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. Yamamoto was going
to start teaching. Sensei was there for the very
first class and has been active in kendo ever
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 elite, 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community that had practiced in years past, but were no longer active.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 family friend, Dick Yamamoto, ended his
long absence form kendo and began teaching once again. 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 Sensei, Mr. Yamamoto's senior - another of
Nakamura Tokichi's students - and Yamaguchi Takeshi, a disciple of the legendary Mori Torao.
Uchida Sensei also learned iaido from 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, Onuma Hiroshi. 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 Onuma Sensei and Kan Sensei seated at a small table. "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 visa
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
(metal bars that protect the face) 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 events and was included in the tokuren practices. He was even
allowed to observe closed demonstrations by the Keishicho Kidotai (riot squads). Kubo Sensei
even took Uchida Sensei under his tutelage to teach him iaido after the morning kendo
practices. Kubo Sensei also arranged for iaido practices at the Hombu Keisatsu (Police
Headquarters) lead by Taki Sensei and guest instructed by Tanaya Masami 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 8 kilometers (5 miles)
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 to build the dojo.
Tsuchihashi Sensei is also known for his success in convincing the U.S. Military authorities
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
Even during the dead of winter, the doors and windows of Shobukan remained opened during
practice; only when the snow encroached inside the dojo 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
recalled: "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
8-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 Onuma Ssensei
if he would come to Denver to prepare him for the competition. Unfortunately, Onuma had
been selected to be the coach of the Japanese team and was unavailable. However, he
promised 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 Ota Tadanori – Fortune
smiled upon him and his wish was granted.
From his first days practicing at Keishicho, Uchida 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 first visit to the US made comments such as, "Kendo like that hasn't been seen since
the days of Mori Sensei!" Little did Ota or Uchida 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 and asked if he
would consider teaching kendo at the Academy. Sensei took the proposal seriously; however,
he 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 US. 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
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 steam-powered
|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, the
position later held by Ota Tadanori Sensei.
|U.S. Team and officials before departing for the
5th World Kendo Championship in Sao Paulo,
Brasil, in 1982. Uchida Sensei is at the
Ota Sensei with Uchida Sensei's second daughter,
Jennifer, during a tour of the Air Force Academy.
After graduating from the University of Colorado with a
Masters in Aerospace Engineering, Jennifer went to work
for the US Navy as a Flight Test Engineer. She graduated
from the Navy Test Pilot School in 2012 and was a one of
NASA's astronaut candidate finalists in 2013. Only eight
made the final cut; Jen was, unfortunately, not one of
them. BUT, there is always a next time!
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 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 Sensei.
Unfortunately, Haga Sensei was already at an advanced age and travel was difficult for him.
However, fortune favored Uchida Sensei, bringing 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