Nabeyama Takahiro-sensei is a highly respected kendoka who boasts both a successful shiai and teaching career. He has also been actively teaching kendo overseas; today we will be interviewing him on his thoughts towards the spread of kendo.
Nabeyama Takahiro Sensei
-Born in Fukuoka City, Fukuoka Prefecture
-Osaka PL Gakuin: Gyokuryuki 1st Place, Interhigh Individuals 1st Place, Interhigh Team Match 1st Place
-Tsukuba University: All Japan University Championships Two Time Team Match 1st Place
- After graduation: All Japan Kendo Championships Best 8, World Kendo Championships Two Time Delegate
Teaching kendo in the Netherlands
-Please tell us why you decided to start teaching kendo in the Netherlands.
Nabeyama: I began teaching there twenty years ago. Everything started forty years ago when Edo Koukichi sensei had the chance to live in the Netherlands for an year. After him, Iijima Akira sensei took over and continued teaching of kendo there. I was asked to help out with the teaching and accepted the request.
-Had Iijima sensei also been teaching kendo for a long time?
Nabeyama: Iijima sensei has probably been teaching for around forty years or so. He went to Chukyo University and became acquainted with Edo sensei during his time there.
-How often do you frequent the Netherlands?
Nabeyama: I go there every year. The Netherland Kendo federation sponsors a “Summer Seminar” every year, so I usually go during that time.
-How many people go to that seminar?
Nabeyama: Around one-hundred-and-twenty people participate over a three day period, ending with a dan-exam on the last day. It appears that participants are on the rise every year. An increase in the number of participants must mean that the people are finding something of value at this seminar, I see this as a positive sign. One thing I cherish the most from these experiences is when someone says to me, “I’m looking forward to next year”.
I treat every match as a serious fight. I’ll give advice that will help them be judged favorably. Anybody, regardless of their nationality, can participate in this seminar as long as they apply. Please consider applying if you are interested, the next session is planned in August.
Contents of the Seminar
-What are some concrete examples of what you teach at the seminar?
Nabeyama: The most important thing is knowing what the participants want. After establishing their interests, I will then try my best to answer their questions in detail.
In many cases, people outside of Japan tend to start kendo later as an adult. Many of these people are intelligent individuals who have achieved great things in their field of work. Their way of thinking and ability to comprehend kendo is in no way inferior to Japanese people.
-What do foreign kenshi usually seek to learn from this seminar?
Nabeyama: Questions involving, “how to move one’s body”, are quite common. I noticed that there are many people who know a lot about kendo theory. But because they don’t get enough keiko, theories such as “suburi” becomes hard to apply practically.
-Does that mean the standard we use to teach in Japan won’t work overseas?
Nabeyama: It would be easy if we could start from the basics, but time is very limited. Due to the three day limit, I usually have a hearing to see what people are interested before the seminar starts. My approach is to provide what is being sought. Of course, I also prepare beforehand so I can answer on the spot.
-There seems to be a lot of “logical” people around.
Nabeyama: That’s true, but you also have to change your logic to adapt to your audience. Take the difference between university students and elementary students as an example. Elementary student’s brains are still developing, so it's more important to make their bodies remember what it is they are doing. On the other hand, university students should be made to think and comprehend concepts in kendo. My policy is to avoid using onomatopoeia when I teach.
-That’s quite rare among kendo sensei.
Nabeyama: I don’t teach using words such as “Seme in like GU*“ or “Hit with a PAN*”, it’s quite difficult. I try to concepts such as the balance distribution and the way our joints bend. I don’t, however, see onomatopoeia as a bad thing.
-Is there a difference in the skill overseas?
Nabeyama: People are motivated by different reasons to do kendo. There are people who want to learn more about Japanese culture while others do it as a form of sports, it really varies a lot. One thing I can say is that everyone is interested in Japanese etiquette and culture to some extent.
-Is there anything you need to be especially careful of?
Nabeyama: I take care not to completely negate their way of thinking, nor force our way of doing things onto them. I respect their way of doing things. For example, in Japan the person leading suburi will shout the repetitions while everyone will respond with “men”. However, overseas everyone counts “Ichi, ni, san, ect.” together. It seems that they are self conscious of their pronunciation (chuckles).
The Spread of Kendo Overseas
-I heard you have been visiting America as well.
Nabeyama: I went last year, and luckily, I was requested to go this year as well. Chris Yang from team USA studied abroad at Tsukuba University for a year, and his younger brother, Danny Yang, did the same. I was requested to go based on those connections. He is a lawyer who works for Toyota. I think he is a wonderful person with an individualistic way of thinking. He went to Hong Kong this June and is planning another trip to Bangkok at the end of this year with his wife.
※We did this interview in 2017.
-Do you make it a point to make connections overseas?
Nabeyama: It’s not like that at all. I think of each match as a one-time life or death match.
-What do you think is needed for Southeast Asia and Europe to fight on the same level as Japan, Korea, and America in the near future?
Nabeyama: I think the first step is to create a suitable environment. For example, Japanese police are provided with an environment where they can focus on kendo everyday. I feel that countries where one can focus solely on kendo is very limited. Korea is probably the only country other than Japan where making a living out of kendo is possible.
-It seems like making a living out of kendo in other countries is almost impossible.
Nabeyama: I know of people from America who were willing to quit their jobs for the world tournament. Their will to win was truly amazing. I’m not necessarily talking about their techniques, but more so that their heart is in the right place. During the world tournament hosted by Taiwan, Japan lost to America. I had a chance to keiko with the Americans before the tournament, and I’m going to be rather blunt here, but their technical prowess did not match up to the Japanese. Despite that, the Americans won; techniques aside it was a victory of the heart.
-America’s commitment to kendo can be felt clearly. Do you think America has a well established kendo environment?
Nabeyama: I can definitely feel the national team putting more effort in. Chris Yang even went to train with the Tokyo police force a month before the tournament started.
-How do you think the kendo in Europe compares?
Nabeyama: I got the impression that there is a large kendo population in France and that many of their national team members have good sense. In Hungary, there is a man teaching there named Mr. Abe. He studied at the International Budo University and pursued his graduate studies at Tsukuba University. They are well trained and have clean kendo.
-What is the impression you have of kendo in Southeast Asia?
Nabeyama: There are many countries in South Asia that haven’t been registered with the world kendo federation yet. However, many Japanese companies are operating in places like Thailand. Some of these company workers usually end up teaching kendo during their stay there.
Message to Foreign Kenshi
-Please give one last message to the foreign kenshi reading this interview
Nabeyama: I think it’s important to focus on immersing yourself in kendo. Try to find the right Japanese environment that can help you achieve that. There are many exchange students who have come to Tsukuba and improved their kendo through the process. I would like to see more people coming to Japan, tasting delicious food, and immersing themselves in kendo. There is an impression that natural disasters are common Japan, but in reality, it’s very safe. Please come to Japan at least once if you have the chance and try doing kendo with the people here.