Nagae sensei interview

This is the transcript of an interview with Nagae sensei in 2005. The aim was to record some of the facts of his life so as to be able to share them with the rest of the Australian Kendo community.

For those who did not know Nagae sensei, please read my short Obituary here.

Interview with Mr Sumitaka "John" Nagae.    
Tuesday, 4 January, 2005
Interviewer: Ben Sheppard

Whereabouts were you born and when were you born?

I was born in Kobe in 1921. My father was the captain of a merchant ship, so he always travelled all over the world. Then when my father was no longer working on the ship, he started working in the office, in Tianjin. So we went to China. Until about 11 years old I was in China.

What company was he working for?

Osaka Shosen. The head office is in Osaka. There were two big shipping companies, called Osaka Shosen and Nihon Yusen, two companies and my father belonged to the one called Osaka Shosen. So he worked as the branch manager of the Osaka Shosen in Tianjin. I stayed there with him until I was 11 eleven years old. Of course at that time I went to primary school in China. So I could speak fluent Chinese! After that there was no opportunity to speak Chinese so it's all gone.

Describe Tianjin.

Tianjin is very close to Beijing. Northern part of China. And there is a river from the Chinese sea to Tianjin, which bends around ninety-nine corners. So one hundred is written like that… []. This is hyaku. But ninety-nine… minus that one [redraws the character for one hundred minus the top cross-stroke ]… that's "white". So this is the name of the river. So after that I returned to Japan. So after China mostly I was in Tokyo.

Did your father study kendo?

Yes! He studied kendo when he was in the old education system in Nagoya—"Number Eight High School". There were only eight high schools in Japan at that time, in the old times. So he was at the Number Eight—Dai Hachi Kotogakko. That is the origin of the Nagoya University.

So he was of course doing kendo, and when I was a boy I had very bad asthma. If asthma comes you can't breathe. So my father gave me a special medicine bought from Germany: a green powder I still remember. He put the green powder in a dish, put it to the match and smoke poured out. So I breathed this in, then stopped the asthma.

Do you remember what the powder was?

No. Only that it was green!

How old were you?

At that time I think eight years old. So my father said, kendo will be good to cure the asthma. So this is one of the reasons I started kendo instructed by my father.

I've heard that many famous kendoka, judoka started because when they were young they weren't very strong…


…and then afterwards they became very healthy.

Yes! So that's the reason when I started kendo at that time. But in China that was not possible. I started kendo when I returned to Japan. So I went to Kokushikan…

Kokushikan University?

Yes! Very old, very hard school. At that time kendo only at the school. And very hard. And they forgot I am a child! Always hitting very hard.

How old were you when you went there?

At that time I think I was twelve years old. Still I remember very hard training! Always I cry, I cry… But there was a very nice sensei there. Some of the sensei… uh, you know Haga sensei, from Shizuoka? His sensei was M. Okano sensei and K. Iwamoto sensei. So that is my start of kendo.

And how long did you train at Kokushikan?

Oh, only until I went to the middle school. Fortunately when I entered the middle school, this one sensei, Iwamoto sensei, he became the teacher at this middle school. So I still learned from him. Unfortunately after the second World War, he died from Tuberculosis. Very tall but very strong sensei.


Do you have brothers and sisters?

Yes! I have two brothers and one sister. I'm the eldest, second one, he was a very nice painter. He studied Interior Design. He was a very clever fellow, because in Japan at that time Primary School was up to six years, then going to middle school: middle school is five years, and then high school is three years then university. My brother finished primary school after five years, then middle school only four years, then into high school. So he studied this special painting, and he was to be working for the Ministry of the Emperor, Kunansho, for the decoration of the Imperial Palace. But unfortunately he was called for the war and he became a Navy Officer, and he died at Okinawa.

Near the end of the War?

Yes that's right. And my sister, she played the piano. She is also very clever pianist, and she married a doctor. The doctor was also a Naval Officer, a medical officer in the Navy. They are both still alive, and the last one is my brother. He didn’t go to the War, and so after the war, he became a ballet dancer!

