Design for Manufacturing and Samurai Swords - tharsus

Design for Manufacturing and Samurai Swords

Our “Lifting the Lid off Tharsus” series shares fly on the wall glimpses of life as our colleagues Aim Higher, Think Wider and Work Together.  In our fourth instalment, we shine a light on Tharsus Lead Engineer, John Kelso and the lesser-known martial art of Kendo, with its roots in ancient Samurai design and a strict set of values.

By Elaine Fullarton

Bruce Lee, Karate Kid & Kobra Kai, have brought an explosion in popularity of martial arts in their wake.  But it’s not all Kung Fu Fighting (or even Kung Fu Panda).  

The much lesser- known martial art of Kendo, with its roots in ancient Samurai design and strict set of values, has inspired our own Lead Engineer, John Kelso, to pursue a values-driven career in design for manufacturing at Tharsus and establish his own flourishing Kendo dojo. 

John, a third dan black belt takes up the story.

 For me it all started with the Japanese Samurai sword.   It’s the epitome of flawless design. The perfect example of when form meets function.  Seeing one as a child awakened the fledging design engineer in me.  The trigger for why I do what I do now.   As I got older my interest grew.  The thing is, martial arts involving swords can be on the lethal side, so Kendo looked like a safer alternative.

Kendo – meaning the way of the sword – may be safer but there’s nothing easy about it.  It’s an in-depth study of the art of how you move a sword.  A fast, dynamic form of sword-fencing where practitioners aim to strike their opponents using a bamboo Shinai.

It’s also a highly disciplined art-form, with a deeply understood culture and set of written values which govern everything you should do both in Kendo and life.   Values like these ones, which strike a particular chord with me:

To mould the mind and body. To cultivate a vigorous spirit.  And through correct and structured training, to strive for improvement in the art of Kendo.  To hold in esteem courtesy and honour.

We have deeply understood values at Tharsus too, which govern how we approach everything we do.   Aim higher.  Think wider.  Work together.   There’s a definite synergy there.   Values mean a lot to me.   Properly observed they can do a lot of good, as I’ll come on to.

You started your own dojo?

I’ve been practicing for over 15 years now, during which I’ve trained in Japan and with the British squad and competed at a national level.  I started Kendo at Ojika dojo in Newcastle.  It’s a very different way to keep fit, or you might say fighting fit.  It can be enjoyed by all ages and the cultural side is fascinating.  We run classes once a week and although niche, we’ve kept a strong core set of members. Ojika also offers two other arts, Iaido and Jodo.

 And then a second dojo?

That’s right.  I’m from Northern Ireland originally and I thought introducing kendo to inner city Belfast could really benefit local communities there.  Something which brings people together under a common set of values, while leaving religious differences at the front door.  I started it around 10 years ago and it was the first — and remains the only Kendo dojo in Northern Ireland.

Again, it’s proved very popular.  Particularly with children, which is really gratifying given it’s something that wasn’t an option for me growing up there.  We’ve 15 in the current cohort, which keeps growing year on year.  Here’s another Kendo value. To promote peace and prosperity among all people.  Enough said, I think.

And the future?

Keep spreading the word about the dojos.  They’re friendly groups of people.  You’d be surprised at the diversity of interests and backgrounds they have.  Kendo really does bring people together.

You can find out more about both dojos, details of classes and membership at:

Tharsus Lead Engineer John Kelso


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