Budo World

The History of Kendo Training in Finland

Mikko Salonen (Finnish Kendo Association)

The history of the Finnish kendo training is a wonderful story of committed people, organisational development, coincidences and hard work which have continued since 1986. This article gives an overview of Finnish kendo, from its beginnings to the present day. Also, some distinctive features of Finnish kendo are described to give the reader a better insight into what means “Suomi kendo”.

Early days – pure enthusiasm

Kendo in Finland started in 1986, when German kyudo teacher Felix Hoff (kendo 4th dan) gave a demonstration to a group of budo enthusiasts in the city of Porvoo. The early days of Finnish kendo were under German guidance. Mrs. Angela Neumaister (5th dan) organized three to four training camps with different German and Japanese teachers. Waseda University’s kendo teacher Ando Kozo (8th dan, Kyoshi) visited Finland several times with the German delegation in between 1986 and 1990. 

Finnish kendo adapted the German kyu-system and approach, which emphasized arranging seminars and camps instead of competitions. Finnish kendo, like the German, is very pedagogically oriented. That was a good way for a new kendo country to start: seminars forced us to create an organisation and the content of the seminars helped us to develop our daily practice in the clubs.

In the early years we had only three clubs in Finland: Ki-Ken-Tai-Icchi in Helsinki, Rendaino in Turku and Yosaiki in Porvoo.

The year 1987 was a turning point in our development as a kendo country. I still remember the moment when Uematsu Daihachiro (7th dan, Kyoshi), military attaché of the Japanese embassy stepped into our humble dojo and said the now famous words, “I think I can help you”. Uematsu sensei, at that time 5th dan, started to teach us in Helsinki, helped us to create direct connections to Japan and encouraged us to start new clubs and form a federation. Current Finnish kendo teachers Markus Frey (7th dan, Renshi) and Mikko Salonen (7th dan, Renshi) were Uematsu sensei’s students.

Surrounded by good teachers it was easy to continue. There were very few people who realized then that the first steps of a new national sports organisation had been taken. Everyone was just training with full spirit and enjoying practising kendo.

Japanese teachers

In the development of Finnish kendo we have been extremely lucky to have had good and devoted teachers. In the early years, the Germans with Angela Neumaister and then Uematsu Daihachiro helped us to develop relations both to Europe and Japan.

It was already in 1988 that the first ZNKR delegation, led by Matsunaga Masami (8th dan, Hanshi), visited Finland.  Soon after this, we contacted the ZNKR, and inquired whether we could get professional help in order to develop kendo training in Finland. The answer was positive. At the end of the January 1990, Takahashi Toru (7th dan, Kyoshi) from Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music arrived to cold and dark Finland. We were given guidance to help us reach a good level of correct kendo and given instructions how to organize national team training.

Haken senseis have now been visiting Finland for nearly 25 years; we have been able to receive valuable teaching in kendo form them and, in turn, they have been able to study and learn about the Finnish way of life. A very positive result of this has been that Finnish kendo has built valuable connections to several universities and police all over Japan.

After Takahashi-sensei we have had an almost continuous line of haken sensei year after year. With many of them the co-operation has continued after their first visit to Finland. From Police Ishiziuka Yoshifumi 8th dan, Hanshi, Osaka Police; Koji Onda, 8th dan, Kyoshi from Tokyo Metropolitan Police; Kondo Wataru, 8th dan, Kyoshi, Tokushima Police; Oshige Koichiro, 7th dan, Kyoshi from Miyazaki Police; Muto Shizuo,7th dan, Kyoshi from Fukushima Police and Kubo Takanori, 7th dan, Kyoshi  from Hyogo Police have returned to teach us.

Several universities have continued their support to us. For example the Universities of Nippon Sports Science, Yagisawa Makoto 8th dan, Kyoshi; University of Kagawa, Yamagami Shinichi 8th dan, Kyoshi; International Budo Univesity, Iwakiri Kimiharu 8th dan; Tokyo University of Music and Fine Arts, Takahashi Toru 7th dan, Kyoshi; University of Tsukuba, Sakai Toshinobu 7th dan,  Kyoshi; University of Yamagata, Takeda Ryuichi 7th dan, Kyoshi and Osaka Educational University, Ota Yoriyasu  7th dan, Kyoshi have visited Finland with the students and welcomed Finnish kendo people to join the keiko at their universities.

