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How to... do kendo

Like many sports, kendo is as much about challenging one’s self as it is about competing against an opponent.

There’s an element of intimidation to simply donning the wares of kendo, a martial art that’s most simply described as the Japanese version of fencing. In a match setting, kendoists don a set of protective armor — including gloves, a chest protector and a helmet with a metal face mask — and wield a lightweight bamboo sword, or shinai, and shout (ki-ai) with every swinging strike.

"It’s natural to be nervous," notes Steve Voss, a kendo instructor whose group practices twice weekly at the Rochester Area Family Y.

"But part of kendo is to be calm and accept the challenge and face it. You can apply that to so many things in life — work, school, relationships."

Voss’ students span all ages and backgrounds. His youngest charges are just 7- and 8-year-olds. "They’re fearless, those kids," he says.

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While many partake in kendo to improve their conditioning or mental discipline, some do compete in tournaments.

During a kendo match, the object is to strike the opponent in one of six major target areas — the head (or men, in Japanese), the wrists (kote), the torso area (doh) and the throat (tsuki).

Three judges score the match, instantaneously evaluating each hit. A point is awarded only if two of three judges agree a hit is both accurate and properly executed. The match lasts 3-5 minutes.

For details, visit the Midwest Kendo Federation Web site, www.midwestkendo.com, or contact Voss at voss.stephen@mayo.edu.

Neil Tardy

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