The Hazard family and martial arts in Northern California

Those who have been around kendo (bamboo sword fighting) in the United States, fondly remember the name Benjamin Hazard. According to twin sisters Malyne and Alyne Hazard, two of the late kendo master’s four daughters, he had a hand in creating several kendo dojo in Northern California, as well as establishing kyudo (archery) and naginata (polearm) dojo.

Hazard passed away in 2011 at the age of 91 in San Jose at the rank of seventh dan hanshi. According to the Japanese American Veterans Association, he studied Asian languages and history and received his Ph.D. in Asian history from the University of California, Berkeley in 1967. He served in the military while pursuing his education, serving in the occupation of Japan and the Korean War, before retiring in 1979 with the rank of colonel.

Outside of the military, he taught at San Jose State University and started the kendo club there in 1967. “He was a student of chemistry initially,” Alyne said. “He switched to humanities and linguistics after the war … saying ‘the future was in diplomacy.’”

Hazard, who was white, was part of the Military Intelligence Service during World War II. During the U.S. occupation of Japan, he served in Tokyo, where he was introduced to Masami Tanaya of the Tsukiji Police Department.

While martial arts were suppressed, the U.S. military allowed the police to practice kendo and judo. According to a history of postwar kendo by Hazard, Tanaya agreed to teach Hazard through the introduction of Maki Hiroyuki Miyahara, a Nikkei and fellow serviceman and another kendo luminary from Southern California.

Surrounded by former members of the Japanese army, Hazard was coldly regarded. “It was only three years after the end of the war when I came to the dojo in uniform, a first lieutenant with a ‘GHQ’ shoulder patch,” he wrote. “I felt a distinct coldness, if not hostility, among the policemen practicing there.”

Even after kendo was banned from the police force in 1949, Hazard continued to learn from Tanaya out of a dojo in Shimo-Takaido, which fronted as a ballet studio. The dojo, owned by Morihiro Okada, a former kendo and iai (sword drawing) instructor who taught Tanaya, also taught Hazard.

According to Alyne, their father, with their Japanese mother, Sumie Chikamori Hazard, and eldest sister Daian Hazard, moved to Berkeley, Calif. in 1951. Malyne and Alyne, along with their youngest sister Fumiko Francesca, were born in the U.S. Back in the U.S., Hazard became involved with various martial arts in the Bay Area.

Hazard, in a history of Northern Californian kendo, wrote the first kendo practice after World War II began in late 1952 at the Buddhist Church of San Francisco, though the group did not last long and its members are unknown. Following that, Hazard and Gordon Warner began teaching kendo at UC Berkeley in spring of 1953 and helped found the Oakland dojo in fall of that same year at the “Tenth Street Japanese Church” and later moved to the Buddhist Church of Oakland. Hazard would go on to help start the dojo at the San Jose Buddhist Church in 1964.

As a professor of history, Alyne said her father was invited to Kyushu in Western Japan along with William Buntin to learn kyudo and teach it to the United States in the 1970s. Buntin and Hazard started the now defunct Kurumi-an, a dojo in San Jose, out of Buntin’s backyard.

Malyne took up naginata as well, and taught alongside her father at San Jose State University. She continued to teach naginata at the university until last year.

While the sisters have not practiced kendo for a number of years — Alyne stopped teaching 15 years ago and Malyne quit kendo in her 30s to focus on naginata — martial arts served as a foundation for their life. They began attending practices in the dojo at age 6 and began competing at age 10. The sisters have won national and international tournaments, but they say that winning was never the point for them.

That mindset, however, is harder to grasp for those starting kendo later in life. “Adults don’t see what they’re getting into,” Alyne said. “They have this romantic idea on what kendo is … It’s not about clobbering people. It takes many years to change that perspective.” Though kendo is a form of sword fighting, Alyne said the hits must not contain malice.

To the Hazard sisters, kendo is a way of life. “You have someone ahead of you that looks after you and you have a kouhai, someone that comes after you that you need to look after them,” Malyne said. “I have a place and a responsibility, and it’s not a small thing for two sisters, daughters.”

“We were equals,” Alyne added.

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