The vlog above was created by our lovely OKM members for a quick window into our amazing experience.
Kyudo in Australia maintains a small presence in comparison to other martial arts, however, its members are no less keen and eager to learn. Every year, whenever the opportunity arose to attend an international seminar and shinsa (gradings) held by the IKYF (International Kyudo Federation) overseas, or something closer to home when Australia invites shogo* ranked sensei for domestic seminars, a number of members would flock to attend, averaging roughly 30-40% of the country's membership.
Australia's Kyudo scene is relatively young in the number of years Kyudo has been cohesively active under the Australian Kyudo Association (AKA), with the majority of its members being Mudan (no Dan grade) or 1 Dan, and a handful of members being 2 Dan to 4 Dan, and one 5 Dan in Canberra. As gradings could only be attained at Shinsa held by IKYF internationally (usually hosted at Japan or other member countries), to achieve a Dan grade can be an expensive endeavour. As Australia has no sensei with shogo rank to speak of its own, domestic seminars with international guests are very popular, and gives us a chance to gain access to higher level teachings and keep our Kyudo knowledge current.
Our last international Kyudo event was the 7th Asia-Oceania Kyudo Seminar Special Overseas Provisional Chuo Shinsa and Seminar held at Taipei, Taiwan in April 2019 (a great video produced by the Taiwan Kyudo Association on the event could be found here). In the same year, The NSW Kyudo Association (NSWKA) hosted Kyoshi Nanadan (7 Dan) Takeuchi Masakuni Sensei for a 3 day domestic seminar in association with the AKA and Sydney Kyudo Kai (SKK) in October 2019. Both events were very well received, and members were hopeful for the announcement of the 2020 seminar and shinsa to be announced by the IKYF, rumoured to be held at Nagoya, Japan.
Then COVID-19 hit, making waves across the world. In the wake of it, Australia has closed its border, with states going into lockdowns. In particular, our home city of Melbourne experienced 6 lockdowns totalling 262 days since March 2020 - one of the longest total lockdowns in the world. When not in lockdown, restrictions applied and many sporting associations or gatherings could not take place. It wasn't until around November 2021 that the majority of the restrictions have eased, and arguably activity has returned to a new normal in early 2022 as more and more people receive the dual dose of COVID-19 vaccinations. OKM ourselves were formed post-COVID restrictions, and opened our doors from March 2022.
We had hope that 2022 was the year that international seminar and shinsa is back, but April came and went with no news, and Japan still in its own throes of COVID-19 woes, our hope was dashed. 2022 marked almost 3 years that most of our members (and Australia-wide) since we are able to receive higher-level teaching at seminars or grade at shinsa. However, plans were made by our friends over at SKK to host a seminar and invited a good friend of Australia over in August 2022.
Originally from Australia and currently residing in Hokkaido, Japan since 2005, Gregory Stewart sensei is a Renshi Rokudan (6 Dan) with 17 years of experience in Kyudo, and 15 years in Yabusame**. Living in a small city called Obihiro, there is a large public kyudojo as part of a larger sport and recreation park located in a forest called Obihiro no Mori in which he trains in.
Giving an insight into the Obihiro no Mori kyudojo as described by Gregory-sensei, it's noted that Hokkaido’s senior instructor, Masahiro Takada (Hanshi 8 Dan) and his wife Yasuko (Kyoshi 6 Dan) are the senior members of this dojo. A few years ago, when Takeshi Shibata (Hanshi 9 Dan) was the chairman of the ANKF (All Nippon Kyudo Federation), Takada-sensei was selected to be one of the vice-chairmen. During that busy time, he handed over his duties as kaicho of the Obihiro Kyudo Association to Takumi Matsushita (Kyoshi 6-dan), who remains in charge to this day. In addition to the several very experienced and knowledgeable instructors, there are also three Renshi 6 Dans, and seven Renshi 5 Dans.
As the news was announced, several members in Melbourne were very excited to be able to have the opportunity to receive instruction at a seminar and to see our interstate friends again. In general (and as I find it personally), the friends you make and being part of the Kyudo community where you and like-minded people get to enjoy this niche martial art and improve together is one of the many charms and draw of practicing Kyudo.
Due to the restriction on the space available at the seminar venue, there were a limited number of spots available and a few members unfortunately missed out. In the end, a total of 7 Melbournians made it across up to Sydney. 6 from OKM and 1 from our friends over at MKK (Melbourne Kyudo Kai).
The seminar was held over a weekend for 2 days across 13-14 August. In each Kyudo club around Australia and as with OKM (though of course varies per club), the instructors are usually senior members with the most experience in years or with higher Dan grades, and members would give advice to each other to learn together. The result is often we find ourselves in a plateau, where we bring each other up to the same level of skill before levelling off. This is why we greatly value external input from higher level instructions, which we are only rarely able to receive. This in turns give us new material to be able to disseminate down to our members who were unable to attend. It was a well-run event by SKK with about 30 attendees in total, and we've received plenty of tips and corrections for us to work on (until the next seminar)!
We are greatly appreciative of the time and effort given by Gregory-sensei from coming all the way down from Hokkaido, and hope to attend many more seminars in the future with him!
Thanks for reading - until next time!
*There are three levels of Shogo: Hanshi (Master), Kyoshi (Teacher) and Renshi (Instructor). Shogo are granted on assessment to members who display proficiency resulting from their intensive study and training, and who have shown remarkable achievements in Kyudo. To hold Renshi, a minimum of 5 Dan is needed. To hold Kyoshi, Renshi is required, and similarly for Hanshi, Kyoshi is required.
**Yabusame (流鏑馬) is a type of mounted archery on horseback in Japanese archery using Kyudo bow.