On my visit before last to Tokyo, I was fortunate to practice at Shibuya dojo on a night when Kawase sensei was also visiting. His initial greeting to me was along the lines of “you have put on some weight”. I thought this was a little harsh as it was the first time we had met in almost 30 years. I was also at my lightest weight for some time, although since then, the arrow on the scales has continued to move in a northerly direction.
Kendoka obviously come in a range of shapes and sizes, and I wonder that if other factors such as frequency and intensity of training, natural ability and determination are taken into account, is there a particular body shape and weight for height ratio that makes some more successful than others?
Clearly any athlete should be of a body weight that is considered healthy. One measure (although not the only one) used to determine this by the medical profession is BMI or Body Mass Index. As a rough guide BMI is calculated by dividing an individual’s weight in kilograms by his height in metres squared. A BMI of 18.5 to 25 is considered healthy, 25 to 30 is overweight and 30 plus is classed as obese.
When applied to athletes this prompts some interesting conjecture. In a list of gold medallists from the 2004 Olympics, the Australian and American sprinters Ryan Bayley and Shawn Crawford were overweight at BMI’s of 26, the British rower Mathew Pinsent was pushing his luck at 28 and the 90kg to 100kg Belarus judoka Ihar Makarau and the Uzbeki wrestler Artur Taymazov were both considered obese with BMI scores of 31. Professional athletes scored little better with the heavyweight boxer Lennox Lewis at a BMI of 29.6 beating David Tuo at a BMI of 31. An uneducated analysis could summarise this as the fat bloke beating the really fat bloke. In reality this might be an unfair conclusion as BMI can be an imprecise measure when you take bone structure and muscle bulk into account.
In kendo we have no weight categories, so height and weight statistics are not readily available. It is interesting however to reflect on which body weight and shape would be most effective for our sport. Speed, reaction and stamina are more important than strength, so I imagine that ideally we should be closer to the sprinters than the wrestlers in body type. This is of course pure conjecture on my part and I would welcome the advice of any sports scientists and medics who read this post.
If you look at kendoka at the top of their game there seems to be some difference in body shape between Japanese and non Japanese players. The Yang brothers are obviously big lads and the Korean national team seems to be getting taller but Eiga san follows in the footsteps of many smaller Japanese kenshi who scale the heights. On the other hand Ishida Toshiya sensei (pictured above) is not a lightweight (in any sense) and he has a pretty impressive track record with two All Japan Championship wins.
Having said all that, I come back to my original concern, so I am consulting with my dietician before I lose any more blazer buttons.