Sticking Together

Shuntaro and Pearl Shinada of South Pasadena in their Kendo outfits. Kendo is a martial art that employs bamboo sticks used in a manner akin to sword fighting. Courtesy of Shuntaro and Pearl Shinada

SHUNTARO Shinada’s path to Kendo success started at the piano keyboard. His wife Pearl found hers closer to home — from her mother.

Now, the South Pasadena residents are nationally known Kendo competitors with children of their own, and the children — in fifth and first grade — like Kendo, too.

Kendo is a martial art that imitates Japanese sword fighting, but uses a bamboo stick instead of a sword. Competitors wear padding, head gear and gloves to protect them from blows by competitors.

Judges award points for accurate strikes and responses; for spirit shown when striking; correct posture; and awareness in execution of a strike.

“Kendo is character building. You have to accept the judge’s decision,’’ Pearl said.

Pearl was a member of the 2011 gold-medal team at the nation’s competition in 2011 and on the world team in competition in 2012.

Her husband, Shuntaro, was on the assistant coaching staff at the world competition in 2018; and was the men’s-team coach in 2015 competition. He will be on the coaching team for the American team in the 2021 world championships in Paris.

Shuntaro said that the biggest lesson that Kendo has taught him is “never give up.’’

They met at a  Kendo training hall, or dojo, near Japan Town in 2002, when he was finishing up a fellowship at USC. Pearl’s sister was part of the same dojo.

“Kendo is part of our Japanese culture, which contributes to our identity,’’ Pearl said. “It helps us to find our place in society, and we are passing this along to our kids.’’

Shuntaro remembers when, as a boy, his piano teacher was upset by the fact that he might ruin his hands doing karate. So, he took up Kendo, which uses a glove that might protect his hands.

It turned out to be a good move. He thrived at Kendo — although he says he still plays the piano.

Pearl says that her mother was a practitioner of Kendo. 

“I fell in love with it because of mom,’’ she explained.

Both Shinadas say that Kendo has brought them a growth in both their personal and professional lives.

“Kendo teaches you how to endure. It provides you with a focus on doing a task. Sometimes you might get up in the morning and you might not want to go to work, but you do it,’’ said Shuntaro, who is a rheumatologist at USC’s Keck Medical Center.

Pearl, who teaches Kendo along with her husband, feels the same way.

“I have to be practicing myself,’’ she said. “If I don’t do it, how can you ask that of your students?

“You have to be completely honest with yourself, and there is a lot of preparation. … And you can’t take shortcuts.

Both Shinadas agreed that the road to success in Kendo is “a journey.’’

“This is a lifelong discipline,’’ Shinada said. “There is not immediate gratification. It is not easy, and you can get frustrated.’’

Both Shinadas have traveled a long way on their individual journeys. Shuntaro is on the seventh of eight levels in Kendo, while Pearl is on the fourth level.

Pearl said you can really feel the difference when fighting a much more experienced person. She said she has fought much older men and she can feel that they have an “aura.’’

She also practices with her husband.

“He’s tough on me,’’ she said.

Of course, they use a gym to practice several times a week. Those sticks would make a mess of the house.

Pearl and Shuntaro believe that the perseverance and dedication they learn in practicing Kendo help them in parenting their children.

Pearl believes that their children have also been taught etiquette along with the characteristics of diligence and perseverance.

“It is nice that the family can do it together,’’ Pearl said. “It is very family-friendly.’’ 

Zoey, the first grader, describes Kendo as “fun.’’

“You don’t have to be embarrassed,’’ said Bailey, now in fifth grade. “You can be free. No one is telling you what to do. When I am tired, I do Kendo, and it makes me feel better.’’

Editor’s Note: The Alhambra Kendo Dojo, where Shuntaro is the head instructor, has training and lessons on Tuesday and Thursdays from 6-9 p.m. It is located at 2000 W. Hellman Ave., in Alhambra. The Pasadena Cultural Institute Kendo Dojo, is located at 595 N. Lincoln Ave. in Pasadena. Further information is available on the website of the Southern California Kendo Foundation.

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