Elite Hawaii Kendo Team Practices for International Games

Elton Ushio
Elton Ushio
Terushi Ueno
Terushi Ueno

By: Diane Ako

MOILIILI (KHNL)- An elite group of island martial artists are hard at work now, gearing up for the fight of their lives- an upcoming international tournament that's considered the Olympics of the sport. 13 Hawaii practitioners head to Taiwan next month for the World Kendo Championships. They were selected from a pool of 500 people. We dropped in on one recent practice at the Japanese Cultural Center.

In a brightly lit dojo one windy evening, a dozen men and women assemble for practice. They don their armor and strap on their swords and immediately start yelling and vigorously hitting and blocking with the wooden practice weapons. This is kendo, the Japanese art of fencing, otherwise known as the way of the sword.

One young samurai is Elton Ushio, of Lihue, Kauai, and the only Team Hawaii member to be picked from a neighbor island. The rest are from Oahu. Ushio enjoys kendo because "it affects all aspects of my life: in that the way I conduct myself, my ability to deal with stress, or crisis situations."

The overseeing board for all dojos in the state is the Hawaii Kendo Federation. President Terushi Ueno explains why this is more than just a martial art. "Through the sword we discipline our human character."

The sword symbolizes the soul. Each swing cuts closer to the truth. "To learn kendo, you learn your heart first," Ueno says with a smile.

It is a beautiful ritual to watch. Swordsmen dance gracefully across the floor. 10 year veteran of the sport Seth Harris says, "My favorite part is when you're competing with someone and you have a chance to look into them, and they into you, and you share a moment."

Now a month away from competition, Harris and his teammates are stepping up the practice intensity. Harris goes to practice 7 nights a week. "I'm excited but nervous. It's always a very competitive event. Everyone wants to show their best."

Sure, it'd be nice to get a medal, but in the larger scheme of things, they've already won the most important victory. As Ueno says, the goal of kendo is "to win yourself. It's not to win your opponent, but to win yourself." For the only points kendo really rewards are for strength of spirit.

Each country sends one team, but because Hawaii has a special relationship with kendo, it gets to send its own team.