By Alex Tekip
Sports are a constant cultural machine in the United States. They posses both the power to excite and the power to disappoint, but also have the ability to unify – to bring an entire school, city, state or nation together. Occasionally, that power travels, crossing borders, oceans, and cultures in the process. International sports have experienced growing popularity in the United States, and the East Lansing are as well as the campus of Michigan State University are not exempt from this trend.
There are plenty of clubs at MSU that promote awareness of international sports. One such club is the Kendo Club, whose members practice a historical and popular Japanese martial art and compete against other schools.
The basic idea of Kendo is to strike the top of the head, wrists, throat, or abdomen of an opponent with a bamboo sword called a shinai. In the competition version of the game, each hit earns a player two points, and the player with the most points at the end of a match wins.
The competitive nature of Kendo makes it very popular in its native country.
“In Japan, [Kendo’s] popularity is similar to that of football in America, with about a million people practicing the art,” said Ron Fox, the club’s adviser, who also works as a physicist at MSU’s National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory.
Despite its popularity abroad however, Fox said that kendo hasn’t quite caught on yet at MSU.
“At MSU, only 25 people practice the club, in addition to an introductory one credit class that about 40 people enroll in each year,” he said. “We don’t have much of a fan base.”
Although he wishes more students were currently participating, Fox continues to promote his club and push his students to their full potential.
“[The club’s] participation rate looks to be increasing over the next few years,” said Fox. “We hope that our fan base will increase as well.”
The Kendo Club organizes a yearly tournament held at Michigan State every year: the Midwest Kendo Federation Student tournament, and Fox encouraged those interested to attend.
Another international sports club at MSU is the Polo Club, which boasts a slightly larger population.
“Our club has almost forty members, the biggest program for a university in the U.S. We have a strong fan base as well,” said club vice president Cassie Scarfone, a senior majoring in human biology.
Scarfone said the club hosts a yearly benefit match against the University of Michigan that “draws in quite a crowd.”
This match, called Poloat the Pavillion, benefits both the polo clubs of Michigan State and the University of Michigan. It is the biggest match of the year for both clubs, and usually provides the polo club with their highest attendance of the season at an affordable cost – tickets are just $5 for students and $10 for other guests.
International sports are also drawing interest in the East Lansing area. West Michigan Capoeira, a martial arts studio that practices an ancient Brazilian sport, has branched off into East Lansing with hopes of sparking an interest wider than just the undergraduate community at MSU.
Capoeira is an art form based on an ancient Brazilian war dance. Individuals who practice capoeria begin by forming a “hoda” circle, then proceed through a series of motions that combine rhythmic dance and martial arts, often in formation with others.
“Right now, we have about ten participants, and most of them are grad students,” said instructor Show Grande . “I’m hoping that eventually interest will spark, and people will investigate and look into capoeira.”
Grande’s biggest wish is that individuals interested in capoeira will have an “epiphany” moment, similar to one he had when he was younger.
“I just walked into a capoeira studio and was amazed at the gracefulness of those involved,” said Grande. “I was so entranced that I had to keep reminding myself that the sport was real, and ever since then I’ve been blown away.”
While international sports clubs are always working to improve their fan base and gain awareness amongst the student body, they are also invested in the passion and drive that team members have.
“I tell my team, ‘Just shut up and do it’. They are all dedicated to the art, and open to what the sport can offer them,” Fox said.
This passion and drive is mixed with a willingness to cross cultural borders. International sports clubs have both American members as well as many who are, of course, international.
“We have had many international students in the kendo club; this year, we have several Japanese members” Fox said.
Many international members are drawn in by their native loyalties to the sport, or want to contribute to bringing the sport into light at MSU, in Michigan, or even the nation, and fight to raise cultural awareness of the sport by changing stereotypes.
“Currently, the polo community is trying to change the stereotype of the sport as an ‘elitist’ game,” said Scarfone. “In reality, anyone can become involved [in polo] and it can be much more affordable than one might think.”
According to Grande, “Investing in an unknown sport is like continued learning.” International sports can help broaden the cultural horizons of students at Michigan State, and, much like American sports, they have the power to bring us all together as one globally united city and campus.
“Practicing a difficult sport gives students confidence in everyday life,” Grande said. “When we all feel like we are accomplishing something together, we become united.”
For more information, contact:
Michigan State University Kendo Club: kendo.msu.edu
Michigan State University Polo Club: firstname.lastname@example.org
West Michigan Capoeira: CDOWestMichigan@gmail.com