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20th annual Kendo championship

Kendo championship a draw for New Jersey competitors, other states


Photos: 20th annual Kendo championship held in Palisades Park

Devin Beyer, 16, of Teaneck after his match.

Devin Beyer, 16, of Teaneck after his match.
The goal in Kendo is to strike one of three or four body parts.

The goal in Kendo is to strike one of three or four body parts.

PALISADES PARK — Barefooted, their wrists, chests and waists protected by guards and their faces covered in caged masks, the competitors thrust their bamboo swords at their opponents.

Around 225 practitioners of the traditional Japanese martial art — Kendo in Japanese, Kumdo in Korean — of all ages and skill levels competed Sunday at the 20th-annual Fall Eastern Kumdo Championship in the Palisades Park High School gymnasium. The tournament, held at different sites each year, drew competitors, many of them Korean, from New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Illinois.

Devin Beyer, 16, of Teaneck won his match by striking his opponent twice in the head.

“It’s a big target, and my arms are long,” he said.

Melissa Beyer watched her son compete for the first time. Of his interest in the sport, she explained, “It all stems from Star Wars.”

Myung G. Min, head instructor at Dumont’s Kendo Academy Sung Moo, which hosted the tournament, said Kendo’s popularity is growing in North Jersey. Bergen County in particular is fertile ground for expansion: It is home to more than 60 percent of Koreans in New Jersey. Korean-Americans constitute 6.3 percent of the county population, according to the 2010 Census, the highest of any county in the country. In Palisades Park, the number is 52 percent.

The goal in Kendo is to strike one of three or four body parts. Each hit must be accompanied by a clear signal of one’s aim, including forward movement in proper form and a call — in Korean or Japanese — for which body part is being targeted.

For children on Sunday, that meant yelling “head,” “wrist” or “waist”; for some adults, “throat” was added.

The competitors were constantly yelling, shifting their feet and clanging their bamboo sticks together. The loud noises echoed in the gym. When a hit was made, three judges dressed in suits, who circled the duelers from a distance, waved a white or blue flag to indicate who hit their target.

Whatever the outcome, the duelers ended by facing each other, withdrawing their swords, retreating and bowing.

“Manner is very important,” said Hu Am Chon, CEO of the Korea KumDo Association’s U.S. branch, the event’s sponsor, as he watched the fifth- and sixth-grade age group.

To some practitioners and parents, the mental discipline of the sport appeals to them as much as the workout.

“It’s also about building character, courtesy, manner,” said Daniel Kim, 28, who flew in from Chicago.

Jason Goodman, 36, a member of a Kendo club in New York City, said: “You learn to respect your opponent, and you learn to apply that to the rest of your life.”

As a bonus, students not of Korean or Japanese heritage also learn numbers and the names of body parts in a new language.

Frank Woolf of Teaneck said his 8-year-old son is not into sports — Woolf had taken him to a Karate academy to be told, “I don’t think this is for him” — but was swayed by Kumdo because the swordsmen in Dumont‘s Kendo Academy Sung Moo brochure looked like Star Wars characters.

Now in his second year, his son is learning some Korean words, adding to his English and Mandarin — his mother is from China. “I have no problem with him being trilingual,” Woolf joked.

For some, Kendo is a release valve.

“It’s a really good way to get rid of stress,” said Scott Cho, 17, of Old Tappan, also a member of the Dumont’s Kendo academy.

Devin, another member, added: “I just kind of enjoy screaming, and we do that a lot.”



Kumdo tournament to draw more than 220 at Palisades Park

Kumdo tournament to draw more than 220 at Palisades Park

Kendo class under supervision of Grand Master Kyosa 7th Dan, Jin K. Seong

Kendo class under supervision of Grand Master Kyosa 7th Dan, Jin K. Seong

The sharp, quick sounds of bamboo swords striking one another echoed from the gymnasium as 10 students, barefoot and dressed in black or white body armor, shouted Korean words and aimed their weapons at their opponents.

The students, of all ages, were practicing techniques of a martial art that uses a wooden sword to develop one’s mind and body. The sport, which also teaches etiquette, courage and honor, is called kendo by the Japanese and kumdo by Koreans, and it will be on display Sunday, when the 20th Eastern U.S. Kumdo tournament takes place at Palisades Park High School.

