Although he is now the leader of a fledgling kendo club in Whistler, Hiroaki Yano’s competitive days are far from over. The 31-year-old participated in this year’s Canadian National Kendo Championships in Markham, Ont., helping Renbu Dojo to victory at the country’s largest tournament.
Yano, the lone Whistlerite in a group full of Vancouver-area martial artists, prevailed in all four of his matches to launch the Renbu club to its first nationals breakthrough since being founded in 1975. As a seasoned master with competitive experience in Japan, South America, Europe and the United States, Yano’s poise and sharpness of mind helped prepare him for the task at hand.
“I just focused on each match [at a time],” he said. “One match, one match, one match.”
It’s been six years since the last kendo nationals were held in Canada, with the 2020 edition wiped out by COVID-19. Athletes from coast to coast were no doubt raring to get back at it, with more than 200 taking part in the festivities from Aug. 12 to 13 in Markham. Yano’s club only meets once a week at Myrtle Philip Community School, but he supplanted that with plenty of training at home and a trip to Burnaby to practice at Renbu Dojo.
The Japanese national describes it as “the hardest practice compared to any other dojo in Canada” and vital to the club’s success. After all, not everyone on the Renbu squad brings a wealth of experience to the table.
On one hand, you have veterans like Yano and Eiji Kita, a Team Canada member with two World Kendo Championships in 2015 and 2018 under his belt. At the other end of the spectrum are Clark Liao and Kenta Yoshimura—who at 15 and 16 years of age, respectively, were entering their first contest in the open club team division. Yano remembers both youngsters being nervous at first, and understandably so, but esteems them for being diligent nonetheless.
Yano’s own level of skill and experience was not lost on his peers.
“I met Hiroaki Yano only recently, but I feel like he is one of the most talented and passionate people I’ve met,” said Betty Park, a 22-year-old Renbu Dojo member. “Watching him compete is so fun and all I can think is that: ‘wow this guy is insanely good.’ It takes a lot of time and effort to run your own dojo, so it shows that he really cares about teaching kendo to the community. I respect him a lot and am glad that we are friends.”
Park, who has practiced kendo for 15 years herself, emerged victorious in the women’s division at nationals.
“Winning the national championships last month was an incredible experience,” she added. “It definitely was a journey full of ups and downs, filled with intense training and building confidence in myself. When we won, I remember just feeling a mix of relief and pride. It was a surreal moment knowing that our hard work had paid off, and we were able to come out on top.”
For his part, Yano remains disciplined and committed to a life of self-improvement. Never one to brag about his own achievements, he instead gives due credit to those who have his back.
“Our parents, friends and family, and all other club members who were not participating supported our team,” Yano said. “During the practices, we were so tired but they cheered us up, and before the tournament, they prepared a lot of stuff. We couldn’t do this by ourselves, and we couldn’t succeed without their help.”
Closer to home, the Whistler Kendo Club has gained a few new students. Club members performed at the Whistler Multicultural Festival in June, gaining exposure for their art and organization. Yano praises his students for improving considerably over the last few months, and hopes to ready them for next year’s Canadian National Junior Kendo Championships.