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Thread: Kendo

  1. #46
    Join Date
    Jan 1970
    Fremont, CA, U.S.A.

    Continued from previous post

    Mr. Ito, right, with his apprentice, Yean Han, 33, who is learning how to make kendo gear.Credit...Shiho Fukada for The New York Times
    Mr. Han said he was still learning skills. “I still have a certain way to go before I can be entirely responsible for making something. What Sensei will do when he creates something and thinks he can trust me with certain parts of the process, he will ask me to do one part,” he said, referring to Mr. Ito as sensei, a term of respect for someone who has attained a certain level of mastery. (He doesn’t train any longer, as Mr. Ito gave him a choice: practice kendo or make bogu.)

    Mr. Ito’s handcrafted bogu is a rarity: Today, he said, less than one percent of the world’s kendo gear is made in Japan; other Asian countries, such as China and South Korea, manufacture it. Yet in the 1970s and ‘80s, when kendo was particularly popular in Japan, his shop had 14 employees and would distribute to vendors. Now it does business with individual customers.

    The elaborate stitching on the body armor of a kendo uniform.Credit...Shiho Fukada for The New York Times

    According to Alexander Bennett, a professor of Japanese history at Kansai University and editor in chief of Kendo World magazine, “The golden age for kendo in Japan was in the 1970s and 1980s for children. There would have been a waiting list to get your child into kendo.” Now, however, the country’s low birthrate means there are fewer children, and kendo may not be as appealing as soccer or baseball.

    “Kendo is traditionally known for discipline and for teaching children good manners,” he said. “But nowadays parents give their children more freedom of choice, and parents do not see the value of kendo the same way they used to.” Still, he said, the All Japan Kendo Federation estimates there are 1.5 million practitioners in Japan today; the population is around 126 million. (For comparison, there were four million to five million practitioners in the 1970s and ’80s.)
    Mr. Ito is worried the old ways will disappear. “Martial arts are too ‘old school’,” he told me. “And compared to other martial arts, kendo is expensive, probably the most expensive, which could be a factor. You have to think about the costs in the long-run if your son continues kendo.”

    Models wearing kendo gear. The adult uniform includes a face mask, a breastplate and gloves. Credit...Shiho Fukada for The New York Times
    My son’s simple cotton set and shinai, or sword, cost less than the equivalent of $100, while his teacher’s garments, bought from Mr. Ito, were around $300 and a full outfit, with shinai, can cost $500 to $1,000, depending on the quality.

    But well-crafted bogu can last: Mr. Ito mentioned a client who has kept his uniform for more than 40 years. “High-quality, handcrafted items can be repaired and used for a long time,” he said as he repaired a kote, or glove, for a girls’ kendo team at a local high school. The kote was lined with deer leather, which is easily worn out and may need to be replaced as often as five times a year because the team practices daily. But Mr. Ito replaces just one small area so the team doesn’t have to keep buying new ones.

    Mr. Ito’s wife, Yasuko, 79, also is part of the business: She used to take care of the deliveries, but now handles administrative tasks. “A lot of burden goes to my wife,” Mr. Ito said, and she is in charge when they all take a break for oyatsu, or afternoon snack, at 3 p.m. each workday, handing out cups of tea and sweets. “The sweet is different every day,” Mr. Han said.

    Mr. Ito doesn’t take much time off. He said he doesn’t have any hobbies, but he loves the annual matsuri, a traditional festival held in September in Shinjuku, one of Tokyo’s entertainment and business districts. “If you allowed me to talk about it, I could talk about it forever,” he said.
    Even though the official business hours of the shop are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday, Mr. Ito usually works late in the atelier. “There is no end time,” he said.

    “At my age, I’m often asked if I still do this as a hobby or for pleasure, but I do this to make a living,” he said. “I don’t receive any pension money like people who used to work in big companies. As a craftsman I don’t have that, so I have to keep working.”

    “I’m the last bogu craftsman in Tokyo,” he said. “When I pass away, there won’t be anyone.”
    What a beautiful story...
    Gene Ching
    Author of Shaolin Trips
    Support our forum by getting your gear at MartialArtSmart

  2. #47
    Join Date
    Jan 1970
    Fremont, CA, U.S.A.


    High-tech 'sassen' duels are an active otaku's dream

    Part fencing, part kendo and part freestyle swordfighting, sassen combines multiple disciplines into an undeniably engaging package. | OWEN ZIEGLER

    Mar 25, 2023

    It’s an otherwise normal October night in the Akihabara district in Tokyo as tourists and locals alike plod along the glowing neon streets. Young women in maid outfits beckon half-heartedly to men ambling in and out of ramen shops, PC parts suppliers and anime retailers.

    Several floors above? It’s fight after fight to the death.

    Figuratively speaking, of course — combatants grasp not steel katanas but carbon fiber batons laden with accelerometers and other sensors, all wrapped in foam to soften the inevitable blows. They swing not to maim or kill but for points, though there’s still a palpable, primal aggression in the air when two competitors face off.

    From more than 2,000 entrants competing at satellite preliminaries across the country, a few dozen had won the right to come to Akihabara for the tournament finals of “sassen” and to vie for a ¥100,000 ($767) prize — a decent purse but somehow less motivating than the energy in the air I sensed that day.

