While in grade school, Uchida Sensei heard of
a kendo class at the Little Theatre studio in the
Applewood area of Golden, Colorado. Sensei
jumped on his bicycle and rushed to inquire
about lessons. To his disappointment, he
found that the person who was teaching had
moved to Europe a few months earlier to follow
his passion of auto racing. For years after,
Sensei continued his search for kendo
instruction, and in 1973 his dream came true
when he learned that Mr. Dick Yamamoto was
going to start teaching. Sensei was there for
the very first class and has been active in
kendo ever since.
Right: a very early photo of Uchida Sensei
shortly after receiving his shodan.
Mark Uchida Sensei is Mushinkan's founder and instructor. He
holds the kendo rank of Renshi 6th Dan and iaido rank of Renshi
7th Dan. Uchida Sensei is the father of the US National Kendo and
Iaido Summer Camps held each year.
Uchida Sensei's interests in the traditional Budo disciplines stems
from his family lineage. The Uchida family can trace its roots back
800 years to the Genpei war where the Uchida family fought on the
side of the Genji (Minamoto) clan. In later times, the Uchida family
became Hatamoto, direct retainers of the Tokugawa Shogun, and
served in the Sei-ei-tai, the Shogun's personal security guard.
Uchida Sensei's father served with the renowned 442nd Regimental
Combat Team and later with the Military Intelligence Service
attached to the 441st occupational forces during the occupation of
Japan after World War II. Sensei continues to perpetuate the
culture and traditions of his family, and bases his practice,
teachings, and daily life on this lineage.
Uchida Sensei is a Colorado native. After graduating from Wheat Ridge High School, Sensei
went on to attend Los Angeles City College's dental technology program and opened his own
dental laboratory shortly after graduating. He owned and operated his lab for 16 years.
Uchida Sensei's desire to learn kendo far precedes the start of his formal training. As far back
as he can remember, Sensei yearned to learn kendo with the ultimate goal of one day training at
the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department (Keishicho), famed for, among other things, their
kendo prowess. Sensei's initial search for a teacher found a number of people in the Nisei
community that had practiced in years past, but were no longer active. Finally, in 1973 Sensei's
patients and perseverance were rewarded when a friend of the family, Mr. Yamamoto, ended
his long absence form kendo and began teaching anyone with an interest. Mr. Yamamoto was
a student of Nakamura Tokichi, one of the early pioneers of kendo in the United States. Mr.
Yamamoto's kendo skills were well known in the community and inspiring to Uchida Sensei,
who was one of the first to sign up for the opening class.
Upon graduating from high school Uchida Sensei moved to Los Angeles to continue his
education. There he joined the Norwalk Kendo Dojo in Norwalk, California, where he studied
for three years under the guidance of Hara Akio, another of Nakamura Tokichi's students, and
Yamaguchi Takeshi, a disciple of the legendary Mori Torao. Uchida Sensei also learned iaido
form Yamaguchi, and honored him as his personal mentor until Yamaguchi Sensei’s passing.
In 1979, Uchida Sensei traveled to Japan with the United States Kendo Team for the 4th World
Kendo Championship in Sapporo, Japan. Upon the conclusion of the championship, Uchida
Sensei participated in the International Kendo Camp in Saitama, Japan. It was there that Uchida
Sensei met the Rev. Shunshin Kan. Unknown to Sensei at the time, Kan Sensei was a close
friend of the assistant director of the Keishicho kendo training center, Hiroshi Onuma. In the
course of time, Uchida Sensei mentioned to Kan Sensei his dream of training at Keishicho.
Upon hearing this, Kan Sensei offered to introduce him to Onuma Sensei, who happened to be a
camp instructor that year. After having received numerous, empty offers of introduction to
Keishicho, Uchida Sensei took the words with both hope and a bit of skepticism.
