have been a different outcome. A hard pill to swallow as we had a signed paper by the Armourer to an agreed sum of £5000 which he said he would repay. Sadly it was not admissible in court as it was not signed in the presence of a solicitor and the Armourer deemed that it had been obtained under threat and pressure, which of course it was not.

The position of Armourer for the BKA was withdrawn from the Constitution and members and clubs dealt with outside suppliers themselves.

The BKA moved forward after this disappointment, and thought that it had put this bad business behind it, we had various troubles during the next few years over this but none that was not surmountable, our greatest move was to increase our membership which had seamed to be very stagnant for rather a long time.

A New Millenium

The year 2000 was as bad a year as one could imagine, the Membership Sec: had always dealt with the member fees and insurance. Upon this occasion the Treasurer and I were invited to meet the insurance representative as well. It was at this meeting that a remark was passed by the Membership Secretary that did not seem correct to me concerning the amount of members we were suppose to have, and were paying for.

The Lidstone Taikai was due too take place in just under two weeks, so I asked the Membership Secretary on the prior Saturday to send me a complete list of paid up members so that it may be checked at the Taikai, I knew that he was going to Japan on the Wednesday before the Lidstone and would not have time to do any doctoring to the membership list.

That Saturday the Treasurer checked every person’s details upon entry.

The Treasurer came to me afterwards and said that the list and the persons did not match up with the amounts he had received to bank on behalf of the M.S.

So the stage was set, and an investigation went ahead; letters to the bank to authorise the complete accounts and many other details.  In the middle of this I had already booked my airfare to Japan to try for my 8th Dan, so we had to bring in a third person to take over while I was away, we approached the Vice Chair, and am very pleased he agreed to continue the investigation while I was away. One must realize that such investigation had to be kept quiet as we were only working on suspicions and not concrete evidence.

By the last EC meeting in December we were able to accuse the Membership Sec: of fraud of BKA money, to the tune of around £40000 over the previous 4 years.

He admitted this in front of the EC. The Vice Chair and 3 other members accompanied him to his home and removed all BKA equipment and paperwork.

The following day the Vice Chair and I went to the Surrey Police in Camberley and reported the incident to them.  They took it up from then. The outcome of all this was that he was accused and convicted of the charge of defrauding BKA funds to the amount of £33000. Sentenced to 3 years later reduced to 11 month due to ill health.

This was a very trying time for the EC. It was said that they should have found out earlier, but as one sound minded person said at the AGM, “if a person wishes to defraud you, he will, and it may take a long time to find out or a short time”

From 2001 our membership has grown and grown, and we now have around 1500 members.  Different Financial Procedures are now in place, which we hope should not give such an opportunity again.

The year 2003 was a bench mark in our Association, we had asked, and were granted the honour of holding the 12th World Kendo Championships in Glasgow.

Geoff Salmon, Paul Budden and myself formed a limited company, with the three of us as Directors, there by removing any liability of finance from the BKA. The overall cost was just under £350,000 and we were pleased to announce that we came out with a small profit, which went to the BKA. We did not receive any sponsorship from either Sport England or Sport Scotland. Our biggest achievement was the visit of Her Majesty the Queen and His Highness the Duke of Edinburgh to these Championships.

To build upon the success of these Championships in 2004 we inaugurated the International Kendo Enbu Taikai to be held in Edinburgh. We invited six 8th Dans to participate. A seminar was held the day before which had many people from Europe attending.

On the day of the Embu we had demonstrations from Iaido, Jodo, Judo, Karate, Aikido, and Kyudo as well as Kendo; also workshops in the squash court were ongoing for all these disciplines. There were displays of Ikebana, Sword appreciation, Bonsai, and Japanese food. This was a resounding success and showed the Association disciplines to the full.

We repeated this IKET again in 2005 and once again it was a success.

This year 2005 Sumi Sensei, who has been coming to this country for 18 years to run seminars and has enhanced the Kendo in the UK accepted a fellowship of our Association.

We have from the turbulent start of our Kendo Association with so few members made great strides both in numbers, which in 2005 stands at over 1500 plus around 440 temporary members, also in our technical ability within all our disciplines.

We as an Association have a great future in front of us, let’s use all the resources we have to make even greater strides forward in the years to come.

As for me it is a great pleasure that I have been connected with the BKA from its early beginnings, and will continue to serve the Association as long as its members require me to do so.