In the early Seventies, there were only 2 channels on TV, and for us young kids, it was normal to spend most of our time playing outside. In those days, Anton Geesink was already very famous as a Judo player, so Judo was quite popular in our country.
One of the boys in our street, Bert, with whom I used to play soccer outside, joined a Judo Club in Amsterdam. When I was about 13 years old, I decided to join that club as well. In those days there was a kind of Dutch Jujitsu system, which was loosely based on Japanese Jujitsu, and our teacher, Dijkshoorn Sensei, taught both disciplines to us.
Louis at the age of 15.
I enjoyed the practice a lot and moved through the Kyu Grade system until I reached 1st Kyu when I was 15. Because I was the smallest person in the Club, it was very hard for me to really beat the older and much bigger and stronger guys. Of course, the Bruce Lee films made the weapons such as Nunchaku and Bo very popular, and I build a whole collection of mostly Okinawa Kobudo weapons, such as Nunchaku, Bo, Sai and Tonfa.
Dijkshoorn Sensei once showed us a Kendo Bogu, and I was much intrigued by it. I bought a Shinai and a book on Kendo and started reading about it. I hung the Shinai on the wall above my bed and dreamt about Kendo.
In 1975 I met Jolanda, who was in the same class as me in our high school. I was 16, Jolanda was 17.
As you can see from the picture, she was a very beautiful girl, and I had a lot of competition of other boys, whom I had to overcome in order to win her over.
Because we were sitting next to each other during some classes, we did not always pay attention to what the teacher was saying.
Once our Physics teacher said: “your relation might be very happy on the school yard, but here in the class room you’re not paying any attention to what I’m saying!”.
I told all my students that I would never show this picture. Just 16 years old, a few months after I met Jolanda. The last of the hippies!
Jolanda & Louis already with a bit shorter hair in 1975.
Louis’ room around 1976: on the wall Nakayama Hakudo Sensei, Jolanda making fun of my Kendo Kiai
In the days before Internet and Social Media, it was not so easy to find information about where Kendo was practiced, so it took me till March 1976 before I found the Kendo Club where Willem Alexander was teaching Kendo. Willem Alexander was one of the first Kendoka in The Netherlands, together with our honorary President Hein Odinot he was one of the very few persons who knew enough about Kendo to teach a group. Willem Alexander, Jaques Bouma, Jacques van der Linden ( I still meet him at Jodo seminars, which he is still joining!) and me were the guys who practiced regularly.
In one of my first practices as a beginner, I went to a central training where Hein Odinot was teaching. I believe Hein was the only 2nd Dan in the Netherlands. I still had no Bogu, and was training Kendo footwork.
Jolanda was watching me during this training. After the training was finished her comment was: “what a stupid, boring thing to do!”. It took her two and a half years to realize that Kendo wasn’t so bad, and she joined our trainings under Willem Alexander in November 1978.
For more than a year I trained Judo/Jujutsu and Kendo, but I chose for Kendo when I joined the first big Kendo Seminar in Europe, which was organized in Papendal in April 1977.
By this time I found out that there was another Kendo group in Amsterdam. Ralf Oquendo and Ed Roosterman were training Kendo in the Karate Dojo of Kallenbach Sensei in Amsterdam, which was called Shinbuken. I practiced in both Clubs for a few years, until we merged in one Kendo Club, under the name of Shinbuken.
The Papendal Seminar was the first major Pan European Kendo seminar, and some very famous Kendo Sensei from Japan were there: Nakakura Kyoshi Sensei (the modern-day Miyamoto Musashi he was called), Ishihara Sensei, Oka Sensei and Matsunaga Sensei.
I will never forget that Nakakura Sensei taught us the first five kata from Muso Shinden Ryu Omori, so this was also the beginning of my Iaido career!
The Papendal Seminar was limited to several participants per country, and since I was just a beginner, I got permission at the last moment from the NKR to join it.
The Sensei of the Papendal Seminar 1977
Participants to the Papendal Seminar.
From the photo album of my good friend Jacques van de Linden: the early days with Louis and Willem Alexamder in the Piet Mondriaanstraat, Amsterdam.
Above: Louis and Willem Alexander
Below: Jacques Bouma and Louis
In the Summer of 1977, I was still a high school student, I saved up enough money to go on my first trip to Japan. Together with Ed and Roelof Roosterman we went to Japan for about a month.
The first two weeks we joined the Kitamoto Gashuku, which was a special training camp for foreigners. The one of 1977 was only the second time it was organized, but it is still held every year.
I spend half a day training Iaido, under Haga Sensei, and half a day Kendo under various sensei. After two weeks I passed both Kendo and Iaido Shodan.
Probably, with the level that I had at that time, one would not even pass 1st Kyu nowadays, but the Japanese were so happy that a young European was practicing Kendo and Iaido, they let me pass my Shodan anyway.
After the Kitamoto Seminar, Ed, Roelof and me went to spend a week at Edo Sensei’s house in Tokyo. Edo Sensei was assistant at the Physical Education Department of Tokyo University, and he was trainer of the Kendo Club there.
At that time I had just turned 18, so Edo Sensei was just 38 years old and still competing for the All Japan Kendo Tournament. At the All Japan Kendo Tournament, Edo sensei was often with the best 4 or best 8 players, so you can imagine the level at which he was training in the days when we first met him.
Being an unexperienced, young European Kendoka, I had no idea who Edo sensei was, and at what level he was doing Kendo. I will never forget my first 5 minutes Keiko with him. Here’s me, a cocky 18-year-old, just passed Shodan Kendo, against this very small Japanese Kendo player. How could I not hit him easily? We came up from Sonkyo, I gave a loud Kiai (at least I could do that properly!), and the next thing I know is that my hands are empty. Where is my Shinai? I looked around, and there it was, a few meters behind me.
