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Kendo Means “Way of the Sword”

Intercollegiate contest at Harvard this weekend

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Alex Eitoku (CAS12) and Kathy Liao (CFA11), members of Boston University’s Kendo Association, describe and demonstrate kendo.

At the age of six, Alex Eitoku donned a traditional uniform (gi and hakama) and body armor and head protection (do and men), took his bamboo shinai sword in hand, and started to practice kendo. He hasn’t stopped since.

Eitoku (CAS’12), captain of Boston University’s Kendo Association, says he felt forced into his family’s martial art tradition at the time, but he no longer feels that way.

“As I’ve grown older, I’ve grown to appreciate kendo,” he says. “It has made me stronger and more disciplined.”

Translated to English, kendo means “the way of the sword.” It looks and sounds different from other martial arts, with its ear-piercing yells and mask with metal face shield. Kendo is a descendant of feudal Japanese samurai, whose martial art was just that: a form of combat. According to Eitoku, the sport’s popularity is on the rise in Japan. “Now it’s practiced almost compulsorily,” he says. “Many Japanese realize its important contribution to physical and mental well-being as well as to the country’s culture and history.”

Eugenia Yang (SAR’07, SDM’11) was 8 years old when she first picked up a shinai sword, and by age 21 she was representing Taiwan in the 13th World Kendo Championships in Taipei. Three years ago, Yang cofounded the BU club, which had disbanded in 1997. Yang says it wasn’t easy proving that kendo was safe even though it involves combat. “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 competes in three tournaments a year. In the fall, they traveled to Rutgers and Cornell, where they placed 3rd out of 16. This weekend, 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.” Despite the effort to lighten things up, Yang says competitions can be stressful.

“Every time I compete,” she says, “it feels like life or death.”

The Harvard-Invitational Shoryuhai Intercollegiate Kendo Tournament begins tomorrow, Saturday, April 10, at 9 a.m., with team competitions at 9:45 a.m. and 1 p.m. and a closing ceremony and free-sparring at 4 p.m. The tournament continues on Sunday, April 11, at 9:30 a.m., with individual competitions at 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. and a closing ceremony and free-sparring at 4:30 p.m. The tournament is being held at Harvard University’s Malkin Althletic Center, 39 Holyoke St., fourth floor, Cambridge. All events are free and open to the public.

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

1 Comments

One Comment on Kendo Means “Way of the Sword”

  • Fedor Emelianenko on 04.12.2010 at 3:14 am

    Kendo is very nice martial art and really deadly…i believe it should be spread little bit more…not much people participate…

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