A very creative, artistic family!

Yes, an artistic family! So he became a ballet dancer and married a ballerina and they established their own ballet school. He is now the Executive Managing Director of the Japan Ballet Association. So only four children.

Your sister and your brother, where do they live now?

They live in Tokyo.

Do you think this artistic side to your family came from your mother or your father?

Well, I don't know!

Was your mother an artistic woman?

No. She was born in Kyoto. Typical Japanese lady: very gentle, very quiet. My father was a very strong fellow. Always go, go, go, go!

So they were a typical Japanese man and woman.

Yes, that's right, yes, yes! I don’t know from where this artistic character is coming!

It's very interesting because at this time in Japan things were very difficult weren't they?

Yes, yes.

And so pursuing an artistic career was perhaps very unusual, very difficult.

Yes of course, yes.

Did any of your siblings pursue kendo or some other budo?

No, nothing. So I'm the only one!

Do you remember who your father learnt kendo from?

I don’t really know... At that time, in wartime, we had a small cottage, a villa in Karuizawa, do you know Karuizawa? It's a very famous resort spot in Japan, close to the Mt Asama, the volcano. And always in summertime we trained, by my father's instruction, and my brother. Still I have some old photos…

So after I finished the middle school, I went to Hokkaido: Hokkaido University, and continued to do kendo there. In wartime at that time, there were very few opportunities to train because most of the university students went to the war. As I learned about the dairy industry I went to one of the dairy factories that were making casein. Casein is a white powder they were using for the glue for the plywood that was used in the Zero fighter. So that's the reason I didn’t go to war. I was a special student. I stayed in Japan, under the condition that I worked for this factory.

So you didn’t have to do military training?

Oh yes, of course all university students had military training: shooting and horse-riding…

And also things like juken?[1]

Oh yes! Jukenjutsu[2]. I have shodan in jukenjutsu!


Yes! Then after the war the Occupying army controlled Japan: they did not allow kendo, so all shinai and bogu was collected by the police and burned. Also people had to submit their Japanese swords. But some people they were clever, they hid it somewhere. That's the reason there still remains some good swords. But most of the swords… my father was so straight he submitted all his swords to the police so I have no sword. My father had two very nice swords, maybe today each worth two or three million yen. Very expensive, but unfortunately I still remember…

It must have been a very sad time.

Yes a very sad time. So after the war of course we had to stop training. But gradually it started, so I joined training again.

Maybe just if I could just ask about your family again. Do you have children?

Yes one daughter.

And she is in Japan?

Yes. She is a producer of Japanese drama. Also she is, how do you say it, scenario writer?

Oh, so she’s a Writer-Producer? In television?

Theatre & Television. At the end of last year she produced a drama at the Shinjuku Koma, do you know the Koma Theatre? So she’s a very busy lady.

So that’s the artistic side of your family coming out again.

Yes, yes! That’s exactly right. Her father’s still swinging the shinai!

So she never practiced kendo.

No, no. Only one daughter

Does she have a family herself?

No. Three dogs!


So how was kendo different before the war? Obviously after the war they had to change kendo a little bit…

Yes! Big, big difference because now present kendo I say is more sports. So you know the rules are very complicated, for instance the fighting area, jogai[3], time limit, and so on. But before the war a kendo match had no such fixed area. Anywhere you could fight each other. Shinpan was only one sensei, sitting in his chair judging by himself. No time limit. So sometimes, matches between two universities started in the morning and finished at midnight! Because of no time limit!

Wow! Was it ippon-shobu[4]?

Ippon-shobu. Completely hit opponent, otherwise no point. It was very strange: shinpan was here… players here [in front of shinpan]. They fight each other, one goes that way, that one goes that way. He says "kote!" this one "men!" Shimpan never moved! So we gave up!, Coming back, walking around—no hajime, nothing—we started again!

Very simple rules!

