The history of Kendo in South Africa

Kendo was introduced to South Africa by Sensei Malcolm Dorfman (8th dan Karate), one of the country’s leading karate senseis, when on a visit to Japan in 1985 for a karate grading, he practised kendo and was graded shodan. On his return to South Africa a number of his karate students started kendo and on his next visit to Japan he was awarded his nidan in kendo.

In 1987 Malcolm Sensei had to devote his full attention to karate and stopped practicing kendo. However a small group of 2 to 3 members continued practicing at his dojo. The activity nearly died out until a revival in 1988 saw the start of a slow growth.

In January 1989, the current President of the South African Kendo Federation, Buster Sefor joined and started kendo. There were 5 regular members at that time, Alan Walker was the senior, Derek Ashburn, Barry Gordon, Peter Furness and Buster Sefor.

Malcolm Sensei had practised his kendo in Tokyo at the Kyumeikan dojo under Kubo Sensei (7th dan kendo, 7th dan iaido, 6th dan jodo), and in March 1989 Kubo Sensei sent one of his best young students, Takashi Shimamura, to South Africa. Takashi was at university at that time and came to South Africa for an extended stay to study English. He was 20 years old and had then a 3rd dan in kendo and iaido and 2nd dan judo. He joined the dojo and injected enthusiasm and good teaching and allowed the members to experience real Japanese kendo for the first time. As it turned out Takashi stayed for 2 years with the Sefor family.

Membership grew slowly and in July 1990 at the invitation of Kubo Sensei, Buster Sefor and Takashi Shimomura visited Italy to take part in a joint Japanese-Italian kendo gasshuku for two weeks. As a result of this experience an invitation was extended to Kubo Sensei to visit South Africa.

About this time the South African Kendo Federation was formed with Peter Furness as President and Buster Sefor as Secretary. We also became members of the Confederation of Martial Arts which subsequently became the Martial Arts Authority. In October 1990 we moved our dojo from Malcom Sensei’s dojo to the Ulmann Park Recreation centre in order to practice on a wooden floor. Dojos were started in Cape Town (by a 3rd dan visitor from France) and Durban (by Barry Gordon who moved down to Durban).

In February 1991 we were delighted to host a Japanese delegation comprising two 7th dans (Arakawa Sensei and Kubo Sensei) and three 3rd dans who ran a one week workshop and officiated at a South African grade examination. This was not an official grading as we were not yet members of the International Kendo Federation, however it gave a guideline as to our progress. The visit was enormously successful. It was with sadness that we said goodbye to Shimomura San who had to return to Japan to complete his studies.

As a result of these contacts we applied to the International kendo Federation for membership. This resulted in an invitation to send delegates to the Kendo Foreigners Summer Camp in Kitamoto during August 1991. Peter Furnsess, Buster Sefor and Mike Moore (from Cape Town) traveled to Japan where they participated in training with Kubo Sensei as well as practicing for two weeks at Kitamoto with delegates from 31 other countries. All three were successful in their grade examinations for shodan. The chief sensei at Kitamoto this year was Nomasa sensei (hachidan hanshi) , and unbeknown to us this was ultimately to be of great benefit to South African kendo.

During this visit we met with the Secretary General of the IKF who advised us that South Africa had been provisionally accepted as a member to be ratified at the next IKF general assembly in Paris in 1993.

On our return from Japan in September 1991 we hosted a visit by Ohno sensei (6th dan kyudo) and his son Naoshi (2nd dan) who ran a workshop and introduced the fascinating martial art of Japanese archery to South Africa.

We were now practicing without any teachers, our highest grade being shodan. We recognised that being so isolated, if we were to advance in kendo, iaido and jodo, we would have to commit to going to competitions and workshops internationally and if possible have teachers visit South Africa. Our first international visit was to compete in the 9th World Kendo Championship in France in April 1994. We sent a team of 8 in order to gain as much experience as possible. Mario Walluschnig, Gareth Bell and Ray Fleming received their shodan grade. This was a fantastic learning experience for us and the first time most members had experience real kendo. We attended the board meetings of both the IKF and EKF and were officially accepted as members of both organizations.

In June 1994 one of our members, Cheryl Jay visited Japan, trained with Kubo sensei and attended the summer camp at Kitamoto where she graded shodan in kendo. This was a major achievement for her as she is deaf. We also had a visit from a German kendoka, Uwe Kumpf, a 5th dan then, who spent two weeks with us training and being on holiday.

