With decades in the martial arts industry, Liam Kelleher tells FOCUS about his exciting role, teaching students in and around the New England. We were interested to know more about the subject, and Liam explained the many facets that form the art of Iai.
Tell our readers where you are from …
I’m originally from Sydney, but have lived in Armidale for most of my life.
So, what is the sport/art that you practice, and how long have you been training?
The martial art that I study is called Komei Juku Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Iaijutsu (or Iai “ee-ai” for short). The art itself is one of the oldest in Japan; it is over 450 years old and has an unbroken lineage with consecutive Grandmasters (Soke) throughout this time. In its day, Iaijutsu was an effective means of self-defence for the Samurai as they went about their daily business; however, in the modern world, there is thankfully no need to know how to fight with long blades, so we train to improve ourselves and to preserve the traditions, discipline, and fighting techniques of traditional Japan. Iaijutsu is a method in which you draw quickly and cut the opponent down with the katana (long sword) in a single smooth motion. The katana are either shinken (sharp steel swords) or bokken (wooden swords). Obviously, for safety reasons, Iai training begins with familiarising oneself with the bokken, before moving on to the shinken. Training involves both individual and pair work exercises, and classes are combined to cater for students of all ages and abilities.
I have been involved with Komei Juku for over a decade. During this time I have been fortunate enough to train with the school’s 21st Grandmaster, Sekiguchi Komei, on many occasions, in both Australia and Japan. In fact, Sekiguchi Komei regularly travels overseas, sharing his knowledge of Iai with his students across the world.
What attire and equipment do you have/need/require?
When training, we wear traditional Japanese clothing, which consists of a shirt (keikogi) over which we wear a belt (obi) wrapped many times around the body. Over the top of this uniform we wear a pleated and divided pair of pants (hakama) and for footwear we wear tabi (socks with a woven bottom). For training a weapon is also required, with the bokken (wooden sword) being used in all classes. When the time is right, it is highly recommended that students get a shinken of their own, but it is not a necessity. It is also recommended when training to wear soft knee pads, as a majority of the techniques (waza) start from a seated position.
Have you won any awards?
In the past I have travelled to tournaments to test what I have learned and have gathered many trophies and medals, with my best results being a second place in the NSW State Finals and placing fourth in the National Titles. Due to conflicting schedules, I haven’t been able to compete for a couple of years; however, next year I look forward to getting back into the tournament scene.
Have you travelled for your martial art? Why?
Yes indeed, quite a significant amount, with many international and domestic trips for training seminars and tournaments. I get to Japan as often as possible to train directly under Sekiguchi Sensei and the other senior members of the school. It was just a couple of years ago I travelled to Madrid to train with Marcos Sala Ivars Sensei, who is the Shibucho for the entirety of Spain. In late January next year I and other students from Australia and around the world will be converging in Japan for an eighteen day extensive training seminar, which happily coincides with Sekiguchi sensei’s seventieth birthday. On a domestic level I have gone as far as Townsville to Adelaide and everywhere in-between, so that I don’t miss opportunities to train with the other great teachers who are a part of Komei Juku. In fact, a seminar in which Sekiguchi sensei was flown out to Australia to teach only recently concluded at the end of August in Brisbane.
Now you are teaching? Please tell us more … Where do you teach?
I have been teaching Iai for many years now, with my students ranging from seven years of age, all the way up to those in their sixties. I am holding classes at the amazing facilities of our local Armidale PCYC and would like to thank Demian Coates and all the wonderful staff there for providing such a welcoming, safe, and clean environment for all involved. Class times are from 6pm ’til 8pm Monday and Wednesday evenings, with the first lesson being free and ten dollars a session after that.
Next year I will be flying Sekiguchi Sensei out to Armidale in April for a training seminar, which will be held at the PCYC. This will be amazing, as Sekiguchi Sensei has not been to Armidale in about ten years. I have also had the wonderful opportunity to teach some year ten classes at O’connor Catholic College, and would like to thank Melissa Killen and David Lush for facilitating such an enjoyable and productive experience.
Are there many “schools” around Australia and abroad?
Komei Juku is quite a small school of martial arts but still has a good coverage of dojo across Australia. Starting from the north and working down there is Townsville, Brisbane, Toowoomba, Armidale, Newcastle, Sydney, Adelaide, and Port Lincoln. Internationally, Komei Juku has a very wide representation, with schools all throughout Europe, Asia, and in the Americas (north and south).