Very simple! Very simple but more, I think more realistic kendo.

And in the training as well there were different techniques allowed weren't there?

Of course. You were allowed to ashi-barai[5], finally using kumi-uchi[6], then take men off opponent's head. That's a win. So if there was no point, finally we would attack each other! That's OK! Shobu-ari!

So this why some people have their men tied up here and then round and round many times…


And there was also tsuki to the men-gane?

No, no, no.

This was not allowed?

Tsuki [to the throat] is OK, but no, hitting position is the same as today. But so… yoko-men is OK, also sometimes, you know kendo kata number seven: Do? That time you're kneeling on the floor?

Going down on one knee?

Yes, that kind of technique also you could do. Or sometimes when your opponent is coming to do men, I think like this, shinai is holding like that [demonstrates holding shinai across the body with one hand on handle, other near the tip] , BOOM! Your opponent goes [flying] over there! So kamaeshoh! Pyoon![7]

Ah! Like tomoe nage[8]?

Yes, yes! It [kendo] was completely different. When you've seen this style, you realise present kendo is very gentle.

I remember when Nakakura sensei trained at the Kenshikan, I saw that he really liked to do katate yoko-men[9].

Yes. Pon! Sometimes, pon, pon, pon, pon, pon, pon, p-pon-pon-pon, PON! Finish!

So when did you start to learn from Nakakura sensei?

That's very new. Yes. Because I came here 1975. Before that I trained at the Shinbashi, that is Tokyo Electric Company, they have a very nice dojo on the top of the building, and the Chief Instructor is Abe Saburo sensei. And I lived in Hino, west side of Tokyo. Nakakura sensei was teaching at Hino Kendo Club, but unfortunately I went to this other dojo so I had no opportunity to train with him. But I knew Nakakura sensei, the name—very famous!—then I came over here and one year I obtained a special sponsorship from the Australia-Japan Foundation, and was able to invite two sensei. I thought maybe the top sensei were good for Australian people so I selected Nakakura sensei and Nagashima sensei. At that time personally that was my first contact with Nakakura sensei.

But, after that, you know sometimes when I would go back to Japan for business, of course I went to Hino dojo, to Nakakura.

What do remember most about his kendo? What sort of impression did it leave?

Ha! I still remember I wondered, "How to hit him?" He had no suki.[10] Then he would attack quickly. And he also said, "Your kendo is like a child's kendo."! You remember a very funny story? Since then I was acquainted with Nakakura sensei. It was at Kitamoto—Summer Camp. The old dojo, not the new dojo. The first time I think we sent two—Jamie Fennessy and John, John Butler, and some other two—four people attended this seminar from Australia. So I wrote to Nakakura sensei, "This is the first time I send four Australian kendo players. If you have time, please instruct them." There was no reply. Then, when they returned—very funny story—one day—of course Nakakura sensei was not an official instructor at this seminar—one day one old sensei carrying bogu came into the dojo. All the other sensei stopped the training. These four Australians didn’t know who he was. After this sensei put on bogu he said, "Australian people come here!” So these four people against Nakakura sensei—they still didn’t know—after they returned to Australia I asked them what was your feeling. "It's very strange. After he put men on in the dojo there was a very long queue in front of this old sensei. Even the seminar's instructors also joined the queue. But this sensei said, 'Only Australian people come here.' So we started attacking. His kensen was coming bigger, and bigger and bigger towards us! We couldn’t hit him!" So after these four people finished their training, he was gone!


Then I got a letter from sensei who said, "I'm very busy, but by your request I went to Kitamoto specially to see these people."

That's amazing.

It's a very interesting story. He was a very tall sensei.

Yes he was a very tall man. He had a very strong personality didn’t he?

In normal life he was very gentle. Very polite. But when you put the shinai in his hand, he completely changed. 180 degrees! When I was talking with him it was like a father and son, between me and sensei. But when we did keiko—no! Ching! Pon! When I went to his funeral there was of course a photo, but beside the photo they had a statue wearing sensei's bogu and shinai. So when I saw that, I still felt his strong pressure that I felt he was still alive. He was a very nice sensei…

What other sensei do you have good memories of?

