The students all listen to the instructor as practice begins.
Teruyuki enjoys a laugh with his friends before practice.
Practice at the Onuma Wakamatsu Kendo Club is held every Tuesday and Saturday. On the final Saturday of the month, after regular practice, a club tournament is held for all elementary school and younger members. Today is the day of that tournament.
Twenty-four children gather at 6:30 p.m. in the gymnasium of Onuma Elementary School for the practice session for elementary school members. There are a few kindergarten kids, too. Three middle school students, including Teruyuki Fukushima, are also participating in the practice as assistants to the instructors.
The instructors and the children each sit upright in a row, facing each other. Upon the command "Rei!" all the members bow deeply. Today this command is given by sixth grader Daisuke Sato, who moves to the front of the group to give the command. The role is rotated among sixth graders, the oldest children present. When the command is given, the other members bow and say "Rei!" This is a way for members to express their thanks to those who teach them and practice with them, but it is also a form of prayer to the gods for victory. Once again the instructors and children face each other, and Sato shouts: "Let practice begin. Rei!"
The kendoists practice as their families watch.
Yurika accepts the trophy after winning the club's monthly tournament.
After a warm-up period of jumping, stretching, and other exercises, the instructors teach the young students about kendo posture, stance, distance, and striking form. They practice the positions used in the sport, striking, and other basic movements. Then it is time for the tournament to begin. The children divide into three groups divided by age, and the contests begin.
Yurika Nozawa is also taking part today. When her number is called, Yurika comes out, exchanges bows with her opponent, and then moves three steps closer to a point where the bamboo swords come into contact. "On your marks," calls the instructor who is serving as the referee, and the two contestants brace their bamboo swords and get into a crouching posture. Then the referee shouts out: "Begin!" Yurika focuses on the bamboo sword. Then she holds her breath, shouts "Men!" (head) and strikes her opponent straight-on. One down! Yurika goes on to win her second and third contests easily, but her opponent in the fourth contest is a little stronger, blocking and evading her attacks. Yurika loses the first point but then quickly scores two in return. She wins the section for fifth and sixth graders.