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UCLA

Swords of Westwood

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By Wendy Soderburg '82, Photos by Hugh Hamilton

Published Jul 1, 2009 8:15 AM


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Takahiro Ito and Michael Siedlecki, two kenshi from the UCLA Kendo Club.

Walk by the Gold Room of UCLA's John Wooden Center on any given Monday or Wednesday night, and you'll hear some very loud — and downright scary — yelling. Peek inside and you'll see dark-suited people in helmets and armor, apparently trying to whack each other with bamboo swords.

Ironically, these ferocious-looking individuals are actually the peace-loving members of the UCLA Kendo Club. The yelling is part of their training, in which they learn to score points on their opponents through the coordination of the spirit (vocalization), the sword and the body at the point of contact.

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Fighting with bamboo swords, or shinai.

"It was intimidating at first, coming in here and being told to scream," says mechanical engineering student Daniel Bellers, laughing. "I don't like to yell! So it was definitely a change for me."

The 6-year-old UCLA club has already established itself as a force to be reckoned with. In its debut at the 2004 Harvard-Radcliffe Shoryuhai Intercollegiate Kendo Tournament, UCLA wowed onlookers by snatching the team tournament victory from the likes of Harvard, Yale and Cornell. Since then, UCLA Kendo has become the biggest collegiate kendo club in the country and has won the national championship three more times.

Club members are taught by seventh-level kendo master Masaharu Makino, known to the class as Makino Sensei; his wife, Akemi; and son, Nathan '05, who founded UCLA Kendo in the winter of 2003. Nathan and senior team captain Aki Goya are fourth-level kendo practitioners, which qualifies them to be teachers.

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The fierce-looking men (helmet) provides protection.

"The concept of kendo is to discipline the human character through the application of the principles of the katana (sword)," says the younger Makino. "We're not going to get our swords and go into battle, but at the same time there are parts of that training that can help us, whether in academics or in the workforce ... like, when people give up, you don't. You're persistent, you're hungry, you're on the offensive. You take the initiative, rather than waiting until somebody tells you to do something."

Members are drawn to the physical, emotional and mental benefits of kendo, including publicity chair Grace Yoo, who enjoys the friendships and the diversity of the club; law student Amanda Treleaven, who relishes the stress-relief aspect of the sport; and Keisuke Shimoyamada, an international transfer student who says he was attracted by the stature of the club.

According to President Reno Ong, a third-year English major, the success of the club is very likely to continue. "We are a traditional club because Makino Sensei laid the foundation, and it's paying off. Some schools lack the proper etiquette, but we are a proper institution and we're proud of that," he says.

Visit the UCLA Kendo Club web site

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