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October 2001

Modern Day Samurai

Any kid who has ever played with their friends and pretended to be a medieval knight in Europe or a samurai in Japan runs into one big problem--hitting each other with sticks hurts! Sports Chanbara (chanbara is a Japanese sword fight) was created by Tetsundo Tanabe thirty years ago so that everybody in the world could cross swords without hurting each other.

The equipment is simple. All you need to play is a helmet to protect your face and appropriate weapons chosen from one of 8 different fighting styles: (1) a dagger, (2) a short sword, (3) a two-handed long sword, (4) a one-handed long sword, (5) a short sword and a long sword, (6) a shield and a short sword, (7) a staff, or (8) a spear. With the exception of the shield, which is made of sponge, all of the weapons are filled with air, so no matter how hard you strike your opponent you will not hurt them. Your opponent chooses the same weapons as you, and you're ready to do battle.

The rules for Sports Chanbara are also simple and designed to be easily understood by anyone. Basically, if you are hit, you lose. Regardless of age or physical ability, anybody can play against anybody else. As the creator says, "Even if someone was the world champion, three or four children fighting her could win." As this suggests, contests can be between individuals or they can be massive battles between dozens of people.

This sport has been enjoying a boom overseas, with people competing in America, Canada, Britain, and Italy to name just a few places. Besides being fun, it also relieves stress and provides a great workout. It doesn't matter if you're young or old, a boy or a girl, or even if you are disabled. Anyone can play Sports Chanbara.

Mr. Tanabe's goal is to make this an international sport for everyone. This year the world championships were held on August 26 in Yokohama, Japan, and the champion was junior high school student Kenta Yamanobe, from Chiba Prefecture. In past years people from outside Japan have also won the championship, showing that it doesn't matter what country you are from. Everybody has a chance to win at Sports Chanbara and fulfill Mr. Tanabe's vision, which he expressed like this:

Photos: (International Sports Chanbara Association)