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Bill Holt:
Father of Kendo in the South

By Ken Strawn

The first Kendo dojo south of the Mason-Dixon line (with the possible exception of the Houston dojo started by Darell Craig) began in Atlanta in 1977 with Bill Holt, shodan, as the first instructor, and Harry Watanabe as his assistant.

William Charles Holt was born in Fort Smith, Arkansas in 1938. The family moved to Decatur, Georgia where Bill was a standout on the Decatur High School Football team. He would later play semi-pro football when he was stationed in Southern California. Bill joined the marines after graduating from high school and would spend ten of the next twenty years in the far east. While stationed in Japan, he began Judo, eventually becoming All-Marine Corps Champion five times.

In July of 1959, Bill married Sayoko Takaki. While in the Marine Corps, Bill took undergraduate degrees in psychology and related areas from the University of Hawaii and the University of Maryland. In 1974, Bill broke his arm doing Judo and his Judo sensei recommended that he take up Kendo to strengthen his arm. He began Kendo in the Shobukan Dojo in Hiroshima, Japan under Nomura Sensei (7-Dan).

Upon retirement from the Marines in 1977, Bill entered West Georgia College (now the State University of West Georgia) in Carrollton, Georgia to work on his Masters Degree in Psychology. While there, he established the college Judo club. Searching for Judo supplies, he entered a martial arts supply shop owned and operated by Haruhide “Harry” Watanabe in Smyrna, Georgia. In the course of their conversation, Bill mentioned he was a shodan in Kendo and the following conversation ensued: Harry: “Would you like to join our Kendo club?” Bill: “Oh, there’s a Kendo club in Atlanta?” Harry: “There is now and you’re the teacher.”

Thus began the first Kendo practice in the Southeast, initially called the Shobukan Kendo Dojo and later renamed the Georgia Kendo Alliance to include the practices at Peachtree City and a children’s practice at the Atlanta’s Georgia Japanese Language School.


Arata Takiwaza, Ken Strawn, Bill Holt, Harry Watanabe







Bill finished his Master’s Degree and went on to receive a “Doctor of Jurisprudence” from the Woodrow Wilson College of Law. Georgia Kendo Alliance joined the Eastern United States Kendo Federation, centered in New York City. Bill and Harry participated in the first United States National Championships in Los Angeles in 1978 as members of EUSKF. At the Second US National Championships in Chicago in 1981, Bill’s nephew David, who had moved in with Bill and Sayoko three years earlier, placed third in the Youth group. GKA also hosted the very first Eastern US Kendo Championship Tournament in 1979. The problems of administering a dojo 850 miles from the rest of the Federation led Bill to envision a Southern Kendo Federation. Eventually there were enough Kendo clubs in the South to justify a separate federation. At the meeting of the National Board of Directors preceding the Fourth United States National Championship Tournament in New York City, Bill, with the full support of the EUSKF, applied for the Southeastern United States Kendo Federation to become the ninth regional federation of the Kendo Federation of the United States of America (KFUSA) and was accepted, effective January 1, 1988.

Shortly afterward, Bill and Sayoko returned to Japan where Bill accepted a position to teach at Kumamoto Kodai Gakku, a private high school. Someday Bill will return to Georgia and be greatly surprised by the growth of the small federation he founded.

Reprinted here, with the permission of the author.
Article published in the SEUSKF NEWS, December 2001, volume 4, Number 3.


Chief Instructor:

Kunitoshi Arai 新井邦敏

7th Dan Kyoshi

Arai sensei has dedicated many years to

 Georgia Kendo Association as the chief instructor

and president for our club. He has always focused on strong basics and great foundation. His motto reflects the idea that inside and outside of the dojo, your character should be the same.


Originally from Japan, he started kendo at 10 years old and continued on to Keioh University in Tokyo. Overall, he has had over 50 years experience and has continually practiced and helped teach kendo throughout the years.

In 1990, joined Holt sensei at GKA and has been teaching many students and bringing kendo to Georgia for over 29 years.

Now in our Norcross, GA location, we are proud to continue the legacy of GKA.



William C Holt

4th Dan​

Regrettably, we are truly sad to announce that

William Holt sensei passed away peacefully,
at the age of 80, on Sunday, June 2, 2019 

Holt sensei is survived by his wife of 61 years, Sayoko Holt; his sisters, Barbara Chandler and Patricia Hindmon and his nieces and nephews.

We are forever grateful for the contribution and opportunity that Holt sensei provided for us as the founder and constant supporter of Georgia Kendo Association.

He will truly be missed and hope that we can continue to make him proud with the years to come.

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