Brief Overview of Kendo

Image of kendo

Kendo Has its Origin in Samurai Sword Training
Kendo is a Budo (martial art), which was introduced as a competitive sport through the reorganization of Gekken (swordsmanship), which was the Shinai (bamboo sword) training of Kenjutsu (samurai swordplay), a time-honored Japanese Bujutsu (martial art); also, it's a way or ascetic training aiming at character-building through the practice of the Ken (sword) principle. Kendo has more than 2,000,000 players around the world.

Kendo Was Adapted to Physical Education in Japanese Schools
The name "Kendo" seems to have been established in or around the end of Meiji period to the early Taisho period, as it recorded that Dai Nippon Butoku Kai, which was established in 1899 to restore Bujutsu (martial art), using examples from success of Judo, established the Kendo name in around 1919 so that Kenjutsu and Gekken, which were handed down from the Edo period, would be introduced into physical education in the school system by changing the training methods and making it a form of mental training such as Yamato-gokoro (Japanese spirit).

Kendo Match in Japan
Outside Kendo Match
Kendo Match in Japan
Strike in the Kendo Match
Samurai wearing Kendo Wear in Edo period
Samurai wearing Kendo Wear in Edo period
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Documentary of Kendo (27:57)

History of Kendo

Swordsmen in Japan established schools of kenjutsu (the ancestor of kendo), which continued for centuries and which form the basis of kendo practice today. The formal kendo exercises known as kata were developed several centuries ago as kenjutsu practice for warriors. They are still studied today, in a modified form.

The introduction of bamboo practice swords (shinai) and armour (bōgu) to sword training is attributed to Naganuma Shirōzaemon Kunisato during the Shotoku Era (1711–1715). Naganuma developed the use of bogu and established a training method using the shinai.

In addition, the inscription on the gravestone of Yamada Heizaemon Mitsunori's (Ippūsai) (1638–1718) third son Naganuma Shirōzaemon Kunisato (1688–1767), the 8th headmaster of the Kashima Shinden Jikishinkage-ryū Kenjutsu, states that his exploits included improving the bokuto and shinai, and refining the armour by adding a metal grille to the men (head piece) and thick cotton protective coverings to the kote (gauntlets). Kunisato inherited the tradition from his father Heizaemon in 1708, and the two of them worked hard together to improve the bogu until Heizaemon's death.

Chiba Shusaku Narimasa, founder of the Hokushin Ittō-ryū Hyōhō, introduced Gekiken (full contact duels with shinai and bogu) to the curriculum of this koryū in the 1820s. Due to the popularity and the large number of students of the Hokushin Ittō-ryū Hyōhō at the end of the Edo-period, this kind of practice contributed greatly to the spread of shinai and bōgu all over Japan. Also there are many waza like Suriage-Men, Oikomi-Men etc. in modern Kendo which were originally Hokushin Ittō-ryū techniques, named by Chiba Shusaku Narimasa for his school. After the Meiji Restoration in the late 1800s Sakakibara Kenkichi popularised public gekiken for commercial gain, but also generated an increased interest in kendo and kenjutsu as a result.

The Dai Nippon Butoku Kai (DNBK) changed the name of the sporting form of swordsmanship, called Gekiken, ("hitting sword") to Kendo in 1920.

Kendo (along with other martial arts) was banned in Japan in 1946 by the occupying powers. This was part of "the removal and exclusion from public life of militaristic and ultra nationalistic persons" in response to the wartime militarisation of martial arts instruction in Japan. The DNBK was also disbanded. Kendo was allowed to return to the curriculum in 1950 (first as "shinai competition" and then as kendo from 1952).

The All Japan Kendo Federation (AJKF or ZNKR) was founded in 1952, immediately after Japan's independence was restored and the ban on martial arts in Japan was lifted.[14] It was formed on the principle of kendo not as a martial art but as educational sport, and it has continued to be practiced as such to this day.

The International Kendo Federation (FIK) was founded in April 1970; it is an international federation of national and regional kendo federations and the world governing body for kendo. The FIK is a non-governmental organisation, and its aim is to promote and popularise kendo, iaido and jodo.

The International Martial Arts Federation (IMAF), established in Kyoto 1952, was the first international organisation after WWII to promote the development of martial arts worldwide. Today, IMAF includes kendo as one of the Japanese disciplines.

Rules of Kendo

kendo TsubazeriaiThe Style of Match Competition
A Kendo match always involved one-to-one fighting. This principle is also applied to team competition. The contenders enter the match site, step forward two paces, bow to each other, step forward three paces, take a Sonkyo (squatting position) and stand up when the referee calls out, 'Hajime (Start),' and then fight to the finish using their techniques or until the specified duration of the match has elapsed. Although in principle it is the Sanbon-shobu (three-point match), the Ippon-shobu (one-point match) is also accepted.

Ippon (point)
According to the All Japan Kendo Federation, Ippon means 'a stroke or thrust a contender properly makes with strong fervor and proper posture on a targeted part of the opponent's body with the proper part of blade of a bamboo sword (main part of blade on the opposite side of the bowstring-shape side) and has preparedness against the opponent's counterattack.' If the referee deems it applicable, he will raise a flag.

Victory or Defeat
As for victory or defeat, the contender who first gets two Ippon for Sanbon-shobu and one Ippon for Ippon-shobu during the match time wins the match. In Sanbon-shobu, if the match time is up, then the contender who has earned one Ippon wins. If a match doesn't come to a finish within the match time, the contender who first gets one Ippon wins in a extended match.

