The Iaido Journal  June 2001EJMAS Tips Jar

Dean Hawthorne: The Iaido Interviews

Date: August 10, 2000
Instructor: Dean Hawthorne
Organization: International Kendo Federation
Club name: Sydney Blue Leaf Iaido Club
Location: Sydney, New South Wales
Sydney was so beautiful--the rhythms of my days were full and complete. I enjoyed my daily explorations of the city so much that I really didn't bother to whole-heartedly investigate the iaido scene in this, the largest city in the country. Prior to arriving in Sydney I did contact the people who are associated with the Australian Kendo Federation--of course I would train with them however, I didn’t contact the people from various other iaido clubs who are affiliated with other organizations.


Dean Hawthorne is a big man. Not just in physical disposition, but in character as well. Confidence and humility blend very well so that when one meets him one simply 'knows' that the man, either in work or play, takes on a specific role of leadership. It just so happens that with Dean, this role fits into both parts of his life. For Dean though, Iaido isn’t ‘play.’ I quickly realized this when he sat himself down to do an iaido demonstration for me...

Presence of physical power, precision and clarity, the 'presence' that many of us call 'spirit', 'kokoro' or ‘zanshin’, are some of the main qualities of Dean's iaido, despite his objections that his iaido was currently 'under the weather' due to a long bout with the flu. Of the iaido I had seen in Australia, Dean’s was quite excellent. Perhaps that's why he's consistently placed in the top three places for eight of the ten years the national iaido championships have been on. Dean, I'd really like to see your 'healthy' iaido...

Dean performed around ten forms from the Suio ryu. Suio ryu, a style that fits the tight definition of koryu (having been pre-Meiji and a ‘sogo’, or complete system) comes to Sydney via Dr. Yahiko Kadono, a man of many talents.

"One night, Kagenobu had a dream from God, and in the dream he saw a seagull on a pond, he adopted the birds actions to iaido, creating the Suio ryu technique." My thoughts on Iaido. Dr. Yahiko Kadono. p75. 1994.

I was hoping to train with both Dean and Bob Burton, a fifth dan AKR iaidoist but as it turned out, Bob was engaged in other more pressing matters that left Dean with the reigns of the club for the past little while. The one night I trained with Dean, it also turned out that many of the club members were engaged likewise: Some were sick, others were out of country, or simply too busy. That night Dean, myself and two other students--one of them entirely new to iaido, trained together.

Our class began under a typical format. We bowed in and began a short warm-up followed by a group run through the seitei iaido. Afterwards Dean watched and commented on our seitei as we performed through them again. I enjoyed Dean's questions: A pedagogical method that involved us in the process. "What did you think of that form?", or "Where should the tip be at that point?" It was better than simply listening. Most 'everything' he said fit all my understandings of technical seitei iaido. 'Everything' though was not a huge chunk of information for each form. I could see that Dean had spent some serious time training with a Japanese teacher. It showed in his manner. He didn’t talk too much or drive home several points at once. Rather, he gave what he thought were vital points to work on: Just enough to not overwhelm, but enough to challenge. I was grateful to have him pick up on my dropping tip on certain cuts. I also appreciated his interpretation of the timing for the cut on uke nagashi. Having an eye like Dean’s around helps to remind us that we all need someone to watch over us from time to time.

For the latter half of the class he performed a demonstration of Suio ryu forms. He then allowed me to 'show' some of my forms, which I prefer to do through demonstrating the applications first, followed by the actual solo performance. Again, a nice information sharing session took place between our two styles. With the last bit of time he asked his other student and I to begin 'instructing' the new student in iaido basics. Again, Dean empowered his senior students to instruct the juniors—a typically Japanese manner of doing things. I showed him how to throw on his belt and then taught him proper grip as Ishido sensei had taught me not two months before (the changes in my grip, shown to me in less than five minutes from Ishido sensei, have literally 'reconstructed' my swing from ground zero. I believe those changes immediately improved my swing). Dean's other student then took him away and worked with him on drawing the sword as Dean and I talked 'iaido' for the last fifteen minutes or so.

