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Passing of Oda Katsuo Sensei

7 January 1942 - 19 April 2020

We are very sad to learn of the death of Oda Katsuo Sensei, 8 Dan Hanshi iaido and 7 Dan kendo. Oda Sensei was formerly the Technical Advisor for iaido for the Australian Kendo Renmei and worked tirelessly over many years to develop iaido, not only in Australia but also elsewhere internationally, where he had a devoted following in Belgium and Greece.

I first encountered Oda Sensei in 2000 when he came to Australia as part of a delegation headed by Haga Tadatoshi (iaido) and Namitome Shigenori (jodo) Sensei. That event including seminars for both arts became the forerunner of the annual Australian Kendo Renmei Iaido Jodo Seminar and Championships that continue to this day.

Although he was aligned with Haga Sensei, I immediately something in common with Oda Sensei through his background being in Osaka Eishin Ryu. Anyway, this meant that he pretty much singled me out right from the start.

Oda Sensei was appointed to the role of Technical Advisor for iaido to the AKR and worked tirelessly to support the growth and improve the standard of iai in this country for 15 years. Quite remarkably, in addition to the annual seminar, he made frequent additional visits. It was not unusual for him to travel to Australia three or four times per year. This included a visit to Bayside Budokai in April 2010.

Passing of Oda Katsuo Sensi

Sensei also made it his mission to support and coach AKR members attempting higher level grading tests in Japan. In my case, I was able to participate in fairly exclusive seminars conducted by top level teachers such as the Bukodosokai event in Izu and the Dojo Renmei Seminar conducted annually in Toyoda City, through his sponsorship.

As a single man, Oda Sensei pretty much lived for iaido. As well as being devoted to practising and teaching, he was also heavily involved in the organisational and political aspects of the art. As a measure of the respect in which he was held, a couple of years ago he was appointed to chair the AJKF 8 Dan Grading Panel after a restructure of the previous set up.

He also liked to have and share a drink. Part of the ritual at the AKR Seminars was for the teachers to host the locals at their accommodation for drinks and home cooked meals. Oda Sensei’s room would be designated as the party venue with the apartments occupied by the rest of the group systematically stripped of plates and cutlery for the extra guests. Sorting out the aftermath was an ongoing challenge for organisers, together with shipping several boxes of cookware and weapons around the country to the various cities that would alternatively host the seminar.

Passing of Oda Katsuo Sensi

Oda Sensei’s speciality dish was curry rice. One thing was sure, if you got invited to dinner you’d better like garlic because he added it by the fistful.

The exceptional line up of visiting teachers was also testament to Oda Sensei’s behind the scenes work. Every year there would be a whole bunch of 7 and 8 Dans coming to Australia at their own expense for the privilege of teaching us. We didn’t realise at the time how spoilt we were.

Passing of Oda Katsuo Sensi

After a big night, Oda Sensei would be invariably nodding off. Seemingly fast asleep he would be instinctively wide awake as soon as you dropped the ball. He really could sleep anywhere. I remember one occasion in particular after the Toyoda Seminar where we had to catch the train across Tokyo along with Kusama Sensei. Oda Sensei had been burning the candle at both ends and was quickly out like a light. Kusama Sensei was quite bemused as Oda Sensei would start to slide off the seat and repeatedly come to just at the point where he was about to fall on the floor. All the while I spent the whole trip worried at the prospect of having to try and catch him.

Although a generous person and usually cheerful, Oda Sensei was more than capable of letting it be known when he was dissatisfied. That could be either one’s performance or the way things were being organised in general. He could communicate well in English but when he had an issue he could seemingly go on and on about it until he could find someone to translate for him and then start all over again.

He undoubtably had high expectations and in old school fashion, compliments for senior people were usually few and far between. Preparing for grading tests could be pretty hard going, I can recall several frustrating sessions when nothing I did seemed right.

The unfortunate part about that is people are possibly now more likely to remember the cranky version of Oda Sensei rather than all his positive attributes.

Passing of Oda Katsuo Sensi

Looking back, I’m now aware of how much of Oda Sensei’s teaching has rubbed off and his influence on me and the flow on effect to our group. I’m forever repeating the points he used to make, and often try to imagine how he would critique my technique. I’m sorry that I will no longer have the opportunity to show him that I have been making an effort. Even to be rewarded with a “Maybe Okay” comment.

Thank you Sensei, we are in your debt. You will be sadly missed.

(Photos courtesy of Sue Reilly)