I think I can confidently say that kendo is not a predominantly spectator sport. Of course people flock to the Nippon Budokan to watch the All Japan Championships. NHK Television even broadcasts the event ( although only after the quarter final stage). In my experience however, the audience for kendo is made up of active kendoka and the families of competitors; in some cases these are the same.
University and high school matches in Japan sometimes count on school loyalty for support from beyond the kendo club, but in most cases the supporters are players who have not been selected this time round. In the West, it is even more obvious. I have attended numerous European and World Championships, where with the exception of the competitors and officials; there has been nobody in the stadium.
I suppose that there is a list of potential reasons why: –
- The rules are simple, but it is hard to judge what constitutes a point.
- We invariably do not spend money on marketing kendo to spectators.
- Unlike some martial arts, there is no real chance of blood and injury to amuse the thrill seekers.
- We are not an Olympic sport.
- Unless you are “in the know”, there are no obvious stars to support and even if there were; nobody would buy Hello Magazine to read about their wives and girlfriends.
Above all though, I do not think that we want kendo to go in the direction of popular spectator sports, where anyone with a TV set is an instant expert. Kendo has for many years suffered from a split personality – as a competitive sport doubling as a zen martial art. We still nurse the heritage of potential disciples, sitting for days outside the dojo gate, waiting for admittance as students. Where many sports people long to be centre field in Wembley Stadium or Yankee Stadium, most of my kendo friends would be happy in the rarefied atmosphere of Kyoto Butokuden.
* With apologies to graduates of Minami Kawachi Daigaku 🙂