It was admittedly a very short time to spend with Dean. I usually train at least twice with one group for a better feel for the club and it's approach to iaido, but due to time constraints and other factors, I left Sydney after one short week. Later, through e-mail, I asked Dean a series of questions that now follow, with his answers. Although I would like to talk much more about Suio ryu I respect the Suio ryu approach of keeping things somewhat 'secret'. Instead, the following interview, through Dean's own words, will provide a basic introduction to the style...

Dear Chris,

Sorry for the delay, but after I resurrected the computer for the last message, it destroyed the mouse, anyway, I hope the answers are OK, whilst they differ from the first lot (lost due to crash) I hope they don't sound like too much dribble as I don't really feel qualified to answer them. Well, here they are:

1.How long have you been doing iai?    About 13 years now.

2. What made you start iai? Why did you start iai? Following a back injury as a fire officer, I could not continue to play football, Kendo or do the other activities I was doing.  Following a several year layoff from any physical exercise, I started Iaido, having admired it in the Kendo Dojo at Willoughby under the instruction of Doug Milton (in Sydney) prior to Kendo training. I was also a fan of 'Shintaro' a T.V. series when I was younger.

3. How did you initially train in iai?  I commenced training in Zen Ken Ren (Seitei Gata Iaido) under Bob Burton & Bob McCarron Sensei, then some years later was invited by Kadono Sensei to study Suio-Ryu.

4. Have you done other arts before/during iai?  Yes, I commenced with unarmed combat training in the military (Army) during the late seventies, commenced kendo in the early eighties & then after commencing Iai-do, I also train in Naginata under Daniel & Masako Strenger Sensei.

5. How long has the Sydney iaido club been around?  The Sydney Iai-do club has been around since 1976, when it was commenced by Doug Milton. In 1983 Doug left to live in Queensland and the club continued under the joint instruction of Bob McCarron sensei & Bob Burton Sensei.

6. What is the average number of members? The Sydney Iaido Club is small as we run to the numbers as dictated by our Ko-ryu.  On average, we have approximately 8 members training in the dojo, although with recent sickness and injury/business absence our numbers have reduced.

7. When do you train? Whilst we trained for many years twice a week, we now train on Tuesday nights from 7:30 until we finish, depending on lesson content & enthusiasm.  Sometimes not finishing until midnight, other times putting in a minimum of two and a half hours. We train at a council Hall in Roseville Chase in Sydney that we do our best to give a slight Japanese flavour (which is difficult when its normal use is a day care centre!).

8. What is your teaching approach to iai? Firstly, I do not consider myself to be a teacher, I have had the opportunity to assist others to learn Iai, but I have a long way to go yet before I could consider myself a 'Teacher'. However, in saying that, I have had to run the Dojo in Burton Sensei's absence.  I feel that it should have a sense of formality about it (respect for the dojo & teacher) but at the same time should be interactive, where students may be able to ask questions & receive answers.  I feel that dojo etiquette is important and that politeness to each other helps with the learning process.  For as long as I can remember, The Sydney Blue Leaf iaido club has had the feeling of a large family, both inside and out of the dojo. Like a family, there is some one in control, leading with a firm, but fair hand, with the remainder of the family providing support.

9. When did Kadono sensei come into the picture? Kadono Sensei commenced teaching & training with the Sydney Iaido club in 1989 & under his expert tuition, the Sydney Iaido club became well know for the quality of its Iaido.  Kadono sensei bought not only his expertise in Seitei Iaido with him, but also his skills in Suio-Ryu.

10. Any info r/e him and Suio ryu please! Dr Kadono( phD), is Menkyo-Kai-Den (Grand Master) of Suio-Ryu, Iai-do Kyoshi 7th -Dan, he is Standing member of the Chiba Kendo Renmei Iaido Board, President of the Ichihara Naginata federation, an Artist (painter) of some repute and until this year, Kadono Sensei had been the Technical Advisor to the Australian Kendo Renmei Australian Iai-do Board. He holds qualifications in a large number of classical martial arts & his abilities have been demonstrated time & time again.  Kadono Sensei was a student of Katsuse Mitsuyasu  (now deceased) 14th Soke of Suio-Ryu, who was a student of the late Nakayama Hakudo Sensei. Kadono Sensei's personal philosophies have had a great affect on me.  In simple terms, he teaches Iai with a gentleness that cloaks his formidable abilities with the sword.  In all his years of teaching, I have never heard him say "Kill" the opponent, it has always been taught that by committing to a particular action the opponent offers his life to you & you must "accept" it, a small thing to many I suppose, but it had a great affect on me.

