The text below is the first of a two-part interview with Kiyoshi Nakakura Sensei, 9th dan hanshi in both Kendo and Iaido and one of Japan’s top swordsmen. Nakakura Sensei was interviewed on October 15 and December 23, 1987 at his residence in Higashi Murayama City. Also present and questioner for the first interview was Mr. Hideo Yamanaka, President of Nihon Shuppan Hoso Kigyo Company.
“If you think you can’t do something, you can’t! If you absolutely make up your mind to do something, you can!” A product of old-style pre-war Kendo training, top student of Swordmaster Hakudo Nakayama and former adopted son of Morihei Ueshiba, 78-year old Kiyoshi Nakakura Sensei is one of Japan’s top swordsmen.”
Nakakura Sensei: My grandfather paid for all of my school education expenses. My mother became a widow at the age of about 32 and went through great hardships. The garden of my house was a continuation of that of my grandfather’s and I grew up in his house until I started attending elementary school.
Mr. Yamanaka: Was it as a result of your relationship with your grandfather that you went to the Daidokan Kendo dojo?
Nakakura Sensei: That’s right. My grandfather was around 50 years old at that time and had just retired. He used to keep “mamushi” (a kind of pit viper) and he would break their bones and hang them up on the wall to dry. He had us eat them saying that they would give us energy. Then the rumor spread that I ate mamushi. So we children said that we would never eat that stuff! (Laughter) However, my grandfather insisted that we had to eat them in order to gain energy. When we were to stay over night for some kind of event, my grandfather would grind a grilled mamushi into a powder-like medicine and give one dose to each to us. That way the other children would never know that it was mamushi, you see. My grandfather told us to take it after meals.
This is something that happened after I came to Tokyo. Whenever I wrote a letter to my grandfather to let him know that I was having a match, he would put “shochu” (low-class distilled spirits) into a liquor bottle and visit all the shrines in the village to pray that his grandson would perform well in the match. Whenever I sent him a letter which said that the match was over, he would again visit all the shrines with a bottle of shochu to offer thanks. My grandfather’s behavior made me determined to practice really hard. I used to think of my grandfather’s face while putting on the “men” or Kendo face protector just before a match and that really made me perk up.
Mr. Yamanaka: Your grandfather was your foster parent in the true sense, wasn’t he?
Nakakura Sensei: That’s right. It was in April in 1927 that I left my grandfather. I was 17 years old. Then I went to the Daidokan in Kagoshima Prefecture. In the beginning, my grandfather said that he would never allow me to go to the Daidokan. My older brother, who was a school teacher, would come home every Saturday to try to persuade my grandfather but he would get angry at my brother saying that such a suggestion was futile. My teacher was named Nakahara and he and my brother together attempted to persuade my grandfather to allow me to go. On the third attempt my grandfather was finally convinced. My grandfather was concerned about my being able to earn a living only by doing Kendo in the future. My father’s brother had been adopted into the Yoshitome family and my brother also succeeded him. My grandfather told this uncle to go to visit the chief of a police station nearby and ask him if I would be able to establish myself as a Kendoka in the future. Then my uncle went to ask the chief who replied, “I cannot say anything certain about the future, but I think that it will all depend on your nephew himself. If he devotes himself to Kendo from now on and receives at least the 3rd rank, he will be able to establish himself as a Kendoka.” This convinced my grandfather. When I was to leave, my grandfather told me the following, “You are now going to work hard to become a Kendoka. You are not to come home until you receive the 3rd rank”. I felt sad then. It was really difficult to receive the 3rd rank in those days. There were no Kendo teachers who had any dan in elementary schools in Kagoshima Prefecture at that time (around 1922). There were only about two policemen who had 2nd dan and two or three who had shodan. It was extremely difficult to get the 3rd dan. Just before I left the village, people came to see me off and gave me a parting gift. Although the amount was very small, something like 20 sen or 30 sen (1 sen = 1/100 Yen), they all encouraged me.
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