kendo: the way of the sword

Courtney Takabayashi
April 08, 2024
fitness

Steeped in Japanese culture and samurai sword arts, modern kendo isn’t necessarily about winning duels. For members of Myohoji Kendo Club in the heart of Honolulu, kendo is about perseverance, camaraderie, and more.

Lawyer by day, kendoka by night
Kendo has been an important part of Seth Harris’s life since he joined his university’s kendo club nearly three decades ago. When he moved to Hawaii for law school, he continued his training and is currently the lead instructor at Myohoji. “We have a small but growing membership,” Harris says. “The ages of the members range from 6 to 94 years old.”


Founder Rev. Eijo Ikenaga (center front) surrounded by Myohoji dojo members.

Harris enjoys learning self-discipline and camaraderie with fellow practitioners and appreciates how kendo concepts apply to daily life. “In kendo, the fundamental goal is to find an opportunity to strike without hesitation, with full intensity, and with focused attention through completion,” he says. “This mindset allowed me to measure my success not against standard metrics of monetary gain or career advancement, but in how I approach situations in life.”

Though kendo training can be an intense cardiovascular workout, there are mental health benefits, too. “Experienced kendoka (kendo practitioners) show intensity of spirit and vision gained with years of training,” Harris says. “As a result, they can properly perceive their opponent and have an advantage over someone younger, faster, and stronger who may not have the same level of self-discipline, patience, and vision.”

Elegance and focus
Shelly Kunishige’s interest in kendo started when she cheered on a friend competing in a kendo state tournament. “Kendo is very elegant to watch,” she says. She decided to give it a try and has been training since 2005.


Shelly Kunishige and Seth Harris giving their all during training.

Kunishige knew that finding the right dojo was important. “Kendo is an activity where you need other people to practice and grow with. I appreciated the structure of the practices at Myohoji and the sensei’s teachings,” she says. “And I made many good friends at the dojo throughout the years.”

Kunishige also values the health benefits of kendo. “It definitely helps with cardiovascular endurance and is a full-body workout,” she says. “And when you complete a hard practice, there’s a feeling of satisfaction.”


Kunishige suited up and ready for practice.

As a bonus, kendo is a family affair. “My 7-year-old will train with me when she can,” she says. “I’ve noticed that she’s more patient and focused when she practices kendo. It also helps tire her out so she gets a good night’s sleep.”

Intensity and dedication
After emergency surgery for a pituitary tumor, Michael Cueva thought about all the things he’d like to try once he recovered. “Kendo seemed interesting since it’s a weapon-based art,” he says. He also thought it would be interesting to learn about Japanese culture and be a great way to challenge himself mentally and physically.


Michael Cueva engaged in combat.

Cueva chose Myohoji because of its size and member vigor. “It was a small group of people practicing and there was an intensity about the dojo that resonated with me,” he says. “I originally went there to just observe, but the head of the dojo at the time, Rev. Eijo Ikenaga, handed me a bokken (wooden sword) and had me swinging it.” Cueva appreciated Ikenaga’s “no need to watch, just train now” attitude. “I had a blast and was happy I could start training right away,” he says.

Cueva has kept up his training for nearly 18 years. “I’ve met and trained with some great people,” he says. While kendo practice can be intense, after practice, he always feels a sense of accomplishment. “We’re in it together and we’re all there to do our best.”

Starting young
At 11 years old, Cueva’s son, Mace, is one of the youngest members of the dojo. He started practicing kendo in the second grade because he was curious about what his dad was doing. Once Mace started training, he knew kendo was for him. “It keeps me active and I enjoy hitting things,” he says. “I also learn about respect and etiquette.”


Mace Cueva training.

During one of his tournaments, Mace faced an adult opponent in the second round and won! “I did better footwork than him,” he says. “And my kiai (yell) was louder.” Though Mace lost in the next round to the person who’d go on to win the tournament, he still felt good about the experience. “I felt accomplished and had fun.”

Mace hopes that one day, his friends will join him at the dojo. “Kendo is a good art,” he says. “Since my friends are noisy, they might like yelling and swinging a shinai (bamboo sword).” 

For more information about Myohoji Mission Dojo, call (808) 398-5555 or email honolulumyohojikendo@gmail.com.

Photos courtesy Rae Huo

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