Recently Nakanishi sensei was here in Australia. Of course he passed away. He was a ninth dan for kendo, jodo, iaido. The only one [to have reached that level in all three arts]. When I saw sensei's kata—wonderful! I think that was the best kata that I ever saw. He demonstrated his kata at the Kenshikan dojo. Have you seen it?

No I don’t remember his visit. How many years ago was it?

Many years ago I think. So he promised me to attend this First All Australian Iai Championship. I think in Perth. He was very happy to come. But unfortunately already he had cancer and the doctors removed his vocal chords, so his speech was very funny. But before he came over here his cancer started again. So he couldn’t speak and through his wife he said, "Unfortunately Mr Nagae I am not able to come. So I would like to present this special cup[11] in my memory." He was also a very good sensei.

There are many sensei. Nagahashi sensei. Recently in Kendo Nihon[12], I found sensei's photo. He's a very nice sensei too.

Actually, during the war, I said it was not possible to train, but my uncle, he was kendo instructor in Toyama Gakko: special technical school for the military officer to teach iai, kendo and jukendo. My uncle, my mother's younger brother, he was the instructor for kendo. So sometimes if I had time I went there. But he told me, "You're kendo is not killing kendo—not able to kill people." So their target is always how to kill, kill, kill. Actually when he went to China as a commander, finally they bravely attacked the Chinese position. A Chinese officer tried to shoot him with a pistol. Before he shot, my uncle cut down his head with his sword. The Chinese officer’s helmet was almost cut in half. cut. So my uncle kept the blood-stained helmet as a souvenir.

Muraoka. His name was Muraoka Yasushi. He was a major. So that's the kind of kendo I learned!

It’s a very different way to today’s kendo isn’t it?

Very different. Maybe I think after the war that’s why kendo was prohibited. It was a misunderstanding of the occupying army. A misunderstanding that kendo is only a way to kill people. But you know the principle of kendo is not to kill but to train oneself, develop a stronger character.

“Ningen keisei”[13]

Yes, that’s right. But compared with the actual movement of the kendo, it was completely different before the war to now. One of my seniors at university put lead inside the end of the shinai. So his men (cut) was very strong. I used to wonder, “Why is his cut so strong?” So finally I found out, you know inside the kensen, there’s a special plug? Well his was not made of plastic or rubber, it was made of metal! So compared with present kendo training, all around much harder.

Did you have much experience doing competition while you were at university?

Yes. The last competition I attended was the Southern Hokkaido Championship. I won. I still have the cup. But since then I joined the company and was travelling around, so I had no opportunity to attend competition.

When you won that competition were you at university?

That Southern Hokkaido Championship I was already working for the company. So 31 or 32 years old. Tsuki. By a tsuki technique. That was the final point. Very strange, I went to the fifth dan grading at Hakodate, the southern part of Hokkaido in the train. At that time I worked for the Yakumo factory in the Snow Brand company. I went down in the train down to Hakodate. On the train there was one fellow also carrying bogu. So we started talking and he was also going to the grading. Then he said, “One day I attended the Southern Hokkaido Kendo Championship. I went to the final and lost.” Oh is that so? “Yes, my opponent did a very nice strong tsuki”. That was me! “Oh you!” [laughs]

What a coincidence!

Yes indeed! I believe he also passed his fifth dan. I also passed. Always I had to attempt only once then pass: fifth dan once, sixth dan once, seventh dan once.

A perfect score.

Yes a perfect score!

So when you came to Australia you almost gave up kendo didn’t you?

Well yes, but that’s a very strange story. At that time I worked for Snow Brand and the President Mr Mitsugi Sato, he was the Vice-Chairman of the All Japan Kendo Federation. So he asked me, when I just made a courtesy visit to him [before leaving for Australia], he said, “You should promote kendo.” So I wondered “how to promote in Australia? I don’t know how Australian kendo is going.” But that was his request.

