Give it some stick

My first shot at photos of kendo, at the All Japan Kendo Championship last December. The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan ran them in their January issue.

I did Kendo for a few years when I first came to Japan, so this shoot brought back a few memories.

As usual, the annual event was held at the Budokan in Tokyo (it’s easy to forget that the Budokan was built to host martial arts tournaments, not just rock concerts). It’s open to the public, but I got my press pass and a competitor’s eye view from some friends at the excellent Kendo World magazine.

I think that the grimacing competitor in the main photo had just lost. It looks like a mixture of pain, frustration and exhaustion. The tournament is a long, gruelling day for everyone – competitors, judges and photographers alike.

I had a fairly pained expression myself after several hours sitting on a cold gymnasium floor waiting for the one winning strike in each bout.

I took a few hundred photos, mostly of ’zanshin’, the kendo name for the moment after a strike. It’s not easy to catch the decisive moment in kendo.

Perhaps video is the answer? There’s youtube video of the end of the last bout after the photos. It’s pretty dramatic.











5 Responses to “Give it some stick”

  1. Paddy says:

    Great set Tony. Really captures the atmosphere. How about the smell? My wife used to play volleyball when she was in highschool and said the air in the gym was always pretty foul after the kendo guys were finished practicing.

  2. Tero says:

    Great shots! Is the D700 noise that good, or was the gym well lit? If I shoot F2.8 1/500 ISO1600 with my gear, they’ll come way under exposured and bumping up the exposure will bring out the noise. Your pics look so nice and clean!

    Timing the shot is something that takes practice (and luck). I think I have some 40-50k kendo taikai shots, and finally I’m getting the hang of it :) Also on addition to actual match shots, I’ve started loving those people shots outside the matches. Like the one you have with the guy tying up his himo.


    • tony says:

      Hi Tero. That is more or less the kit and settings I used, so I guess the gym was well let. To be honest though, I don’t mind noise that much myself. It can add a bit of atmosphere. The only thing I do is sometimes used the remove noise tool in Lightroom.

      Kendoka have a lot of presence. They make great portrait subjects. In fact, you have just given me an idea . . .

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