‘A Mother’s Heart’ – Solveig Malmkvist (1932-2023)

From an annual report of the Swedish Budo Federation 1969-70
Hans Lundberg personal collection

Having started kendo in 1967 when she was 35, Solveig Malmkvist is one of the few women who started kendo as early as the 1960s in Europe. Three years later, she was participating at the first WKC in Tokyo and Osaka to represent the Swedish Team, and as one of the only two women players taking part. She passed away at the age of 90 on 13th September this year.

Kamiyasu Kin’ichi of Swedish Kendo recalls her as a very smiley woman during the regular kendo training. He also told us that one of the reasons for his moving to Sweden was after watching her on TV News – she was filmed during the 1st WKC and broadcast on NHK after the event. He moved from Japan to Sweden in August 1970 and has resided there ever since.

The following is an interview that Hans Lundberg, a former President of the Swedish Kendo Federation, held with Solveig Malmkvist in 2021. We thank him for sharing this and permitting us to translate and publish in Japanese. Rest in Peace, Solveig. 

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Solveig Malmkvist (1932 – 2023)

By Hans Lundberg

Solveig started her kendo career sometime in 1967, most probably under the instruction of Itabashi Noriaki, in her own dojo, Södra Judoklubben[1]. She started the dojo with her husband Lennart in 1963 after having trained in judo from 1962. The dojo was ambitious to include all the sanctioned budo arts and had Ju-Jutsu and karate in its program. She practised kendo in her dojo and visited Stockholm’s Studenters Budoklubb and Stockholm’s Kendoklubb. 

Itabashi Noriaki
Hans Lundberg personal collection

During the end of the 1960s, there were, in principle, no established regular competitions in Sweden. Those who had been to England to compete, like Johan Appelberg and Anders Markie, could provide some degree of competition training. Despite the lack of competition experience, Solveig decided to participate when Sweden sent a team to the first World Kendo Championships, in Tokyo for the team matches and Osaka for the individuals, in the spring of 1970. Robert von Sandor (team captain), Johan Appelberg, Leif Thiman, and Björn Wahlberg were with her in the Swedish team. Göran Stangel was team manager. In Tokyo, they were joined by Watanabe Akio[2] as team coach. 

Solveig Malmkvist with Swedish flag, behind her Robert von Sandor and the rest of the Swedish team. S. Malmkvist personal collection. Source unknown. Text in Japanese reads “What is the true purpose of the sword? Our predecessors masters of the sword struggled to find the answer. But today young people says it’s motherly love. It may be so as a blue-eyed female kenshi made a great success at the recent World Kendo Championships.”

The day before the team competition, the draw was held in Tokyo with Watanabe present. When he returned from the meeting, he threw himself in a chair, laughing. Sweden, hopeful for a favourable draw, had been drawn into the same pool as Japan and Korea. For the opening ceremony, the Japanese organizers more or less demanded that Solveig should carry the Swedish flag. Robert von Sandor, who had expected to do that, was not amused. But with Solveig as one of only two female participants[3] in the competitions, the host’s demand was met. Because of her lack of competition experience, the Nippon Budokan as the venue, her first time in Japan and last but not least, her first actual competition[4] made Solveig horror-struck. On top of all of that came the sound of the drums that preceded the competition. 

In her match against Japan, she experienced that her opponent was as nervous as she was. His shinai trembled, and he seemed stumped with eliminating a woman in the competition. Solveig screamed like a wildcat, and the audience was on her side. She didn’t know how, but she got the first point, and the arena completely exploded with screams and shouts. But then, after that, the fight worsened, and she conceded two points to lose the match. 

Another thing she remembered about the competition was how she was attended to as she could hardly remove her armour by herself, and carrying it was out of the question. So she was always served by a swarm of Japanese who helped her with everything. There were no Swedish victories, but Solveig added colour to the competitions, especially with her kiai. The Japanese papers written the day after freely quoted, “Imagine that the Swedes should teach the Japanese what kiai is”.

