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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hashimoto Gives Russia A Lesson in Martial Art




None of his bodyguards even blinked as the woman in white bore down on Ryutaro Hashimoto, former prime minister of Japan, with a large wooden sword.


Instead, Hashimoto simply parried the blow and daintily moved back as he gave the Russian Kendo champion, Lena Vatolina, a few tips in a packed sports hall at the Moscow Institute of International Relations on Tuesday.


Hashimoto, a 5th Dan in Kendo who has been studying the Japanese martial art for over 40 years, is on a two-day private visit to Moscow and for the second year led a training session in his favorite sport at the Russian championships.


"My friend Ryu" as President Boris Yeltsin once called him hasn't come all the way from Japan only to fight. Although considered a private visit, the real aim according to one Japanese journalist is to push forward negotiations over the disputed Kuril Islands.


Yeltsin was set to visit Japan for talks earlier this year, but the talks were postponed because of little progress toward resolving the dispute.


Hashimoto, who is an adviser to current Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, is scheduled to speak by telephone with Yeltsin on Wednesday and is expected to press him to go ahead with his visit.


Kendo is a martial art that rose from the ancient art of Japanese swordmanship. Participants use bamboo swords, or shinai, with the aim of striking their opponent on the head, the forearms or the trunk.


The clash of bamboo and blood-curdling screams gives the impression that the sport is extremely violent, but students and masters stress that it's more of an art and a way of life. Posture and movement are as important as strength.


Clad in the traditional bogu protective gear, Hashimoto, 61, took on a line of young students in clashes that are not fights in themselves but exercises where each person attempts to point out the other's weaknesses.


"He tried to show us our mistakes," said Votolina, the Russian champion, who said Hashimoto fought on her level even though he is much stronger and more skilled.


"He has such a high level for a person in such a high post," said Ruslan Aloyev, vice president of the Russian Kendo Federation, adding that Hashimoto has beautiful harmony of mind and body. "It's visible from the way he stands and smiles."


But, still, opponents do have large sticks in their hands.


"At the same time it's no dance," Votolina said as she rolled up her bogu. "In order to awaken the soul, some times it has to hurt."


Hashimoto was joined by four Kendo masters from the Japanese Kendo federation.


"It was a very good training session," a smiling Hashimoto said at the end. He advised the students to work on their footwork - the left one to be precise - and to be more attentive when doing an exercise that entails hitting an opponent on the left and right sides of the head.


He then presented the Russian federation with 10 shinai and three trophies to be presented to national winners. Next year, Russia will take part in the world championships for the first time.


Kendo only really arrived in Russia 10 years ago when Vladimir Yanushevsky, a Japanese teacher at Moscow State University, set up the first club.


Despite his name, Yanushevsky, who died last year, was more Japanese than Russian. Born in Japan in 1922, he was the son of a Russian army officer who had emigrated there, and only returned to his father's land in his 1960s.


He tried to set up a Kendo club in the mid 1960s only to be quietly told that a sport considered the soul of Japanese military nationalism was not particularly welcome.