One coincidence which was to be influential for Finnish Kendo happened in 1992, when a second ZNKR delegation made a brief visit to Finland. The delegation was heading to the Soviet Union and in the delegation was one policeman who could not get a visa to enter the USSR. That young man was 8th dan Iwatate Saburo (8th dan Hanshi). Iwatate sensei spent one week in the hands of Finnish kendoka and since then the bond between Iwatate-sensei’s Shofukan dojo and Finnish kendo was established.

During the years many influential and good teachers have helped Finnish kendo. We are always grateful to them and welcome them to come again to Finland. 

European teachers

Our connections to Europe have been good and rich. Our co-operation started with the Germans and still continues today. National team training events and shiai with the German team have been valuable, thanks to Ralph Lehman (7th dan Kyoshi).

Our connection to France has been continuing for more than twenty years. Claude Pruvost (7th dan, Renshi) has helped us several times with his pedagogically rich seminars.

Emilio Gomez (7th dan, Kyoshi) from Spain visits us often; he has helped Finnish kendo in many different ways by taking care of Finnish kenshis and guiding us in our relations with the European Kendo Federation. Our beloved neighbour Sweden is our best friend and worst rival! Mats Wahlqvist (7th dan Renshi) is can often be seen teaching in Finland. Also Hungary is an important partner for us. Abe Tetsushi (7th dan, Kyoshi) visited Finland for the first time twenty years ago. Several European teachers have visited here and our principle has been to maintain good relations with all the members of the European kendo family.
Last, but by no means least, we should consider the role of domestic teachers. Markus Frey and Mikko Salonen have shown the way with Markus getting his 7th dan in the 2010 European Championships and Mikko soon after in 2011. After that four Finnish kendoka have been awarded with 6th dan: Kari Jääskeläinen, Susanna Porevuo, Kari Ruuhilahti and Pekka Nurminen.

An amazing coincidence happened when the father of the Finnish kendo, Uematsu sensei, decided to return to Finland 2012 as a Japanese Balance Therapy teacher. Besides his daily work, Uematsu-sensei is now a Senior Adviser of the Finnish Kendo Association.

In our clubs we have a great deal of potential for future leading teachers. There will be more high dan grades in the future, but more important than counting dan grades is to see how many committed and sincere volunteers we have working to develop Finnish Kendo.

Kendo activities in the Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as the St. Petersburg area of Russia have provided us a lot of new opportunities. Finnish teachers are often invited to lead seminars in these neighbouring countries and our seminars often attract visitors from those countries.

Finnish Kendo Federation 1988-1993

Kendo activities started in Finland in 1986 and soon after the first clubs were officially registered. And since we had clubs, we should have an umbrella organisation in order to join the European Kendo Federation (EKF) and International Kendo Federation (FIK). Finland is known as ”the promised land of associations”: Finnish legislation obligates clubs and associations to register with the authorities and follow certain protocols with the meetings, rules and reporting of its finances. These are reminiscent of the rules governing limited companies.

The Finnish Kendo Federation was founded in 1988 and we were accepted into the EKF in 1989 and the FIK in 1991. Right from the start, the Finnish Kendo Federation made important decisions for the development of kendo; these included creating a kyu-grading system, organising national championships, forming a national team, making international connections (EKF and FIK) and being in contact with the ZNKR. Besides, our first president was very ambitious and tried to take us into the core of the Finnish National Sports Federation, which turned out to have crucial consequences.

Kendo spread through Finland in the early 1990s, new clubs were established and we were accepted into international federations. We had motivated young people practicing hard and devoting themselves to the common good.

The first time the Finnish National team entered the European Championships was in 1989 in Amsterdam. It took only four years for the Finnish Kendo Federation to take the huge step and arrange the European Kendo Championships in Turku in 1993. The Championships went well: the ladies took the first international medal ever by coming third in the women’s team competition. We kept within budget and for the moment everything looked good.

Just before the championships we started hearing alarming rumours: our president making suspicious deals with different companies and taking loans in the name of our federation. These turned out to be true and the worst scenario possible came to pass. Due to one individual, the Finnish Kendo Federation’s story ended in bankruptcy in 1994.

Finnish Kendo Association 1994

The Finnish Kendo Association was founded to continue the work of the former federation. The change was accepted in the international federations. It was a tough time for a young kendo country. Ms Mervi Porevuo (3rd dan) was elected for a first president of Finnish Kendo Association. She was 25 years at that time. We were young, but we survived.

