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Khay-Lin Teoh

5th Dan


“Wanted: people interested in starting a Kendo Club”

I remember a small notice placed in the Monash University weekly bulletin of the student union. It was enough to interest me and so I attended the first training of the Monash University Kendo Club (MUKC) in August 1991. I was undertaking my post-graduate degree and it was a rag tag bunch of mostly keen first year students that greeted me at that training. Stilts was the coach of the club and to his credit, over the course of the next few months, lay down what would become a solid foundation of footwork and posture that I have built upon since then.

Admittedly, when I started Kendo, I was particularly drawn to the competitive aspects. As a member of the MUKC, I was lucky enough to be on the team that won the Kendo intervarsity championships in Newcastle (1992), Melbourne (1993) and Adelaide (1994). Upon reflection, the success of the team was based on luck (emphasis here!) and guts rather than any refined Kendo technique! Good thing the University administration didn’t know too much about Kendo because if they did, they wouldn’t have awarded me a Half-Blue in 1995. I was also a member of successful Kyu grade teams at the national championships when they were held in Sydney (1993) and Brisbane (1994). These formative years really cemented my interest in Kendo.

I’ve been fortunate to have trained with a number of different teachers on a regular basis. I’ve mentioned Stilts; his real name is so long that it wouldn’t fit onto the width of a zekken using 16 point font! Stilts left the MUKC in 1993 to become a ronin traveling and practicing in Japan. My training continued under the instruction of Julian Richardson until I left Melbourne to work in Singapore in 1995. Julian was positively certifiable but nonetheless, my Kendo continued to improve to the point that I passed my 1st Dan exam in early ’95.

I trained with the Singapore Kendo Club for 5 years. A feature of the SKC at the time was the number of relatively highly ranked Japanese players. Training on Sunday often had 25+ players of 4th Dan and up. In fact, coming from training in Melbourne where those of 5th Dan and up are thought of as “senior” teachers, it was an eye-opener to train in the environment of the SKC where 5th Dan was run of the mill and the seniors were 6 & 7th Dan. It was very much a Japanese Dojo environment with instructions announced in Japanese. I had several teachers during my time in Singapore but the one that stands out is Kato Toru, Kyoshi 7th Dan who also happened to be a Baptist minister and would occasionally say “God bless you” as he whacked me across my heathen skull! Despite the fact that I had been engaged in keiko for years prior, in my first year of training under Kato Sensei he only allowed me to perform uchikomi or kakari geiko (always using large techniques) and finishing with kirikaeshi. I started engaging in keiko with Kato Sensei in my second year in Singapore and I spent many a time skewered in the end of his shinai.

I returned to Melbourne in 2001 and joined Fudoshin Kendo club training under the instruction of Brett Smith. One of the first things Brett said to me after taking a couple of weeks to assess my Kendo was “You train like and old man. We’ll have to change that” and he promptly started doing so. Brett’s a great coach emphasizing “You get good at what you practice”. Under Brett, I have gained a Kendo mentor but also a good friend and under his tuition I progressed to pass my 5th Dan exam in 2006.

In between, I’ve also found time to contribute to Kendo in areas outside the Dojo. I was the Secretary of the VKR in 1993 and I took on the role of Treasurer of the AKR in 1994 which is a position I currently hold.

Apart from the obvious physical fitness I get from Kendo training, I love the personal challenge that Kendo presents. As every successful player knows, it’s the cycle of training, reflection and enlightenment that keeps me motivated. In addition, the humility and respect of this art appeals to me more than other martial arts or sports. Finally, I’ve met all my closest friends through Kendo including my wife, Harlinah, as well as my “budo-buddies”: Matthew Osborne and Lockie Jackson. In fact, as I’m writing this in response to Gary Oliver’s request to “get something to me by the end of April, or else….!” I have just returned from attending the christening ceremony of Matthew Osborne’s twin sons. Fellowship and camaraderie is one of the most valuable things I have gained from. Kendo.

Congratulations to the VKR on the occasion of its 30th Anniversary; may there be many more!

Khay-Lin Teoh

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