Martial art also ‘a way of life’

Otago Kendo Club members Liam Domett-Potts, 23 (left), and Oscar Berry, 15, practise their kendo...
Otago Kendo Club members Liam Domett-Potts, 23 (left), and Oscar Berry, 15, practise their kendo strikes at the Logan Park High School gymnasium on Thursday. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
Kendo is not the type of martial art you see every day.

But a group of Otago enthusiasts are making moves as the sport continues to grow throughout the region.

Kendo, meaning way of the sword, is a modern Japanese-style martial art, where participants use bamboo swords to strike opponents covered in protective armour.

It is based on warriors’ sword usage from the samurai era.

Otago chief instructor Alan Stephenson has been involved in the sport for 38 years and has helped the region make big strides in the past three since he moved to Dunedin.

But kendo was more than just an activity for Stephenson.

"It’s a way of life," Stephenson said.

"That’s what kendo means — it means the way of the sword.

"You actually live your life in a certain way. That will be different for different kendo practitioners."

Stephenson, who holds the rank of seventh dan, joined Otago with his wife, Naoko, a fifth dan, about three years ago.

Liam Domett-Potts
Liam Domett-Potts
They brought a lot of experience to the Otago club, which has about 25 members, and encouraged them to compete at the national championships recently.

It was the first time in six years the national championships had been held and Otago, despite being a smaller club, more than held their own.

Otago returned home with a gold, silver and bronze medal and won two of the fighting spirit awards.

Oscar Berry and Liam Domett-Potts were also approached to "throw their hat in the ring" for the world championships in 2027.

"Otago Kendo Club is starting to generate quite a lot of momentum," Stephenson said.

"I’m hoping that in the next New Zealand champs that we are able to compete with my ex club [Auckland Kendo Club].

"We’ve got quite a bit of work to do, but I think it’s a goal we can reach in the next three years or six years."

Oscar Berry
Oscar Berry
Stephenson, who was previously chairman of the New Zealand Kendo Federation and still sits on the board, was proud to see the growth in the club, and was now being beaten by some of his students.

The club also had a good relationship with Logan Park High School. Club members train at the school’s gym, and many pupils are getting a taste of the sport.

Stephenson became involved in kendo when he read James Clavell’s book, Shōgun.

He then ran into kendo practitioner Brent Hanson and "things just went from there".

Stephenson was a founding member of the Auckland Kendo Club, worked his way through the ranks — highest is eighth dan — and travelled the world with kendo.

But his focus remains with Otago and helping them reach their potential.

In September, he hopes to take the club to Wellington, where the Rembuden Kendo Club hosts the largest and longest-running kendo tournament in New Zealand.