Early in 1995, Mr. Ishimaru, a businessman working for Sumitomo was assigned to South Africa, and fortunately for us he was a 5th dan in kendo. He had been asked by his sensei, Nomasa sensei (8th dan, hanshi), who Buster Sefor had met in Kitamoto in 1991, to start teaching us. We started to practice and learn in a more effective an proper manner. In April 1995 we sent a team of 5 to compete in the European Kendo Championships in Glasgow, Scotland. We continued to gain experience and Peter Furness, Buster Sefor and Mario Walluschnig passed their nidan grade examination in kendo. Peter and Buster also obtained their nidan in iaido and Mario a shodan in iaido.

As a result of meeting the British delegation in Glasgow we had a visit from Jock Hopson Sensei (now 7th dan kendo, iaido & jodo) who gave workshops in Johannesburg and in Natal. He also officiated at our trials to select a team for the EKF Championships to be held in Hungary in April 1996.

Unfortunately at the beginning of 1996 there was a split in the SAKF due to a difference of opinion between the President and the Secretary. As a result, most members supported Buster Sefor who then became the President of the SAKF. Peter Furness started another group, the SAKA. The conflict lasted nearly 2 years and finally under direction of the National Sports Council and the Martial Arts Authority, the SAKF was declared the only official body for kendo, iaido and jodo in South Africa.

This internal conflict resulted in us sending only one unofficial delegate, Tony Hughes to the EKF Championships. He also passed his nidan in kendo at this event.

We continued to train under Ishimaru sensei and in March 1997 we sent a team, with Ishimaru Sensei as coach, to Kyoto, Japan to take part in the World Iaido Festival and the 10th World Kendo Championships. In comparison to the previous world championships our standard had improved markedly. Buster Sefor gained his sandan in iaido and Mario Walluschnig his nidan in iaido. Gareth Bell and Ray Fleming were awarded their nidan in kendo and Rian van Zyl his shodan.

In July 1997 Buster Sefor attended the All United States Kendo/Iaido summer camp in Colorado Springs where he successfully graded sandan in kendo.

In 1998 we sent a team of 5, with Ishimaru Sensei as coach, to take part in the EKF Championships in Basel, Switzerland. Mario Walluschnig received his sandan in kendo. Also during this time we initiated our development program for previously disadvantaged communities in South Africa.

In April 1999 we were delighted to welcome to South Africa a delegation from Japan of Nomasa Sensei (8th dan, hanshi), Seto Sensei (7th dan, kyoshi) and Irii Sensei (7th dan, kyoshi – now 8th dan) as well as from Germany, Kumpf Sensei (6th dan, renshi). Together with Ishimaru Sensei (5th dan) we had for the first time in South Africa sufficient senseis to make a grading panel to grade up to 3rd dan. We held a very well attended workshop with a number of beginners taking part. Gareth Bell and Ray Fleming achieved sandan grade, Rian van Zyl, Cheryl Jay and Kobus van Wyk received nidan grade and Gert Botha, Deon de Jongh and Cedric Jacques received shodan grade. The visit was a great success all round.

Due to this seminar we were unable to send a full team to the 1999 EKF Championships in Lourdes, France as the dates coincided. However we felt it important that we were represented and Tony Hughes attended and took part in the competition.

In July of 1999 Ray Fleming and Tony Hughes visited Japan to take part in the Kitamoto summer camp. In addition they spent time in Tokyo with Nomasa sensei and had the privilege of training at the famous Mitsubishi dojo with Nomasa sensei. Tony was also successful in obtaining his sandan grade at Kitamoto.

A team of five under the direction of Ishimaru Sensei, competed in the 11th World Kendo Championships in Santa Clara, California, United States during April 2000. Again our standard had noticeably improved compared to the previous championship. One of our new development members, Vusi Gubuza, fought very well and also was graded shodan. We were also delighted that Ishimaru Sensei passed his 6th dan examination.

On our return it was with great sadness that we said our farewell to Ishimaru Sensei who had completed his five year commitment in South Africa and was reassigned to Japan. His contribution to South African kendo in terms of teaching, donations of equipment and financial assistance is inestimable. We were also happy to welcome another businessman from Japan assigned to South Africa, Sakabe Sensei (5th dan) who has also started to instruct our members.

In May 2000, the President of the SAKF, Buster Sefor attended an Iaido and Jodo seminar at the University of Guelph, Canada in order to improve knowledge of Iaido and Jodo.