One day, Uchida Sensei was called into the camp instructor's room. The room was empty
except for futons (sleeping mattresses) on the floor and a small table where Onuma Sensei and
Kan Sensei were seated. "I was scared - It looked like an inquisition", Sensei recalled. The
aura of the room and the surprise of Kan Sensei being true to his word left Uchida Sensei
speechless as Kan Sensei motioned him to sit at the table. "I'm sure it wasn't that long, but it
seamed like over an hour that Onuma Sensei questioned me about myself, my kendo, and why
I wanted to practice at Keishicho". Sensei must have said the right things because upon the
conclusion of his interview Onuma Sensei took out one of his business cards, wrote some
instructions on it, stamped it with his hanko (signature seal) and told Uchida Sensei to give it to
the guard at the gate when he arrived at Keishicho. Onuma Sensei not only provided Uchida
Sensei with authorization to train at Keishicho, but also acted as his sponsor during his
one-year stay in Japan. Uchida Sensei honored these acts until Onuma Sensei's death in 1997.
Uchida Sensei remembers the first three months at Keishicho as "Pure Hell!" Sensei was only
the second foreigner to be allowed to train extensively at Keishicho, so his presence was viewed
by many as an intrusion on sacred ground. Sensei recalled: "They literally tried to beat me up
so I wouldn't come back - They hit me so hard that they bent the top three bars of my
men-gane (steel face guard) and eventually broke the center-spar from the men-button (padding
of the headgear)". After persevering through several months of beatings, the practices become
less hostile, but no less demanding. Eventually, Sensei gained acceptance and was even allowed
to take part in special practices and was even allowed to observe closed demonstrations by the
Keishicho Kidotai (riot squads). Sensei was included in the Tokuren (instructor's) training and
received special instruction in Keishi-ryu and Itto-ryu. Kubo Sensei even took Uchida Sensei
under his tutelage to teach him iaido. Kubo Sensei also arranged for Uchida Sensei to practice
at the Hombu Keisatsu (Police Headquarters) iaido practices lead by Masami Tanaya Sensei.
For three months in the midst of winter, Uchida Sensei lived in Suwa City in Nagano-ken with
his future in-laws. To get to kendo practice, he would ride a bicycle over six kilometers through
slush and ice-covered roads to the Shobukan Dojo.
Shobukan Dojo was built in the 14th year of Taisho (1925) by Tsuchihashi Takao.
Tsuchihashi Sensei was a disciple of the legendary Nakayama Hakudo. To make his dream
of building a dojo in Suwa come true, Tsuchihashi Sensei cut all unnecessary spending and
put the money he saved into a savings account. Little by little the account grew, and after
many years he had enough saved to build the dojo.
Tsuchihashi Sensei is also known for his success in convincing the U.S. military authorities
after World War II that kendo was an art that promoted character cultivation and did not
promote militarism. As a result of Tsuchihashi Sensei's persuasion, Shobukan Dojo was one
of the first schools in Japan, if not the first, to be officially permitted to reinstate the formal
teaching and practice of kendo.
Even during the dead of winter, the doors and windows of Shobukan remained opened during
practice; only when the snow encroached inside did they get shut. The floor was so cold that
the loss of feeling in the feet was common. This often give rise to the fear that one's toes may
shatter if too spirited in executing fumikomi (striking step). After practice, steam could be seen
rising from the keiko-gi (training jackets) of the practitioners. In preparation for a practice, one
had to rip his/her keiko-gi from the hanger where it was hung after the previous practice - the
keiko-gi turning white as the frozen perspiration crackled from the fabric. Sensei recalls: "The
best thing about those practices was the ofuro (hot-spring bath)." The dojo had its own natural
hot spring that kept full a classically constructed wooden bathtub just large enough to fit two.
Sensei used to wait to be the last person in so he could relax and soak a bit longer. After
warming up in the ofuro, Sensei would saddle-up on his bicycle for the six-kilometer ride home.
His eyebrows would be well frosted upon his arrival.
Upon returning to the United States, Uchida Sensei settled back in his home state of Colorado,
started a dental laboratory business, and rejoined his old kendo school. In 1984, a cadet from
the United States Air Force Academy enrolled in Sensei's class. That same year, Sensei was
selected as a U.S. team member for the 1985 world championship in Paris, France. The two
seemingly unrelated events would eventually change the course of Sensei's kendo career.
