It was an easy decision for Christopher Wong Hong Wai when he was looking to take up a martial art. And as only the second Malaysian to hold a 6 Dan rank in kendo, it was definitely a sound choice. The icing on the cake was that Wong passed his sixth-dan promotion examinations on his first attempt recently, a feat yet to be achieved by any other Malaysian thus far.
A corporate lawyer who now runs his own legal firm after 20 years of practice, Wong, 48, from Kuala Lumpur, only began his kendo journey at the age of thirty. He said, “At that point in my life, I was looking for an activity that would be physical in nature and had elements of spirituality as well. I had previously read about Japanese budō (martial arts) and knew that they encompass both of these aspects. It was just a matter of picking that one specific martial art that would suit me.
“Kendo kind of fell into my lap as I lived near the Japan Club which offered kendo classes. When I went to check it out, I thought that kendo looked cool, what with the face shield, protective armour and bamboo swords. There was a sense of mystery about hiding behind a mask!
“Taking up any martial art, let alone trying to master it, at the age of thirty is considered late in life but I made up for lost time by putting more effort and longer hours in my training. On the other hand, I went in with a matured mindset and was prepared to persevere through the tough training.”
In 2009, at the age of 42, Wong was crowned champion in the national-level kendo open tournament. In fact, he was and still is the only Malaysian national champion in this tournament to date.
While most people take up martial arts for a number of different reasons, amongst them for self-defence, physical fitness or even spiritual development, this form of modern Japanese full-body contact sport known as kendo, which loosely translates to “the way of the sword”, is practised more as a character building sport. The Japanese martial art that is closest to kendo is iaidō. However, in iaidō, the Japanese katana (sword) is used. Unlike kendo, it is not a full-body contact budō.
Added Wong, “Also, kendo practitioners are required to go into a short meditation to clear his or her mind from thoughts before sparring with an opponent. Indeed, kendo has helped me in building discipline, patience, self-confidence, lightning reflexes and many other virtues which I believe have helped me in my daily life, business and career.”
Wong has certainly come a long way since the day he donned his protective armour eighteen years ago. To have attained this level of kendo mastery within this short period of time is an achievement by itself. Today, he is a sensei (martial arts instructor) with the Malaysia Kendo Association as well as an ExCo member there.
Fresh from his success in passing his kendo sixth-dan promotion examinations in Tokyo, Japan, Wong has a few people to thank: “I have my kendo heroes who used to guide me in my kendojourney, although they have returned to Japan. I also have a sensei whom I look up to who is based in Hong Kong now. I appreciate their guidance and hope to cultivate the next generation of kendōka (kendo practitioners) to take the standard of kendo in Malaysia to a higher level and achieve even greater heights.
“This is the reason why I set aside time to travel all over the country to teach junior kendōka under the Malaysia Kendo Association and its affiliated clubs. There are about 200 kendopractitioners in Malaysia now, so there’s still plenty of room for the sport to grow,” said Wong, who has just retired from international competitive kendo following the 16th World Kendo Championships in Tokyo, Japan at the end of May 2015, having represented the country in various international and regional tournaments over the past 15 years.
He said, “I am making way for the younger brigade of kendo practitioners to step up their game and fly the Malaysian flag high just like I did.
“On a personal front, I would like to concentrate more on the spiritual and mental aspect of the art as I continue to strive for perfection within my own kendo ability and to truly live the way of the sword, which is to contribute to society and uphold my virtues in doing so. I also like to travel more to other countries to cross swords with other kendōka to expand my kendo horizon. My next target is naturally the seventh-dan which I can only sit for six years from now. This is a rule of the martial art to allow an exponent’s development of kendo to mature by further understanding the application of kendo principles and mastery of the art. Currently, the highest dan grade attainable through test of physical kendo skills is eight.”
Note: An edited version of this article [Mastering way of the sword] was published on 5th September, 2015, in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.
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