Kendo Art of the Sword                

Kendo , meaning "Way of the Sword", is a modern Japanese martial art of sword-fighting based on traditional Japanese swordsmanship, or kenjutsu[2]. Kendo is a physically and mentally challenging activity that combines strong martial arts values with sport-like physical elements.

Practitioners of kendo are called kendōka , meaning "one who practices kendo", or occasionally kenshi ,meaning "swordsman".

There are estimates that about six million people world-wide practice kendo, with approximately four million in Japan, one million in Korea, and more in Europe, North America, South America and other countries of Asia.

The "Kodansha Meibo" (a register of dan graded members of the All Japan Kendo Federation) shows that as of September 2007, there were 1.48 million registered dan graded kendōka in Japan. According to the survey conducted by the All Japan Kendo Federation, the number of active kendo practitioners in Japan is 477 thousand in which 290 thousand dan holders are included. From these figures, the All Japan Kendo Federation estimates that the number of "kendōka" in Japan is 1.66 million by adding the number of the registered dan holders and the active kendo practitioners without dan grade.

Since the earliest samurai government in Japan, during the Kamakura period (1185-1333), 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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

Kendo at an agricultural school in Japan around 1920

Those swordsmen established schools of kenjutsu (the ancestor of kendo) 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 Ittō-ryū (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 Mutō-ryu (swordless school) expresses the comprehension of the originator Yamaoka Tesshu, that "There is no sword outside the mind". The Munen Musō-ryū (No intent, no preconception) similarly expresses the understanding that the essence of kenjutsu transcends the reflective thought process. The formal kendo exercises known as kata were developed several centuries ago as kenjutsu practice for warriors and are still studied today, albeit in a modified form.

The introduction of bamboo practice swords (shinai) and armor (bōgu) to sword training is attributed to Naganuma Sirōzaemon Kunisato during the Shotoku Era (1711-1715). Naganuma developed the use of bōgu 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 Sirōzaemon 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 armor by adding a metal grill 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.

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 bōgu made it possible to deliver strikes and thrusts with full force but without injuring one's opponent. These advances, along with the development of set practice formats, set the foundations of modern kendo.

Concepts such as mushin , or "empty mind", are borrowed from Zen buddhism and are considered essential for the attainment of high-level kendo. Fudōshin , or "unmoving mind", is a conceptual attribute of the deity Fudo , one of the five "Kings of Light" of Shingon Buddhism. Fudōshin, implies that the kendōka cannot be led astray by delusions of anger, doubt, fear, or surprise arising from the opponent’s actions, collectively called "the four kendo sicknesses" , lit. four admonitions) . Thus today it is possible to embark on a similar quest for spiritual enlightenment as followed by the samurai of old.

The Dai Nippon Butoku Kai was established in 1895 to solidify, promote, and standardise all martial disciplines and systems in Japan. The DNBK changed the name of gekiken (Kyūjitai: 擊劍; Shinjitai: 撃剣, "hitting sword") to kendō 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 militarization of martial arts instruction in Japan. 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 following the restoration of Japanese independence and the subsequent lift of the ban on martial arts in Japan.

The International Kendo Federation (FIK) was founded in 1970, it is an international federation of national and regional kendo associations 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 World Kendo Championships are an FIK event and have been held every three years since 1970.


The shinai is meant to represent a Japanese sword (katana) and is made up of four bamboo slats, which are held together by leather fittings. A modern variation of a shinai with carbon fiber reinforced resin slats is also used.

Kendōka also use hard wooden swords bokutō to practice kata.

Kendo employs strikes involving both one edge and the tip of the shinai or bokutō. As the design and balance of the weapon is significantly different to that used in European fencing, the footwork and the strikes in kendo are also very different.

Protective armor is worn to protect specified target areas on the head, arms and body. The head is protected by a stylized helmet, called men , with a metal grille men-gane to protect the face, a series of hard leather and fabric flaps tsuki-dare to protect the throat, and padded fabric flaps men-dare to protect the side of the neck and shoulders. The forearms, wrists, and hands are protected by long, thickly padded fabric gloves called kote . The torso is protected by a breastplate , while the waist and groin area is protected by the tare , consisting of three thick vertical fabric flaps or faulds.


The clothing worn under the bōgu comprise a jacket (kendogi or keikogi) and hakama, a garment separated in the middle to form two wide trouser legs.

A cotton towel tenugui is wrapped around the head, under the men, to absorb perspiration and provide a base for the men to fit comfortably.

Modern practice

Kendo training is quite noisy in comparison to other martial arts or sports. This is because kendōka use a shout, or kiai , to express their fighting spirit when striking. Additionally, kendōka execute fumikomi-ashi , an action similar to a stamp of the front foot, when making a strike.

Like some other martial arts, kendōka train and fight barefoot. Kendo is ideally practiced in a purpose-built dōjō, though standard sports halls and other venues are often used. An appropriate venue has a clean and well-sprung wooden floor, suitable for fumikomi-ashi.

Modern kendo techniques comprise both strikes and thrusts. Strikes are only made towards specified target areas datotsu-bui on the wrists, head, or body, all of which are protected by armour. The targets are men, sayu-men or yoko-men (upper left or right side of the men), the right kote at any time, the left kote when it is in a raised position, and the left or right side of the . Thrusts tsuki are only allowed to the throat. However, since an incorrectly performed thrust could cause serious injury to the opponent's neck, thrusting techniques in free practice and competition are often restricted to senior dan graded kendōka.


There are 10 Nihon Kendō Kata . These are performed with wooden swords bokutō or bokken. 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-yō  or ha-biki , may be used for display of kata.

Nihon Kendo Kata

Kata one through seven are performed with both partners using a daitō or tachi  style bokutō of around 102 cm. Kata 8–10 are performed with one partner using a daitō and the other using a kodachi  or shōtō  style bokutō of around 55 cm. During kata practice, the participants take the roles of either uchidachi , the teacher, or shidachi , the 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 to learn and gain confidence.

Nihon Kendō 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 Kendō Kata. In 2003, the All Japan Kendo Federation introduced Bokutō Ni Yoru Kendō Kihon-waza Keiko-hō , a set of basic exercises using a bokuto, attempted to bridge this gap. This form of practice, is intended primarily for kendōka up to second dan ni-dan, but is very useful for all kendo students.

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