How to build a strong team, Part 1: Shimabara High School, Nagasaki



Excellence in study and Kendo: Bunbu Ryodo (the two paths of pen and sword) is the path to victory

Shimabara shines bright in the world of Kendo. The school, which is usually ranked at the top of the national championships every year, has grown rapidly since the arrival of Watanabe Takatsune Sensei, who is currently serving as the principal of the school. The school’s members are committed to a two-way approach to learning. “Doing your best in everything you do will lead to victory”, says Watanabe. How does the Shimabara High School Kendo Club train to achieve results?

The foundation of the basics is what allows us to transform our characteristics into traits

Watanabe Takatsune, Director

Born in Nagasaki Prefecture in 1960. After graduating from Shimabara High School, he entered Tsukuba University and began teaching in his hometown of Nagasaki. In 1989, he was transferred to his alma mater, Shimabara High School, where he raised the school to the top level in Japan in 20 years. He currently serves as the principal of the school.

Fukuda Shuntaro, coach

Born in Nagasaki Prefecture in 1978. After graduating from Nagasaki Higashi High School and Kanoya College of Physical Education, he began teaching in Nagasaki. He was transferred to Shimabara High School in 2017 and is currently coaching the club in place of Principal Watanabe.

The challenge from two losses in the preliminary prefectural tournament

Watanabe: “I was appointed to my alma mater in 1989. I wanted to turn Shimabara High School into a strong school and train students to become Kendo instructors. The fact that so many of our graduates are still involved in Kendo today is a blessing for me.” Nowadays, the name “Shimabara” is no longer unknown to anyone involved in Kendo but this was not always the case.

Now in its 119th year, Shimabara High School is one of the most advanced schools in the prefecture. Students here have 24 hours a day, and if the emphasis is on study, the time for extracurricular activities is naturally limited. It was inevitable that the Kendo club would not be very successful, but young coach Watanabe wanted to change that. 

“I still vividly remember the first prefectural tournament we competed in after I took up this post. We lost two games in the preliminary league. It was very frustrating. This loss was the starting line for me as a coach at Shimabara High School. I wasn’t yet in a position to dream of becoming the best of Japan, and I just wanted to be as high up in the prefecture as possible.”

At the beginning of Watanabe’s career, an unforgettable event happened: The eruption of Mount Unzen. The citizens of Shimabara, who were severely affected by the mudslides and pyroclastic flows, were forced to evacuate to safer areas, and so were the members of the Kendo club. At the time, cell phones were not widely available and it was impossible to even know the whereabouts of the students. The school’s educational activities were hampered, let alone club activities.

The scattered members of the club resumed training in a gymnasium in a neighboring town. Eventually they were able to return to school, but because the national highway that runs through the city was blocked, the club members who lived in the neighboring town had no choice but to take a boat to get to school. The ashes were so severe that it was impossible to open the windows of the Dojo. Summer was the worst time to practice, but the Shimabara High School Kendo Club overcame this adversity and became one of the top prefectural Kendo clubs. 

In his fifth year as coach, one of his students made it to the Inter High School Championships, albeit in an individual competition. However, the team’s goal of participating in the national championship as a team was not achieved, and the frustrating situation continued.

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