    From more than 2,000 entrants, only a few dozen advanced to Sassen’s national finals in Akihabara in October. | OWEN ZIEGLER
    A mix of traditional kendo, modern fencing and freestyle sports chanbara (a multidisciplinary combat sport that simulates historical Japanese melee combat), sassen can be difficult to define. First begun in 2016, the sport still has a nascent community, the technology underpinning it isn’t without its occasional hiccups, and the name itself is a created word combining inspiration from satsuzen, a Japanese word meaning “wind-breaking” or “dashing” speed, plus techniques used by famed Sengoku Period (1482-1573) swordsman Miyamoto Musashi.

    That all might be secondary to a much more salient point, one that snaps into focus as soon as you brandish your electronic sword and stand across a likewise armed opponent: sassen scratches an otaku-shaped itch like few other pursuits.

    Rules of war
    The basic rules of sassen are simple — the first to score two hits anywhere except their opponent’s head in a 60-second match wins. But pick up a “sassen-to” (the company’s native nomenclature for its high-tech swords) and you quickly learn that this is no simple game of high-tech tag.

    For one, competitors are discouraged from swinging wildly. A dedicated official keeps track of the five total swings per match allotted to each contestant. Once those are used up, all you can do is evade your opponent until time runs out. The illuminated batons are also configured so only one section registers as the cutting portion of the would-be blade. Swinging wildly at your opponent may land a hit, but if contact is only with the deadened section of the baton, the embedded sensors won’t register a successful strike. Forget where your edge really is and the decisive blow you think you’ve landed might be the opening your rival is waiting for.

    Strength is less important in a sassen duel than speed, positioning and accuracy. | OWEN ZIEGLER
    “Each baton is only about 300 grams and 65 centimeters long,” says Seita Sukisaki, chief technical and financial officer at Sassen, who spearheaded the Bluetooth-supported technology underpinning the equipment. “But the carbon sleeve inside has about ¥200,000 (about $1,520) worth of electronics.”

    All that alone would be a solid foundation for thrilling duels reminiscent of bygone warriors, but sassen goes one step further: If a combatant lands a successful blow (signaled by a slashing sound played over the PA system), the other has an infinitesimal window, no more than a few tenths of a second, to land a counterstrike. If both combatants effectively cut each other down in the same breath, the two strikes cancel each other out, a sharp ringing sound blares instead of a slash and the breathless match continues.

    Over the course of the afternoon, this game mechanic shows itself time and again to be a defining element of sassen. If one competitor outmatches another on footspeed, the other times a lifesaving counterblow instead. Conversely, if an overcommitment to an opening attack leaves a competitor defenseless, presence of mind and a quick wrist keeps them alive for one more moment and one more swing.

    “Sassen is meant to be a martial art but one where there’s no real threat of injury or harm,” says Ryoma Motomura, creator of sassen and founder of parent company Satsuzen, who also served as emcee, play-by-play commentator and instant replay judge for close calls during the October competition. “I come from a family of karate-ka (karate athletes), so I know how difficult training and participating in traditional martial arts can be. Sassen, on the other hand, is for everyone — young and old, veterans and newcomers.”

    Sassen founder Ryuma Motomura serves as emcee, play-by-play commentator and instant replay judge for some sassen sessions. | OWEN ZIEGLER
    Suffering a blow from one of the batons doesn’t feel good, per se, but anyone who managed to walk away from a swiftly thrown dodgeball back in elementary school gym class can also bounce back from even the stiffest of strikes during a sassen match. According to Motomura, sassen is also priced much more invitingly for newcomers than other traditional martial arts. A beginner’s kendo set might run around ¥20,000 to ¥30,000, but one-off trial passes for drop-in sassen sessions go for around ¥1,000 to ¥2,000 with nothing other than your own athletic clothing required.

    “Sassen’s soul is a martial art,” says Motomura. “But it’s a much more modern approach — and that’s to do with more than just the technology.”

    Triumph and defeat
    Astride the blue and black mats, two swordsmen bounce around each other on the balls of their feet. One might feint with their baton to the left; the other might shift his momentum to the right. A swing and a miss draws a few gasps from the modest crowd watching the tournament’s championship match — and when Rikitake Yuto manages to slip his opponent’s attack and counter with his own strike over the top, his half dozen friends explode into cheers.

    With six straight wins to advance through the bracket, Yuto, a 20-year-old student and fencer at western Tokyo’s Chuo University, has emerged ahead of the more than 2,000 competitors that originally entered the full tournament.

    “It’s my first time at sassen, but it feels great to win,” Yuto tells me, adding that a fellow fencing teammate (who had bowed out of the tournament in an earlier stage) had invited him.

    “Kyori machigatta! (I got the distance wrong!)” the vanquished runner-up exclaims, grasping his baton with frustration in both hands above his head.

    A sense of camraderie pervades the sassen community despite its relative newness. | OWEN ZIEGLER
    For whatever momentary disappointment there was, the mood quickly shifts to something much more communal as Motomura addresses the crowd of competitors and spectators and hands out trophies and awards. Many participants I spoke to emphasize that while the nature of sassen is inherently combative, there are rarely ever heated disputes about who struck who first or whether a particular point should be replayed. Indeed, tournaments like these are still rare for sassen as a whole — many just prefer to drop in and spar with like-minded players in this rented space in Akihabara, outside in a Tokyo park or anywhere else a few rounds might be had.

    But what is the champion going to do with the ¥100,000 prize now rightfully his?

    “We’re all going out for ramen,” Yuto says — much to the delight of his fencing comrades as they all prepare to spill back out on Akibahara’s lambent streets.
    Gene Ching
    Author of Shaolin Trips
    Support our forum by getting your gear at MartialArtSmart

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