Kendo: connecting body, mind & spirit
The history of kendo in the lower mainland goes back to the early 1900s when Kentaro Tsuzuki established the Yoki Kan dojo in Steveston. By the time the internment forced Japanese Canadians from the coast in 1942 there were at least six kendo dojo in British Columbia—in Vancouver, Steveston, New Westminster, Sunbury, Whonnock, and Woodfibre.
The specialized equipment came directly from Japan, a suit costing upwards of $100, a great deal of money in those days. Visiting instructors from Japan would pass through occasionally, supplementing the instruction of the local instructors, and sometimes awarding dan grades.
Beginning in the early 1930s, tournaments were held regularly in British Columbia and Washington State. Canadian dan holders tended to do well in competition (shiai). By 1940 a typical season saw a Seattle Kendo Kai tournament in November, a Hokubei Butokukai tournament in late January (venues alternated between Seattle, Tacoma, and Gresham, Oregon), and a Steveston or Vancouver tournament in mid-February.
The bombing of Pearl Harbor and the subsequent uprooting of the Canadian and American Japanese communities closed down all the dojos. Interestingly, most Japanese Americans rejected kendo as a form of cultural nationalism during the war, while Japanese Canadians continued to practice it. A kendo club at the Angler POW camp in Ontario was operating as early as 1943. The dojo was known as Shoko Dojo, or “Mr. Matsushita’s Lakeside Kendo Club.” The reference was to its location, near Lake Superior, and to its head instructor, 25-year old Motoo Matsushita. Equipment consisted of about a dozen sets of kendo armour and assorted shinai [bamboo practice weapons] that the Canadian YMCA arranged to have shipped to Angler from storage sites in British Columbia. The Shoko Dojo, which had 50-60 members, held two tournaments, one in August 1944 and another in August 1945. Most members had no previous kendo experience, but by the time they left three years later many were ranked 1-dan.
There were kendo clubs in other locations during the war. The Japanese Canadian National Museum collection includes a photo showing members of the kendo club at Kaslo, British Columbia in 1944. At the Buddhist church in Raymond, Alberta, Moriharu Tanigami taught kendo to about forty students. Tanigami returned to Steveston after the restrictions were lifted and Japanese Canadians were allowed to return to the coast in 1949. Tanigami and Rintaro Hayashi almost immediately set about reorganizing what would become the Steveston Kendo Club. In 1972 the City of Richmond, the Steveston Community Society, and the Japanese Canadian Community Association jointly financed a Martial Arts Centre. Offering judo, karate, aikido, and kendo, the Centre therefore played an important role in preserving Japanese Canadian culture into the twenty-first century. The Vancouver Kendo Club reformed in the early sixties.
Source: Kendo in Canada, 1900-1950 by Joseph Svinth from Nikkei Images, Autumn 2002.