Kendo in Brazil – an overview of the research and a summary of its history (Part 2 of 2)
terça-feira, 09 de dezembro de 2008

The previous part of this article brought forward a brief summary of the evolution of kendo in Brazil until World War II. The next and last part will present an overview of kendo in Brazil during and after WWII.

During World War II, Brazilian authorities saw kendo as part of a Japanese military training and therefore forbid any practice of the art. However, not a few people kept on training in secrecy, as far as they could stay from the eyes of any informers.

One of such people was Mitsuo Kimura, who passed away this year (2008). He trained at night, in buildings used for sericulture, using pork fat as fuel for light. When the moon was clear, he trained outdoors, together with few other practitioners.

In August 1945, the Japanese community in Brazil received the news that the war was over. This marks the beginning of a fierce and violent conflict between triumphalists, who believed that Japan had been the winner, and the accepters, who admitted that the Japan had been defeated by the Allies.

This conflict was considered a taboo for many years, but, some years ago, a book titled “Corações Sujos” (“Tainted Hearts”) was released, having as its main theme the Shindô Renmei, an organization who was the symbol of such conflict. This book brought once again the attention of researchers and the general public to this topic, having many recent researches and articles, so that this work will not delve further into the details of the conflict.

Not surprisingly, kendo was involved in the clash between the triumphalists and the accepters. It is likely that not many people know that Shindô Renmei was preceded by a secret society called Kôdôsha, which was very active during the War. Both organizations had kendo practitioners among their members.

As kendo is a traditional Japanese art, it is tempting to believe that its practitioners were essentially triumphalists, since these were the people who most emphasized the traditions and the culture of Japan. However, it is a fact that many kendo masters aligned with the accepters. A good example is Eiji Kikuchi, the most important kendo master in Brazil before WWII. He even published a manifest where he recognized the defeat of the Japanese and declared his opposition against the triumphalists.

After the end of WWII, the Alto Tietê area, in the mid-eastern part of São Paulo state, was the first to witness the resurrection of kendo, as the first post-War kendo tournament was held on February 11th, 1946. Organized by Yoshisuke Oura, from Suzano, Takeo Satô and others, it was a rather small and humble event, but it had an extremely importance as a symbol of kendo renaissance in Brazil.

Soon, kendo practice was resumed in many other places, especially in the countryside. Japanese colonies like Tietê, now city of Pereira Barreto, had literally hundreds of diligent swordsmen who practiced with all their hearts.

As the number of practitioners grew, the creation of kendo associations was a natural step. The first association to be founded was Hakkoku Chûô-sen Jûkendô Renmei (“Brazilian Association of Judo and Kendo of Central do Brasil Raiway”), which held its first tournament as early as 1947. In its golden days, it counted more than ten branches, but it was eventually closed in the 70s.

After the foundation of Zenpaku Seinen Renmei, the Young Men Brazilian Association, an organization which brought together young men and women from the Japanese communities in Brazil, it held the first Brazilian Judo and Kendo Championship in 1950, in Pacaembu gymnasium. On the other hand, in the next year the Bandeira Adhemar de Barros Nipo Brasileira (Nippaku Sangyô Shinkôkai) held another first Brazilian Judo and Kendo Championship, also in the Pacaembu gymnasium. This led to a quite unusual scenario, where two Brazilian Judo and Kendo Championships were held in the same year. This situation lasted for a few years.

To end with this rather weird issue, in 1954, the fourth centennial of São Paulo foundation, many people started to work towards the creation of an entity which would encompass and unite all kendo practitioners. Among these people, there were obviously the pre-WWII swordsmen, but also men who came as post-War immigrants.

Among the latter ones, the names of Matao Taniguchi, a Japanese pilot during WWII who survived the famous battle of Leyte Gulf and who founded in Brazil the Fukuhaku Kendo Association, and Terukuni Eikawa, a captain of the Japanese Imperial Army, can be found.

At the same time, intense negotiations with Japan were made. In 1951, Tai Morishita, who would later be one of the lifetime directors of All Japan Kendo Federation, came to Brazil. And from 1952 to 1953, Minoru Nakahara stayed in Brazil to teach Kendo. Nakahara was 9th dan and held the title of Tasshi – an equivalent of Kyôshi nowadays. His influence to the kendo in Brazil was huge and his stay started a kendo fever in many places, thus encouraging the development of many swordsmen.

The efforts of those who loved kendo were fruitful, and in 1959 the Zen Hakkoku Kendô Renmei (literally, “All Brazil Kendo Association”) was founded as a representative of kendo in Brazil. It was the first association outside Japan that joined All Japan Kendo Federation.

This link to Japan stayed very strong. In 1962, the first shôgô, or titles, were awarded from Japan to Brazilian swordsmen. Eiji Kikuchi, Senji Sugino and Miyojirô Andô became Kyôshi and Frederico Hiroo Fujiwara became Renshi. In the next year, the first kendo delegation from Japan came to Brazil. Having Yûji Ôasa, 10th dan Hanshi as its leader, this mission promoted a significant boost of the art in this country.

In 1967, the 3rd World Kendo Friendship Tournament was held in Japan, and Senji Sugino and Akinori Kojima took part as Brazilian athletes. Three years later, in 1970, the 1st World Kendo Championship (WKC) was held in Budokan, Tokyo. Brazil sent a large delegation with its best members, reaching 3rd place in the team tournament.

Most of the delegates were active kendo teachers, like Tomitoshi Toita, founder of Seibukan; Yoshikata Kiyohara, founder of Kôbukan; Mitsuo Kimura, founder of Shinbukan; Satoshi Nagahashi, from Bastos; Kôshô Higashi, Ichirô Ôrui, Frederico Hiroo Fujiwara e Isao Murakami, from São Paulo.

In the early 80s, the Federação Paulista de Kendô (FPK, São Paulo State Kendo Federation) was founded, as the first step towards the foundation of a national kendo federation that would be officially recognized by the Brazilian government. Therefore, FPK can be considered as the rightful successor of Zen Hakkoku Kendô Renmei.

The late 70s/early 80s also saw the establishment of Kokushikan University in Brazil as well. This allowed many proficient swordsmen to stay for a long time in Brazil to spread the art, and many skilled Brazilian swordsmen were educated by Kokushikan teachers. As a result, in the 5th WKC, held in São Paulo in 1982, Brazil got a remarkable 2nd place in the team tournament.

In 1998, the Confederação Brasileira de Kendô (CBK - Brazilian Kendo Confederation) was founded and officially recognized by the Brazilian government; and in 2002, the South American Kendo Confederation was established, with Brazil playing a crucial role in it. Therefore, it can be said that solid foundations have been finally laid for kendo in Brazil.

However, the collapse of the economic bubble in Japan, ending the close cooperation with Japan, and the dekassegui phenomenon, which took many apt swordsmen to work as plant laborers, gave the impression that kendo in Brazil suffered a slight fall, both in quantitative and in qualitative terms.

So, the current challenges might be summarized in two: how to promote technical, mental and spiritual development of Brazilian practitioners; and how to foster, spread and expand throughout the country a traditional Japanese art like kendo.

This article ends here. There can be no doubts that there are many issues that can be better explored, and the author would be glad to hear constructive criticism and opinions. And last, but not least, the author would like to express his gratitude towards Mr. Sasaki and the Center for Japanese-Brazilian Studies for publishing this humble work.

About the author:

Luiz Kobayashi

Grandson of Japanese immigrants, he has a PhD in Engineering at the University of São Paulo. Currently, he is researching the history of kendo in Brazil.