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The Art and Attack of Kendo

Those yells and hits filling FitRec are an ancient martial form

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In the video above, Alex Eitoku and Kathy Liao, members of Boston University’s Kendo Association, describe and demonstrate Kendo nuances.

Beginning when he was six years old, Alex Eitoku took his bamboo shinai sword in hand, donned a traditional uniform (gi and hakama), body armor and head protection (do and men), and practiced kendo after school.

Eitoku (CAS’12), captain of Boston University’s Kendo Association, felt forced into his family’s martial art tradition. Rather than playing with friends, he spent hours a day practicing at his father’s dojo in their hometown of Salinas, Calif.

His father was nine years old when the dojo opened in 1970; he was its first student, and after years of competing nationally and internationally, he wanted to instill the art form in his sons.

Eitoku no longer feels trapped in tradition. “As I’ve grown older, I appreciate kendo,” he says, “because it has made me stronger and more disciplined.”

Translated, kendo means “the way of the sword.” It looks and sounds different from other martial arts, with its ear-piercing kiai (yells) and a men (mask) with a metal face shield. Derived from feudal Japanese samurai, who developed the martial art as a form of combat, it might be difficult to imagine why this highly stylized ancient tradition is still practiced. Yet according to Eitoku, kendo is once again on the rise in Japan. “Now it’s practiced almost compulsorily, because many Japanese realize its important contribution to physical and mental well-being as well as to the country’s culture and history,” he says.

Businesses, including police departments, hold kendo in high regard and “including kendo on your résumé could give you a better chance at landing a job,” he says. Some employers view kendo practitioners, kendoka, as better prospective employees because of their discipline. Others might be looking for a ringer for the company’s kendo team.

Millions of kendoka practice the art worldwide. “Some of my BU teammates have practiced in Korea, Taiwan, and Italy,” says Eitoku. “It brings up everyone’s level of performance to learn from different traditions.”

Eugenia Yang (SAR’07, SDM’11) represented Taiwan in the 13th World Kendo Championships in Taipei in 2006. “I’ve been practicing since I was eight years old,” says Yang, whose family reveres kendo. She admits to a fierce competitive spirit — “It feels like life or death every time I compete.” But she also finds fun in the practice, and that, more than competition, motivated her to revive kendo here.

A year after competing in Taipei, Yang cofounded the BU club, which had disbanded in 1997. She says it wasn’t easy proving that even though kendo involves combat, it is safe. “To verify, John Battaglino, executive director of the Student Activities Office, actually suited up in a kendo uniform, and took hits,” she says. “He was instrumental in getting us started up again.”

The kendo club, rounding out its second year, competes in three tournaments annually. “Most competitions are not in Boston,” Yang says, “and there’s not enough money to travel more.” Recently, the club competed at Rutgers and at Cornell, where it placed 3rd out of 16. In the spring, the club will compete against 20 schools in Shoryuhai, a national intercollegiate kendo tournament at Harvard University.

“The club isn’t traditional,” says Yang. “We add a lot of elements to practice to make it fun.” She wants others to share her deep, broad appreciation of the discipline and what it offers beyond structure and exercise.

“Everything in life seems easier when I excel at Kendo,” she says.

Robin Berghaus can be reached at berghaus@bu.edu.

4 Comments

4 Comments on The Art and Attack of Kendo

  • Victor Pan on 12.08.2009 at 3:04 pm

    Welcome

    New members are welcome to join us for the next semester. Just join the BU Kendo Facebook group (make sure you’re part of the BU network) and introduce yourself.

  • Anonymous on 12.08.2009 at 8:45 pm

    How do you keep producing such great work?!

  • Boryana on 12.09.2009 at 6:50 am

    Great article and video!
    Thank you for sharing them!
    :)

  • Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou on 06.07.2010 at 7:58 am

    nice

    so do you feel like a samurai inside the uniform ?

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