October 31, 2015 – One of Spokane Kendo Club’s long term members has left us.

Billy Kuster has trained with us for many years.

Billy rarely missed training, and he always gave it his best when he trained and taught at our dojo.  He always gave positive and intense spirit to everyone and it was contagious.

He is well known in the Pacific Northwest as one of the few people truly committed to doing a style of kendo called jodan.  That means fighting with the sword held in an upper ‘on guard’ position instead of the more common middle area position. It’s very difficult to develop.

Billy’s nickname in the dojo is sasori, which in Japanese means scorpion, because his strike comes from overhead.

Billy is a teacher at heart. You’ll hear dojo members talking about both Billy’s kendo technique and the way he knows so much about so many things. He’s pretty much a walking encyclopedia of knowledge on movies, tv shows, books on kendo, history, etc.  A long van ride over to a tournament with this guy is as fun as the tournament itself.

As much as we would like to keep learning more from Billy in Spokane, he found a job teaching English in Japan recently.  He also has a girlfriend there! Japan obviously has lots of kendo, which is great for Billy, but we will miss him greatly while he’s gone.

On our tournament signup sheet, Billy would always write ‘I like pie!’ in the margin. That’s why the farewell party was ‘pie’ themed (in case you were wondering what everyone was eating in the photos below).  We had a very high energy, and slightly teary, training before the party.

Many years ago when he first started kendo, some students saw Billy practicing a simple sword drawing technique in a racquetball court at Eastern Washington University’s SRC gym.  These students came back to the

racquetball court an hour later to find him still practicing the same simple technique over and over!

We tell people in our club this story as an example of what it means to truly master these seemingly simple techniques.  Repetition of basics is essential for progressing in Kendo. This repetition can be either boring or interesting depending on our attitude and our training methods.

Billy never stopped improving techniques that might seem simple and easy to do.  He was able to master simple techniques far beyond what we think is possible.

One of these basic techniques is a straight forward strike to the head. In Japanese kendo terminology this head strike is called men-uchi. It’s taught during our 8 Week Beginning Class. We do this strike countless times in one training. Many people consider it as the easiest strike, but we never stop improving it.

During our farewell training with him, Billy said ‘I’ve been trying to strike me-uchi  well all these years. I did it perfectly once tonight.’  Billy doesn’t try to strike a good men strike, he’s trying to strike the perfect men strike.  We’re sure he’s still working on the same strike in Japan, always improving.

Billy Kuster is a dear friend.

Farewell, Billy. We’ll already miss you!