Today, the Finnish Kendo Association has approximately 800 members of which 600 practise kendo and of these 200 have a dan-grade. We have 28 member clubs from which 24 have kendo in their curriculum.

Since 1994, we have had five presidents of Finnish Kendo Association: 1993 Ms Mervi Porevuo, 1994–1996 Mr Jukka Jalava (4th dan), 1996–1998 Mr Kari Jääskeläinen (6th dan), 1999–2000 Mr Jukka Uusisalo (3rd dan), 2001–2009 Mr Ari Lehtinen (4th dan) and 2009– Mr Niko Saikkonen (4th dan).

The Finnish Kendo Association is proud of the fact that Mr Pekka Nurminen was elected Secretary General of the European Kendo Federation in 2012.

Since 2011, the Finnish Kendo Association is a member of the National Sports Federation, Valo under the Ministry of Education. The FKA’s board has many members and tasks. It is made up of the president, treasurer, vice-president, spokesperson, IT-person, youth development representative, pedagogical expert and person for Japan relations.

Educational back bone: kyu-system followed by tutor education program

In Finland, the association has ensured that all the rules and guidelines for kendo teaching are functional. From the very beginning, we have paid attention to basic training. It is important to what we do and teach. In 2004 we renewed our kyu-system. The fundamental guideline for kendo teaching is in our kyu-system. We have a six kyu system for everyone, including adults. For children from 4 to 14 years of age, we have grades in between the kyu grades. Children have a special kyu-program which motivates and encourages them to continue kendo training.

For dan-gradings, we follow the rules of the European Kendo Federation and International Kendo Federation.

Kyu-grades are national. People who have been qualified with dan-grade and who have a FKA’s licence to be in the jury are only ones who can give the kyu-grades.  Teachers bear a lot of responsibility, as students are not allowed to part in the examination without the recommendation of their teacher.

The kyu-system actually follows three stages: novice-level, advanced beginner-level and competent beginner’s-level. At novice-level, practice is without bogu: learning the basic drills and motor skills of kendo, footwork and strikes – ki-ken-tai-icchi. 6th kyu is a basic package for continuing kendo and 5th kyu is a licence to start practice with bogu.

Advanced beginner’s-level: 4th.kyu is to getting used to practice with bogu and in 3.kyu a student is ready to move on towards ji-geiko.

 At the competent beginner’s-level, 2.kyu means that the student is able to practice fluently with bogu and also participate in ji-geiko, and 1.kyu is equivalent to 1.dan. The evaluation of the 1.kyu is moved from kihon towards the evaluation of keiko. What is particular to Finnish kendo is that already at 1.kyu we include the first seven forms of Nippon Kendo Kata.

To support club leaders, the Finnish Kendo Association has created its own version of the Finnish National Sports Federation’s three staged volunteer sports teacher programme. The programme started in 2006. It aims to improve teachers’ pedagogical and communication skills. In the first level of the tutor education programme, instructors also receive basic information on health, welfare and ethics. The programme is made up of weekend courses on different themes and training camps, where teaching skills are put into practice.

Other topics dealt with at the second level are in particular: communication skills, planning of training, coaching, development of training methods and leadership. At the second level, the instructors’ own responsibility to evaluate and reflect on their own actions are strongly emphasised. The third level of the tutor education program helps senior teachers to become experts in their own areas of interest.

Finnish Kendo Academy – National Team

As mentioned before, the first Finnish National Team was selected 1989 for the European Championships in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The first time the Finnish team appeared in the World Championships in was in 1991 in Toronto, Canada. The women’s team came along in 1992 to the Championships in Barcelona, Spain. The first junior team took part in the good will category for youngsters in the World Championships held in Paris, France in 1994.

The national team has been very important for Finnish kendo. It has provided an opportunity for the most talented and active kendoka to improve their skills. Thanks for this goes to the haken senseis sent by the ZNKR, who have brought us a great deal of information and shared their experience on how to prepare the team.

Gradually, Finnish teachers have taken more and more responsibility for managing the national team; lately Mikko Salonen, Markus Frey, Kari Ruuhilahti and Sakari Jokinen (5th dan) have shared the responsibility of taking the Finnish team to higher and higher levels.

Moments of glory

Our women’s team got their first medal in our first home games in Turku 1993. Then the bronze was a victory.

