Written by Young Jeohn
Otakon wasn't all anime and cosplay. For those interested in Japanese martial arts, there were several workshops with hands-on demonstration and practice, like staffs and kendo. I was pleasantly surprised to enter a big room with what looked like a mini gym at a convention center - but there it was, wooden floor and all.
Because any type of martial art requires space for movement, the "class" had limits for the number of active participants, but offered space around the gym for Otakon attendees to come and observe.
This one is very traditional. It's a 400 year old Japanese art that uses the 'jo" or jodo, a 4 foot staff that the police in Japan still use today. It looks deceptively simple, yet to master the basics takes much practice. It's not just about swinging a stick around - you need to coordinate your strikes with proper foot movements while keeping your focus on your opponent's actions at the same time. Dodging/deflecting strikes are just as important, and for this, you have to watch for where the strike is coming from and take action. Quickly.
As I'm watching what's happening, I'm fully aware that it's a totally different thing to have to hold a jo and attack/defend rather than just talk about it. You'd also have to understand what you have in your hand. After the workshop was over, I picked up a jo to find one end heavier than the other. I wondered if the heavier end was filled with a weight. It's not. The instructor told me the staff is skinnier on the far end to give a heavier balance towards your hand. That makes it feel lighter and is easier to control.
Instruction provided by Capital Area Budokai and Maryland Kenkonkai in Columbia MD
Also recognized as a traditional Japanese fighting art, kendo is more along the lines of fencing using wooden swords. It's got a spiritual side as well and helps to build a person's inner strength.
With this discipline, there's a lot more equipment involved. There's helmets, gloves and plates for protection in addition to the sword and uniform. Where as with staffs you can use one hand or both, with kendo, both your hands are grasping the sword and intense focus is needed to make strikes to exact areas.
As the participants did not have protective gear, actual sparring was shown as a demonstration by the members of Capital Area Budokai and Baltimore Annapolis Kendo Club. But even though they didn't get to whack each other, the participants did learn the proper way to handle a sword, move correctly with kendo specific footwork, and shout from their gut to enhance their striking power.
Instruction provided by Capital Area Budokai and Baltimore Annapolis Kendo Club
Otakon 2018 - https://www.otakon.com
Washington Convention Center, Washington, DC