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Japanese martial art of kendo thrives in the Philippines despite many challenges

kendo team
Philippine kendo team Photos by Inigo Roces

kendo teamKENDO, anyone?

Although not as popular as the other Japanese martial art sports, kendo continues to find a way to thrive in the Philippines through the untiring efforts of people who believe in the “way of the sword.”

“Kendo has been in the Philippines for quite a long time now,” said United Kendo Federation of the Philippines president Kristopher “Kutch” Inting during the 18th “Usapang Sports on Air” by the Tabloids Organization in Philippine Sports (TOPS) via Zoom last Oct. 29.

“Kendo is a Japanese martial art that involves sword fighting. This is the Japanese equivalent of fencing. Basically, two people fight one another using bamboo swords and armors,” added Inting during the weekly public service program sponsored by the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) and Games and Amusements Board (GAB).

“If you watch Japanese movies or popular media, that’s where you see people wearing armor and fighting with bamboo swords instead of actual metal swords. Kendo uses bamboos known as shinai for striking and protective armor known as bogu. That’s kendo.”

Although kendo originated several centuries ago in Japan as a descendant of kenjutsu (swordsmanship), it has already spread to many other countries across the world, including the Philippines.

“I heard many stories of Japanese expatriates practicing kendo as early as the 1960s. We had the Manila Kendo Club in 1996 and then came more clubs like IGA Kendo Club, which I manage, in 2010. Then it spread to Iloilo,

Davao, Cebu and Dumaguete. The latest is in Bago City in Negros Occidental.”

Inting said kendo is perfectly-suited for the Filipinos.

“Filipinos are known for our fighting spirit. And when one does kendo, you have to have the spirit. You have to have a strong fighting spirit in order to take it up,” explained Inting.

“With kendo, you develop discipline, patience and precision. You have to do things properly. It develops stamina and makes you physically fit,” said Inting.
Inting, however, admitted kendo is still a young sport in the country.

“Actually, our (kendo) organization is very new. We only formally started in 2016, but we have been holding national tournaments every year since 2016. Unfortunately, the one for this year, was cancelled due to the pandemic,” said Inting. “We’re also trying to beef up our programs for the education about kendo through seminars. Some of our clubs have also started holding official PE classes in some universities. I teach kendo at the University of the

Philippines and one of our Cebuano practitioners teaches at the University of San Carlos in Cebu.”

“We’re bringing it to the fore to have more Filipinos appreciate it and maybe pick it up. So right now, we have about 166 members in the organization. Our membership roster from 2016 until now remains the same despite the pandemic.”

Inting attributed the flood of enthusiasm for kendo to the Filipinos’ appreciation of the Japanese culture.

“A lot of Filipinos appreciates Japanese culture. We have many inquiries about kendo because they see it in Japanese media,” explained Inting.

But because kendo is not as popular yet as karate or judo, the kendo association still does not enough instructors to go to the grassroots.

“The spread is very slow partly because of lack of instructors. We want to go to DepEd and other groups to promote kendo. But I don’t feel it’s the right time already. I don’t think we can offer a widespread instruction yet. That’s something we can’t offer this time.

Inting said kendo could also be a little bit expensive.

“One of biggest stumbling blocks on kendo is that equipment can be expensive. Definitely, it’s something that you have to consider when you take up kendo. You have get the bamboo sword and the armor. That’s why people in their 20s to 30s and who have jobs to buy the needed equipment are the ones practicing kendo right now.”

“But we want to make it affordable. Some of the clubs get into deals with equipment providers. Right now, we also have a kendo factory based in the country.”

Added Inting: “What we are trying to do is to get more access to the equipment for them. And yes, basically educational. While it is popular in Japanese media, we also want to be more mainstream and let more people know about the fact that there is kendo in the Philippines, we are trying to work on that.”

Asked about international kendo competitions, Inting said he is looking forward for the opportunity.\

“The World Kendo Championships in France is scheduled on May 2021. But it was postponed and we don’t know the new schedule yet. We are hoping to join next year and we are working on it. We were supposed to have a decision last May but everything got postponed,” admitted Inting.

“In 2022, there is the ASEAN Kendo tournament to be held in Singapore. We are gearing up for the particular event, too.”
The United Kendo Federation of the Philippines is also currently finalizing its affiliation with the International Kendo Federation (IKF).

“Our first target is be affiliated with the International Kendo Federation. We’re working on it already. Once were affliated with IKF, we will be pursuing our applications with the POC and the PSC.

“Only IKF-affliated countries can join the World Championships. But in terms of competition experience, were pretty well on a local level. Like last year, we joined the ASEAN kendo tournament in Indonesia and the men’s tea

finished third. That’s the highest finish by our national team and we are very proud of our efforts last year.”
For Inting and the UKFP, there’s no way to go for kendo but up.
(with reports from Gab Ferreras)