When selected for the 1985 World Kendo Championship, Uchida Sensei asked OnumaSsensei
if he would come to Denver to prepare him for the competition. Unfortunately, Onuma Sensei
was selected to be the coach of the Japanese team and was unavailable. However, Onuma
Sensei committed to making arrangements for another Keishicho teacher to come to Colorado in
his place. The first person on Uchida Sensei's wish-list of teachers was Tadanori Ota ....
Sensei's wish was granted.
From his first days practicing at Keishicho, Uchida Sensei admired Ota Sensei's kendo, saying
his was the most beautiful kendo of anyone he has ever seen. Uchida Sensei also admired Ota
Sensei's refined character and charisma. Kenshi in California who saw and practiced with Ota
Sensei during his visit made comments such as: "Kendo like that hasn't been seen since the days
of Mori Sensei!" Little did Ota Sensei or Uchida Sensei know, but Ota Sensei's coming to
America would stimulate unprecedented change in kendo in both Japan and the United States in
the years that would follow.
At about this same time arrangements were being finalized for Ota Sensei's trip, the Air Force
Academy cadet who was attending Sensei's classes in Denver approached him asking if he
would consider teaching kendo at the Academy. Sensei took the proposal seriously; however,
postponing a final decision until after the Paris World Kendo Championship. This decision was
hastened when conflicts arose that lead to Uchida Sensei's decision to resign from the team.
With an offer on the table to start a new kendo school and arrangements having been made for
Ota Sensei to come from Keishicho, Sensei decided to turn the situation into an opportunity to
start kendo at the Air Force Academy. March 1985, The United States Air Force Academy
Kendo-bu held its first practice with Ota Sensei as its co-founder.
In 1991, Sensei took a seat as a member of the board of directors of the Kendo Federation of
the United States of America and was elected to the office of treasurer. At this same time,
things were also changing at the Air Force Academy. News of the availability of kendo
instruction in Colorado Springs spread outside the Academy. Civilians were allowed to
participate in the cadet kendo class, but as guests and only in small numbers. Soon the outside
demand for kendo became greater than within the cadet population. In 1997, after 12 years,
Sensei moved the school to a public venue and ended his teaching at the Academy.
In 1995 Uchida Sensei was elected to the founding board of directors of a new national
federation, the All United States Kendo Federation (AUSKF), and was elected to the office of
Vice-president of Educational Affairs. In this office, Sensei materialized a dream he had since
his days in Japan by organizing and hosting the very first AUSKF iaido and kendo summer
camps. The two summer camps were held in Colorado Springs, Colorado, over a one-week
period, 12 through 20 July 1997, with participants from the US, Canada, Mexico, Japan, and
South Africa. It was at the summer camp that Uchida Sensei first met Oda Katsuo Sensei.
To this day Uchida Sensei continues with unselfish dedication promoting kendo and iaido across
the U.S. His instruction follows the spirit of his heritage and is never compromised. His
devotion and dedication is reflected in the motto he holds for himself: "So long as there is one
person sincere in their desire to learn, I will be there to teach." In addition to this, Sensei's
actions epitomize the true spirit of his kendo and iaido, believing that teaching for profit is a
disgrace and is demeaning to the arts.
Sensei's great-great-grandfather, Uchida Tatamasa, was a sergeant
of the Sei-ei-tai, the personal security guard of the Tokougawa
Shogun. Uchida Tadamasa is well noted in Japanese history for his
actions during the early Meji era (1868-1911). In one such act,
Uchida Tadamasa defied the laws of the new Meji government by
gathering and leading a group of 500 loyal retainers out of Tokyo to
escort Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last Tokugawa Shogun, to his
retirement estate in Shizoka prefecture. Settling in the same area,
Uchida Tadamasa helped organize the followers of the former
Shogun and lead the way for their new existence through his active
role in establishing the commercial tea industry.
