Kendo traditionalists prefer ancient roots to Olympic glitter

Amid the yelling and clatter of a recent tournament held at the University of Toronto, veteran practitioners of the martial art Kendo squared off, philosophically at least, against a new generation of fighters who believe their art should become an Olympic sport.

Kendo, the Japanese equivalent of fencing, is practiced worldwide with the majority of fighters coming from Japan.

While an expected Japanese contingent to the tournament failed to show, veteran North American fighters from Manitoba, Michigan, New York and Ontario carried the banner and philosophy that seeks to maintain Kendo’s focus on traditional forms, such as swordsmanship.

Daniel Quagila, who has been studying Kendo for about four years, admits there are benefits that come with Olympic participation, but fears what it would cost the art.

“If kendo becomes an Olympic sport, to make it acceptable to the public we’d have to change the rules,” the Etobicoke native said. “Like taekwondo, we’d lose many things that make the art effective and players would pick up bad habits to make the sport look good on TV.”

Many younger competitors, such as Nicolas Kim, would like to see their favourite sport brought to the Olympics. They want the prestige and potential for fame that comes with a medal.

“I think it’d be awesome. I always wanted a gold medal. If (kendo) were an Olympic sport I’d do so much more practice.”

But Brian Asa, an instructor at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, believes kendo is actually moving in the opposite direction.

“In the last six years we have seen a real push to bring the art back to its martial roots. Judges have been stricter about giving points for proper form, and training reflects that.”

Steve Quinlan is one of the tournament competitors and a member of the All USA Kendo Federation, the governing body that sets the rules and regulations for the sport.

“Going to tournaments and winning competitions is only a small part of kendo. It’s an important part, but the ultimate goal of practicing should be to improve yourself and preserve a way of life. If kendo goes Olympic, I think we’d lose the way of life.”

Given the overwhelmingly negative response from the kendo community, it seems younger players such as Nicolas will have to focus their energies on competing out of the Olympic limelight.

Filed by Jason Wong