Miyamoto MusashiWhat is Kendo?

Kendo, literally the Way of the Sword, is the art of Japanese fencing.  It is one of the oldest and most respected martial arts (budo) of Japan and traces its origins to the techniques and methods used by the samurai to gain mastery of the sword (katana), and ultimately of the mind.  The word itself, composed of the ideographs (kanji) for sword (ken) and way (do), conveys a deeper meaning than the mere acquiring of technique. Kendo implies a lifelong pursuit of self-knowledge and self-discipline through a demanding physical and mental training regimen.

This rigorous training will develop stamina and endurance, increase agility and flexibility, enhance mental concentration and alertness, and promote all-round well-being.

Kendo philosophy is exemplified by the important concepts of ki ken tai i-chi, spirit-sword-body-one, or the unity of thought and action in the application of technique, and zan shin, maintaining a resolute will.

BoguThe equipment (bogu) used in kendo consists of a face mask (men) secured to the head by two cords (himo), a chest guard (do), padded gloves (kote) and a waist and hip guard (tare). The bogu is usually made from stitched cotton panels, leather and bamboo, although modern materials are now used for durability and economy.  The bogu is lightweight and flexible and allows for complete freedom of movement.  The bogu provides adequate protection against injury and thus enables the kendoka to exert maximun effort during fencing matches without fear of injuring their fencing partner. Strikes in kendo are only allowed to areas protected by the bogu.

Also worn for comfort and freedom of movement are the quilted jacket (keiko gi) and a type of pleated trousers (hakama).  The thick cotton keiko gi absorbs perspiration effectively and provides additional protection.  The hakama helps to disguise the kendoka's footwork helping to keep an opponent off guard.  Under the men a small cotton towel (tenogui) is worn in a turban-like fashion to help absorb any perspiration that might otherwise fall into the kendoka's eyes.

A bamboo stave (shinai) is used in place of a sword. This shinai is constructed of four shafts of split bamboo (sake[A]), bound with a leather grip (tsukagawa [B]) and cap (sakigawa [C]), and leather thong (nakayui [D]) wound three times around the shafts, all tied together by a nylon chord (tsuru [E]) running from tip to hilt. Additionally, a round hand guard (tsuba [F]) is slipped over the tsuka and held in place by a rubber washer (tsuba dome [G]).


Training in kendo is based on a variety of offensive and defensive movements or techniques (waza). Of these most fundamental (kihon waza) are stance (kamae), footwork (suri ashi), strikes (uchi), thrusts (tsuki), feints and parries.

Ji Geiko: Free PracticePractice may consist of a drill in one or more of these waza, but free practice (ji keiko) is most common. Among these drills are sustained practice (kakari geiko) where studnets are compelled to attack over and over again, repetitive practice (kiri kaeshi) where students strike alternating diagonal cuts to the men, or tournament practice (shiai geiko).  Most favored by kendoka is, of course, ji geiko where two kendoka fence freely attempting to out-think and out-manoever other and ultimately strike a decisive point (ippon).

There are four prescribed points (datotsu) in kendo which must be struck with proper posture, intensity, precision, and must be accompanied by a spirited shout (kiai). These are a strike to the center of the face guard or obliquely to the temples (men), a diagonal stike across the trunk protector (do), a strike to the wrist (kote), and the only thrust allowed to the throat guard (tsuki).

Men Uchi: Strike to Forehead

Men uchi is the primary attack in kendo.  It is big, bold and decisive. As it represents a lethal cut to the forehead, men uchi clearly establishes victory. It is the most widely used technique, especially in tournaments.  Men is the first technique learned by beginners and should be the technique a fencer can rely on in tough matches.

Do Uchi: Strike to the Trunk

Do uchi is perhaps the most spectacular technique.  It is a large slashing motion that crashes loudly against the do.

Kote Uchi: Strike to the Wrist

Kote uchi can be a demoralizing technique, particularly when used as a counter stroke (debana waza).  When your opponent attacks your men a fast, preemptive kote can be devastating, another tournament favorite.

Thrust to the Throat

Tsuki is the most intimidating technique.  It can be dangerous, therefore it is the last technique learned.  In general it should not be used by inexperienced fencers and rarely even by the experienced.

Like the other Japanese martial arts, kendo has a grading system with six classes (kyu) of beginners (mudansha) and eight grades (dan) of experienced fencers (yudansha). Unlike other martial arts, however, practitioners (kendoka) do not wear any external emblems of rank, such as colored belts, preferring instead to demonstrate their expertise through their actions on the dojo floor.

Above all, it must be stated that technique and physical prowess are not the sum measure of an accomplished kendoka. Rather, it is the kendoka's dignified bearing, respectful manners, and perserverance in practice that are the hallmarks of good kendo.

In summary, kendo is a traditional martial art that has transcended its bloody origins as a means to defeat external enemies to become a means to defeat internal enemies: fear, doubt, confusion, surprise, envy and vanity. Kendo aims to inspire its practitioners to practice hard, to endure against adversity, to stand valiantly against the strong and to show compassiontoward the weak, without self-promotion or expectation of reward.