This was a truly unprecedented event in the history of high school Kendo. In the first year of their founding, this school participated in the Inter-High. A brilliant coach Iwamoto Takamitsu is the figurehead of the Meiho High School Kendo Club who has led this achievement, as he once led Hita High School to a national title.
“Meiho High School has a fantastic environment for studying Kendo. I would like the students to be thankful for that and build cornerstones for a long tradition.” In just a few months, club members have been raised to the national stage while approaching the core of Iwamoto’s teaching method.
Always striving for the best when doing Keiko
In early June of last year, an unrest rushed through the high school Kendo world in an instant. “My honest feeling is that we did something unheard of.” The voice of head coach Iwamoto Takamitsu who spoke on the phone revealed his smiling expression right away. The Oita prefecture qualification tournament for the Inter High in the summer were won by Meiho, a high school nobody ever heard of. That was because Meiho High School Kendo Club was just in the first year of its existence, a few months before the qualifiers.
Why and how did Meiho make it into the Inter High in their first year? The key to that answer is coach Iwamoto who is in command. The representative of Oita prefecture, Hita High School, won the national title at the Inter High in Saitama in 2008. For Oita, that was the first time they took the title since Kunisaki Aki High School victory 48 years before. This was also the year when the National Sports Tournament was held in Oita. Naturally, Oita had been growing in strengtn for the National Sports Tournament for years but nonetheless, few people expected Hita High School to win. Coach Iwamoto looks back on those days as follows.
“That generation wasn’t a bunch of talented children. In training, I made them realise they weren’t the strongest and then I made them think about how to win the Japan title. My motto is “If you decide to do something, aim to become the best”. If you have a low goal you will not be able to achieve results. If you decide to be strict on yourself and do your best in Kendo, be sure to aim for the best. During that process you may lose but it is important to reflect on it and utilise it the next time. The result of our steady and positive daily practice has paid off in the best possible way.
Iwamoto thought he would teach at Hita High School for his entire life, but in the following year he would transfer to Oita Maizuru High School, one of the best schools in the prefecture. Hita High School Kendo Club members live their high school life centered on club activities, but this is not the case at Oita Maizuru High School.
He had to build up another Kendo Club from the ground up, but the basics of his instruction did not change.
Coach Iwamoto told the students of Oita Maizuru High School: “Because you’ve worked hard to study and entered this school, I don’t mind you having a high school life centered on studying. However, if you belong to the Kendo club let’s do our best and aim for the top.”
The “best” of course being the best in Japan.
Iwamoto had the belief that it was impossible to do so, but that pursuing the best in the given environment is important for fostering human growth.
At the beginning of his assignment there was disagreement between his way of thinking and the students and their parents, but it gradually reduced and Maizuru High School made their Inter High participation in Oita in just two years. It took three years for Hita High School.
One important point here is that coach Iwamoto did not only rely on student efforts for growth. As a coach, he felt the individual need to grow more than ever. How could he get more strength out of his students? One answer that came to mind after thinking this through is the theory of “short time training” which is the core of the current Iwamoto teaching method.
“Wanting to do your best in Kendo but not being able to take enough time to practice. I think this is not only a problem for high school Kendo but for many Kendo enthusiasts. When I was assigned to Oita Maizuru High School, I was thinking about this all the time. Thankfully in my case, I have connections with powerful schools due to my past experiences. I went to strong schools all over the country and analyzed their Keiko and created my own training method.”
Although there are several pointers to short time training, Iwamoto says that the most important thing is focus. How much you can concentrate each and every Keiko with limited time? No matter how much training time you can secure, if you can’t concentrate you won’t actually get better. He realized that even if the training time was short, they were able to achieve the desired results by training in Aiki (synchronised spirit) and without losing their focus both as Motodachi and Kakarite.
“One hour of concentrated training, rather than three hours of unfocused training. I realized that if we could raise the members’ awareness to a higher level, the results would surely follow.”
Oita Maizuru High School led by Iwamoto managed to participate in the Inter High for three consecutive years. It is not hard to imagine that this result is due to his “short time training”.
“The odd thing would be NOT to get stronger”
Taking a leap further with unconventional experiences
“Despite conflicting emotions, I moved my teaching from high school to university. I decided to work for Beppu University and aim for the best of Japan with university students. However, I became involved in high school Kendo again as a result.”
In 2013, Iwamoto resigned as a high school teacher and became a staff member of Beppu University. “I wanted to broaden my horizons as a Kendo instructor” Iwamoto said. A few years after leading the Kendo Club of Beppu University, they became one of the strongest in the Kyushu area and suddenly he was asked to get involved in high school Kendo again.
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