I look up to a lot of people in kendo. Some of them I've met and know personally. Some of them I've only seen in videos or read about in magazines or online. But there are some that I've dubbed my "Kendo Heroes" (working on coining that term!). These are people whose skills on the floor are things of beauty to me, and I would love to attain someday in my own training. People that stand out from the rest, in my opinion, and offer not only entertainment to watch but also goals to achieve for myself.
One of the first heroes I happened upon was none other than Masahiro Miyazaki. I'm sure everyone has at least heard his name before, but if not, go find him. You won't be disappointed. He won the All Japan Kendo Championships seven times, if I remember correctly, and is continuing to show strong finishes in the All Japan 8-dan Championships these days. He is, in my opinion, a living kendo legend, and his technique is amazing. I would love to have a men strike like his someday.
Naoki Eiga, another big name, is on my hero list, as well. He had an impressive showing at the 2003 World Kendo Championships and helped lead the Japanese team to a nailbiting win over Korea in the final match. If you don't know who Eiga Sensei is, what are you waiting for? go and check out the documentary, A Single Blow, right now! Beyond the scope of the documentary, though, Eiga Sensei has tremendous speed and power in his techniques, and his demonstration of oji waza (counter attacks) is phenomenal. Seriously, go look him up if you've never seen him in action.
Another big name that might not be as well known, although I feel like most people have seen or heard of him before, is Fabrizio Mandia, of Italy. He is fast, powerful, and I feel that if I practice hard enough his technique could be attainable for me. He has won the European Kendo Championships at least once, that I know of, and maybe more than that, and he consistently places high in a lot of high level tournaments around Europe. Mandia Sensei is also a constant name on the roster of the Italian national team, and if I can bring such a presence to my matches that he does to his I'll be happy.
I also have heroes closer to home, and each offers various skills that I'd love to steal and make my own. Stealing (skills) in kendo is the ultimate form of flattery, right? Right. Three names that come to mind are Harris Sensei, from Hawaii, S. Asaoka Sensei, from Canada, and Sandy Ghodgaonkar Maruyama Sensei, formerly of the US men's team. I've had the pleasure of practicing with all of these individuals, and those times have been some of the best for me, personally. Sandy Sensei gave me some tips on improving my kamae while I trained at his dojo, and encouragement for future improvement. Harris Sensei taught me to square up with anyone and give them my best, no matter what rank they are. Asaoka Sensei taught me to be confident with what I've got to work with, and use it to the best of my ability. All of them taught me to believe in myself and improve through that.
Not all of my kendo heroes are high-level competitors or teachers, though. One of my old dojo mates, Seth, was not only a great rival on the floor but someone I looked up to because of his super straight kendo. My buddy Ian, who fought with me on the PNKF men's team at nationals last year, is not only a fun guy to hang out with but also a fierce competitor on the floor. I've had the chance to fight alongside him and against him, and each match we've had has helped me improve. One of these days I might actually beat him, too. My friend David, who teaches me as much about using my shinai and body to fight as he does about using my head to study and learn.
I have a lot of people I consider my kendo heroes. Some I've named here, some have remained nameless, but each of them have pieces that I'm using to improve my own kendo, and hopefully someday I'll be able to not just emulate them but truly make their techniques my own. On the other side of that I try and remember that maybe, just maybe, I'm someone's kendo hero. Maybe they don't realize that yet; maybe they do. Either way, I try and conduct myself on the floor in that manner. If someone watched me, someone that looked up to me, would they like what they see? Would they want to emulate my movement or my techniques? I don't have to be a high ranked individual to be someone's hero. To anyone else reading this: remember that you may also be a kendo hero in someone's eyes.