I went to pick it up, took my Kamae, gave a loud Kiai, and the next second, I stood without Shinai again. This situation repeated for a few times. I don’t remember even attempting a hit, I only remember me picking up my Shinai from the floor.
We all three stayed at Edo Sensei’s small house in Tokyo, and we had our private training with him for about a week. My first encounter with Edo Sensei made such a big impression on me, that I decided to learn Kendo from him. More than 40 years later, I still think it was one of the best decisions I ever made in my entire life.
Although most Japanese top Kendo players and high-ranking teachers start Kendo at a very early age (sometimes at kindergarten age!), the fact that I started at 16 years of age has been a great advantage in my Budo career. There were only very few Yudansha when I started, so owing to my young age and many years of training in Japan, I was the highest-ranking person in Kendo, Iaido and Jodo by the end of the 1980’s in The Netherlands.
In April 2019, I visited Edo Sensei’s house, and he explained me in great detail how he started Kendo and with what kind of Kendo Giants he was practicing as a young man.
In 1961, as a 4th Year Student at Chukyo University, he was already allowed to attend the First All Japan Kendo Teachers Study Group. On this photo, Edo is 4th from the left on the first row. We can see famous Sensei such as Nakano, Sato, Watanabe, Haga.
The picture is signed on the right hand side with Nakano Yasuji, one of the very famous Sensei in the history of modern Kendo.
Of course in 1977, at 18 years old, I had no idea what kind of a Kendo Giant I was dealing with, I would only realize this many, many years later!
Hilversum 1977: Louis (Kendo Shodan) and Jaques van der Linden showing Kendokata
Hilversum 1977: Louis (Iaido Shodan) showing Seitei Iai
In 1979 the Kendo World Championships were held in Sapporo. By this time I was 19 years old and just finished High School.
Before the Taikai, I spend almost three months at Edo Sensei’s new work place, Kanazawa University.
During this visit I could already speak some basic Japanese, which I had taught myself from books and cassette tapes. Edo Sensei taught me one of the most important lessons in my Budo career:
“Katei Enman” means to have a harmonious, stable and peaceful private life. Without a stable situation in your private life outside the Dojo, it is impossible to achieve the best results from your training. If you have too much stress, you cannot focus on your training in a proper way, and it will be impossible to continue a lifelong career in Budo. 40 years later I still remember this lesson from Edo Sensei, and I fully believe that it is a true statement.
Louis (left) Edo Sensei (right) Kanazawa 1979
Besides being my Kendo teacher, Edo Sensei also taught me many things about Japanese Customs, Culture and how to behave as a proper human being. One visit that made a deep impression on me was to the Eiheiji Temple, the main center of Zen Buddhism in Japan.
Louis and Edo Sensei family at Eiheiji Temple, 1979
I trained together with the students, and I learned to do Kakarigeiko. After this I joined the Dutch Kendo Team for the Taikai. Because I was able to stand for more than 4 minutes in a Shiai with a Japanese 7th Dan, I was awarded the Fighting Spirit Price. I was still a Shodan during the Taikai.
Dutch Team WKC 1979, Sapporo.
19-year-old Louis, with beard on the far right, award ceremony.
After training in Kanazawa, I also spend a week at one of Edo Sensei’s students, Watanabe Kaoru Sensei, who is now 8th Dan Kendo. Watanabe Sensei was Kendo Teacher at the Chubu University, and later also visited Amsterdam with his students.
Watanabe Sensei and me in Chubu University
In this period I also met Iijima Sensei for the first time. He was Physical Education Teacher at Shimodate nr. 1 High School, and trainer of the Kendo Club there. Edo Sensei had introduced me to Iijima Sensei telling him that I spoke very good Japanese. However, in those days my Japanese language skills were still very basic, so our conversations took forever, using a dictionary. We spent till 2 in the morning explaining basic Kendo stuff, such as Heijoshin, Zanshin, Shishin etc etc.
Iijima Sensei had just turned 30 years old, and lived in a very small house (maybe 40 m2?) close to the school grounds. Because of my passion to learn Kendo and his passion to teach it, we developed a close relationship from the start.
Iijima Sensei, Sumie and Sumie’s parents in 1979
I will never forget the Kitamoto Seminar of 1979. Iijima Sensei was picking me up after the Seminar, so he joined the final Jigeiko. In this Seminar, the whole Korean Kendo Team was participating, and they soon found out what a fantastic Kendoka Iijima Sensei was. The whole team was lining up for Keiko with Iijima Sensei, and for one hour he fought all of them. I don’t think any of them was able to get an Ippon on him, and I clearly remember that he was all over them for one hour, without slowing down for even one second.
Of course much later I found out that Iijima Sensei was a very high-level Kendo player, and even All Japan High School Teacher Champion! He was also a member of the Ibaraki Kendo Team on prefectural Tournaments, which he continued till well in his forties.
A very young Iijima Sensei scores Ippon with Hanmen at the Kokutai Taikai 1974.
Iijima (yes that’s him!) and Miyamoto Sensei celebrate the 1974 victory for Ibaraki.
Young and Handsome Iijima Sensei
During this period I did not have a formal Iaido teacher. I was taught during the Kitamoto Seminars, and on some of the rare Iaido trainings that were held in Europe with Japanese delegations. In 1979 I did my Kendo and Iaido 2nd Dan exam in Kitamoto. As far as I know, Iaido Dan grades were still a very rare thing in Europe at that time.
Two Sensei that helped me a lot during this time were Tanaya Sensei and Yamashibu Sensei, who visited Europe and taught us Iaido.
Tanaya Sensei, 8th Dan Hanshi, teaching at ZNKR Iai Seminar in 1987
Yamashibu Sensei, second from the left on one of his trips to Europe