So when I came here I was of course too busy for kendo because I was with the Joint Venture business, and then one day I went to Paul Guerillot’s dojo. But that was not kendo. Terrible! So I said “this is not kendo”. Paul then said, “You should show us what is kendo.” So I showed him and he was very interested. And that was the start of the teaching kendo in Australia.

At that time I only wanted to play golf! Australia has very cheap golf. So it was a very good opportunity to brush up my skill for golf! But since then, I’ve had no opportunity to play golf! [laughs]

It’s very interesting I think the story of you emigrating to Australia. Most Japanese come for business and then go back but you stayed.

The story is this. Snow Brand is the biggest dairy company in Japan and they used to sell a lot of cheese. But not natural cheese, processed cheese. Because at that time Japanese people were not so accustomed to the natural cheese, so they wanted processed cheese, from the influence of Kraft from the United States. The basic cheese for the processed cheese is a mixture of the different natural cheeses: Gouda, Cheddar, Edam. Different kinds of cheese melted together, pasteurised and packed. So basic natural cheese for the processed cheese is Gouda, the Dutch cheese, round one, each about 25kg. Japanese consumption was increasing, so they were not able to satisfy consumption with domestic Gouda. So Snow Brand started to import the gouda from Holland and Norway. But then milk production started decreasing in Europe, that means that production went down and prices went up. So Snow Brand tried to find another country to produce Gouda cheese for their processing. On the other hand, Australia only produced Cheddar cheese, and most of the cheese was exported to England or Europe. The EC was just starting so England said “no more cheese from Australia”. So Australia lost the market.

The main exporter of Cheddar cheese to Europe from Australia was Murray-Goulburn. They were looking for some country to supply. Snow brand were also looking for a supplier. So that coincidence matched together. So that is the start of the Joint Venture.

The problem was Murray-Goulburn only produced cheddar cheese. Snow wanted Gouda. So how to make Gouda here in Australia, the is the next problem. So finally Murray-Goulburn said “OK we are able to produce Gouda, and we built the factory.” They built the factory in Cobram. But the Cobram factory’s equipment was not so good. That’s the reason why after two years there was still no Gouda production. I was in charge of the dairy engineering, so Snow Brand asked me to go over there to Australia, discuss with Murray-Goulburn, and modify the machine. Try to make Gouda quickly. That’s the reason I came over here.

So I found many things wrong, I told them what the story was and finally Murray-Goulburn accepted my proposal to modify the machines. I came here in 1975 and at the end of that year after my proposal for modification was complete, we could produce two thousand tons of Gouda to export to Japan. The next year it increased to seven thousand tons.

So Murray-Goulburn was very happy. They asked me to stay, instead of go back. My agreement with the Joint-Venture company, was one year; so after one year I expected to go back to Japan. Because I was already on a course to become a director. So I was very keen to go back! But the Australians said, “you should stay here!” So I decided to stay.

But unfortunately in 1980, the Joint-Venture Project finished by the reason that Europe also started to make Gouda and prices were getting cheaper. And Snow Brand was not so interested to continue importing Australian Gouda because coincidentally the Australian Government stopped the subsidy on the export of Gouda so the price started going up. European cheese was becoming cheaper, so Snow Brand said, no more project.

So we discussed and finally closed the Joint-Venture. At that time I decided instead of go back to Japan, I prefer to stay here. So I left Snow Brand and joined Murray-Goulburn.

Why did you decide to stay in Australia?

Well because...

Not golf?

No, no, no. Usually in the Japanese company system, when people stay overseas, other people going up. So when you return, all people already...

Ah, so there’s no way for you to advance up the corporate hierarchy.

Maybe I would be just sitting by the window reading the newspaper. That’s the normal situation. I knew that, so I didn’t want to go that way. Also Murray-Goulburn’s Managing Director, Jack McGuire liked me very much. He said “You should stay here.” So I was very lucky. [laughs]

And of course you visit Japan all the time...

