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North Vancouver kendo fighter to compete for Canada in World Combat Games

It is a modern form of Japanese fencing that descends from the time of feudal-era Shoguns and warring clans.
North Vancouver Kendo athlete Kianna Darbyshire dons her bogu armour and shinai bamboo sword. She will be representing Canada at the World Combat Games in Saudia Arabia in October. Paul McGrath / NSN

North Vancouver’s Kianna Darbyshire is set to represent Canada at the World Combat Games, taking place in October in Saudi Arabia.

The 23-year-old from Central Lonsdale will be travelling to Riyadh to compete in the women’s division of kendo, a modern form of Japanese fencing that descends from the time of feudal-era Shoguns and warring clans. The name translates roughly to “the way of the sword.”

“It’s basically the way that, a long time ago, samurais would practice sparring with each other,” she said.

In the modern sport, who wins and who loses is determined based on points, which judges assess by whether a participant’s strikes on their opponent would have been the type to incapacitate or kill an enemy in battle.

“You can score points by hitting the head, hitting a point on the wrist, or on the stomach, or on the throat,” she said.

Dressed in her protective “bogu” armour, Darbyshire said strikes from an opponent’s “shinai,” or bamboo sword, aren’t too painful, at least most of the time.

“It is more so if someone hits the wrong spot,” she said.

Darbyshire’s mother is from Japan and she grew up studying various martial arts. At 10, she took up kendo on the advice of a family friend and has been practising at the Vancouver Kendo Club ever since.

“I just really liked the community of people there,” she said.

In 2018, Darbyshire was part of the third-place finishing team at the World Kendo Championships in South Korea.

To ready herself for the World Combat Games Riyadh, which include 16 martial arts and contact sports, Darbyshire has been committed to dryland training five days a week and two-to-three days a week of Kendo practice, which she fits around her long hours working as a flight instructor.

“I’m definitely nervous because it’s been quite a few years since I’ve competed internationally,” she said. “I definitely want to be prepared when I go to the competition so I’m trying to get in as much as much practice and workouts and everything as I can.”

The World Combat Games take places from Oct. 20 to 30.

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