We are often asked during interviews about the range of sports and leisure facilities in Aberdeen. While there are not many with the clichéd, stereotypical view that there is nothing north of the Watford Gap, we’re always keen to demonstrate just how much there is to do in north-east Scotland, but sometimes we get surprised ourselves…

Victoria Lindsay works in the library at RGU, but she’s about to study for a Masters in Instrumental Analytical Science (DNA analysis). Equally importantly, she’s a real enthusiast for a sport that not many people have actually seen (it’s not in the Olympics for example) and she was happy to take a bit of time to explain to us what Kendo actually involves.

OK – what is Kendo, why did you take it up and where do you do it?

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 15.14.26“It’s a Japanese martial art. Kendo is ‘the way of the sword’ and was originally for training Samurai in swordsmanship. Put simply, it’s about improving yourself through swordsmanship (rather than just hitting each other), but there is a huge amount of etiquette and respect involved. The equipment and armour are very traditional.

“To be honest, it was a bit of a random choice but I always thought sword fighting was cool. I saw a competition advertised, so I went along and found there was a club and I joined!”

The City Club in Aberdeen trains in Ruthrieston Church hall and has about 15-20 members on a regular basis. There is also a club at Aberdeen University that trains at the Health Village but their members train with us and we go to their sessions too. We have a sister club in Edinburgh where there are many more members. In Glasgow there are even more. We all attend a lot of Scottish seminars and events: there is loads going on. There is an 7th Dan (highest you can be) coming from Japan to do a training session this weekend.”

What do you actually do?

“We have two kinds of swords – for actually sparring, we use a Shinai, which is made from four bamboo slats with a leather handle: although they are bamboo they still hurt when you’re hit off target (it’s OK when it hits the armour)!

“For Kata, which is a form of practice, we use a solid, oak sword called the Bokken – you are not meant to hit anyone with these but they really hurt if they do hit you outside your armour.

“With the Tokyo Olympics coming up in four years, there is much debate about whether it should be an Olympic sport. Most Kendo participants are against this, having seen what happened to Judo when it became an Olympic sport and became too competitive with all the emphasis on winning.

“It’s a very subjective sport to judge. One of the key things for the participants is you have to display the correct fighting spirit and a continued readiness to fight; there is no stopping and celebrating. They would have to change the way they judge for the Olympics – you don’t celebrate if you win a point!

“Fighting spirit is difficult to explain. It may seem to be how loudly you shout at each other but there is more to it than that as it also involves how you control your breathing. Although you can shout in Japanese everyone sounds a bit different. It doesn’t half get your blood up though!” Are there belts, as in judo and karate?  

“We don’t have belts – just grades, so we don’t have any outward symbol of your rank. That said, you watch how someone gets into his or her fighting stance and how he or she conduct themselves and you can see just how good they are. I’m Ikkyu, which is the last grade before Shodan, equivalent of first Dan black belt. When you are young you will never receive the highest levels. As you get older you get better – that’s what happens. In a recent fight I was completely outclassed by a 70 year old. If I got a hit on him it was ‘cos he let me!”

Does it hurt?

“Yes! – especially if they get you off target. If your opponent is attempting a cut to the breastplate, across the stomach, and your arm gets in the way you get some bruises. The armour is leather with felt layers. There is a solid piece of leather to protect your throat and we also wear a mask with a grill with metal bars to protect the face. `It’s pretty good, but if I get repeatedly hit by cuts in the same area then I’ll bruise even through my armour.”

A ‘does it hurt’ question is as good a way as any to bring any interview to a close. If you’re interested in learning more about Kendo in Aberdeen, or if you’re a Kendo enthusiast coming to live and work here, then visit the City Club Facebook page and we’re sure you’ll be welcomed with open arms – and a hefty blow from a Shinai!

Julie Skinner, Resourcing & Benefit Specialist

Link in with me at: Julie Skinner