Meet Mumbai’s only Kendo group

  • Soma Das, Mumbai
  • Updated: Feb 04, 2016 18:24 IST
Members of the Mumbai Kendo Club with bamboo swords (Photo: Aalok Soni/HT )

When we meet Hirohisa Tsubowa (31) at the Maido India office in Vile Parle, he strikes us as a courteous, soft-spoken man. But looks, as they say, can be deceptive. No, he isn’t rude. Simply put, he is a samurai warrior.

The business consultant for Japanese companies in Mumbai dons a black uniform and armour on weekends, unsheathes his sword, shrieks a war cry and turns into a warrior. In broken English, he explains to us his double existence.

Tsubowa is a member of the Mumbai Kendo Club, a three-year-old community dedicated to practising the Japanese martial art of kendo. Currently, a group of seven (including two children), the all-Japanese group will be showing off their skills at the Cool Japan Festival in the city this weekend.

Kendo is considered a modern Japanese martial art (originating around the 18th century). Its earliest practitioners were soldiers who replaced metal swords with bamboo ones for safety. “We use bamboo swords called shinai, instead of an actual sword, and put on a metal armour called bogu to protect our heads and bodies,” Tsubowa explains. The players practise on weekends at the Mumbai University Ground in Churchgate.

While baseball and soccer are quite popular in Japan, and judo is the better known Japanese export, Tsubowa shares that kendo still has 1.7 million Japanese players, and six million players around the world (Source: International Kendo Federation). “Kendo combines martial arts practices with strenuous physical activity, making it physically and mentally challenging,” says Tsubowa, adding, “It is also quite noisy, because a Kendo player screams to call upon his fighting spirit when striking (termed as ‘Kiai’).”

In a typical kendo match, you score points by a thrust to the throat, or strikes made towards target points on the head, wrists, or body. The player shouts out the strike points, such as head (‘men’ in Japanese), wrists (‘kote’) and body (‘do’). Players are ranked based on how long they have played the game: so a beginning Dan (the Japanese equivalent for level) is the lowest rank, followed by first Dan, second Dan, and so on till the seventh Dan. Anyone from a child to a 70-year-old can practise it.

Tsubowa, a second rank Dan, started practising at the age of six. He gave it up at 16 and only returned to it after moving to Mumbai in 2013. The sport can be quite a challenge with an armour that weighs around 10kg. “Practising kendo is tough in Mumbai as the weather is often hot and humid. Once you wear the heavy armour, you begin to sweat. And, in winter, practising barefoot can be a problem.”

At the upcoming event, kendo players will demonstrate some of their key moves to the popular song, Jumme ki Raat (Kick, 2014). An explanation of the game and the techniques to score will follow. And if you are tempted to learn the moves, take heart, as they are keen to teach Mumbaikars as well, but a few months later.

Best of Cool Japan

• Japanese pop singer and actress Erina Matsui, who is visiting India for the first time, will belt out some of her hit numbers at the festival.

• The Spice Madams, five Japanese women based in India, will dance to Bollywood numbers.

• A cosplay session will see Indian enthusiasts dressed up as popular Japanese anime characters.

• Enjoy live demos of Shojin Ryori, a method of cooking Buddhist food, and authentic Japanese dishes like donburi (rice bowl fish).

Samurai Central

Watch the Kendo performance at the Cool Japan Festival, on February 6 and 7, 1.15 pm onward.

Where: High Street Phoenix, Lower Parel

Call: 4333 9994

Entry: Free

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