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


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

There are estimates that about six million people world-wide practice Kendo, with approximately four million in Japan, one million in Koreamarker, and more in Europe and the United Statesmarker. The "Kodansha Meibo" (a register of dan graded members of the All Japan Kendo Federation) shows that as of January 2003, there were 1.3 million registered dan graded kendoka in Japan. The number of kendoka not yet graded to a dan level is not included: those kendoka would outnumber considerably the dan graded players.

Concept and purpose

In 1975 the All Japan Kendo Federation (AJKF) developed then published 'The Concept and Purpose of Kendo' which is reproduced below.


Kendo is a way to discipline the human character through the application of the principles of the Katana.


: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 Kendo.
:To hold in esteem human courtesy and honor.
:To associate with others with sincerity.
:And to forever pursue the cultivation of oneself.

:Thus will one be able:
:To love ones country and society.
:To contribute to the development of culture
:And to promote peace and prosperity among all peoples.


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. 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.

Kendō 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 armour (bōgu) to "ken" training is attributed to Naganuma Sirōzaemon Kunisato during the Shotoku Era (1711-1715). Naganuma developed the use of kendo-gu (bogu) (protective equipment) and established a training method using the shinai.

In addition, the inscription on the gravestone of Yamada Heizaemon Mitsunori's (Ippūsai) (山田平左衛門光徳(一風斎), 1638 – 1718) third son Naganuma Sirōzaemon Kunisato (長沼 四郎左衛門 国郷, 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 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 armour 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 , or "empty mind", are borrowed from Zen buddhism and are considered essential for the attainment of high-level kendo. , or "unmoving mind", is a conceptual attribute of the deity Fudo Myo-O, one of the five "Kings of Light" of Shingon Buddhism. Fudōshin, implies that the kendoka cannot be led astray by delusions of anger, doubt, fear, or surprise arising from the opponent’s actions. 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 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 militarization of martial arts instruction in Japan. Kendo was allowed to return to the curriculum in 1950 (first as Shinai Kyougi "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.

Equipment and clothing

Kendo is practiced wearing a Japanese traditional style of clothing, protective armour and using one, or less commonly, two shinai.File:Shinai.jpg|A shinai.File:Men (kendo).jpg|MenFile:Do_kendo.jpg|File:Tare.jpg|TareFile:Kote.jpg|KoteFile:Kendo uniform parts.png|Armour and clothing components


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 fibre reinforced resin slats is also used.

Kendoka also use hard wooden swords 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.

The protective armour is worn to protect specified target areas on the head, arms and body.

The head is protected by a stylised helmet with a metal grille to protect the face, a series of hard leather and fabric flaps to protect the throat and padded fabric flaps to protect the side of the neck and shoulders.

The forearm, wrist, and hand are protected by long, thickly padded fabric gloves .

The torso is protected by a breastplate , while the waist and groin area is protected by the tare, comprising 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 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 , to express their fighting spirit when striking. Additionally, kendōka execute , an action similar to a stamp of the front foot, when making a strike.

Like some other martial arts, kendoka 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 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 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 kendoka.File:Wikikendo3.JPG|Kendoka perform sonkyo after combat.File:Kendo_EM_2005_-_taiatari.jpg|Two kendoka in tsuba zeriai.File:Kendo target areas.png|Kendo target points, or datotsu-bui.File:Kendo EM 2005 - nito.jpg|Two kendoka, one (left) is playing in nitō (two sword style) and the other (right) is playing in ittō (one sword style).

Once a kendoka begins practice in armour, a practice session may include any or all of the following types of practice.

  • : Striking the left and right men target points in succession, practising centering, distance, and correct technique, while building spirit and stamina.
  • : waza or technique practice in which the student learns and refines that techniques of Kendo with a receiving partner.
  • : short, intense, attack practice which teaches continuous alertness and readiness to attack, as well as building spirit and stamina.
  • : undirected practice where the kendoka tries all that has been learnt during practice against an opponent.
  • : practice between two kendoka of similar skill level.
  • : practice where a senior kendoka guides a junior through practice.
  • : competition practice which may also be judged.


In competition , a point is only awarded, in principle, when the attack is made to a target area with ki-ken-tai-itchi (気剣体-一致), or spirit, sword and body as one. For an attack to be successful, the shinai must strike the specified target soundly, the contact by the shinai must happen simultaneously with the attacker's front foot connecting with floor, and the kendoka must execute a spirited and convincing in co-ordination with the strike. For a strike to be deemed sound, the point of contact must fall within the top third of the shinai, and the direction of movement of the shinai must be technically correct. Finally, , or continuation of awareness, must be present and shown throughout the execution of the strike, and the kendoka must be ready to attack again.

In competition, there are usually three referees . Each referee holds a red flag and a white flag in opposing hands. To award a point, a referee raises the flag corresponding to the colour of the ribbon worn by the scoring competitor. Usually at least two referees must agree for a point to be awarded. The match continues until a pronouncement of the point that has been scored.

Kendo competitions are usually a three point match. The first competitor to score two points, therefore 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:
  • : The match is declared a draw.
  • : The match is continued until either competitor scores a point.
  • : The victor is decided by the referees. The three referees vote for victor by each raising one of their respective flags simultaneously.


Technical achievement in kendo is measured by advancement in grade, rank or level. The and grading system is used to indicate one's proficiency in modern kendo. The dan levels are from first-dan to tenth-dan . There are usually six grades below first-dan, known as kyu. The kyu numbering is in reverse order, with first kyu being the grade immediately below first dan, and sixth kyu being the lowest grade.

Eighth-dan is the highest dan grade attainable through a test of physical kendo skills. In the AJKF the grades of ninth-dan and tenth-dan are no longer awarded, but ninth-dan kendoka are still active in Japanese kendo. International Kendo Federation grading rules allow national kendo organisations to establish a special committee to consider the award of those grades.

All candidates for examination face a panel of examiners. A larger, more qualified panel is usually assembled to assess the higher dan grades.

Kendo examinations typically consist of a demonstration of the skill of the applicants and for some dan grades, also a written exam. The eighth-dan kendo exam is extremely difficult, with a reported pass rate of less than 1 percent.

There are no visible differences in dress between kendo grades; those below dan-level may dress the same as those above dan-level.


There are 10 . These are performed with wooden swords . 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 or , may be used for display of 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 or style bokutō of around 55 cm. During kata practice, the participants take the roles of either , the teacher, or , 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 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 All Japan Kendo Federation introduced Bokuto Ni Yoru Kendo Kihon-waza Keiko-ho (木刀による剣道基本技稽古法), a set of basic exercises using a bokuto, attempted to bridge this gap. This form of practice, is intended primarily for kendoka up to second dan , but is very useful for all kendo students.

Outside Japan

The International Kendo Federation (FIK) was established in 1970 to provide a link between Japan and the developing international kendo community. 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. Seventeen national or regional federations were the founding affiliates. The number of affiliated and recognised organisations has increased over the years to 50 affiliates by February 2009.

The World Kendo Championships are an FIK event and have been held every three years since 1970.

See also

Notes and references

  1. Matunobu, Yamazaki and Nojima (1989), 剣道 (Kendo), Seibido Sports Series (27), Seibido Publishers, Tokyo (in Japanese)

External links

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