UCR has a long tradition of clubs dedicated to the study of traditional martial arts. Among these is Kendo Club, first founded in 2006 to introduce the martial art of kendo to UCR, as well as promote the spirit of mutual respect and camaraderie through the practice of kendo. Kendo is a Japanese form of fencing with two-handed bamboo sword, which was originally developed as a safe form of sword training for samurai.
On Sunday, Jan. 20 the club’s competition team participated in a tournament hosted by the Southern California Kendo Federation. Kendo Club at UCR competed against other universities in Southern California, including UC Irvine, USC, Cal Poly Pomona and UC San Diego, but the majority of competitors came from local dojos. Kendo Club at UCR allows any member, student or not, to compete as long as they can pass a test to prove their familiarity with the fundamentals of kendo, and enough prowess to spar with full armor in a tournament setting.
This tournament, hosted by the Southern California Kendo Federation, featured multiple divisions but the one in which 10 of Kendo Club at UCR’s members competed in was a 64-person bracket. Kendo Club at UCR also had one member compete in a higher division, but he was knocked out by the eventual champion.
Because UCR had so many competitors competing in the same bracket, they inevitably had to compete amongst each other, including in the semifinal match in which fourth-year club President Andrew Gruhn faced off and won against Vice President Reid Watanabe.
“We’ve sparred each other a lot in the past,” Gruhn said. “We started the exact same time so we sort of knew what the other person was going to do. It was a little less intense than the other matches.”
Gruhn ended up winning second place in the tournament with Watanabe winning third. Gruhn was very “glad (to earn second place) because we don’t have a sensei to teach us. UCR’s kendo club is unique because it’s all student-led.” In addition to winning second and third in their division, one of Kendo Club at UCR’s first-year members, Noah Kim, impressed judges enough during his matches to earn a commendation for demonstrating fighting spirit.
“I was a little surprised at first,” Kim said. “I got out in my third match, but my first couple matches were good. I definitely think there’s room for improvement, but it’s nice to have that backing that people are noticing. It’s kind of like a ‘keep at it’.”
Kim is one of the more experienced members of Kendo Club at UCR despite being in his first year of college. Kim started practicing Kendo in middle school after a short stint playing baseball. “I didn’t really want to continue it, I had my run,” Kim explained. “I wanted to try something new. I just happened to stumble across Kendo and there was a dojo nearby and I’ve been doing it since then.” According to Grunh, Kim has been practicing Kendo for almost six years now.
Gruhn on the other hand didn’t start practicing Kendo until his arrival at UCR. “I didn’t have a sport or anything and it just seemed like something that was really interesting so I decided to join the club here and I stuck with it for four years,” the fourth-year said.
Both Gruhn and Kim agreed that the club’s participation in the tournament was a good thing for them going forward, especially in context with what they have coming up. Gruhn mentioned this specifically when discussing what this tournament meant for the club going forward, saying, “It was really good practice for the next tournaments that we’re doing.” The Kendo Club at UCR will have two more tournaments this year at UCLA, where they won gold last year, and at Harvard.
Kim said the tournament was good for those who have never competed, saying, “It’s good experience for us, especially some of the new people who came and other first-years who haven’t had experience got to come and just watch and just be in the environment there. It’s a lot different than practice.”
Kendo Club practices at the Student Recreation Center Multipurpose Room D on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8-10 p.m.