Reasons Why Kendo Could Be An Olympic Sport

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There has been some debate about whether or not Kendo can be included as an Olympic sport. At the 1964 Summer Games in Japan, Judo was added as an Olympic sport. There was a demonstration of Kendo for the world to see, and international interest was created. But there has been resistance to Kendo becoming an Olympic sport. Most of this resistance comes from those in Kendo, from around the world.

Reasons cited against Kendo in the Olympics

The main point against the move that members of the International Kendo Federation (FIK) and others emphasize is that including it in the Olympic Games would change Kendo as it is now. Scoring in Kendo is not only about results, but also about execution and form. Judgment is made by a panel of three judges. Sometimes, judges have to make difficult calls. Sometimes, kendoka may feel that they lost due to an uncertain judgment call.

Nevertheless, many kendoka still prefer to be judged by the panelists as opposed to an electronic system, since it preserves the aesthetics of the martial art. It is a tradition in Kendo that there can be an “unfathomable victory” but no “unthinkable loss”. In other words, self-reflection is important for kendoka and drives a lot of the “sport” as well.

Another point against Olympic Inclusion is that so far there is no way to measure tenouchi (the grip) and zanshin (the posture of the body after execution) electronically. Obviously, if Kendo were to be included in the Olympics, it would have to be simplified.

Reasons why Kendo could be an Olympic Sport

While it cannot be denied that simplifying Kendo for the Olympics would modify its aesthetic value and the reason why it is used for personal cultivation, we believe there are reasons why it can be included in the Olympics.

  1. The FIK already has as many as 57 countries and their regional and national Kendo federations affiliated with it. When it was founded in 1970, it had only 17 regional and national federation members. Today, its members come from all over the world including Chinese Taipei, Korea, Canada, Brazil, Hawaii, Italy, Germany, France, Hungary, New Zealand etc.

The FIK hosts the international World Kendo Championships. It is also a member of the international SportAccord organization, and supports anti-doping programs through the alliance.

The growing popularity of kendo around the world makes it a suitable candidate for the Olympics.

  1. The Kendo World Championships have managed to maintain the essence of the martial art without turning it into a competition sport only about winning, medals, money and prestige. If the Olympics committee could continue the process of judging the “sport” in the same way it is done in Kendo championships, it could appease a lot of the traditionalists. Of course, the judges would have to be individuals who understand Kendo very well.
  2. Many people are aware that bringing Kendo to the Olympics could increase understanding of the martial art among the international community. Sponsors and governments would be able to offer more financial support to kendoka, who have to pay thousands of dollars for high quality armor and as much as $70 for a bamboo sword. More exposure and funding would benefit Kendo in the long run, even purists agree. Japan wouldn’t lose out since the country would keep its proprietorship over the sport.
  3. The World Kumdo Association (WKA), created as an association for the Korean counterpart of Kendo, has expressed its desire to be a part of the Olympics, with proposals of electronic bogu (armor). There have been sports that use electronic armor, and Kendo may be able to do the same. There have also been suggestions of a shinai-cam, in which a tiny camera can be inserted into the shinai to offer a close up view of the match.

Another possibility is that there can be two forms of Kendo – one an Olympic sport, the other a traditional martial art practiced for its benefits in developing virtues like honor, courage and etiquette.  Opinions on this solution are mixed. But it may certainly be possible for kendoka to simultaneously compete in a shiai as well as practice in their personal lives.

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