Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Kendo in Versailles

From http://www.versaillesbudo.fr/
Late this morning the younger Frenchling and I walked up to the Montbauron Gymnasium here in Versailles to watch the fellow members of her Kendo club compete in the Ile de France Kendo Championship.

We were a little startled when the younger Frenchling first informed us that she was going to start lessons at the local club.  But after seeing the competition, I have gone from being merely supportive to outright enthusiastic.

Kendo is a modern incarnation of traditional Japanese sword-fighting - the name literally means "way of the sword."  But instead of swords, practitioners use a long pole made of bamboo strips tied together called a shinai.  The armor I saw was made of modern materiel but was still shaped in a way that recalls the traditional oyoroi armor of the Japanese samurais.

It was fascinating to watch.  Bracketing each match were formal gestures (bowing to your opponent and symbolically "putting away one's sword") but the matches themselves were lightning fast and quite ferocious at times.  I winced every time someone got in a good blow to the head or the ribs (the younger Frenchling confirms that, yes, it does actually hurt a lot in spite of the armor).   To give you some idea of what it was like, here is a brief clip from Youtube (14th World Kendo Competition) that I think best captures the flavor of what I saw today:



As for the participants at the Versailles competition, I had heard that there was a large community of Japanese or Japanese-French in Versailles and, yes, they were well represented.  I also noticed that almost all the teams had women members.  They were not anywhere near as large as the men but they were both fast and determined.  I saw one short statured woman of Japanese origin whip the living daylights out of her male opponent through sheer speed and skill.  But what impressed me the most was the attitude of both the competitors and the crowd.  Sure, the teams were there to win but they seem to approach each match with humility and a deep appreciation for other people's skill - a deft move by a kendoka was applauded by everyone, not just his or her teammates.

My daughter's club competed and lost their last round in the early afternoon.  It was very close - the two teams were tied and an additional match was held to break the tie.  First point went to the opposing team and so the other team won the round.  We did have time before we left however to buy the younger Frenchling her very own shinai (women's size 38).

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