Cradle of Champions

—The Hsu School in Taiwan Kendo
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2019 / September

Cathy Teng /photos courtesy of Chuang Kung-ju /tr. by David Mayer


In the Japanese sport of kendo (fencing with bamboo swords), the term ippon refers to a valid strike that scores one point. But it has a deeper meaning, for it also refers to a competitor’s energy, fencing style, and body control. What every fencer seeks is that magic moment—kikentai ichi—when energy, sword, and body are as one, and a perfect strike is executed.

The practice of kendo, “the way of the sword,” got started in Taiwan in the Japanese colonial period, and since then a ragtag band of committed practitioners have blazed a narrow, winding trail of their own. Without making a full-time career of kendo, they’ve nonetheless put Taiwan’s name time and again onto the leader board at international kendo competitions.

 


Hsu Heng-hsiung used to race through town on a scooter wearing his kendo outfit. He wouldn’t even take the time to take off his protective gear before hustling off to his medical clinic, parking his scooter, and heading in to start seeing patients.

That is just one of the many things that Director Hsu Yen-lang of the Taoyuan Kendo Story House remembers about his brother Hsu Heng-­hsiung (1940‡2014). Besides being a well-known eye, ear, nose, and throat specialist in Tao­yuan, Hsu Heng-­hsiung was even better known for his sideline occupation as a kendo coach. Under his watchful eye, a bunch of energetic kids from Tao­yuan won the kendo event for 23 years running at the Taiwan District Games.

Like father, like son

Hsu Heng-hsiung came from a family of doctors. Of six brothers, five became physicians. Their father, Hsu ­Yin-ko (1909‡1975), established a private hospital in Tao­yuan, and was a member of the group that founded Tai­pei Medical College.

Hsu Yin-ko, who received a Japanese education, took up kendo as a middle-school student in Hsin­chu, and once represented Taiwan at a kendo competition in Japan. To promote kendo in Taiwan, he co-founded the Republic of China Kendo Association. In 1970, he led the ROC national team to the World Kendo Championship, where they took second place in the men’s team event.

Hsu Heng-hsiung inherited his father’s athletic genes. While studying at Taipei Medical College, he founded the school’s kendo club. Later, he returned to Taoyuan to practice medicine, and there he would go on to write a glorious chapter in local kendo history.

The Hsu school is born

In addition to teaching regular kendo classes at several schools in Taoyuan, Hsu often took troubled youths under his wing and taught them kendo. At the time, one could hear the shouts of people practicing kendo during the morning and evening hours in the lanes near his father’s old hospital on Yongle Street. Neighbors at first thought they were hearing people fighting. In reality, it was a bunch of marginalized youths that Hsu was working to steer away from trouble and onto a more productive path.

Hsu Heng-hsiung was more than just a kendo teacher. As a lifelong bachelor, he treated the kids as if they were his own. His clinic was a home for the kids, and he converted the roofs of both his home and the hospital next door into a dojo where kids could practice. Years later, in interviews with the media, his former students all mention how he would use his own ambulance to drive them to competitions, and in the runup to competitions the students would train together and spend the pre-­competition nights in rooms ordinarily intended for patients.

Gone but not forgotten

Hsu Heng-hsiung would travel the length and breadth of Taiwan with his students to take part in competitions, and the results were outstanding. The medals and trophies bolstered the children’s self-confidence, and got them to believe in their possibilities and potential. Indeed, the kendo skills imparted by Hsu enabled many students to gain admission to sports academies. ­Huang Kuang-­jung, dean of academic affairs at Ching-Hsi Junior High School in Tao­yuan, says there is no way he would be working in education today if not for Hsu Heng-­hsiung.

In 2011, Hsu Heng-hsiung was diagnosed with stage-three lung cancer.

Chemotherapy put the tough Mr. Hsu through the wringer, but he still stole away from his hospital room at every opportunity to teach at the kendo clubs at Veterans General Hospital and Taipei Medical University Hospital. In watching a video about Mr. Hsu’s life, I couldn’t help noticing that even during his cancer treatment, once he took the bamboo sword in hand he spoke in a booming voice and moved with lightning quickness. Hsu Yen-lang confirms: “When he got into the dojo, his illness seemed to fall away from him.”

Hsu lost his battle with cancer and passed away in 2014. When the Taoyuan kendo club again took the champion­ship at the Taiwan National Games that year, the fencers stood in a line and held up their trophies toward the heavens in a salute to their beloved coach.

Dojo of memories

After Hsu Heng-hsiung passed away, Hsu Yen-lang went to work on the property where Hsu Heng-­hsiung had lived and worked. Figuring his father and brother deserved a memorial of some sort, Hsu Yen-lang ended up founding the Taoyuan Kendo Story House.

