Sam McKay 1973 – 2003

An Epitaph to Sam McKay


Sam McKay sensei (pictured left) with Shizufumi Ishido sensei & Jock Hopson sensei.


Photograph courtesy of Jock Hopson

 An epitaph is usually meant to be very short, however we hope the reader will forgive us if we break this convention, as we think Sam’s contribution to budō in Scotland is sufficient enough to warrant it, given that there are no records maintained elsewhere, except for this website. Samual McKay Sensei, or just “Sam” as he was more normally known,  was born in Glasgow and served with the British  Army. Unfortunately little is known of his early life as Sam was an intensely private and modest individual. However what we do know is that in 1972 Sam founded Scotland’s first Kendo club, the Glasgow Kendo Club, and only a year later in 1973 he founded Scotland’s first Iai club, Kensaki Iai Dojo.

Somewhere in the region of 1965 Sam’s twin brother Ross, then a sailor in the British merchant navy, brought back a signed 350 year old blade to Glasgow from Japan. Sam furnished the blade with a new tsuka and other fittings. The samurai family whom the blade originally belonged to, who the sword smith was, or where the sword is now, have been lost in time. However it was to be this sword that was to be used in his instruction of many Scottish Iaidoka for years to come, and it was to be with this sword that the Iai movement and arguably Kendo movement in Scotland first got started.

In 1972, when Sam founded Scotland’s first Kendo club, the Glasgow Kendo Club, he was then the only shodan in Scotland, and the club’s most senior member. With him at that time were John Hepburn and Romley Squires. William Mains was to join later, followed by Allan Jamieson who now lives in Japan. in the early 90’s after a difficult period of club politics, Sam decided to withdraw from the Kendo club and focus exclusively on Kensaki Iai Dojo. Day to day management of the Glasgow Kendo Club was then passed to Gerry Kincaid and Jim Cory in the early 1990s, who have since gone on to lead it to greater heights, under the watchful eye of the club’s last original remaining member, John Hepburn.

Whilst McKay Sensei is remembered for his strict military style instruction and being an intensely private person, it was evident to all that he had a softer side.  Among his many talents, Sam was a prolific unpublished writer and fan of science fiction. He was also a skilled amateur tailor known for fabricating Hakama and Gi, which he would sell to his students for half the price of those being sold on the market, in an attempt to reduce their training costs. If nothing else this spells out a true teacher dedicated to the welfare of his students and their best interests.

In the early 2000’s Sam’s health begun to fail. A voracious smoker, it was not usual for Sam to smoke 40-50 cigarettes a day, and regrettably it was to be in this vice that he would find his nemesis. At the 2003 Kendo world championships in Glasgow, Sam was found to be quite frail, and as his health declined, Thomas Peebles, then Senpai, took the reins. It is to Peebles Sensei that we owe a considerable debt of gratitude because had it not been for his efforts, Kensaki Iai Dojo and its history would surely have fallen by the wayside.

At the Western Infirmary, on the 7th October, 2007, Sam sadly passed away. The Funeral service was held at Glasgow Crematorium, Maryhill, on Wednesday the 17th October, at 1.45pm. Sadly, the last person who could have told us more, his twin brother Ross, was to follow Sam shortly after, and as neither had any children or family of their own, the more exact details of Sensei McKay’s life are unknown. However we maintain this club, and this website in his honour, and as thanks to all the past and future Scottish Iaidoka and Kendoka he benefitted, many of whom are unaware of their lineage to this man.


Below are some of the few surviving photographs of Sam.

If you have any further information/photographs or video of Sam, please get in contact.

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