Uchida Tadamasa was also directly involved with many of the
visionaries of the time, helping to strategize Japan's path into the
new era. One such historical figure, and close Uchida-family
associate, was Katsu Kaishu. In 1860 Katsu Kaishu captained the
first diplomatic ships from Japan to the United States: the same
envoy that gave the first demonstration of kendo in America. Katsu
Kaishu held a vision that necessitated the development of a modern
navy to safeguard Japan's autonomy through the rapidly changing
times of western expansionism. To help bring his friend's idea from
vision to reality, Uchida Tadamasa used his keen management and
financial skills to raise and manage the funds used to acquisition and
fit-out Japan's first battleship.
|Left to right: Uchida Sensei, Hiroshi Onuma Sensei, Kan Sensei
Opening day of Shobukan Dojo - July 28, 1925
|Left: Nakayama Hakudo, Right: Tsuchihashi Takao,
Center: Tsuchihashi Hisao
(Tsuchihashi Hisao, the son of Takao Sensei, eventually
became the president of the Japan Dojo Federatiion.)
|U.S. Team and officials before departing for the
5th World Kendo Championship in Sao Paulo,
Brasil - 1982. Uchida Sensei is at the bottom-right.
Ota Sensei on a tour of the Air Force Academy
with Uchida Sensei's 2nd daughter, Jennifer.
This Air Force Academy sword was presented to Uchida Sensei
for his twelve years of service to the cadets. The presentation
of an Academy sword is reserved for departing Academy faculty
and staff members. Although his official status at the Academy
was that of a volunteer instructor to a cadet club, one of Uchida
Sensei's students, John Taylor, lobbied for and received
permission to present Uchida Sensei with this exclusive honor.
AIR FORCE ACADEMY
MARCH 1985 - APRIL 1997
You Asked for so little,
Yet Gave So Much
During times of budget constraints and program cuts, the cadet
kendo club never fell under the Academy scrutiny. Many other
cadet clubs were forced to disband, but the kendo club was
looked upon favorably, due largely to Uchida Sensei's three
principals objectives that he laid out for the club's purpose:
1. physical development, 2. cultural exchange, and 3. character
and leadership cultivation.
During this time, Uchida sensei continued with his education, earning a
Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Regis University
and a Masters degree in communication from the University of
Denver. Uchida Sensei has since worked as a business analyst
consulting businesses on process improvements, and performing
requirements gathering and functional designs for electronic business
Uchida Sensei also served in the Navy Reserves. Following in his
father's footsteps, he worked his way up the enlisted ranks to become a
commissioned officer. In 2004, sensei was recalled to active duty and
served in Baghdad, Iraq, where he was the Officer in Charge of a
geopolitical analysis team.
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In Jr. high school, Uchida sensei became an outstanding wrestler and track hurdler. In his
ninth-grade year, he placed third in the district wrestling championship and fourth in hurdles in
the district track meet. However, sensei's greatest, longstanding desire was to learn kendo; his
ultimate dream was to someday train at the renowned Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department.
All of the Uchida family members have
exceptional sports histories. Sensei's father was a
notable Judo-ka and was expected to become the
youngest yudansha in Kodokan history until the
war precluded his training. His two older brothers
were Olympic caliber swimmers and national
record holders. Sensei's third brother was an
outstanding high school football player and earned
scholarship offers from several universities. And,
of course, being Colorado natives, it is no surprise
that all of the Uchidas are avid skiers.
"Teaching kendo [and iaido] is a privilege of sharing knowledge and culture for
the development of others. To touch another's life in such a way is the greatest
reward. When money becomes involved, honor is lost and the teaching, the art,
the culture, and the people themselves become tainted."
Oda Katsuo was one of the two teachers sent from Japan to lead the US iaido summer camp.
Oda Sensei was the top student of Haga Tadatoshi. Haga Sensei had visited Colorado a few
years earlier to give kendo and iaido instruction. Haga's character, knowledge and skill moved
Uchida Sensei to vow to find a way to pursue his iaido training under Haga. Unfortunately,
Haga Sensei was already at an advanced age and travel was difficult for him. However, fortune
favored Uchida Sensei and brought him and Oda Sensei together at the summer camp. This
student-teacher relationship has led to one unprecedented accomplishment after another, the
greatest being Uchida Sensei’s passing the 7th Dan examination held in Tokyo, Japan, on 16
November 2013. Uchida Sensei is the first born-and-raised American, who began his iaido in
America and developed his iaido in America, to pass an actual 7th Dan iaido examination. He
stands as one of the top-three ranking iaido instructors in the United States.
|Oda Katsuo Sensei and Uchida Sensei
|Walter Takeshi Yamaguchi
April 15, 1938 - October 5, 2012