Photos: Sparring at Kumdo Academy Sung Moo in Dumont

More than 220 men, women and children, ranging in age from 7 to 70, are expected to spar with one another, organizers said. They will be coming from New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Illinois.

“I’ve been doing martial arts for many years, and I like the history behind it, and the philosophy behind it, and that’s why I’m doing it,” said Andre DaSilva, an Oradell resident who will be competing on Sunday. “This is spiritually very good, as well as good exercise.”

The kumdo tournament, one of two held on the East Coast every year, will be hosted by the Kumdo Academy Sung Moo in Dumont, which opened more than a decade ago and now has two sites in New Jersey and another in New York. The event, which is open to the public, will also feature demonstrations.

The words kendo and kumdo, in Japanese and Korean respectively, translate to “way of the sword,” and the sport is very much like fencing, with participants thrusting the bamboo sword as they spar. Participants strike one of four designated areas of their opponents’ body: the wrist, head, torso and neck.

Points are awarded by judges, with scores based on several factors, including form, whether participants shout the word of the body part as they strike it, and whether they succeed at hitting their target. Penalties are assigned to those who drop their weapon, cross boundary lines or show too much enthusiasm when they win a match, said Myung G. Min, the head instructor at the Dumont school.

“Every strike is considered one death, that’s why we take it very seriously,” Min said. “And you can’t show too much temper or too much happiness. You always have to show respect for the person who lost.”

The martial art dates back hundreds of years and has its roots in Japan, but it is now practiced all over the world.

Tsuyoshi Inoshita, treasurer for the All United States Kendo Federation, said his organization belongs to an international federation that has 52 national affiliates. Although the sport is found in all parts of the world, he said, it’s not for everyone.

“It’s appealing to a small segment of the United States,” said Inoshita, who is a doctor in Portsmouth, Ohio. “I often tell people that kendo is more like tennis, not like racquetball. With tennis, if you never practiced you can’t have a game, because you have to learn strokes and other moves, and practice. Kendo requires discipline; it’s not something you can just pick up and do.”

In New Jersey, teachers and practitioners of the sport say that it has become more popular in the past decade. They point to the increasing number of kumdo schools, known as dojos, opening in the state, which is home to a growing Korean population.

“There are so many Korean people opening up dojos,” said Youichi Endo of Cresskill, who is of Japanese descent and runs a kendo school at the Dumont kumdo gym, where he rents space. “There are so many people that started to practice and learn.”

Endo also credited “ninja shows” and movies featuring samurai as another reason for the martial art’s growth.

“Young people, in the last 10 to 15 years, have become familiar with those sword fights,” he said.

DaSilva, who emigrated from South America 27 years ago, said there were no schools that taught kendo in New Jersey when he first arrived in the United States and only a few in New York.

“All of a sudden I started seeing more schools and that’s when I joined, but you could never find it before when you searched,” said DaSilva, who had trained with Japanese masters in Brazil before moving to New Jersey. “Now you see a lot more, so it’s definitely growing, but not at the pace of other sports.”

Min said that 40 percent of the 70 to 80 students who attend the school in Dumont are not Korean and that the proportion had increased. The school has locations in Spotswood and in Tappan, N.Y.

Spencer Griffler, 13, who was practicing his moves this week in Dumont, said he prefers the individual aspect of the sport.

“I don’t like teams,” said Griffler, who started learning in September.

Tony Yang, an emergency room doctor, has been going to the Dumont school and participating in tournaments for years. He credits the sport with providing a cardiovascular workout and increasing his endurance.

“I have no doubt in my mind, and I can’t speak for anyone else, but it’s been good for my blood pressure,” he said.

Among the school’s youngest members is 8-year-old Evan Espinoza of Bergenfield, who will participate in his first tournament this weekend. His mother, Stephanie, said Evan saw the school one day more than a year ago as they drove past the building. Now, he practices twice a week in Dumont, and every other week he also spends an hour at the school’s Tappan location.

“He likes the one-on-one of the sport, and he’s already very disciplined, but this has made him more disciplined,” she said.

Her son, Espinoza said, has also learned more about Korean culture, and he can count in Korean.

“He does really good and loves it,” said Espinoza, as she watched her son spar with another child.



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