Thirty years ago, Ron Fox never saw himself as taking over a dying Kendo Club at Michigan State University. Fox studied at MSU and became interested in in the martial art of Kendo during his sophomore year.
Today, Fox is a Kendo world champion. And he is the leader and sensei of the MSU’s growing Kendo club - a decision that he calls one of the best he has ever made.
How he got into Kendo and how he became the leader for the club at Michigan State is a fascinating story that comes full circle.
After graduating from MSU and receiving a Master’s degree (in Physics) at the University of Illinois, Fox decided to return to Michigan State as he got a job working at the Cyclotron Laboratory as a physicist.
DW: How did you get into Kendo and how were you introduced to it?
Fox: “When I was a undergraduate here, (at MSU) living in the dorm I had a few neighbors on the floor that were from Japan that were here to learn English. One of the students got wind of a Kendo club on campus so he joined, as he felt more at home. One night I wasn’t doing anything so I decided to tag along and its history from there.”
DW: How did you become the leader of the Kendo club?
Fox: “When I came back from Champaign and started working here, the club was slowly dying out. The old supervisor of the club was getting a little older and it got harder for him to recruit new members. Seeing as to how much I enjoyed Kendo, I decided that it was almost my responsibility to take charge.”
DW: How long have you practiced Kendo, and what drives you to continue teaching and practicing this Martial Art?
Fox: “I have been practicing for well over 30 years. When you have done something everyday for so long it just becomes a part of you and your daily routine, almost like brushing your teeth. I feel it keeps me young.”
DW: “Do you think it’s important as a master to know the history of kendo and visit Japan where it originated?”
Fox: “It’s important to know the history in the fact that you have to find the connection between what kendo is based on and why it is we use the equipment we use. I encourage visiting Japan when it comes to Kendo because the skill level there is in a class of it’s own. As a martial Artist you always want to strive to be better, visiting Japan and learning different technics from people who practice in different ways was a huge stepping stone in my skills not only to practice but also teach.”
DW: What makes Kendo different from other sports or Martial Arts?
Fox: “What people should know about Kendo is that it’s not a sport, it’s a Martial Arts. The majority of Kendo occurs below the waist and between the ears, unlike other martial arts where you’re fully involved. Kendo is so important in the fact that it teaches that you don’t need physical skills to master it. As your physicality goes down, you learn to harness you mental and spiritual skills from with-in to make you successful in Kendo.”
DW: Is Kendo all about sword fighting?
Fox: “While on the outside it appears that Kendo is all about fighting, unless you can develop specific mental attributes it’s very difficult to fight well. If every time an opponent makes a move and you flinch or panic, you will not be able to fight well. You have to develop a level mind and level temperament, something I stress not only in the club but also in life. If you have to think everything through you’ll fail because Kendo moves to fast. You have to train yourself mentally and once you do that the physical parts will work in.”
DW: As a leader and teacher, when it comes to Kendo, what is one lesson you stress?
Fox: “Above all else is the manners and courtesies of Kendo that you express in the dojo, are qualities that you as a individual need to build on in daily life. Through the fighting you also build a relationship with your partner learning how to communicate. We always have to express gratitude when hitting or being hit, which is something you build on in life. You’re hit with different obstacles in life that you have to learn to build on and get through.”
DW: Have you ever competed in any tournaments locally or nationally?
Fox: “In 1991, I was part of the US national team. I also participated in the US championships a few times. I once coached for the mid-west team in the national championships as well.”
DW: What is the role of kendo in the Olympics and what are your thoughts if it should or shouldn’t be an Olympic sport?
Fox: “There has been a lot of controversy over Kendo being or not being an Olympic sport. It is not an Olympic sport. In my opinion, it should not be an Olympic sport because once you are in the Olympics you deal with a lot of national politics and a lot of competiveness in a way that I think would destroy the origins of Kendo and what it is. I am very deadest against Kendo being an Olympic sport.