Hsu Yen-lang explains that half the space on the first floor had been occupied by his brother’s clinic, while the other half had been a clubhouse for his kendo students.

Hsu Yen-lang turned the second floor into an audi­torium to be used for musical performances and speeches, and produced a video documentary that visitors can watch to learn about the lives of his father and brother. However, when Hsu Heng-­hsiung’s former students give guided tours of the story house, they always show the visitors to the second floor then beat a retreat themselves. “They don’t like to watch the video, because it makes them cry. They just wait downstairs while the visitors watch it.”

The third floor houses the Kendo Story House’s principal exhibits. From the ceiling hang the bamboo swords used by Hsu’s students, many of whom eventually competed for the national team. The list of his better known students includes ­Huang Kuang-­jung, Yueh Chien-­chung, Chiu Chuei-­hsi, ­Huang Ching-che, and Liu Yu-yuan.

Hsu’s teams represented Taiwan many times at the World Kendo Championship, and took third place in the team event in 1991, 1994, 1997, and 2006. They also won 23 consecutive championships at the Taiwan District Games from 1979 to 2003, an extraordinary record of success.

The Hsu diaspora

At the 17th World Kendo Championship, which was held in Incheon, South Korea in 2018, Taiwan’s men’s team was coached by Hsu-clan acolyte Liu Yu-yuan and took third place in the team event, thus vaulting Taiwan back onto the World Kendo Championship leader board after a 12-year absence.

Liu Yu-yuan was 12 when he first met Hsu Heng-­hsiung. The Liu family operated a wushu club, but young Yu-yuan was always slipping off to practice kendo. The thing about kendo that hooked him, he says, was its emphasis on cultivation of the spirit.

Liu has had many mentors, but Hsu Heng-hsiung was the one who influenced him the most.

A five-time member of the Taiwan national team at the World Kendo Championship, Liu feels his best performance ever was at the 1997 event in Kyoto, where he got into an overtime battle with Fumihiro Miyazaki. The video of that match is still getting views online today, and Liu received the Fighting Spirit Award that year.

Kendo trains both body and mind. It is a competitive sport, to be sure, but winning or losing is just a small part of the pursuit. The most important thing is the fencer’s state of mind, and his or her ability to withstand pressure. Hsu Heng-­hsiung urged his students to forget about the pressure of competition and just seek to score a beautifully executed ippon strike.

Liu Yu-yuan, who continues to practice kendo today, says: “I want to keep alive Coach Hsu’s way of thinking, and his spirit.” In 2000, Liu opened his own dojo.

Using the standard okuri-ashi footwork, the fencers practice striking at the men (a face mask protecting the head and shoulders), the kote (gauntlets protecting the hands and forearms), and the dou (a breastplate protecting the torso). Coach Liu ceaselessly stresses the importance of footwork. He requires students to use all their strength in executing strikes, and to use energy (ki), sword (ken), and body (tai) as one. A kendo strike is lightning fast, but to achieve that sort of speed one must practice making hundreds of strikes every day until the action becomes a matter of muscle memory. Only then will a fencer perform in the same in competition as during practice. But this is far easier to understand than to execute. It is each person’s task to reach that level, and this is the real meaning of the Chinese characters hanging on the dojo wall: “You put in the practice, you reap the reward.”

The sounds of fencers shouting and bamboo swords slapping continue to reverberate in the dojo late into the night, but my attention is especially drawn to a skinny little fencer of elementary school age. Gripping a bamboo sword that’s almost longer than she is tall, she exudes a certain fearlessness as she practices her footwork and straight-on strikes against the face mask. She brings to mind something Coach Liu had said: “The thing we get from kendo that has the biggest impact is ‘authenticity.’ We do lots of things in life that require our most genuine effort.” The truth of many principles that apply in life, it turns out, can be corroborated in the practice of kendo. Indeed, we’ve seen them applied in Taiwan’s kendo community.

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台灣劍道「一本」

徐家班的榮耀與傳承

文‧鄧慧純 圖‧莊坤儒

「一本」(日文讀音ippon)在劍道中代表一次有效的攻擊得分,但其更深的意涵是結合「氣勢」、「劍路」和「身體控制」,使出的完美一擊,即所謂的「氣劍體一致」。

台灣的劍道奠基於日治時期,之後再靠著一群愛好劍道的前輩們,篳路藍縷開出一條小徑,大家都不是專職的劍士,但屢屢讓台灣的名字登上世界盃劍道的排行,擊出漂亮的「一本」。

 


