What is Kendo

Kendo (剣道 Kendō) or "way of the sword", is the martial art of Japanese fencing.

Kendo developed from traditional techniques of Japanese swordsmanship known as kenjutsu.

Since 1975 the Concept of Kendo as stated by the All Japan Kendo Federation (AJKF) is "to discipline the human character through the application of the principles of the katana".

The AJKF state the purpose of practicing kendō as:

To mold the mind and body,
To cultivate a vigorous spirit,
And through correct and rigid training,
To strive for improvement in the art of Kendō,
To hold in esteem human courtesy and honor,
To associate with others with sincerity,
And to forever pursue the cultivation of oneself.
This will make one be able:
To love his/her country and society,
To contribute to the development of culture
And to promote peace and prosperity among all peoples.

Kendo is a physically and mentally challenging activity that combines strong martial arts values with sporting-like physical elements.

Practitioners of kendo are called kendoka (one who practices kendo) or kenshi (swordsman). The latter may also be applied to practitioners of other traditional Japanese sword arts. Around 8 million people world-wide practice kendo with approximately 7 million of them in Japan.

Kendo is practiced using "swords" made of split bamboo called shinai and extensive protective armour (bogu) is worn to protect specified target areas on the head and body. Kendoka also use bokuto (wooden swords) to practice set forms known as kata.



Kendo embodies the essence of the Japanese fighting arts.

Since the earliest samurai government in Japan, during the Kamakura period (1185-1233), sword fencing, together with horse riding and archery, were the main martial pursuits of the military clans. In this period kendo developed under the strong influence of Zen Buddhism. The samurai could equate the disregard for his own life in the heat of battle, which was considered necessary for victory in individual combat, to the Buddhist concept of the illusory nature of the distinction between life and death.

Those swordsmen established schools of kendo training which continued for centuries, and which form the basis of kendo practice today. The names of the schools reflect the essence of the originator’s enlightenment. Thus the Itto-Ryu (Single sword school) indicates the founder’s illumination that all possible cuts with the sword emanate from and are contained in one original essential cut. The Muto (swordless school) expresses the comprehension of the originator Yamaoka Tesshu, that "There is no sword outside the mind". The 'Munen Muso Ryu’ (No Intent, no preconception) similarly expresses the understanding that the essence of Kendo transcends the reflective thought process.

The formal Kendo exercises developed several centuries ago, are still studied today using wooden swords in set forms, or kata.

The introduction of bamboo practice swords (shinai) and armour (bogu) to kendo training is attributed to Naganuma Sirozaemon Kunisato (長沼四郎左衛門国郷 1688-1767). This is believed to be the foundation of modern kendo.

Kendo began to make its modern appearance during the late 18th century. Use of the shinai and armour (bogu) made possible the full force delivery of strikes and thrusts without inflicting injury on the opponent. These advances, along with practice formats, set the foundations of modern kendo.

Thus today it is possible to embark on a similar quest for spiritual enlightenment as followed by the samurai of old. Concepts such as 'mushin', or 'empty mind' as professed by exponents of Zen are an essential attainment for high level kendo. Fudoshin, or 'unmoving mind', is a conceptual attribute of the deity Fudo Myo-O, one of the five 'Kings of Light' of Shingon Buddhism, implies that the fencer cannot be led astray by delusions of anger, doubt, fear, or surprise arising from his opponent’s actions. In 1920, Dai Nippon Butoku Kai (developer of the Japan Martial Arts Foundation) changed the name of Gekiken (Kyūjitai: 擊劍; Shinjitai: 撃剣, "hitting sword") to kendo.



Modern kendo

In modern kendo, there are strikes (or cuts) and thrusts. Strikes are allowed against only seven specified target areas, or datotsu-bui on the head or body, all of which are protected by bogu. The targets are men (top of the head), sayu-men or yoko-men (upper left and right side of the head), the right kote, or wrist at any time, the left kote when it is in a raised position (such as jodan) and the left or right do or torso. Thrusts are only allowed to the throat (tsuki). However, since an incorrectly performed thrust could injure the neck, thrusting techniques in free practice and competition are often restricted to senior dan graded kendoka.



In shiai, or competition, a point is only awarded when the attack is done firmly and properly to a target point with ki-ken-tai-ichi, or spirit, sword and body as one. This means that for an attack to be successful, the shinai must strike the specified target, the contact by the shinai must happen simultaneously with the attacker's front foot contacting with floor and the kendoka must vocalise an expression of kiai that displays good spirit. Additionally, the top third of the shinai must make contact with the target and direction of movement by the shinai must also be correct. Finally, zanshin, or continuation of awareness, must be present and shown before, during and after the strike, then the player must be ready to attack again.

In a tournament, there are three referees, or shinpan. Each holds a red flag and a white flag in opposite hands. To signal a point, the referees raise the flag corresponding to the color of the ribbon worn by the scoring competitor. Generally, at least two shinpan must agree, for a point to be awarded. The match does not stop until a pronouncement of the point that has been scored.

The first competitor to score two points wins the match. If the time limit is reached and only one competitor has a point, that competitor wins. In the case of a tie, there are several options:



Technical achievement in kendo is measured by advancement in grade, rank or level. The "kyu" and "dan" ranking system is used to assess the level of one's skill in kendo. The dan levels are from 1-dan (sho-dan) to 10-dan (ju-dan). There are no outward physical manifestations of a grade in kendo; beginners dress the same as higher ranking yudansha.

1-dan is equivalent to a first degree blackbelt. 1-dan (sho-dan) to 8-dan (hachi-dan) are awarded after a physical kendo test, followed by a kata test and then examination of a submitted paper.

There is no physical test for 9-dan (kyu-dan) and 10-dan (ju-dan); those levels are awarded by a special committee set up for the purpose. Those grades are now extremely rare.

There are six grades below dan known as kyu. The number preceding the kyu is the number of levels below the first dan rank (sho-dan).



There are 10 nihon kendo kata (Japanese kendo forms). Performed with wooden swords (bokken/bokuto), the kata include fundamental techniques of attacking and counter-attacking, and have useful practical application in general kendo. Occasionally, real swords or swords with a blunt edge, called kata-yo or habiki, may be used for a display of kata.

Kata 1–7 are performed with both partners using a bokken (long sword) of around 102 cm. Kata 8–10 are performed with one partner using a bokken and the other using a kodachi (short sword) of around 55cm.

During kata practice, the participants take the roles of either uchidachi (teacher) or shidachi (student). The uchidachi makes the first move or attack in each kata. As this is a teaching role, the uchidachi is always the 'losing' side, thus allowing the shidachi or student to learn and gain confidence.

Nihon kendo kata were drawn from representative kenjutsu schools and tend to be quite deep and advanced. In some areas the regular training curriculum does not include nihon kendo kata.

In 2003, the introduction of Bokuto Ni Yoru Kendo Kihon-waza Keiko-ho, a set of basic exercises using a (bokken/bokuto), attempted to bridge this gap. Bokuto Ni Yoru Kendo Kihon-waza Keiko-ho is intended primarily for kendoka up to 2-dan, but is useful for all kendo students.



Kendo outside Japan

Kendoka at the 2006 World Fencing Championships in Torino, Italy.

The International Kendo Federation (FIK) was established in 1970 and in December 2005 admitted their 44th national or regional federation as an affiliate. The world kendo championships have been held every three years since 1970.