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5.24.2010

new york city samurai

Shozo Kato recently became the third person from outside of Japan to pass the notoriously difficult exam for eight dan in kendo -- the highest rank in the martial art of Japanese fencing: Top-ranked kendo master Shozo Kato aces Japan samurai test. It's apparently the toughest test in Japan:
"If you do pass it, you are elevated to demigod status in the kendo community. It's quite an achievement," said Bennett, 40, a Japanese studies professor at Kansai University in Osaka.

In kendo, practitioners wear padded armor and use bamboo swords for full-speed, full-contact combat. In an exam, you must not only score points by striking targets correctly, but also display mastery of the mental game.

Candidates must have held a seventh dan for at least 10 years and be at least 46 years old to be eligible to take the eighth dan exam, which is administered twice a year - in May in Kyoto and in November in Tokyo by the All Japan Kendo Federation.

"The people taking the eighth dan exam are all hard-core kendo people who have been doing kendo for many, many years," Bennett said. "To be that 1% that shines out above everybody else means they have something special."
Impressive. And the achievement apparently all the more remarkable because Kato, who teaches kendo at the Shidogakuin dojo in Manhattan, didn't have frequent access to high-ranking mentors himself. That's pretty awesome.