騎著機車,奔馳在巷弄間,徐恒雄穿著深藍色的道服,身上的護具還沒來得及脫下,摩托車在診所前停下,立馬鑽進診間幫病人看病。

桃園劍道故事館館長徐彥郎描述當年常見的景象,他的三哥徐恒雄(1940~2014)除了是桃園知名的耳鼻喉科醫生外,他更出名的副業是劍道的金牌教練,教劍道比當醫師還投入。在他一手調教下,桃園一群血氣方剛的孩子脫胎換骨,打出人生另一片天,寫下台灣區運動會劍道23連霸的紀錄。

父子皆俠醫,仗劍懸壺

徐家一門,醫生最多。一家六兄弟中,有五位是醫生,他們的父親徐銀格(1909~1975)創辦私立桃園醫院,更是台北醫學院創辦人之一。

徐銀格接受日本教育,在新竹中學時期即修習劍道,曾代表台灣赴日參加劍道比賽。1959年台灣出版的第一本劍道書籍《擊劍入門》即出自徐銀格之手。為了推廣劍道運動,他與同好協力籌組「中華民國劍道協會」。1970年,他率中華隊參加世界盃劍道錦標賽,取得團體賽亞軍的佳績。徐銀格為劍道八段高手,過世後,感念他對台灣劍道的貢獻,受追贈為九段範士。

徐恒雄遺傳了父親的運動基因,年輕時是桃園市的籃球代表隊,後來改練劍道,就讀台北醫學院時期,他創設北醫劍道社。之後,徐恒雄返回桃園行醫,也開啟桃園劍道輝煌的篇章。

徐家班成軍

返桃之初,徐恒雄曾代表桃園劍道隊出賽,由選手轉任教練後,更展現他在訓練傳承上出色的才華。

除了固定在桃園青溪、八德國中等幾間學校教劍道外,徐恒雄不時在路上撿回正值青春期叛逆、不愛念書的學生,教他們練劍。當時,銀格醫院所處的永樂街巷弄內,早晚都有劍道練習的吆喝聲,鄰居剛開始以為有人打架鬧事,實際上,卻是徐恒雄把這些曾在邊緣地帶徘徊的孩子,放在身邊照顧,用劍道消耗他們過剩的精力,不讓他們到外頭學壞,走偏路。

不只是劍道的老師,徐恒雄待這群子弟兵如自己的小孩。一生未婚,他投注了工作外所有的精力,看顧這些學生。他關心子弟與父母的相處情況,還不時充當親子間的溝通者。他的診所就是孩子們的家,他將住處與隔壁銀格醫院的頂樓闢為練習場,子弟們都在那兒練劍,徐恒雄利用看診的空檔指導學生動作,一整天都跟學生處在一起。

練劍之外的時間,徐恒雄像是個孩子王,帶著一群弟子到海邊玩,吃好料。他的弟子每回受訪,總不忘提到教練當年開著自家的救護車載他們參加比賽,比賽前大夥兒一起住在病房集訓的時光。

敬天上的教練

徐恒雄帶著孩子南征北討比賽,戰果豐碩,一面面獎牌建立孩子們的自信心,讓他們相信自己無窮的可能性與潛力。這群孩子在徐恒雄的訓練下,許多人獲保甄各體育學院,有了更寬廣的未來。徐彥郎說:「哥哥喜歡看孩子成長,有些孩子從什麼都沒有,因為學劍道獲得保送,這樣他最高興。」現在服務於桃園市青溪國中學務主任的黃光榮就曾說,沒有遇見徐恒雄,他今日不可能在教育界服務。

桃李滿天下,徐恒雄訓練的學生少說超過500人,而且師徒情誼一世不滅。

徐恒雄在2011年被發現肺腺癌第三期。治療期間,病床旁總能見到子弟陪伴。徐彥郎說:「謝吉林(徐恒雄的乾兒子)特別讓我們家族很感動,哥哥生病的時候,他辭了學校的工作,陪哥哥住在一起,就近照顧。」。

化療的辛苦,折磨這位鐵漢,但他待不住病房,又偷跑到榮總、北醫的劍道社團繼續教劍,看著回顧的影片,病中的徐恒雄,一拿起竹劍,聲音還是宏亮,擊劍的手法仍飛快,「他只要到劍道館(身體)就恢復了」,徐彥郎說。

