For Mark Kawabe, having lunch with Daiki Kiwada Sensei at Karma Kameleon this week, was like having Wayne Gretzky drop by the local rink.
Daiki Kiwada Sensei is a 7th Dan Renshi and 2012 All Japan Kendo Champion and he arrived for a tour of Niagara at the request of Kawabe.
Kendo is a Japanese form of fencing using bamboo swords. It was originally developed as a safe form of training for samurai.
The Sensei is an alumnus of Chuo University in Japan, as is Tsumara Sensei, now with the Canadian Kendo team. Kiwada is here to help him train the team for the next world championship.
He first came to Toronto in 2017 and, "Found a warm welcome and a good connection here," according to translator Shigemitsu Kamata.
"He (Kiwada) got an offer from Canadian Kendo to help the team and Canadian Kendo as a whole, and he said okay," explained Kamata.
He is currently on his first official visit with the team but expects to visit two to three times a year until the team competes in the world championships in Paris in 2021.
Kawabe started a Kendo club in Niagara in 2004. He had trained with Sensei Tsumara before going to the University of Toronto and then spending time in Japan.
"To have a Sensei of his calibre in Niagara is extraordinary," he said.
Kawabe invited Kiwada, Shigemitsu and Gabriel Weitzner to tour Thorold and Niagara and then visit his club in Welland.
Weitzner was born in Argentina but has been in Canada for 35 years. He is a 7th degree Dan and was involved in three previous Kendo world championships.
Weitzner noted that Kiwada is "From a different dimension. It's a tremendous help to see someone of his level here."
Shigemitsu was born in Canada and has been involved in Kendo since he was four. He was the 2008 Canadian Jr. Champion, is on the Canadian National team and is a former captain. He spent about 10 years in Japan where he faced Kiwada in competition.
"I want to give back to the Kendo community," he told ThoroldNews.
He said Sensei Kiwada also had a definite purpose for accepting Kawabe's invitation to visit Niagara and his Kendo club.
"He wants to visit smaller communities like Niagara because it reminds him of his childhood. He came from Mie, Japan which is a smaller countryside community. Just like in Japan, larger cities like Toronto have many star players. So, in Japan or here, he wants to be an inspiration, a motivation for kids to become champions," explained Kamata. "He believes it is important for kids from small towns to have a dream to become champion."