Keeping culture through kendo

Students meet on campus to master the art of kendo

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TRU kendo, as seen at the IDays Fashion Show (Sean Brady/The Omega)

The TRUSU Ancient Martial Art Studies Club, also known as TRU Kendo, gave an “armour and blade” presentation on the history and advancement of East Asian weapons and protections as part of IDays last week. Showcasing replica swords and metal armour, Zihe Zhou, a second-year chemistry major, shared his passion for traditional Chinese and Japanese martial arts.

According to the presentation, Chinese swords have continued to develop for over 3,000 years, with an increase in length.

“The traditional Chinese sword is supposed to be long and narrow. Due to films and TV shows, people think that the Chinese sword was broad and thick, which is actually not the traditional swords of the Chinese people,” Zhou said.

The club practices kendo, or Japanese fencing, on campus every Sunday afternoon. Six to eight people attend regularly, all with different experience levels.

“Kendo means ‘the way of the sword.’ Once upon a time back in Japan, the samurai would practice kendo to get familiar with the timing of a strike,” Zhou said.

Within kendo, the group practices Kenjutsu, or “sword techniques.” Today, the practice of kendo is a recreational sport widely practiced in China and Japan. The shinai, or sword, is made of bamboo.

“The gear is composed of the helmet, body armour, gloves to protect your forearms and the tare, a garment that kind of works like a belt but you put your name on [it]. When you put your helmet on people can’t see your face but then you have your belt,” Zhou said.

The body armour is made of plastic and the helmet has a metal grille to protect the face.

Zhou practiced kendo and Chinese kickboxing for three years in a dojo in Japan before creating the club this year.

“It’s a funny thing that I’m majoring in chemistry, but I find this history and cultural stuff very fascinating,” Zhou said.

Leading to the creation of the group, Zhou noticed that recent East Asian generations are losing sight of their culture.

“I figured it’s quite important to know what our ancestors were capable of and what they were thinking. I hope I can understand them through practicing kendo and martial arts,” he said.

According to Zhou, there are misconceptions on the seriousness and purposes of traditional martial arts.

“People think martial arts is a dance with flips that they do when they’re performing. From my point of view, that’s actually gymnastics,” Zhou said. “Traditional martial arts is supposed to be for military purposes … instead of doing flips on the battle field.”

This Japanese version of fencing is often compared to that of traditional European.

“European fencing is more about thrusts and stabbing,” Zhou said. “The Japanese style is more East Asian style, and is not just thrusting but also hacking and slashing.”

With the help of the more experienced kendoka, or practitioners of kendo, Zhou has helped newcomers with no previous experience learn the fundamentals.

“They progress really soon. Martial arts is a quick guide from no experience to well-trained. That’s what the whole purpose of martial arts was,” Zhou said.

Although it’s quick to learn the fundamentals, “It’s extremely hard to master,” Zhou added. “Mastering the craft takes decades.”

The club practices between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Sundays in the TRU Gym dance studio. They have extra gear for anyone interested in joining for a trial practice.