Some people use weights to work out. Others use exercise bands, or yoga mats. But this summer, a group of Concordia students and community members are donning armour to stay in shape.
Well, it’s not real armour. According to Tae Kyu Kim, the team captain of the Shidokan Kendo and Iaido Club, the only part that is actually made of metal is the grill protecting the face. The rest of the “armour” is made of high-quality synthetic leather.
They wear the armour when they practice kendo, an ancient form of Japanese sword fighting. The word kendo translates to “the way of the sword” in English, and was developed over centuries starting in the second century BC, when the sword was introduced to Japan.
Kendo was practiced by the samurai, middle- and upper-class Japanese warriors, but its popularity is now beginning to spread outside of Japan and Korea and into countries such as Canada.
The Shidokan Kendo and Iaido Club has been around since 1974, but it only started offering classes in collaboration with Concordia 10 years ago, under the instruction of the current chief and senior instructors, Santoso Hanitijo and Dean Jolly, respectively.
Kim has been practicing kendo for nine years now. He explained via email that the classes are made up of a mix of students and community members &- the beginners and intermediate students usually come from Concordia, and senior students are mostly community members. Kendo is often compared to fencing and Kim acknowledged there similarities between the two.
“Fencing uses more lunging and poking with feet in the same place, kendo uses slashing and you move around more… but what makes kendo stand out is the commitment into the spiritual development of the individual and not only the desire of victory. It’s a very common saying in Kendo that defeating your own limitations is the highest reward.”
According to the club’s website, during play a kendoist tries to attack four general areas with a shinai, or bamboo sword: the head, the wrist, torso, and the throat. A successful attack is worth one point, and in order to obtain the point, the attack must be the outcome of a coordination of the spirit, proper sword usage and body movement. The idea is that the stroke must encompass the same technique as it would if it had been made by an actual sword.
Ashi Sabaki, or kendo footwork, is one of the many keys to success. “[It] determines when and how fast you can fire a strike, the speed, frequency, form, intensity of your strikes, and what you can do before and after the strikes,” says the site.
A kendo match has a three-point or five-minute time limit. That may be a far cry from a football or baseball game, but as Kim explained, there is an added pressure involved. “Every kendo student is trained to assume each match as a life or death situation,” he wrote. “Therefore due to the mental pressure and physical intensity, a five-minute match can be extremely long and exhausting.”
A full-body workout, the benefits of kendo go beyond a toned body and cardiovascular endurance. “The kendo student eventually will be able to face and overcome different problems in life, the discipline and intense training sharpens one’s character striving never to surrender against any adversity. You learn to be calm at heart all the time, never letting your emotions dominate.”
A first-time kendo player only needs to come to the class dressed in sport clothing and equipped with a shinai. It’s only once one competes at the senior level that they will need to don the armour. To get to the level Kim is at now takes training, blisters, broken shinai. Overall, though, patience is key. But the rewards outweigh the sacrifices.
“I believe kendo is one of those things in life that can truly shape your character, you always strive to become better, you learn to never give up, and you understand the true beauty in simple things. You face your own limitations and learn to overcome them. Kendo can teach you a lot about yourself.”
Kendo will be offered again next fall through campus recreation. For more information about the Shidokan Kendo and Iaido Club, visit their website at shidokanmontreal.ca