Competing with the best in the world brings out the best in this martial artist.

Natalie Morris is one of only two women who have been chosen to represent South Africa as part of the national kendo team competing in the World Kendo Championships in South Korea in September.

Often described as ‘Japanese fencing’, kendo has its origin in the martial art developed by the ancient samurai. It is now a full-combat, modern martial art practised in South Africa and around the world. Competitors (also known as kendoka) wear full armour (bogu) and strike their opponents using a bamboo sword (shinai).

While men and women compete separately at international competitions, in the dojo (school) everyone is equal.

Morris, a member of Ken Yu Kai Dojo in Johannesburg, started her martial arts journey in karate, where she competed internationally several times. She has represented South Africa twice before at the European Kendo Championships (EKC). She is the second South African woman to have made it past the pool rounds of the competition and the first to win the prestigious Fighting Spirit Award, which she won at the EKC in Hungary last year.

“At my first EKC, I saw how different the standard was and I can just imagine how competing in a world championships will help improve our kendo,” she said.

Does that make her nervous?  “I find with myself if I am competing with people who are at a much higher level than me, it brings the best out of me, so I feel a lot more confident fighting people who I know are really good,” she explained.

Kendo is still growing in South Africa and only has a small number of female kendoka. Morris would like to see more women in kendo, but understands it can be a little intimidating at first glance.

“Kendo may come across as a very manly sport, but just because we’re perceived as weaker doesn’t mean we don’t stand a chance because actually we’re faster than the guys.

“A Japanese sensei once told me that kendo is better for women as they don’t use as much power, where as guys use their body and power and that’s not what kendo is about.”

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With editing by gsport