Most sports penalize players for smacking opponents in the head with a stick. But not kendo.

On Nov. 9 and Nov. 10, the Yale kendo club team placed third at the third annual Cornell Invitational Tournament in Ithaca, N.Y. George Washington University finished first and host Cornell was second.

Just five schools competed in the event.

Kendo — “the way of the sword” in Japanese — is a fencing art that emphasizes physical stamina, agility, mental discipline, and spiritual strength.

Yale’s team consisted of club president Jill Sison ’03, Mingtatt Cheah ’06, Naoko Kozuki ’06, Daniel Zoot SOM ’03 and Dustin Charles, a research assistant at the School of Public Health. Individually, Zoot, the club’s instructor, earned the fighting spirit award, the equivalent of fifth place.

The weapon of choice for kendo players is the shinai, a Japanese sword made from bamboo. Wearing full gear — a helmet, chest pads and body pads — two opponents spar in a ring, aiming to hit three target areas with their shinai. Players can score by hitting the head (called men in Japanese), the wrist (koti) and side (do).

But the scoring process is an art.

“Sparring is performed by trying to hit each other not only accurately, but passionately and in proper form with bamboo swords in order to score a point,” Charles said.

Three judges count and verify the number of points scored. Matches last until a player scores two points or three minutes elapse — whichever occurs first.

But the real opponent in kendo is not the other attacker, Sison said.

“In kendo, your opponent is yourself,” Sison said. “You try to overcome the fear of your opponent. You take advantage of your opponent and are always aware of what you do.”

Kozuki, who is learning kendo for the first time, said the internal battle requires tremendous focus.

“You are always competing and challenging yourself,” Kozuki said. “Kendo is about taking yourself to the next level. You must concentrate and bring your emotions into one.”

Because the kendo club is very small and very young, the team looked only to improve this tournament.

“Most of the team was beginners, and we just wanted to have a good time and have the players become more enthusiastic about kendo after the tournament than before,” Zoot. “Our ultimate goal is to field an entire team. We could definitely use some more players.”

The team is currently training three times a week at the Payne Whitney Gymnasium for the Harvard Invitational Tournament, the country’s main collegiate tourney, in the spring.