If you want a lot of participation in your martial art, make it a sport “they say”. Kids like competing and as the multiple sports channels will indicate, adults like watching competition. Both Judo and Kendo have gone the way of competition, in the case of Kendo, it was one of the few things that got the sword arts through the change from the age of the samurai to the age of the businessman, with the roots of modern kendo going back before the Meiji but public displays of competition similar to Sumo starting up as the samurai became unemployed by the changes of modernization.
I was going to provide some specific names and dates but you folks with better connections than I’ve got this morning can do that yourselves, look up gekkiken. The sportification did seem to work, tiny koryu sword and jujutsu schools were soon dwarfed by the numbers and public profile of the new Kendo and Judo.
One way that Kendo and Judo have differed is that Judo went Olympic and Kendo, as run from Japan, has resisted this fiercely. What is the result of these two strategies.
First, as an Olympic sport, Judo is global while Kendo is still overwhelmingly Japanese. I don’t have official numbers for Judo but the best I’ve found is around 2 million worldwide while there are an estimated 3 million kendo players in Japan (and not enough outside that country to make it worthwhile saying anything but 3 million). I saw the worldwide Kendo numbers a while ago and the imbalance was quite shocking, which fully justified in my mind the control Japan holds over the sport. The International Kendo Federation dues are paid on a per member basis and Japan pays well into the 90s percent of the budget. Contrast this with Judo where, again, the best numbers I can find put judoka in Japan at 200,000 and in France at almost 800,000. In comparison I found Judo numbers in the USA in the region of 20,000. USA Kendo is around a tenth of that.
Much of the international balance for Judo would be due to national support of Olympic sports. Canada mostly restricts funding to Olympic sports so there is no national or provincial money heading into Kendo at all any more. There was a brief moment of Provincial support in Ontario but that is long gone. With government money comes promotion and professional infrastructure, including office space and advertising budgets. That leads to awareness but it’s the dream of someday being in the Olympics that brings in the kids (and their parents).
So that’s why Judo does well world-wide, what’s the catch? It’s all that administration that helps promote the art, it also causes a distribution of control away from Japan and into the rest of the world but especially into the Olympic committee. Witness wrestling, a part of the Olympics since ancient Greece. It was recently booted out of the Olympics and has had to win its way back with rule changes and a lot of effort. It will again have to apply and qualify in a few years, and it will have to satisfy the needs of the Olympic Committee rather than those of its own governing body. If you want to be an Olympic sport, you abide by their rules, simple as that. You lose a large degree of control of your artform.
Kendo has joined Sportaccord, an Olympics-recognized sport body for arts that aren’t Olympic. In doing so we had to change the acronym of the international body from IKF to FIK (the French version initials) because International Korfball was there first with IKF. I find that a tickle to my funnybone so I share it, but that’s about as dire as the changes have been. We have had to put in a drug testing policy and sort of act like most other sports but Sportaccord doesn’t interfere much that I can see. Now, while most sports in Sportaccord would love to eventually be Olympic, my impression is that Kendo is there to stay there, and prevent any other group from putting Kendo into the Olympics.
Silly you say? Think about it, if another Kendo group than the FIK managed to get Olympic recognition, that group would draw massive numbers of kendoka and, with government money, begin to overwhelm any national kendo bodies that didn’t join fast enough. In other words, FIK kendo would lose it’s hold, through the world championships, on worldwide kendo one way or the other. Either by ceding control of the sport to the Olympic committee or by ceding membership to the new Olympic organization.
Have these two sport strategies kept membership in kendo and judo growing? Unfortunately not, both sports are dropping in participation, with kendo going from a high of 5 million to 3 in some estimates.
What does work to get numbers up today? One estimate from a study of Judo numbers noted that in many areas you might find 50 Karate dojo and perhaps 2 for Judo. Karate is notable mostly for its vast lack of central control, there are probably as many Karate organizations in Canada as there are members in the Canadian Kendo Federation. Is the lack of central control a good thing? For membership I’m sure it is, anyone who wishes to can open a Karate dojo and as long as they can teach, they survive. Does this make for consistent, top-level instruction? Perhaps not but that’s another topic altogether.
Now, it would be interesting to look at Tae Kwon Do, a Karate-like (dis)organization that became Olympic and so must be centralizing to some extent. I will leave that one as well, to someone else to investigate. My purpose here was to compare Olympic Judo vs Non-Olympic but world-championship sponsoring Kendo. The difference there seems to be the concentration in Japan of Kendo vs the worldwide distribution of Judo.
Which is best?