Oh yes of course, yes.

So it wasn’t a difficult decision to make then.

No, no. Fortunately my wife was also very happy to stay here. You know usually Japanese ladies are very keen to go back. Even the representatives of the big companies, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Nissan, they are all looking toward Japan, not staying here. But my wife said, “If you want I can stay with you.”

This is the reason I stayed here!

That’s very lucky for us! For Australian kendo. And in a way I suppose it was very lucky for you, because as chief instructor for Australian kendo you had a more important position here than you would have had in Japan.

Oh, yes, yes. So when I told you about Mr Sato, he said “You have to promote kendo”. So when I came over here, I just started (teaching) kendo through the Paul Guerillot dojo. That’s the beginning. But Australia is such a big country and at that time I was working for the company, so kendo was just a side business. So my question was “how can I promote kendo?”

Then I found out about the sports coaching accreditation system. So maybe that was a good system and we could promote kendo through the system: we would be able to standardise kendo even though Australia is such a big country. So I applied to the ZenKenRen [All Japan Kendo Federation], IKF [International Kendo Federation]. At that time the General-Secretary was Mr Kasahara. Kasahara sensei. He practiced nito. He already passed away unfortunately from cancer. But he said, “OK Mr Nagae, very good. So the ZenKenRen would like to ask you to be Coaching Director of the sport. So you have to promote this coaching accreditation system in Australia. We are very happy to support as much as possible.” Mr Kasahara told me this. Since then I have a more widened acquaintance of many sensei!

And of course Nakakura sensei is very happy “You should do it!” But you know there is no instruction manual, no system. Also the Australia Sports Council controlled this system, so I went to Canberra a couple of times, but they didn’t like kendo. Kendo is always misunderstood. They think, “Australian Prisoners of War were killed by the Japanese sword so kendo is very dangerous sport. So no, we will not recognise it as a national sport.”

So when was this? Early 1980s?

Yes. So after many discussions with them, finally they said, “OK, you can submit your textbook, your instruction manual, then we can discuss.” That was the beginning. Then I attended many sports workshops in Canberra and finally they admitted the level 1 course, then level 2 and finally level 3 [equivalent to coaching at international competitive level]. During that time of course the IKF was also helping me. Otherwise I think it would have been impossible to standardise kendo in Australia.

Working in Europe

When I entered Snow Brand after finishing university, the Snow Brand equipment for processing dairy products was very, very old. All the equipment was made of copper or galvanised plate. Not stainless steel. For instance to make powdered milk, condensed milk is sprayed from the top of a large chamber and from the bottom, hot air comes up. Then the powder comes down on the floor. This system is still the same but after one or two hours, they had to stop the machine, and people entered this hot chamber to collect all the powder by hand. Of course they were wearing white clothes, hats and shoes. This is the old system. All the milk transport pipe was disconnected and washed by hand with soap. And the vacuum evaporator was washed by people wearing only swimming pants, jumping into the hot water! So that was the old system when I entered Snow Brand.

So snow decided after the War, they found a big gap between the modern dairy industry and Snow Brand’s industry, their equipment. So Mr Sato decided to send one person overseas to study the new equipment and bring all the new equipment back to Japan. I was this fellow selected from about 6500 employees. And Mr Sato said, “You should go to Denmark, to study everything. Not only powdered milk but also cheese, yoghurt, drinking milk, ice cream. Everything you have to study. And then you have to bring everything back to Japan.” That was the beginning of my contact with overseas. That’s the reason I’ve travelled to so many countries. And have many spoons. [Mr Nagae gestures to a display cabinet containing dozens of souvenir teaspoons]

So from Tokyo to Copenhagen took 58 hours by plane!

How many times did you stop?