In August 2000, Buster Sefor and William van Straaten attended the Kitamoto summer camp in Japan. Buster passed his 4th dan grade examination and William his shodan. They were also fortunate to spend time and train with Nomasa Sensei and Ishimaru Sensei at the Mitsubishi dojo. They were also greatly appreciative of the many kindnesses shown to them. Buster also was please to spend some time with Kubo Sensei and also Takashi Shimomura.

In November 2000, for the first time, the SAKF sent a team of 3 to compete in the European Iaido Championships in Sittard, Holland. This was a very important learning experience in terms of further developing Iaido in South Africa.

In the April of 2001 we sent a team of 6 to compete in the European Kendo Championships in Bologna.

In June of 2001 we were privileged to host an official delegation of the International Kendo Federation who led a 2 day workshop and grading examination. The delegation was lead by Tetsuya Watanabe (hachidan hanshi) and included Tomoharu Ito (hachidan kyoshi), Teruo Oboki (nanadan kyoshi) and Hiroshi Kanzaki (nanadan kyoshi). We were also delighted to welcome Ishimaru sensei who returned to South Africa for a short visit. 6 members passed dan grade examinations and 17 passed kyu grade. 32 attended the workshop. In July William van Straaten attended the Kitamoto Summer Camp and obtained his kendo nidan.

In April 2002 we once again welcomed Ishimaru sensei together with Idogawa sensei (nanadan) and Tsuruda sensei who ran what was now becoming an annual workshop. 12 members passed their grade examinations. In July Tony Hughes and Ray Fleming attende Kitamoto summer camp where Tony was successful in his yondan examination.

April 2003, for our annual workshop, saw the return of Ishimaru sensei with Hiroshi Ogawa sensei (nanadan) as well as Uwe Kumpf sensei (rokudan) and his wife Kazuko Kumpf sensei (godan) from Germany. From 31 attendees, 22 received their grades. In July we sent a team of only 2 members to the World Kendo Championships in Glasgow.

In May of 2004 we welcomed Ishimaru sensei together with Kiyifumi Mori sensei (rokudan) for our annual workshop. This time we had 67 attendees with 55 passing the grade examination. We now had about 100 active members. April 2004 we sent a team of 5 to the EKF Championships in Budapest where we advanced further than we had done previously. In July Buster Sefor and Llewelyn Roderick attended the Kitamoto Summer Camp where Llewelyn was successful in his sandan examination.

Each year Ishimaru sensei returns with kendo friends to teach at our annual SAKF seminar which slowly grows larger.

In 2005 Buster Sefor attended a seminar in Brussels where he was awarded his 5th dan in kendo and 4th dan in Iaido. Soon after in 2006 we sent a delegation top take part in the renowned Rickmansworth seminar in the UK run by Sumi sensei (hachidan hanshi). At this workshop, Tony Hughes was awarded his 5th dan in kendo and Ray Fleming his 4th dan in kendo. Later in the year we sent a team of 5 members to compete in the World Championships held in Taipei, Taiwan.

In 2007 & 2008 we sent delegations to the Kitamoto camp in Japan and once again to Rickmansworth where Mitchell Kyle became the youngest South African to be awarded a 3rd dan. Also in 2008 we sent a team to Helsinki to compete in the European Kendo Championships where Mitchell Kyle was granted a fighting spirit award..

In February 2009 Buster Sefor attended the EKF referees seminar where he passed his 6th dan kendo examination becoming the first South African to do so. The SAKF will be hosting an EKF delegation in May for the Annual SAKF seminar and will also be sending a team to the 14th Kendo World Championships in Sao Paulo during August.

As can be seen, despite our small size, we have been as active as possible in growing kendo in South Africa and encouraging senior members to obtain international experience.

All of the above activities over the years have been financed by the individual members of the SAKF as, despite many approaches, we have as yet received no grants from government or the appropriate sports controlling bodies. During the life of the SAKF we have taken an active role in serving on the committees of the IKF, the EKF and the Martial Arts & Games Committee of South Africa.

Our continual quest is to have kendo more widely known in South Africa and to promote membership. We also have an active development program for previously disadvantaged communities. In this regard, we demonstrate at school fetes, we demonstrate for the Japanese Embassy when requested, we have demonstrated at product launches at major exhibition as well as appeared in TV adverts. We have promoted kendo in programs on television and radio and have had articles in newspapers and magazines. Despite all this we find it difficult to attract and retain members as kendo is so little known in the West.