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Michigan State’s Kendo Club has a half-century legacy, and still draws strong interest

Two club members practicing at IM Circle on Jan. 23.
Melanie Soverinsky
Two club members practicing at IM Circle on Jan. 23.

The Japanese martial art is challenging for mind and body, and connects MSU students and faculty through a love of discipline.

EAST LANSING, Mich. - As one of only two senseis—a teacher of martial arts—running Michigan State’s burgeoning Kendo club, Takuma Miura upholds his family’s rich tradition of practicing the modern Japanese martial art.

Despite a rocky start—after trying the sport as a six-year-old, Miura found it overwhelming and intimidating—he stuck with it, encouraged by three older brothers who were heavily invested in the martial art. They reassured him that the effort would more than compensate for the sport’s physical and mental challenges.

“I found a life hint in Kendo,” Miura, an instructor of Japanese in the department of Linguistics, Languages and Cultures, said. “Practice and training is tough, but you can find some concentration in it.”

Kendo originated in Japan, as a form of warfare. It's full contact, using swords (shinai) and full body armor (bōgu). The sport revolves around swordsmanship and directly translates to, “the way of the sword”.

Originally, it had violent intent and was known as Kenjutsu. The sport was commonly practiced in the second half of the 15th century when Japan was in a constant state of violence.

Four club members practicing at IM Circle on Jan. 23.
Melanie Soverinsky
Four club members practicing at IM Circle on Jan. 23.

Formed in the early 17th century, Kendo brought an end to the aggressive use of the sword and refocused its principles on the basis of mindfulness and respect.

“I would describe it as both an art and a sport,” sophomore economics major Garrett Jin said. “An art in the sense that it teaches you to strive for the mentality of perfection. It’s a sport in the sense that you can compete, but there’s still a lot of tradition behind it.”

The goal is to strike one's opponent in one of four targets. The head (men), wrist (kote), torso (do) and throat (tsuki). When aiming for an opponent, it is customary to yell out the name of the position that’s being hit.

Matches are judged on the first player to earn two out of three points by successfully hitting a strike zone on their opponent. Although it varies by competition organizers, most are classified by gender, age and skill level.

Prior to his time at MSU, Miura taught Japanese and instructed Kendo at Bates College in Maine and Harvard University in Massachusetts.

When he accepted his position at MSU in the Fall of 2020, he decided to become involved with its Kendo club as well.

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“Most MSU Kendo Club students are experiencing Kendo for the first time in college,” Miura said. “This is similar to how many students begin learning Japanese for the first time in college. I always feel a strong sense of momentum and dynamism from students who want to try something new. Therefore, if my kendo experience, which I have been doing since childhood, can be helpful, I am willing to support them in any way I can.”

The club sport made its debut at MSU in 1972 and is the second oldest college Kendo club in the Midwest.

The cost to join is $40 a semester, or $70 per year. Dues cover the rental of the practice gym in IM Circle three days a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday), a sword (shinai) to keep and other smaller costs throughout the year.

Club members are able to borrow armor stored at IM Circle, but most members invest in their own gear.

MSU’s chapter competes in tournaments throughout the year against other club teams and belongs to the Midwest Kendo Federation, which is under the U.S. Kendo Federation.

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Members are given the opportunity to participate in group practices with other dojos in the Midwest including groups from Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Kansas, Indiana, Iowa and North Dakota.

“At our last tournament we went up against University of Michigan’s Kendo club, which was really cool,” vice president computer science senior Vincenzo Felici said. “There’s a good amount of other clubs in Michigan.”

Typically, eight to 10 members attend each practice. MSU Kendo has an executive board consisting of a president, vice president, treasurer and secretary.

The size makes for an intimate group, allowing members to get to know one another and have more one-on-one time with the senseis.

“I believe something that can be a sport can also be a community, and this club sport definitely gives a sense of community,” sophomore psychology major Hunter Thomsen said.

Although the pandemic caused a significant decline in membership, the club is beginning to grow and return to its normal size.

Miura is constantly reminded why he chose to persevere and pursue the art of Kendo all those years ago. The sport has become a lifestyle for Miura, and he looks forward to sharing that with his students.

“I want to create an environment where they can teach each other and encourage each other in the future,” Miura said. “I want to make the club a place they can always return to after graduation.”

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