Match Duration
Kendo SonkyoThe standard duration of a match is five minutes, but it's three minutes longer in the case of an extension. However, the adoption of the match time other than these is also permitted for administrative reasons, etc., and in 2007 the time was changed to ten minutes for the deciding match of an official competition.

Three referees (consisting of one chief referee and two assistant referees) hold red and white flags, and a Yuko-datotsu (effective strike) is indicated by raising the flags. If two or three referees show a Yuko-datotsu, or if one referee shows a Yuko-datotsu and the other two show their abstention from the decision, then one Ippon is taken.
When a Tsubazeriai (pushing each other's sword guard) continues for a long period of time, the chief referee declares a 'Wakare (break)' and lets the contenders break away on the spot by throwing out both of his/her flags, after which the match immediately resumes.

Tsuki-waza in Kendo Match
Tsuki-waza in Kendo Match

Kendo Techniques

All techniques involve the means by which to strike predetermined places on the protective armour (Kendo) with one's Bamboo sword. Additionally, such prefixes as 'Ai (mutual)-,' 'Nuki (dodging)-,' 'Kaeshi (returning)-,' 'Harai (sweeping)-,' 'Suriage (sliding up)-,' 'Hiki (pull)-' and so on are sometimes added to the following techniques according to a contender's movement immediately before a technique is used.
Kote UchiStriking Techniques of Kote (wrist)
Kote-uchi (wrist strike), Hiki-kote-uchi (retreating wrist strike)
Men Uchi Striking Techniques of Men (head)
Men-uchi (head strike), Hiki-men-uchi (retreating head strike), Kote-men-uchi (wrist-head strike)
TsukiThrusting Technique of the throat
Tsuki (thrust)
Do UchiStriking Techniques of Do (abdomen)
Do-uchi (abdomen strike), Hiki-do-uchi (retreating abdomen strike), or Nuki-do
Gyaku Do UchiStriking Technique of the left side of Do (abdomen)
Gyaku-do-uchi (abdomen strike on the left side)
NitoryuNito-ryu (Two-sword Style)
Nito-ryu is not prohibited by the Kendo rules in principle, but today it is all but abolished. For Nito-ryu, two types of Bamboo sword--a long sword and a short sword--are used. The length and weight are specified for each sword. The present situation is that both coaches and contenders of Nito-ryu are small in number, due to the facts that Nito-ryu has been denied for a long time, that Bamboo sword of different lengths are used as above, and that a contender of Nito-ryu is allowed to make Mune-tsuki to the other contender, which is a handicap for the latter. Nito-ryu was only shown at official competitions held in 1961, 1963 and 2007.

The Uniform and Armor of Kendo

Kendo Armor

Kendo Wear and Armor Are Modeled After Samurai Equipping
In the Kendo match and training, players have to wear the kendo uniform and "Hakama" (pleated and divided skirt made in fine stripes). The uniform and Hakama are very much similar to the samurai training cloth. While the contenders are basically barefoot, some wear Tabi (split-toe socks). During matches and training, in principle such kendo implements as Tare (waist protector), Do, Men and Kote (gloves) as Bogu (armour) are worn. Additionally, in matches between different arts with Naginata (long-handled sword), the Sune-ate (shin guard) must also be worn. When putting on the Men, a Tenugui (cotton towel) (Men-Tenugui, Men-towel) is generally wrapped around the head. Also, each contender attaches a red or white cross brace respectively on his or her back (cross-point of Do-himo string) as a means of identification during the match.

Bogu (Kendo Armor)
Bogu is protective gear to protect players' body in Kendo. It protects players' head and chest from a thrust with a bamboo sword. It has become the present design through various improvements in shape and materials after carefully examining portability and mobility of a wearer based on a samurai amour and a samurai kabuto (helmet).
The original model of the kendo implements existed in one of the schools of swordplay such as Jikishinkage-ryu (Jikishinkage school, a school of kendo, the Japanese traditional martial art of swordmanship), from around the middle of the 17th century but it was in the Meiji Period when the bogu was used in the Japanese art of fencing and the design similar to the present one was completed.

Shinai (Bamboo Sword)


Bokutou (Wooden Sword)










The Kyu and Dan Grading and Title Systems

Dan of Kendo

Dan Qualification Evaluate Not Only Strength
The Kyu and Dan grading system of Kendo consists of Kyu (junior rank) from Rokkyu (sixth Kyu level) to Ikkyu (first Kyu level) and Dan-i (senior rank) of Shodan (first Dan level), Nidan (second), Sandan (third), Yodan (fourth), Godan (fifth), Rokudan (sixth), Shichidan (seventh) and Hachidan (eighth).
Dan-i (qualification of rank) and titles are granted after an examination (selection match) in which 'technical skill of Kendo (including mental factors)' for Dan-i,' as well as titles pertaining to one's 'level of achievement as a Kendo person with leadership and discretion.'

Kendo Master Titles
In addition to the above-mentioned Dan-i/Kyu-i, there are three titles: Renshi (Senior Teacher), Kyoshi (prestigious title) and Hanshi (the top rank). Only holders of high-ranking Rokudan to Hachidan are eligible to take the examination on the condition that each candidate be recommended by the president of the association with which he or she is affiliated. After obtaining a title, he or she can put the title before the Dan-i like Renshi-Rokudan and Hanshi-Hachidan.

Kendo Masters showing Kata demonstration
Kendo Masters showing Kata demonstration
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Encyclopedia of Japan