Kendo Kyu Grading Examination 2nd March 1969 with Chief Panelist Watanabe Akio.
His comment to Solveig on ‘good kiai‘ can be witnessed. Hans Lundberg personal collection.

In summary, she felt the trip was like being in a fairy tale. The home trip was made one day earlier than planned, and as nobody had informed the Swedish press, nobody met the team when they arrived at Arlanda Airport. However, the day after, they were there in force. 

In 1971, Solveig was elected chairman of the kendo section of Swedish Budo Federation[5]. She doesn’t remember why but thinks it was because nobody else wanted the role. Some said that a female chairman would be considered negative, especially in the eyes of the Japanese, but she did not notice any such reactions. 1972 was exciting as Sweden tried to arrange the first European Kendo Championships. But that was not to be as too many countries declined to participate for cost reasons. In the end, one team showed up from West Germany and a friendly match was held in September 1972 in Gubbängshallen. One year as chairman was enough for Solveig, who left the work in the kendo section. 

Unknown player against Solveig in the match between
Sweden and West Germany 1972. Anders Markie personal collection.

From the start in 1967, Solveig practised kendo once to twice weekly for approximately 12 years. She never actively decided to stop training in kendo; it was instead because other activities slowly over time took over her agenda. She was graded 1st Kyu in kendo. Besides judo and kendo, she has practised most other Japanese martial arts. An area very dear to her is handicapped sports, which she started to do around 1970, and she was still active. If judo is number one for Solveig, kendo is easily number two. A sport she thinks gives another dimension to combat. 

Solveig in her own dojo, S. Malmkvist personal collection

She has never been a kendo instructor, even though her Japanese sensei once asked her to teach the children in his dojo in Japan. The Japanese guest instructor that has impressed her the most was Saito Taiji[6]. But she also has a special place for Komaki Kazuhiro, who resided in Sweden. She especially remembers his iaido exhibition in Gubbängshallen for the 10-year jubilee of her dojo. It was a budo gala with many different martial arts and a specially invited judoka from Holland as the main attraction. The gala drew a lot of spectators, with queues going out on the street. The audience screamed and hooted during all exhibitions until it was time for iaido. Then silence enveloped the hall, and you could hear the famous needle drop. Komaki was sitting in seiza, and Solveig felt it took an eternity before the first draw of the sword was made. 

Best kendo moment: the World Kendo Championships in 1970. 

Best male kendoka: Johan Appelberg and Anders Markie. 

Best female kendoka: Madeleine Schelin. 

And the bogu is still around at home somewhere among all the books. 

Solveig Malmkvist 2021
Hans Lundberg personal collection

*The original versions of this article in Swedish and English were written and published in July 2021 and can be found in the author’s website Svensk Kendohistoria: https://kendohistoria.se/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/2021-07-Solveig-Malmkvist-EIGO.pdf

**This English version was slightly modified for the readers of FLKW with the author’s permission.


[1] South Judo Club in English, ran in the gymnasium at Gubbängen School, located 10km south from Stockholm. Komaki Kazuhiro who arrived in Sweden in 1970 became the main instructor. Later when he started his own dojo, Kamiyasu Kin’ichi took the instructor position during 1978 to 1980.

[2] Watanabe Akio was one of ‘five young Japanese teachers’ resided in Europe, known as an unofficial advisory group for European kendo, formulated in 1966. He resided in Copenhagen. (p45, The Oshu Kendo Renmei – A History of British and European Kendo (1885-1974), P. Budden 2017)

[3] Nakamura Kazuko participated in the Canadian team and Miike (or Mitsuike) Setsuko participated in Goodwill Match event from Canada. The ‘only two’ refers to the women participants in the ‘official’ event. Goodwill Match section was not considered to be official.

[4] She said that she didn’t know the competition rules before she entered her first match.

[5] Kendo was under Swedish Judo Federation until around 1970 when the Federation became Swedish Budo Federation.

[6] Saito Taiji 8th dan Hanshi, as a rep of All Japan Kendo Federation, came to Sweden and taught kendo from September 1972 to March 1973 during his stay.

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