Kendo is known as the art of the Japanese sword. Cleveland State University’s Kendo club joined other groups from all over the country during the 28th Cleveland Kendo Tournament on April 2 as entrants showed their sword artistry.
Matt Sessions, a junior at Cleveland State as well as the founder and president of the Kendo Club, and his teammates gathered at Case Western University’s Adelbert Gym as non-competitors to help run the event, keep it organized and show their support.
Kendo clubs and organizations from all over the country and parts of Canada gathered to take part in a tournament, where approximately 230 participants would compete in a contest of speed, spirit and skill.
Sessions explained that kendo is a martial art rather than a sport.
In martial arts, like karate, participants start at a beginner rank, where they will learn techniques and gain knowledge that is suitable for that specific rank.
As they continue to train, they eventually gain enough knowledge and skill to the point where they take a promotion test, allowing them to have a chance to move up to a higher rank.
From there they will learn even more techniques and gain more knowledge until the time comes to take another test.
The members of the Cleveland State kendo club were not eligible to compete in the tournament because they have not advanced to the ranks included in the competition.
Sessions, who did have a high enough rank to compete, chose not to compete so he could help run the event.
During an interview, Sessions explained he began the club at the beginning of fall semester. “It’s not officially organized yet,” he noted. “We had a little trouble getting people to stay long enough during the application process.”
Sessions said he is in the process of resubmitting the application to make the club official.
“Everyone has his or her own reasons for joining,” he added. “I personally started kendo because I knew it would be hard and that it would be difficult and I knew it wouldn’t come naturally to me.”
“But being able to push past that anyway would make me a stronger person,” he added. “Building inner strength is mostly what kendo is all about, because with that you’ll be able to force through external situations.”
Neil Adelman, an instructor from the Cleveland Kendo Association and a volunteer instructor for Cleveland State’s kendo club, explained how a typical practice session would go for the team.
According to Adelman, they meet once a week for an hour and a half and run a variety of drills.
“We do basic warm ups, and then we do footwork primarily,” he explained. “That’s the most important part of Japanese fencing, the footwork.”
Both Sessions and Adelman explain that along with footwork, they practice basic sword cuts and techniques with two different types of wooden swords. They a “shinai” for sparring, and another wooden sword called a “bokken,” for “katas” or form practice.
“The shinai is very flexible,” Adelman said, “it absorbs all of the shock.”
As for the bokken, Sessions and Adelman explained the purpose of this sword is to mimic the weight and length of a real blade.
Adelman said that winning a tournament match is more than just scoring a hit on an opponent.
“You have to strike the correct target area, with the correct part of the sword, at the correct angle, with the correct physical body posture while calling out the name of the target you’re going to strike,” he noted.
The time of a match can range from three to five minutes. If one of the competitors manages to successfully strike, yell and hit the target area while showing fighting spirit before the other competitor can, that competitor receives a point.
The competitors fight until one has scored two points or until time runs out. If time runs out, then a one point extension match is held. The victor is whoever manages to score first.
The target areas are known as “kote” (wrist), “men” (head), “do” (body), and “tsuki” (throat thrust). Both Adelman and Sessions also added that even if a competitor manages to strike and yell with the proper form, yet fails to show proper fighting spirit, the judges will not only give out a point but they can take points away.
With the sound of shinai cracking and battle cries being heard throughout the gym, it is safe to say that spirit is one thing these swordfighters definitely have in spades.