Oh many times. Six or seven times. Manila, Bangkok, Rangoon, Karachi... So after 58 hours I arrived in Copenhagen. The next day I went to the Danish Dairy plant. At that time already Danish factories were all using stainless steel pipe, and butter-churn was made from stainless-steel. The milk powder equipment automatically sucked the powder from the chamber, separated the air and the powder and put in the can. All automatic! I didn’t know (it could be done). Just amazing! Watching it go czhoom!

No people swimming around!

No! [laughs] It also had what we call C.I.P: automatically timed cleaning equipment. Just put in the cleaning solution. No need to wash by hand. So amazing it was for me (to see)!

I stayed two years in Europe and obtained much knowledge about dairy machinery. So after that I returned to Japan and gradually improved all the equipment in the factory and designed the Snow Brand factory. That’s the job I did for Snow. That’s the reason Snow said “You should go to Australia.” [laughs] Because Australia couldn’t make the right cheese at that moment!

And you had to learn to speak Danish didn’t you?

Yes, that’s right. The first time I didn’t. That was a big problem!

So you learned to speak Danish while you were living there?


You learned English in school didn’t you?

Yes. That was the reason they decided to send me to Europe. You know as I told you my father was a (ship’s) captain. So he spoke German and English very well. During the war, even during wartime my father said, “You should continue to study English. In the future we will need English.” He was very forward-thinking. So I never stopped learning English by myself. For instance after the war, when I was a Hokkaido University student learning the dairy industry, of course Sapporo was occupied by the American army. I remember once when I was looking from the school room, two of the Hokkaido University students came with four or five US soldier. Then at the gate they were fighting, quarrelling with each other. So I went up and I asked, “What’s going on?” In English. So they (the Americans) went “oh?” [laughs] because they wanted to go shopping for kimono. These two university students didn’t understand English so they just guided them to the university. So the university was a very huge campus and I think the soldiers were very worried about what was going on!

So not very many people had good English?

No, no. That is one of the reasons I am still able to speak English.

But when they decided to send me to Europe I thought it’s better for me to brush up my English. So I found two families of the Occupied army, one was Capt. Lester, and the other was Capt. Simpson.  So I asked their wives to help me brush up my English. These two American ladies were very clever, very well co-ordinated and I think about two months it took, every day in the afternoon, to brush up my English. That was a very great help for me.

A very sad story, one of the ladies, Katherine Lester, she passed away from cancer two years ago in Kalamazoo, in the States. But before she died, she wrote a letter to me. A very fine letter, saying, “This is my last letter to you. Still I remember you did very well. I’m now going to heaven. I wish you a good future.” So then I cried...

Did you used to correspond before that?

Yes, yes. A very great lady...

It’s very strange, you know there is this magazine called “Life”. Very famous magazine. Every time I went to Mrs Lester’s home she gave me one copy and would say, “You read this. And tonight you call me back on the phone and tell me what article you are interested in.” But you know teaching conversation in English is very hard! [laughs]

That was a very clever way of testing your English.

Yes, yes. Therefore when I went to Europe I was not afraid of having a telephone conversation. That kind of very, very practical instruction (was very useful).

Was she a teacher by trade?

No, no. Just a housewife. So I was very lucky to have such nice teachers. They said now your are going to Europe. People over there do not understand American English. So you have to speak correct, King’s English. So they taught me this way. That was great. It really helped a lot.


For more information about Nagae sensei and the development of Kendo in Victoria, as well as many excellent photographs, see Gary Oliver's excellent history here.

[1] bayonet
[2] the military art of the bayonet
[3] penalty for going outside match area
[4] one point match
[5] foot-sweep
[6] grappling
[7] sound-word denoting flying through the air and then landing heavily
[8] literally "rolling comma throw", the action of throwing an opponent backwards over one's head whilst rolling backwards
[9] one-handed strike to the side of the head
[10] Weaknesses, openings
[11] The Nakanishi Trophy, now presented each year to the winner of the Australian Iaido Championship
[12] Monthly Japanese kendo magazine
[13] personal development


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