A life dedicated to Kendo - Trevor Chapman
Updated: Nov 14, 2020
British kendo lost an important and influential individual in November 2017 when Trevor Chapman-sensei, Renshi 6-dan and dojo leader of Kashi No Ki Kenyu Kai, succumbed to the cancer that he had battled with for almost two years.
Trevor founded Kashi No Ki Kenyu Kai in 1987, acting as dojo leader until his death three years ago. The dojo name, which roughly translates as ‘spirit of the evergreen oak, friends of the association’ relates to the dojo’s close proximity to Sherwood Forest and was officially named by Nakata Yuji-sensei, Kyoshi 8-dan, during a visit to the UK as an instructor with the All Japan Kendo Federation.
Trevor, like many influential kendo teachers, was a humble man who never sought accolades or recognition, despite putting his all into running the dojo and developing kendo in the UK. His style of kendo was very much influenced by the sensei he befriended during his many visits to Japan over three decades. He also worked hard to forge links with high grade sensei wherever he could, which became a catalyst for a wide variety of visits to the UK and annual seminars over the years, all of which have benefited kendoka based in England, Wales and Scotland. He played a pivotal role in bringing the likes of Takizawa Kenji (Kyoshi 8-dan), Takatera Tsuneho (Kyoshi 8-dan), and Tashiro Junichi (Kyoshi 8-dan) to the UK to teach kendo.
Perhaps the most established of these connections is that with Ozawa Hiroshi, Kyoshi 8-dan and author of ‘Kendo: The Definitive Guide’. 2019 saw the 14th consecutive seminar take place in Kashi No Ki Kenyu Kai’s home in Ollerton, a small town in Nottinghamshire. Ozawa-sensei has, since 2005, visited the UK each year accompanied by other high grade Japanese sensei and UK-based high-grade teachers (apart from 2011 following the Tohoku tsunami, which Ozawa-sensei was unable to attend, and the 2018/19 seminars, which were led by his student Ninomiya Itaru sensei, 7-dan). The seminar, held over two days, has attracted between 40-60 kendoka from across the UK each year and includes an annual kata taikai. The teaching delivered by Ozawa-sensei is always implemented into the club’s regular weekly practices, so whatever training drills and exercises are delivered at the seminar, they subsequently become integrated into the regular club practice for all members to benefit from.
Trevor’s approach to kendo was inspirational to those he taught. ‘Inspirational’ is a word that has perhaps lost some of its impact through overuse/misuse, but in Trevor’s case it is entirely suitable. After reaching the grade of 5-dan, it took him 16 attempts to achieve 6-dan. Travelling to Japan and across Europe to then come home after failing to make the grade never once resulted in a moan, whinge or whine about the outcome, he would simply utter something along the lines of “I wasn’t good enough this time, I’ll train harder and will be next time”. For those of us in the dojo who were attempting to achieve our shodan or nidan grades at the time, this matter of fact approach and undefeatable spirit helped us to overcome the disappointment of failing at a grading, and put into perspective how insignificant it is to fail once or twice before achieving success, in comparison with Trevor’s 16 attempts!
He was a huge advocate of kata and its significance in developing kendo basics. 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 at Kashi No Ki Kenyu Kai (30 minutes at the start of each practice). He was also extremely keen on developing his abilities in Mizoguchi Ha Itto Ryu, one of the schools of Japanese Koryu Kenjutsu, currently maintained by a limited number of kendo dojos in Japan, including Ozawa-sensei’s Kobukan in Tokyo. Through Trevor’s friendship with Ozawa-sensei, he was fortunate to receive tuition in Mizoguchi Ha Itto Ryu during his frequent trips to Japan.
Subsequently, this rarely seen form of kenjutsu was introduced to many UK kendoka through the annual Ozawa seminar, which allowed many to experience both watching and practicing Mizoguchi Ha Itto Ryu for the first time. To this day, the members of Kashi No Ki Kenyu Kai continue to practice what I believe is an uncommon form of koryu kenjutsu, particularly in the UK where I am aware of only Paul Budden-sensei (Kyoshi 7-dan), Matsuda Kazuyo-sensei (Renshi 7-dan) and Gary O’Donnell-sensei (Renshi 7-dan) as regular practitioners.
Trevor continued to train and teach kendo for as long as he was physically able to after hearing the devastating news that he had terminal cancer. When he could no longer physically take part in practice he would still turn up, twice a week, and sit in the corner and watch, providing valued instruction to the rest of us. Despite suffering the obvious physical effects of continuous chemotherapy treatment, he would rarely miss a practice and rarely miss anyone trying to ‘take it easy’. Every now and then, he would rise slowly out of his chair, painfully walk across the dojo floor, pick up a shinai and suddenly demonstrate a perfect men, do or kote cut, or an oji waza technique to remind us that, no matter how tired we may be or what physical or mental barriers we had to overcome, we should always aim to cut ippon with the right technique and the right spirit.
This, in many ways, sums up Trevor and his kendo. He had virtually no interest in the competitive side of kendo, preferring to teach what he referred to as ‘proper kendo’ and dedicating himself to learning, developing and teaching an ‘honest’ type of kendo that manifested itself as 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.
Trevor’s approach to kendo, and the way he taught kendo, has been instilled in the dojo and its members, all of whom strive to continue practicing kendo in the manner he would have wished. This will be the lasting legacy of his efforts to develop kendo in the UK.