From 27 – 29 May 2022, the European Kendo Championship took place in Frankfurt, Germany. The major event was a “restart” for European Kendo after the ups and downs of the Corona era.
It has been three years since the last European Kendo Championship: the Covid 19 pandemic hit Europe a few weeks before the scheduled EKC 2020 in Kristiansand, Norway. One week before the scheduled date, the European Championship had to be cancelled. Travel restrictions and Norwegian legislation made it impossible to go through with it.
The desire for a big kendo event after the long dry spell was accordingly great – in all countries. “We all felt the need for it to start again,” says Stephan Hernschier, Vice-President of the German Kendo Federation. “So when the EKF approached us about hosting the EKC, we said yes. As an association, we also want to get our own people out of their ‘Covid-sleep’. A big event like this, with all the anticipation, preparation and energy, develops its own momentum, which creates a push in motivation to the people into the individual clubs.”
After years of irregular training, with lockdowns and few if any international kendo events, EKC 2022 was the first major event on European soil in a long time. The anticipation of the fighters to test themselves against each other and to compete at the highest European level was accordingly great. 335 fighters from 32 countries competed – the same number as before the Covid-19-pandemic.
Nevertheless, the preparation phase was accompanied by uncertainty: During the pandemic, large events were planned again and again, but eventually had to be cancelled. Whether and under which conditions EKC 2022 would take place was not clear for a long time during the organisation. On the one hand, the preparations for a fully-fledged European Championship were taking place, on the other hand, constantly changing conditions required continuous adaptation, rethinking and starting from scratch. One would think that “after Covid-19” it would be easy to find a hall. However, in September the booking of the original hall in Düsseldorf was cancelled and a new venue had to be found at short notice.
And this as the time frame for the organisation is already much shorter than it normally is: The usual schedule of the European Kendo Federation (EKF) gives a time span of two to three years in which the planning and realisation of the European Championship takes place. In the case of the EKC 2022, this span was reduced to one year.
The uncertainty of the Covid-19-period lasted until a few months before the EKC. It was not until the spring that it could slowly be firmly assumed that the European Championships would take place. Above all, the end of the Final Entry brought great relief to the German Kendo Federation: “With the closing date for registration, we saw that over 500 participants had registered – a really great response. When the decision was made at the EKF General Assembly the year before to tackle the EKC 2022, the approval was unanimous, but still somewhat restrained,” recalls Stephan Hernschier. “With the final entry we saw: It works. Many fighters will come.”
At the same time, however, the war in Ukraine broke out, which put additional demands on the organisation: the hall that had originally been planned as a warm-up hall was converted into a refugee shelter. Thus, at short notice, another floor had to be layed on the floor of the competition hall to allow for a warm-up and the Goodwill Keiko.
“The German Kendo Federation has taken on a great challenge: To hold a European Kendo Championship on such short notice and in times that became more complicated month by month is not easy to shoulder,” emphasised Dieter Hauck, President of the European Kendo Federation. “With this European Championship, we hope to leave the dark lands of the pandemic and promote peace and prosperity among all people in the spirit of the philosophy of kendo.”
The EKC also means a lot to the EKF as a “restart”: “From our statistics, we see that most countries have lost members – roughly 20 to 30 per cent,” explains EKF-President Dieter Hauck. “As a federation, it is therefore important for us to do everything we can to make the European Championships possible again – in Kendo, Iaido and Jodo. Since the founding of the federation and the organization of the first European Kendo Championships in 1971, the Covid-pandemic represented the biggest break in the hosting of our European Championships.”
The “aftermath” of the pandemic could still be felt during the EKC: Masks were compulsory in the hall and a face shield had to be worn in the men. On the other hand, not only could the competitions take place “as usual”, but a delegation from Japan came to Europe for the first time in over two years to guide the EKC. They made it possible for 6th and 7th Dan examinations to be held – an area where a decent backlog had built up over the pandemic. 68 candidates for the 6th Dan and 42 candidates for the 7th Dan took up the challenge. That the FIK delegation would certainly come and that the examinations could therefore be held was not known until almost two months before the EKC.
It took a lot of nerves, time and energy to launch the EKC under these circumstances. But it was a success: The atmosphere was phenomenal and you could see that all the fighters were happy to revive old friendships and to exchange ideas internationally. Only in the beginning was the long Covid-break still noticeable. While the fights in the pools were still a bit restrained, the energy within the teams increased rapidly during the first fights. After a few rounds, the fighters got into their “game” and a fantastic effort was shown at all levels – despite different conditions, which were also evident in the fights: Some countries had long lockdowns and many months without training opportunities, while others were able to keep the Corona training break shorter.
Now it is time to take home with us what we have learned for the further development and future of European Kendo. Ganbatte!