After a few years, the ladies took the victory in the European Championships in Miskolc, Hungary and the men’s team came third. Since then, the ladies have taken silver in Basel, Switzerland in 1998 and the first individual medal came in the women’s individual competition: Susanna Porevuo won bronze. The year after, in Lourdes, France, the Finnish women’s team won again and Ms Outi Kääriäinen (3rd dan) took bronze. In 2001 in Bologna, Italy, the women’s team won again and Mrs Susanna Porevuo came second in the individuals.

Finally, 2004 was the year that it was the men’s team’s turn in Budapest, Hungary: they came second and the women’s team took third place. In the second home Championships in Helsinki in 2008, the women’s team achieved third place. Last but not least, Akseli Korhonen (5th dan) got the first ever men’s individual medal by achieving second place in the European Championships in Debrecen, Hungary in 2010.

The best results in the World Kendo Championships have been in Paris, France in 1994 when the men’s team in the best eight. Women’s team came into the best eight in Kyoto, Japan in 1997, and Sao-Paolo, Brazil in 2009.  Mikko Salonen was in the best eight of the individual tournament in Glasgow, UK in 2003.

It is not just about medals, but training and coaching. The national team squad is something that gives a good example for younger kendoka, as well as giving a reason to be proud for many others. The national team organization has developed constantly. The preparation for each championship starts eight months prior to the competition. It involves hard training, shiai, selections, trips to other countries and much more besides. The ultimate goal is to succeed in the championships, but as important is to bring up competent future leaders for Finnish kendo.

Seminars and Competitions

Two times Finnish Kendo Association and its predecessor have hosted the European Kendo Championships. First time in Turku 1993 and second time in Helsinki 2008. It has been hard work, but we have learned a lot by organising such a big events.

The core of Finnish kendo is in annual events. We have a spring seminar in March / April, a summer seminar in July in Pori and in Helsinki an autumn seminar in November. All these seminars have visiting senseis from Europe or Japan. At these events, it is possible to take gradings up to 4th dan.  

For kyu-level practitioners, the Kyu-camp and Tampere autumn camp are important events. Kyu-camps are pedagogical seminars where more experienced teachers guide younger teachers who have taken the responsibility of planning and executing the content of the camp. Every year in autumn, Emilio Gomez is leading a seminar in Tampere, which is a good opportunity for training in the fundamentals.

Clubs in Finland also frequently arrange camps for different groups, from yudansha to children. We often invite teachers from abroad even for the smaller seminars to share their knowledge with us.

In Finland we have four major competitions: Individual Championships (women, men, youth and children), Team Championships, Kyu-Championships (including shimpan seminar) and Dan-Cup (1.kyu–4th dan). Besides these, many of the clubs have smaller scale competitions. Many Finnish kendoka travel to bigger European taikai such as the Stockholm Open, Hungary Cup, Oslo Open, Paris Taikai etc.


In Finland, sport clubs have a unique position. All sports activities in Finland are basically provided by clubs that are privately-run but open to everyone. The educational system, i.e. schools and universities, do not support physical education like in many countries. The local clubs play the key role in kendo activity in Finland.

The biggest club in Finland is Helsinki’s Ki-Ken-Tai Icchi (KKTI) which was founded 1986. It has 150 members practising kendo, iaido, jodo and naginata. KKTI has had a leading role in Finnish kendo life. It is the home club of many higher dan grades including two 7th dans, two 6th dans and several 5th dans. KKTI had taken responsibility in many tasks, for example, by hosting several ZNKR senseis and by arranging several camps and competitions.

Other historically and regionally important clubs are Rendaino in Turku (founded in 1988), Fudo Kamae in Tampere, (1991), Dai-Kuma-Ken-Kai in Pori (1994), Joo-Ken-Kai in Hämeenlinna (1994) and Hokufuu in Oulu (1999). These clubs are pioneers in Finnish kendo and hubs for smaller kendo clubs in their regions. Many events and competitions have been hosted by these clubs.

Good examples of modern and active kendo clubs are Helsinki University Kendo Club (1998). Helsinki University is the home of many national team members and despite its small, size it is important in its role as a place for high level practice. Smaller clubs, like Kotka Kendo Club (1998) and Kuopio Kendo Club (2003), need to be mentioned because they have constantly brought up new juniors and talented kendo people, who have continued their kendo in other clubs.

Challenges for the future

In 28 years we have achieved a lot. We have good teachers, we are well connected, we have a reasonably good level in kendo, we have functioning organisation, as well as many clubs. What else could we ask for?

