The University of Glasgow offers its students numerous martial arts amongst its ever-growing list of sports. From Muay Thai boxing to Karate, new practitioners are introduced to one of many forms of fighting systems that instils discipline, self-respect and character into anyone eager to learn and reflect who they are as individuals. Amongst these is the Japanese ‘way of the sword’ which loosely defines Kendo, the martial art of sword fighting.
With roots that have been nurtured by the Japanese Samurai culture in the past, Kendo stands out from other martial arts in how practitioners, or Kendoka, train and challenge each other. The essentials of a Kendoka include a set of armour that protects the head, wrists and chest which are common targets to strike during a match. To effectively win a duel against an opponent, members of a dojo are equipped with a long and sturdy bamboo sword, or ‘shinai’.
Thus, while martial arts like Karate and Judo involve upfront and unarmed combat, people trained in Kendo utilize the shinai as an extension of themselves to claim victory. However, Kendo as a sport involves more than learning how to win the next match against a superior opponent. Discipline serves as a strong foundation and meditation helps to focus the mind for what is to come when the Kendoka enters and leaves the dojo.
Glasgow University Kendo Club has served as one of the local dojos available for students interested in Kendo. Hosting training periods on Friday and Sunday evenings, these sessions allow young Kendoka to exert themselves physically and mentally to either end a tense and eventful week or prepare for the new one. This is achieved by focusing on strenuous exercises and cycling through opponents in short matches in one session and performing slow and coordinated ‘Kata’ routines in the other. As a result, training concentrate on promoting physical and mental well-being in a friendly environment.
Annually, the club takes part in two events. The first event is the Beginners’ tournament when new members have the opportunity to put on full sets of armour and compete against each other. This provides a chance for them to apply what they’ve learned throughout the first semester and earn prizes ranging from ‘tenugui’ towels to their own ‘bokken’ wooden sword. This tournament also serves as a taster for what is to come in the second event, which is the Scottish University Taikai.
This inter-university competition invites clubs from numerous Scottish universities to come together and socialise while participating in numerous matches against each other. Some of the competing categories in last April’s Taikai hosted by the Aberdeen Kendo Club included the beginner’s team, open team and alumni individuals’ bracket. One of the awards for any Kendoka who stood out and demonstrated immense mental fortitude and prowess was the ‘Battle Spirit’ award, which one of GUKC’s newest additions humbly accepted for her efforts during the beginners’ team matches. Her team, appropriately named the ‘MATCHA TEAm’ after the previous captain’s affinity for green tea, also took third place and earned bronze medals, which was a tremendous feat for our new members.
While this is considered one of the best achievements to celebrate within the club, a more rewarding experience GUKC member can gain during their time with the club is simply building character and knowing more of themselves every day. When two combatants put on armour and challenge each other in a duel, they learn about each other and develop a better understanding of who they are as a person.
Basically, a Kendoka in GUKC does not just practice a form of martial arts. They build the courage to speak up and share the internal battles they face outside the dojo and university life. They grow and nurture their minds to focus on what is important and in the present rather than dwell in the past. They forge loyal bonds with their peers and treat their opponents as equals regardless of experience. They open themselves to others enough to let their blood, sweat, and tears empower their battle spirit within. They turn every victory and defeat into milestones of reflection as they take steps to improve themselves for the future.
Some members have claimed their training has left positive influences on them. For our captain this season, she considers starting kendo to be a ‘life-altering event’ that boosted her confidence and helped to shape her principles and ideologies she wields to this day. Optimistic of what the club has to offer, she hopes to forge bonds amongst other sports and martial arts clubs across campus and Scotland. Near the end of October marked the first time members of the University of St Andrew’s Kendo Club have visited, trained, and fought against GUKC which was a terrific start to realizing the captain’s vision.
"We're lucky that the Kendo community across Scotland is very friendly and supportive!" our captain added. For more information about Kendo martial arts or the Glasgow University Kendo club, find us on our social media platforms or our Friday or Sunday training at the Stevenson Building.