Thursday, April 18

UCLA wins annual kendo tournament

Started three years ago, competition brings together practitioners of the modern martial art

The UCLA Kendo Club recently held its third Yuhihai Kendo Tournament in the UCLA Student Activities Center gymnasium this past weekend. The tournament featured approximately 80 participants and 15 teams from nine separate schools. The Bruins took home first place in the Yuhihai Team Division, defeating UC Davis in the final.

The UCLA Kendo Club recently held its third Yuhihai Kendo Tournament in the UCLA Student Activities Center gymnasium this past weekend. The tournament featured approximately 80 participants and 15 teams from nine separate schools. The Bruins took home first place in the Yuhihai Team Division, defeating UC Davis in the final. ucla kendo club

There was thunder in the Student Activities Center gym this past weekend.

The sounds of clashing swords and the shouts of energetic kendo participants reverberated from the second floor of SAC on Sunday as the UCLA Kendo Club hosted its third annual Yuhihai Kendo Tournament.

Drawing in participants from all across California, this martial arts competition consisted of undergraduate students from local universities including other UCs and, of course, rival USC. The tournament, in fact, was not limited by national boundaries, with one participant coming all the way from Colombia.

Kendo, which means “the way of the sword” in Japanese, is a modern martial art based on ancient Japanese swordsmanship. Participants face off head-to-head as they use swords to strike one of the opponent’s four targets: the men (head), the kote (wrist), the do (waist) and the tsuki-dare (throat). For safety reasons, kendo replaces classical Japanese katana swords with shinai, or bamboo swords, and participants are required to wear protective armor called bogu.

The name Yuhihai means “a great leap full of bravery and ambition” in Japanese, an idea that encourages the participants to challenge themselves through practice and competition. The tournament, though only in its third year, is the largest intercollegiate kendo tournament on the West Coast and has been hosted by UCLA each year.

“The West Coast has the largest kendo population in America, but there was no intercollegiate tournament,” said Nathan Makino, a UCLA alumnus and active sensei, or teacher, of the UCLA Kendo Club.

Makino Sensei, as he is known by his students, noted that there are several intercollegiate tournaments on the East Coast, most notably the Harvard-Radcliffe Shoryuhai Kendo Tournament in Cambridge, Mass., which, in its 14th year, is the longest-running intercollegiate kendo tournament in the United States. UCLA Kendo Club’s participation and success in the tournament was the basis for creating the Yuhihai.

“We had been attending the (Harvard) tournament for three years, and we wanted to make a better tournament,” Makino said.

The Yuhihai began in 2008 with a modest showing, but has since grown.

“In its first year, we had six teams and there were no individual matches, just team matches.” said Michael Siedlecki, a fourth-year economics and geography student and the club’s president. “This year we have about 80 participants and 15 teams from nine schools.”

The tournament currently divides participants into three different divisions: the kyu, or lower division, dan, or higher division, and team matches. Siedlecki placed second in the kyu division.

And as the number of participants grow each year, so does the interest.

“It’s not just putting UCLA on the map in the West Cost, or just in America. Senseis from Japan come and observe the way we run the tournament,” said Rachelle Wong, a first-year physiological sciences student. “The All-United States Kendo Federation sends its president to the tournament. Some of the leading figures of kendo will come and see.”

Unfortunately, kendo is still relatively unknown compared to more popular martial arts such as karate or judo. For many people, their only exposure to the martial art is through popular culture and the media. A recent example is the Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man in the World” beer commercial.

Makino recalled his early experiences with the club: “I remember when we first started the club, the movie “˜The Last Samurai’ had just come out. So we had practice with five experienced members and about 50 who had no experience and just wanted to try it out.”

The misconception that kendo, or any other martial art, is simply a demonstration of brute force and barbaric assault is debunked within the first matches of the tournament. Kendo requires a great deal of finesse, control and etiquette, on and off the court. Successful hits must be complemented with kiai, or a loud shout, to score points. The judges stress the importance of clean technique, as no points are awarded for haphazard whacking.

“Kendo begins and ends with manners,” Makino said. “Without that, we’d just be beating each other with sticks. We want to discipline one’s character through application of the principles of the katana.”

Kendo’s popularity and acceptance has grown exponentially in the past few years, and the club’s history is the perfect example.

The club experienced an auspicious start after five UCLA undergraduate students founded it in 2003: in 2004, the five members entered the Harvard tournament for the first time and won the team championship. Makino said they then decided to teach it at UCLA.

Makino and the other founders were fortunate to have experience and knowledge from the start.

“The club was lucky enough to have Makino’s father, Masaharu Makino, a seventh-degree sensei, to help teach,” Siedlecki said.

To this day, both Makino Sensei and his father teach kendo at UCLA, but there are certainly more than five members.

“In the last five years, we have grown to 25 advanced members that suit up in bogu, as well as around 25 beginners,” Nathan Makino said.

As both the club and its tournament grow in size and popularity, Makino Sensei hopes to see the members continue to help strengthen the club. He added that he hopes to see alumni contribute more back to the club.

“We’ve had four generations of students, and a few come back to practice with us,” Nathan Makino said.

And like all martial arts and sports, practice is key. With more and more experienced members helping out, the club can continue to build on its success.

“Practices are structured in separate areas in which kenshi, or students, can grow,” Wong said. “Even though we all have different levels of experience, we can still get the training we need.”

This could be spell trouble for rival college kendo clubs, given the already formidable strength of UCLA’s kendo club. UCLA’s kendo team took home first place in the Yuhihai tournament’s team division, defeating UC Davis for the championship.

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