Last week, I enjoyed a chat with Murakami sensei, one of the USA’s most experienced and respected kenshi, who made the point that European kendo, has improved radically since the 14WKC in Brazil. This is undoubtedly true! Countries relatively new to kendo such as Serbia and Montenegro, showed a remarkably high level of kendo for the limited time that they have been on the international kendo circuit. The more established European kendo groups including, Hungary, Italy, France and Germany just seem to get stronger and stronger and those in the middle of the experience scale have pulled themselves up several notches, with Ireland moving out of the pool rounds.
Russian kendo has changed radically for the better, The Polish team looked good, but I think that Murakami sensei only got it partially right. The level of World Kendo has improved significantly!
It is always a close thing between Japan and Korea, but now U.S.A, Canada and Brazil are only a hair’s breadth behind them and there is little distance between the top two and Taiwan. Australia and New Zealand produced some skilful, technically correct kendo, Mexico, Ecuador and Venezuela looked solid and the newer Asian kendo countries including Thailand seemed to have made remarkable progress. Most astonishing was The People’s Republic of China. This team suddenly appeared, looking as if it was born to kendo maturity.
The general consensus amongst the people that I spoke to was that no-one would be surprised if in the near future the winners of The World Kendo Championships came from any part of the globe.
Kendo is obviously improving exponentially. When I took part in the 3WKC in 1976, there were light-years distance between our kendo and that of the Japanese winners. What are the reasons behind this levelling of the playing field? Obviously FIK have continually sent coaches and delegations around the world. As kendo has matured, more and more people have made the effort to train and study in Japan or Korea and in many cases taken what they have learned home to share with their fellow kendoka.
As in many other areas of our lives, new social media has also made a big impact. You can witness a competition in Japan five minutes later in Iceland – thanks to YouTube. Because of the ability to look at high-quality kendo online, it is hard to be satisfied with producing your own sub-standard version.
I came away from the 15WKC with the impression that whilst the internationalisation of kendo brings with it the occasional challenge in managing fan behaviour. It is certainly making for more interesting, more even global competition.