Less than a year after picking up the sport, St. Albert's Reid Pidsadowski competed in the 16U division at the Canadian National Junior Kendo Championships in Calgary over the weekend.
Kendo, a Japanese martial art, involves two foes facing off in a specialized style of sword fighting using bamboo swords called shinai.
“The weekend itself was a very good experience," Pidsadowski said.
"Unfortunately, I didn’t end up doing too well in the tournament, which was kind of expected when most of these guys have been practicing at least 10 times longer than me," he said.
“Personally, I just went out there to learn as much as I could from the highest-level people in the country."
Pidsadowski has only been practicing Kendo since September 2021, when he joined the Sturgeon Kendo Club in St. Albert. Before starting Kendo, he had earned a black belt in Taekwondo.
Pidsadowski said he decided to try Kendo after coming across a sign promoting the Sturgeon Kendo Club in front of the St. Albert Community Hall.
"I've bounced through a few other sports just trying to find something that fit," he said, "[And] I figured it would be fun to give Kendo a try and I fell in love with it.
"It’s more difficult than any other sport I’ve ever tried, but the challenge is what makes it fun," said Pidsadowski.
"An aspect of Kendo I find really appealing is that anybody can pick up a sword and can win a match, but it’s just a matter of how reliably you can win."
Way of the sword a way of life
“Kendo itself is the way of the sword, but the way is not so much method, but journey,” said Sturgeon Kendo sensei Jason Stelck.
"It has a very competitive, athletic nature to it on one half, and the other half of it is very much martial arts and budo, in the sense of that warrior’s journey sort of feeling.”
Stelck said that while Kendo is still very popular in Japan, only recently has the sport's popularity grown in the West.
"More and more people are finding out about it," Stelck said. "Especially in Alberta as we are starting to grow ... more clubs means more exposure which means more people are starting to find out about it.”
Sturgeon Kendo is the fifth Kendo club in the province. Stelck said the club opened in June of last year, and they welcomed their first group of students in the fall.
Stelck said Kendo is unique in terms of the sport's regulation compared to other martial arts.
“You’ll find in martial arts there are a lot of splinter groups that have their own views on things, and they’re very insulated and isolated," he said.
“There is one International Kendo Federation, and in that one International Kendo Federation, all of the national Kendo federations fall in.
"There’s one overseeing body over the entire art in the world.”
While strict regulation does make it difficult to expand the sport, Stelck said, the regulation allows the sport to stay consistent around the world.
"In some ways, having one group controlling all of Kendo means that I can practice here, I can practice in Japan, I can practice in the [United States], I can go to Germany — everything I know fits into all of these locations," said Stelck.
"I haven’t had a non-Kendo vacation since I started because basically everywhere that I go in the world, there is some place for me to practice and meet people to do something that I love."
Practice, practice, practice
Both Pidsadowski and Stelck said one undeniable aspect of Kendo is how difficult it is.
"It’s not about strength or power, it’s about timing and precision," Stelck said. "These elements take time to develop.
"As a result, because of the difficulty level, there’s a lot of times that people will come in, find it’s just too hard, and they don’t stay.”
Pidsadowski said he's always looking for a challenge.
“Kendo definitely appeals to that side of me," he said.
"It’s very rewarding if you actually spend the time and dedicate hard work. It’s one of the most rewarding sports you can do.”
Pidsadowski doesn't want to waste any time as he plans to get back in the gym to practice right away.
"All of my matches from [the championships] are still fresh in my mind so I’m going to be back at practice as soon as possible figuring out how to improve.
“It’s not hard to find success, [but] it is very hard to keep pushing yourself to achieve more success,” Pidsadowski said.