Mayu and Yuji Nakano '23 To Compete in U.S. Kendo Championship

Written by Eric Velasco P '23 for the Winter 2019 Issue of Indian Springs Magazine.

Mayu Nakano ’23 poetically describes the sensation of being struck by a sword-like bamboo shinai in Kendo, a form of martial arts that she and her twin brother, Yujiro ’23, have practiced nearly half of their lives.

“Getting hit by a beginner is like getting hit with a baseball bat, dull long pain,” she explains.
“Getting hit by an experienced person is like getting cut, sharp and short.”

But, she adds, you get used to it.

Mayu and Yuji, as he’s known at Indian Springs School, will compete next summer in the 2020 All U.S. Kendo Championship in Detroit. They are on 12-15 junior youth teams representing the Southeast U.S. Kendo Federation, one of 14 regional federations competing. National winners in the youth categories qualify for the All Japan Kendo Taikai (tournament).

Kendo, which translates as “way of the sword,” originated with samurai warriors in feudal Japan. But kendo is as much about inner strength as it is skill with a sword, Yuji says. “It stresses the discipline of human character.”

In addition to wielding bamboo shinai, the twins also wear protective armor called bogu. A proper strike touches a would-be kill zone, like the stomach, with a specific part of the shinai. Sword-handling technique, posture and spirit also are important elements.

Yuji started at age six when visiting grandparents in Japan. Their grandfather is a Kendo sensei (teacher). Mayu followed a year later. The Los Angeles natives, then living in Columbus, Ohio, had to band with another family to form a Kendo club because none existed then near home. 

Now living in Hoover, the Nakanos practice weekends at a facility in Atlanta. The twins, in turn, teach beginners at Briarwood Christian School, Yuji says.

Yuji and Mayu learned in October that each earned a spot on the five-member men’s and women’s teams in the 2020 national Kendo tournament. Coaches will continue to evaluate the teams until the nationals during mandatory tournaments and group practices in several states.

Mayu and Yuji envision staying with Kendo at least through college, perhaps beyond. “Many sensei, especially higher-ranking, continue for their entire life,” Mayu says. “Kendo is a lifelong journey.”