2014年,徐恒雄不敵病魔離世。當年桃園劍道隊再次拿下全民運動會劍道冠軍,選手們排成一列,把獎牌舉向天,向在天上的教練致敬。

充滿記憶的劍道故事館

徐彥郎,徐家的第五個男孩。他笑稱:「因為我沒有練劍,所以成了劍道故事館的館長。」

在徐恒雄過世後,徐彥郎整理當初徐恒雄工作、生活的空間,想為父親與哥哥一生留下紀錄,而籌設了桃園劍道故事館。

徐彥郎解釋,一樓的空間,半邊是昔日徐恒雄看診的場所,半邊是劍道學生活動休息的空間,聽著徐彥郎的描述,彷彿能看到子弟們穿著道服,練完劍,自己開冰箱找東西吃的畫面。

二樓設計為「知內音樂廳」,提供音樂演出與講座之用,他也將徐恒雄的生平製作成影片,讓來訪的民眾透過影像了解爸爸和哥哥的事蹟。只是每當徐恒雄的弟子幫忙導覽,到了二樓這一關,他們都自動退避。「這支影片劍道學生不愛看,每個看了都掉眼淚。所以他們帶導覽,都讓民眾自己看,他們到樓下等。」不忍睹物傷情,足見師徒的情感深厚。

三樓作為劍道故事的主體,徐彥郎找上策展達人王耀邦,讓空間講述徐家班的故事。

天花板上,橫掛著徐家班弟子使用的竹劍,有大弟子黃光榮、岳建中、邱垂夕、黃靖哲、劉有元等,這些名字都曾在中華劍道代表隊中出現。

展場牆上堆疊的VHS,是徐恒雄當初錄下無數比賽的畫面,供子弟們檢討、觀摩動作之用。牆上的地圖,紀錄了徐家班出征世界劍道的足跡。徐家班的子弟兵屢次囊括多名國手席次,除了代表台灣出賽世界盃劍道錦標賽,在1991、1994、1997、2006年四度拿下團體賽季軍;並在台灣區運動會創下23年連霸(1979~2003),這幾乎是不可能的紀錄。

開枝散葉的徐家班

2018年第17屆世界盃劍道錦標賽在韓國釜山舉辦,由徐家班劉有元擔任男子隊教練,拿下團體賽第三名,是睽違12年之後,台灣再次躋身世界盃的排名。

劉有元12歲那年遇見徐恒雄。家裡開武術館,劉有元卻愛往劍道館跑。他記得剛開始練習劍道的基本架勢中段,沒有竹劍,同伴多用竹掃帚柄代替,他耍帥拿了家裡武術館的木刀,沒想到練定力一站要站半小時,木刀比竹掃帚重多了,至今他仍拿這件事當玩笑講。但一路不放棄的堅持,是劍道那種對內心自我精神突破,讓他著迷於此,劉有元解釋。

一路上有許多業師指導過他,但徐恒雄對他的影響最大。徐教練的教導加上自身勤奮苦練,國三那年劉有元就拿到全國冠軍,開始出國比賽交流。

劉有元曾五度獲選為世界盃的國手,他自言1997年在京都的比賽打得最好,他和日本選手宮崎史裕(全日本選手權優勝)的延長賽今日仍在網上流傳,他也獲得當年年度的敢鬪賞。

劍道不僅修身也練心,劍道作為一項競技運動至今仍存有主觀判決的偏差,「修練到最後,我發現裁判因素只影響某一小部分,其實重點在選手的心態,你的抗壓性夠不夠。」不受競賽壓力的影響,打出讓人心服口服的「一本」,也是徐恒雄的教誨。

至今還堅持在劍道的路上,劉有元說:「想要傳承徐教練的想法和精神。」2000年,他開設了自己的道館,把劍道的精神傳承。

時間將近晚上七點,道館的學員陸續進來,跟教練問安後,從擦地整理環境開始,換好衣服後正坐默想。把心緒安定下來,才開始今日的修行。

從送足三步、面(めん)、小手(こて)、胴(どう)的攻擊,課堂上,劉有元一再強調腳步的重要性,觀察好與對方的距離,就很好得分。他要學員每一次的攻擊練習都使出全力,氣、劍、體配合。劍道攻擊的速度超級快,竹劍交擊大概只需0.19秒,這需要每天揮劍數百次,一次次來回的練習,讓身體肌肉自動記憶反應,才能在技競場上展現平日的修行。這些道理、基本功看似簡單,卻是知易行難,是修行者自己的課題,也正是道館牆上寫著「百鍊自得」四個大字的真義。

夜深了,整個道館還充斥著吆喝及竹劍敲擊發出「啪、啪、啪」的聲響,但空間內,一名國小學員瘦小的身影卻特別吸引我們注意。拿著快比她高的竹劍,眼神無畏、無懼,一再地跨出腳步,練習正擊面。讓人想起劉有元的話,「劍道帶給我最大的影響是『誠』這個字。很多事情需要用最真誠的力量去做,才是最真實的。」人生的道理在劍道中,自得印證,一路以來,台灣的劍道亦是如此。

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