|Mark Uchida sensei, Mushinkan’s founder and head instructor, is the highest ranking kendo instructor (kendo 6th Dan, Renshi) active in the Southwest/Rocky Mountain region. Sensei is also one of the senior ranking practitioners of iaido in the country, holding iaido rank of 6th Dan, and was the first chairperson of the All United States Kendo Federation’s iaido development committee. Sensei is the father of the US National Kendo and Iaido Summer Camps held each year.
Uchida sensei is an advocate of the general membership of the All United States Kendo Federation, fighting to keep the foreign-controlled national kendo organization operating according to the organization’s founding principals, guidelines, and U.S. corporate laws.
|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 along the side of Minamoto Yoritomo who eventually united the country and became Shogun. 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. Carrying this heritage forward into the 20th century, 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.|
|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.
|Uchida sensei is a Colorado native - "a dying breed" as sensei says. 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.|
|During this time, Uchida sensei continued with his education, earning a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Regis University and a Master 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 systems.
Uchida sensei also serves 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 the Geopolitical Analysis Cell at Camp Victory.
|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 held national records. 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's no surprise that all of the Uchidas' are avid skiers.|
|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 train at the renown Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, Keishicho!|
|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 Mr. Dick Yamamoto, a family acquaintance, announced an end to a long abstention from kendo to start a class for anyone with an interest. Mr. Yamamoto was a student of Tokichi Nakamura, 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.|
|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.
|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 sensei, another of Tokichi Nakamura’s students, and Takeshi Yamaguchi sensei, a disciple of the legendary Torao Mori.|
|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 skepticism – mostly skepticism.|
|Left to right: Uchida Sensei, Hiroshi Onuma sensei, Rev. Shunshin Kan|
|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’s making good of 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 recalls. 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 there was viewed by most of the members 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 full acceptance and was even allowed to take part in special practices and observe closed demonstrations by the Keishicho Kidotai (riot squads) that had rarely, if ever before, been seen by outside eyes. 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 practices, he would ride a bicycle about three miles through slush and ice-covered roads to Shobukan Dojo.|
|Opening day of Shobukan Dojo - July 28, 1925|
|Shobukan Dojo was built in the 14th year of Taisho (1925) by Takao Tsuchihashi. Tsuchihashi sensei was a disciple of the legendary Nakayama Hakudo. To make his dream of building a dojo in Suwa come true, Tsuchihashi sensei quit smoking and put the money he normally spent on cigarettes into savings. After several years, enough money was saved to build the dojo. In addition to this accomplishment, 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.|
|Left: Nakayama Hakudo, Right: Tsuchihashi Takao, Center: Tsuchihashi Takao's son, Hisao (Hisao sensei is the present head instructor of Shobukan)|
|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 (bath)”. The dojo had its own natural hot spring that kept full a classically constructed wooden bathtub. 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 three-mile ride home; his eyebrows frosted upon his arrival. Although the opportunity to return has evaded him, Uchida sensei’s name is still listed among the names of Shobukan members. It is his dream to someday return - to find it as he remembers.|
|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.|
|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.|
|When selected for the 1985 World Kendo Championship, Uchida sensei asked Onuma sensei 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 [of Ota sensei’s] 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 U.S. 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 cofounder.|
|Ota sensei on a tour of the Air Force Academy with Uchida sensei's 2nd daughter, Jennifer.|
|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.
|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.|
|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.|
|The inscription reads:|
AIR FORCE ACADEMY
MARK P. UCHIDA
MARCH 1985 – APRIL 1997
You Asked for so little,
Yet Gave So Much…
|In 1995 Uchida sensei was elected to the founding board of directors of a new national federation and was also elected to the office of Vice-president of Educational Affairs. In this office, Sensei materialized the dreams he had held since his days in Japan by organizing and hosting the very first national kendo seminar in Colorado Springs. This seminar was preceded by the follow-on to the first national iaido seminar Uchida sensei organized 1994. The entire event was held over a one-week period in July 1997.|
|To this day Uchida sensei continues with unselfish dedication promoting kendo 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 his words, sensei's actions epitomize the true spirit of his kendo - refusing any compensation for his service; fully believing in the tradition of his samurai ancestry that: "Teaching kendo is for the sharing of knowledge and culture."|
|Some of Sensei's other accomplishments|
|April 2009 - Received kendo shogo of Renshi.
Fall 2008 to Present - Board member of the AUSKF Board of Director. Member of the Iaido Development Committee. Insurance policy coordinator.
June 14 2008 - 1st place U.S. National Iaido Championship.
June 2007 US National Iaido Camp - Received Iaido 6th dan
2003 to 2005 - Member of the All United States Kendo Federation board of directors. Member Iaido Development Committee. Chairman, USOC affiliation committee.
July 2000 - Received kendo 6th dan from the All Japan Kendo Federation.
July 2000 – Attended the international instructor’s camp in Saitama, Japan.
1997 to present – Vice-president of the Southwestern United States Kendo and Iaido Federation.
1995 to 1997 - Founding board member of the All United States Kendo Federation. Eelected to the office of Vice-President of Educational Affairs. First Chairman of the Iaido Development Committee. Brought a long sought after dream of a national educational program to fruition by fathering the first U.S. National kendo and iaido summer camps.
1993 to 1997 - Chairperson, Affiliation Committee for membership into the Amateur Athletic Union and the United States Olympic Committee.
1991 to 1997 - President of the Southwestern United States Kendo and Iaido Federation.
1991 to 1995 - Treasurer of the Kendo Federation of the United States of America.
July 12-15, 1997 (iaido) & July 17-20, 1997 (kendo) organized the first U.S. National Iaido and Kendo Summer Seminars held at the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
1994. – Chaired promotion policies & procedures review committee. Efforts resulted in the establishment of regulations and guidelines for kendo examinations, which were in affect until superseded by IKF guidelines. The regulations and guidelines established by the committee for 8th dan promotions are valid to this day.
September 1993 - Coached and Captained the Southwest U.S. Kendo Team to a 3rd. place finish in the 1993 All United States Kendo Championship.
1979 and 1982 - Represented the United States in the World Kendo Championships. Was selected for the 1985 U.S. Team for the 6th World Kendo Championship, but resigned position.
1979 and 1980 - Attended the International Kendo Instructor's Training Camp in Saitama, Japan. Headed the U.S. Delegation and was elected as camp spokesperson during 1980 attendance.
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