Kendo puts Glasgow to the bamboo sword

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Harry Tattersall Smith

Everybody was Kung Fu fighting; yet the latest martial arts trend sweeping Glasgow is Kendo. You’ve probably seen them across campus — they cut striking figures dressed in long black robes with meshed silver masks. You could be forgiven for being slightly intimidated — there is a certain Harry Potter Death Eater aura about them, gliding ethereally in their billowing robes with expressions hidden away beneath cloak and visor.

Kendo, literally meaning ‘way of the sword’ has emigrated from Japan, and has seen its popularity surge in Britain over the last decade as people seek to go beyond the treadmill in search of a way of keeping fit that isn’t soul-destroyingly dull. Dull it is certainly not. Watching the experts fight really is mesmerising. We are in a relatively empty hall, yet it reverberates with the sound of people shrieking and smacking each other with massive bamboo swords. Not wanting to use hyperbole, but the energy and excitement gives me the proverbial shivers.

The grace of the masters is counter-balanced strongly by my “bambi on ice” inelegance. I can’t clap in time, so a sport in which rhythm is intrinsic to striking your opponent is a bit of a struggle. Altogether, I’m pretty self-conscious. Essentially I am walking back and forth across the hall repeatedly slicing thin air with my deceptively heavy saber. I’m assured that learning the basics is essential to mastering the poise and balance necessary in Kendo, yet I can’t help feeling I’m acting in a low budget Star Wars spin-off. However, once I overcome my sense of silliness, I realise that I am fufilling many childhood dreams about being let loose with a sword, and that I love Star Wars. This is my dream sport. It’s fun, energetic and about skill and strategy as much as power and fitness.

Niall Moore founded the club in 2007 after returning from a gap year in Japan where he picked up the sport. “I came back to Glasgow and in amongst all the clubs that GUSA offered I was surprised that Kendo wasn’t there.” For a sport that is so visually compelling it doesn’t seem hard to generate interest, yet Niall says, “there are about twenty or so members, but most of them are beginners.”

Although they may be a new squad, the team has a lot to be enthusiastic about. “We’ve just been down at the Mumeishi Threes down in London. It’s one of the most prestigious, international Kendo tournaments on the circuit, and although we didn’t win anything, our strong performance against some of the best in the world, suggests that in a couple of years this club will have a real chance of winning some major trophies.”