Suio-Ryu was created by Mima Yoichizaemon Kagenobu in the Azuchimomoyama era (Tensho period) in Fukushima (Ushyu) & is headquartered in Shizouka under the current Headmaster, Kautsuse Yoshimitsu-- 15th Soke.  I would love to tell more about Suio-ryu, however, Suio-Ryu adheres to the precepts of "KUDEN" (oral Tradition), no commercial books, training materials or video's etc exist. One must learn the old way, through interaction in the practice of Iai, the theory of Kata, Waza & Jutsu, from a sensei, or not learn at all. It would be disrespectful of me to elaborate on the make up or specifics of kata etc, aside to say, that I have an intense feeling of honour (& yes, pride), of having to be fortunate enough to be a part of it.

11. Where did you grade and what grade are you now? All of my recent gradings have been conducted in Japan, at the Chiba City (Chiba Prefecture) Summer Gradings.  My current grade is San-Dan & I am eligible for my Yon-Dan

12. What can iai offer to people? Well, there's not much call for the wearing of two swords down the main streets of Sydney, so apart from mental & physical co-ordination, I feel that Iaido offers a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging.  Its difficult for me to explain in words but its almost a feeling inside of me that’s a tangible thing.  Iaido can really develop people, it can 'Polish" them.  For me, it not only does these things but it also allows me to de-stress, I can put everything into my Iai and be left exhausted, but relaxed after a training session.

13. What's the most important thing about doing iai (metsuke, nukitsuke, etc...)? You been studying the school of difficult questions or what? Boy, you sure ask some good ones, I thought long and hard (following my first draft when my computer crashed!), but I still couldn't come to grips with a proper answer.  Oh, yes I could have gone the Nukitsuke "path", as a lot is embodied there, but I kept on getting this feeling of 'Self' and of the 'Doing' (the performance of kata), of 'Philosophies' (& interpretations there-in), of the 'Dojo' & of my Sensei & it all came together to leave me as confused as I was before it started, but with a feeling inside of me that knew the answer without being able to express it! I think the closest I could get to it would be "Kokoro" (Heart)

14. What is the current purpose of iai? I think the current purpose of Iai-do (Seitei) has been largely forgotten.  It was originally conceived to give Kendo-Ka the "true essence' of the way of the sword, however, today, the percentage of Kendo-ka who do Iaido is very small. For Ko-ryu the purposes vary, in essence, each individual’s reason for training in Iai will be different.  For some it will be for fitness & for others it may be a mental thing, it may be for pleasure or for image.  This is a really difficult question to answer as there are many answers depending on one's perspective to the question.

15. Is it you or Bob or both of you running/ teaching at the club? Bob Burton Sensei is in charge of the Blue Leaf Club and runs the Dojo, however, due to business and other reasons, I have been the co-teacher for some years now, & have enjoyed immensely the opportunity of assisting Burton Sensei in this area.

16. Please add anything you feel is important/'s the chance! Thanks for the opportunity to train with you, your swordsmanship was some of the crispest I have seen in a long time, a credit to you and an obvious indication of the dedication you have put into your Iaido.  Again, sorry for my poor Iai display, but my health is only on the improve now. Your openness was welcomed as was your viewpoints on technical matters. It's nice when we can all learn something from each other & accept it for what it is. You are welcome back anytime you can make it!

Kind regards,
Dean Hawthorn


Bob Burton 5 dan, Dr. Yahiko Kadono 7 dan, and Dean Hawthorne 3 dan

And thank you very much Dean not only for sharing your excellent views with all of us, but also for the great words of encouragement!

TIJ June 2001