There's more to the Japanese martial art of kendo than simply swinging a big stick.
Kendo two-handed fencing using a bamboo kendo stick, or shinai blends technique with time-honoured tradition and respect, said Maple Ridge resident Murray Greissel, a second-degree black belt in the art.
The 40-year-old full-time firefighter with Vancouver Fire Rescue Service isn't the only member of the Greissel clan immersed in the world of kendo and iaido (kata using an edgeless practice sword).
His 13-year-old son Mason and 12year-old daughter Jusdia are both brown belts in iaido and will soon be testing for their brown belt rankings in kendo.
The Greissels are students at Matsu Kai Kendo and Iaido Dojo in east Coquitlam (www.matsukai.org).
Iaido is "the study of the true blade, the katana," Murray explained.
Iaido is very similar to kata, or forms, in other martial arts.
"Iaido and kendo are both like a wheels of a cart," Murray said. "Together they help each other make you better as one."
Kendo is one of the oldest martial arts, dating back to the days of the 15th century samurai, Murray explained. He said kendo's philosophy is body, mind, and spirit.
The elder Greissel has studied martial arts since he was nine years old. Over the past 30 years, he has practised judo, shotokan karate, tae kwon do, and kung fu.
"Because my dad was RCMP, we transferred a lot, and wherever I went, whatever I was studying wasn't [offered] where we were, so I studied something new," Murray said.
The family discovered kendo by chance. Murray was buying a rescue knife for work when Mason noticed an imitation Japanese sword hanging on the wall of the store.
"They were studying tae kwon do, as well, and Mason said 'Wow, wouldn't it be nice to learn how to use one of those?'" Murray related.
The employee selling the knife overheard the conversation. She studies kendo, and ended up inviting the Greissels to visit Matsu Kai, home to roughly 28 students under the tutelage of instructor Bruce Campbell, a sixth-degree black belt in both kendo and iaido.
Murray said kendo training is intense, but safe. The only time absorbing a strike hurts is when an opponent doesn't make a correct hit.
"When someone makes a direct strike to the proper targets, it doesn't hurt at all," he said, adding with a laugh, "It's the misses that hurt!"
Jusdia added, "It's kind of fun, hitting people."
Mason said his first exposure to the martial art was intimidating. There is a lot going on in the Matsu Kai dojo, including people yelling, often at the top of their lungs.
"It's very loud. There's lots of screaming, there's lots of yelling, there's lots of movement," Murray added. "It's one heck of a workout, and it's very mentally challenging. It's unlike any other martial art I've done. Mentally, it's draining, as well. It's quite intimidating, but once you get the hang of it, it's so much fun."
Mason and Jusdia are working on a set of new kata from Japan, which encompasses nine techniques of attacks, parries, and follow-throughs.
Mason's goal is to be an instructor and Jusdia hopes to some day compete for Canada.
"She has had a couple of opportunities to train with them," Murray said.
Canada is one of the top kendo nations in the world, along with Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and the United States.
"The rest of the world looks out for us," Murray said. "We're very well respected.
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