Trevor Chapman memorial practice - January 2018
In November 2017, Trevor Chapman (kendo 6th Dan Renshi) passed away after a two-year battle with cancer. Trevor, who was dojo leader and founder of Kashi No Ki Kenyu Kai in the East Midlands, was a well-respected kendo teacher who played a pivotal role in bringing a number of high grade Japanese sensei to the UK to host seminars, including Ozawa Hiroshi (8th Dan Kyoshi), Takizawa Kenji (8th Dan Kyoshi), Tashiro Junichi (8th Dan Kyoshi) and Takatera Tsuneho (8th Dan Kyoshi). The annual Ozawa seminar has become a familiar fixture on the UK kendo calendar, and will reach its 13th year in March 2018.
The club members of Kashi No Ki Kenyu Kai wanted to recognise Trevor’s dedication to kendo and his influence as a dojo leader for over 30 years in a way that was appropriate and relevant to the way he approached his life and his kendo. The club members decided to host an extended New Year practice to raise money for MacMIllan, a charity that provided Trevor and his family with some much-needed support and respite in his final weeks. We approached sensei Gary O’Donnell (7th Dan Renshi) and asked if he would lead the practice. Trevor and Gary had been friends for many years and sensei O’Donnell was a fellow kendo teacher who Trevor had always admired, so his presence in leading the practice felt appropriate.
Gary gladly agreed to lead the practice and asked us to think about what the focus of the practice should be, and what we thought would be a fitting way to commemorate Trevor and his approach to kendo. For those who knew Trevor through his kendo, you would know that he shunned competitive kendo and very much dedicated himself to learning, developing and teaching an ‘honest’ type of kendo, always upright, always going forward and seeking to hit a perfect ippon with full spirit and determination. This is the type of kendo he aspired to, and the type of kendo he taught. His spirit of determination and ‘grit’ is perhaps his best-known trait. He doggedly pursued the attainment of 6th Dan which he finally achieved on his 16th attempt, not long before he was diagnosed with cancer.
With Trevor’s character in mind, the club asked Gary to focus on the following themes as part of the memorial practice:
· The importance of kiai in building spirit and determination and attacking with conviction
· Crafting and taking opportunities and then delivering and finishing effective strikes
· Showing zanchin – the correct application and readiness to continue the attack
· The importance of the role of an effective motodachi
These were all aspects of kendo that featured heavily in Trevor’s weekly sessions at Kashi No Ki Kenyu Kai, and were fitting topics to focus on for the memorial practice.
On the frosty morning of the practice, held on a Sunday at the Manor Sports Centre in Mansfield Woodhouse, the Kashi No Ki Kenyu Kai club members turned up to prepare the hall for the day’s kendo, expecting around 20 kendoka to come and pay their respects. As the clock ticked slowly towards 10am, more and more people arrived from across the country, and even as far as Edinburgh. As the warm up began still more people arrived, making space in the hall extremely limited. Although we didn’t get an exact final count, estimated numbers were somewhere between 35-40, with kendoka of all ages (10 to late 60s) and grades (4th Kyu to 6th Dan) taking part.
Before the practice began, sensei O’Donnell talked about Trevor and his kendo. He touched on his intense approach to practice and teaching, his caustic wit and his pursuit for deep, meaningful and honest kendo. Perhaps the most poignant comment related to Trevor’s fierce determination to achieve success by the honest application of the principles of the sword was his aim to never win by luck or simply by getting away with a half-hearted strike, he wanted to win with ‘proper’ kendo and by overcoming his opponents with his spirit and with upright, positive kendo.
Lastly, Gary touched upon Trevor as a teacher of kendo, his commitment to supporting others and to giving back to the kendo community by inviting high grade teachers from Japan. He worked tirelessly to forge relationships with respected kendo sensei and committed much of his own time and money to events and activities that benefitted many, rather than just himself.
Practice started with kata. Trevor’s ability in kendo kata was somewhat legendary, and he started every single practice with 30 minutes of kata, whether a grading was on the horizon or not. To paraphrase Trevor: “everything you need to know about kendo is in kendo kata”, which is why he placed such a great importance on kata as part of every training session.
A key aspect of the kata part of the practice was the importance of ‘Ichigo Ichie’ (one life, one encounter). Sensei O’Donnell explained that kata should never be about going through the motions or performing actions as part of a routine – there should be pressure, speed and sharpness to kata practice.
Kata was followed by suburi with ‘Takatera style’ men cutting practice (cutting with perfect form as demonstrated by Takatera sensei at the Ozawa seminars over the past three years). We all practiced kiri kaeshi with loud kiai, and were instructed to maintain correct technique and form. Kiri kaeshi was followed by kakari geiko, which again focused on developing kiai and the determination and stamina to drive home attacks.
Shikake waza practice included multiple men, kote, kote men and kote do attacks, done with the development of seme, tame and full zanshin, followed by butsukari geiko. Oji waza practice again focused on the application of seme, tame and zanshin, and included a practice which, to begin with, left a few of us a little confused. Kakarite was instructed to make six men strikes – each one should build on the day’s practice, with good technique and full spirit. Motodachi would respond to just two of those attacks, with oji waza of his or her choosing. Sensei O’Donnell explained that this helped to create a sense of the unknown; kakarite can make full-blooded men cuts not knowing whether motodachi would react, thus eliminating the danger of making half hearted men attacks in the knowledge that your opponent will deliver a debana waza, nuki waza or kaeshi waza every time. For many of us there this was the first time we had undertaken an exercise like this, but we all saw how beneficial it was to making practice drills more intense, resembling the pressure and feeling of having an opponent in front of you.
To finish the day, we had a 40 minute jigeiko session, with 5 Dan and above acting as motodachi. Everyone in attendance attempted to put into practice everything that had been taught throughout the day in what was an enjoyable session with kendoka from across the country.
Trevor’s wife and son came to the final hour of practice to watch us give our all in his memory, and to thank everyone for attending. Overall, £365 was raised for MacMillan and we all benefitted from a good practice to start off a new year. Such was the success of the event, Kashi No Ki Kenyu Kai are considering making this an annual practice to kick off the New Year and raise money for a worthy cause.
We would like to think that Trevor would have enjoyed taking part in a practice that touched on many of the aspects of kendo he loved, while humbly shunning any notion of celebrating him or the contribution he has made to British kendo.