It’s been more than a year in the making, but Columbia’s kendo team will finally host its first tournament on campus.
The club team, which was formed in 2003, will host NYU, Boston University, Rochester Institute of Technology, and Stony Brook in Roone Arledge Auditorium on Feb. 16 for a competition that will include individual and team matches in bracket-style elimination.
Captain Mary Quien, SEAS ’14, said that while the club had always wanted to invite other schools to Columbia, reserving space had been an issue.
“At first we wanted to do it in Dodge, because it makes sense, and Levien Gym is a really nice space,” Quien said. “But basically any time you want to reserve Levien Gym, it’s just busy because you have intramural sports and varsity teams.”
The team hasn’t yet participated in any competitions in 2014, but it usually attends two each year—at Harvard and Rutgers. Since the team is young as a whole, it’s rare to place at these tournaments, but Quien says that the more advanced members can spar at respectable level.
But for the team, the benefits of having a meet go beyond mere practice.
Quien says that she hopes the competition will raise the kendo club’s profile. When she joined, the club was on the brink of extinction, but now has two dozen members—18 of whom joined this year.
“We have a lot of grad students this year and I think they kind of knew what kendo was or had a basic idea of what it entailed before they came in,” club vice president Seokjoon Oh, CC ’14, said. “For the undergrads I think it’s more common that they just think it’s cool and then they join.”
Kendo, in concept, is simple—using a bamboo sword, strike an armor-clad opponent before they strike you. But there are additional rules about which parts of the body can be struck, and technique and form that embody the fighting spirit of kendo—extending even to a required shout on contact.
For Quien, kendo’s draw was its required combination of strength and skill.
“I like the sport aspect of it very much, but you will never just win on brute force,” Quien said. “So there’s a certain skill involved, but you also need a certain strength. I find trying to improve both at the same time is very interesting—it’s a challenge and it’s fun.”
Oh, on the other hand, enjoys most the sparring.
“I just love getting into armor and fighting people,” he said. “It’s like hitting people with sticks—it doesn’t get better than that.”
Only five of the team’s 24 members will spar at Sunday’s tournament, since most are beginners and not ready to compete. Because of the team’s youth, each weekly practice begins with drills to work on basic skills. Afterward, the more advanced members practice with their armor.
The team’s coach, or sensei, is seventh-degree black belt Noboru Kataoka. According to Quien, one of Kataoka’s strengths is understanding how to manage a team with members of varying skill levels.
Members of the team are also involved in the city’s kendo community, helped by the fact that Kataoka owns a dojo on the Upper East Side. Kataoka invites some team members to his dojo to practice, although treasurer Aaron Tierney, CC ’15, said most of the team practices at Columbia.
Since kendo is not a popular sport, the team’s members say they are also looking forward to meeting other kendo competitors from the Northeast this weekend.
Still, club members also said the biggest positive of the weekend, regardless of how they perform, will be increased exposure on campus.
“It’s just really nice to be able to improve our club’s status in the community, and then the more people know about it, the better for us,” Quien said.