Kendo Class Teaches Discipline

Any frequent visitor to the ARC will be familiar with the sounds that ring throughout the building. The skidding of shoes and smacks of basketballs upon the court floors, the clops of runners on the second floor track and the thumps from racquetball games are just a few of the many musical notes that give the ARC its aural identity. But not all sounds are distinctly heard; in fact, some may be muffled by others. If one was to venture around the second floor on Tuesday and Friday evenings, your ears might catch the whacks of bamboo and yells from the determined kendo practitioners.

Kendo, which means “the way of the sword,” is a Japanese martial art of sword fighting. It has been around for over two centuries. The ARC offers a kendo class, in which members of the Kendo Club at UCI, wearing blue or white garb, can be found practicing.

One such member is Nathan Gallinger, a fourth-year Japanese, global cultures and East Asian cultures triple major. The president and founder of the club, he has practiced kendo for seven years now. His experience with kendo both in and out of the club has granted him an extensive knowledge of the art and an astute eye for how people practice it.

“Kendo is more about discipline than actually winning a fight. The main thing about kendo is called ‘reigi,’ which is pretty much just etiquette. If you don’t have good etiquette, there’s no way you’ll be able to make it in kendo. Even if you’re fast, you have to be able to hit straight, hit the right spot, and you have to show your opponent that you got the point, and they have to show that they accept it,” says Gallinger.

Kendo is a mastery of the body and mind, championing humility and organization. As the members practice striking each other on the men (helmet) and the kote (padded gloves) with their shinai (bamboo swords), their instructor keeps a close eye on their form, their bodies. They are told to loosen their right hands’ grip on their shinais, which increase the speed of their downward strikes. Tension must be kept in the left foot so that they can spring forward quickly. Their kiai (shout) must be strong. When sparring, they shouldn’t avoid their opponents’ strikes by snaking their heads –– they must take the hits honorably. All this sounds grueling, but it requires utmost patience, which beginners often lack.

“A lot of beginners don’t realize it, but when they join kendo, they think they’re going to be hitting everyone like samurai,” chuckles Gallinger. “When they realize they’re doing the same drills over and over, some of them get bored. If you survive kendo long enough to get all your armor and be able to keep practicing until you get a few ranks, that shows you have enough discipline to continue.”

For those who do have the patience to stay and the determination to keep practicing and get better, they have the opportunity to compete.

Each year, the Kendo Club participates in the Yuhihai Intercollegiate Kendo Tournament, which is held at UCLA. Lately, Gallinger and his club members have been performing quite well.

“This year, one of our members made second place,” Gallinger proudly says. “Actually [for the past three years], we’ve been placing.”

Indeed, it is a major accomplishment not just for the club, but also for Gallinger himself, who is graduating at the end of this year. Having founded Kendo Club at UCI in his sophomore year, he has overseen the growth of the club for the past three years, and must soon bid farewell. However, he hopes that the club will accomplish even greater things after he leaves.

“I’m hoping that one year, UCI will be able to go [to a bigger, international tournament in Harvard called Shoryuhai]. I hope that the club will grow and that everyone will get stronger … and have fun.”

Just as Gallinger has continued to practice kendo for so many years, Kendo Club at UCI certainly has the spirit to persevere and grow.

The whacks from the shinai and the members’ kiai will thankfully be heard at the ARC for a long time.