Kendo is still relatively small; we must aim higher in order to make kendo bigger, the organisation more effective and practising kendo more enjoyable. It is possible that we have already achieved it, but to make further gains in the future, we need to continue to work hard. For if we do, we can turn these possibilities into reality, and this way turn yet another page in Finnish kendo history.

Haken senseis 1990-2014

1990–1993 Takahashi Toru, 7th dan, Kyoshi Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music
1994 Muto Shizuo, 7th dan, Kyoshi Fukushima Police
1995 Ishizuka Yoshifumi, 8th dan Hanshi Osaka Police
1996 Onda Koji, 8th dan Kyoshi Tokyo Metropolitan Police
1997 Oshige Koichiro, 7th dan, Kyoshi  Miyazaki Police
1998 Kondo Wataru, 8th dan, Kyoshi  Tokushima Police
1999 Yokoyama Naoya, 7th dan, Kyoshi Yokohama University
2000 Ota Yoriyasu, 7th dan, Kyoshi Osaka Educational University
2001 Takeda Ryuichi, 7th dan, Kyoshi Yamagata University
2002 Yamagami Shinichi, 8th dan, Kyoshi Kagawa University
2003 Yagisawa Makoto, 8th dan, Kyoshi Nippon Sport Science University
2004 Iwakiri Kimiharu, 8th dan, Kyoshi  International Budo University
2005 Sakai Toshinobu, 7th dan, Kyoshi University of Tsukuba
2006 Yoshino Hisaya, 7th dan, Kyoshi Chiba Police
2006 Hara Toshiyuki, 7th dan, Kyoshi  Imperial Guard Tokyo
2009 Hashimoto Seiji, 7th dan, Kyoshi  Okayama Police
2010 Kadota Mutsushi, 7th dan, Kyoshi Ehime Police
2011 Natsumeda Hideo, 7th dan, Kyoshi Hiroshima Police
2012 Shigetomi Yoichi, 7th dan, Kyoshi Toyama Police
2013 Kubo Takanori, 7th dan, Kyoshi  Hyogo Police
2014 Shimohashi Kazuhiko, 7th dan, Kyoshi Kagoshima Police

ZNKR senseis

1988 Matsunaga Masami, 8th dan, Hanshi ZNKR
1991 Tahara Hironori, 8th dan, Hanshi Tokyo Metropolitan Police
1992 Iwatate Saburo, 8th dan, Hanshi Chiba Police/Shofukan Dojo
2000 Inoue Shigeaki, 8th dan, Hanshi Nara Kendo Federation

Senseis visiting privately

1988 Ando Kozo, 8th dan, Kyoshi Waseda University Tokyo
2005 Saito Koji, 8th dan, Kyoshi Sendai University
2007 Ito Takayoshi, 7th dan, Kyoshi Obirin University Tokyo

Finnish Kendo Association member clubs

Leppävaaran budoseura (kendo, iaido, jodo) Espoo
Budoviikingit (iaido) Helsinki
Erä Ken Kai (kendo, iaido, jodo) Helsinki
Helsingin Yliopiston Kendoseura (kendo) Helsinki University
Ki-Ken-Tai-Icchi (kendo, iaido, jodo, naginata) Helsinki
Hyvinkään kendoseura (kendo) Hyvinkää
Joo Ken Kai (kendo, iaido) Hämeenlinna
Kawa Ken Kai (kendo) Joensuu
Ryûtôkai (iaido, kendo) Jyväskylä
Kannuksen Ura (kendo) Kannus
Shi Dai Shi Gô (kendo) Kokkola
Gu Do Ken Kai (kendo, iaido) Kotka
Kaigara (kendo, iaido) Kouvola
Shô Ken Kai (kendo) Kuopio
Shi Ken Kai (kendo) Lahti
Ichiwakai (iaido) Lappeenranta
Kaiten (iaido) Nurmijärvi
Hokufuu (kendo, jodo) Oulu
Dai Kuma Ken Kai (kendo, iaido, jodo) Pori
Porvoon kendo (kendo) Porvoo
Masurawo (iaido) Savonlinna
Seinäjoen kendoseura (kendo) Seinäjoki
Fudo Kamae (kendo) Tampere
Seigikai (iaido) Tampere
Tenshu Ken Kai (kendo) Tornio
Rendaino (kendo, iaido, jodo) Turku
Dai Kenshin Kai (kendo, iaido) Turku University
Vaasan kendoseura (kendo) Vaasa
Mikko Salonen
Finnish Kendo Association
7th dan, Renshi