Kendo The Way of The Sword

Kendo The Way of the Sword

Kendo The Way of the Sword, is based on traditional Japanese swordsmanship and is today a modern Japanese martial art.  Kendo is a unique product of Japanese culture and is an offspring of Kenjutsu, the classical Japanese sword art. 

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

Kendo is a lifelong activity. Age and gender don’t matter. The purpose when you practice kendo is not only to improve your techniques but also your mind and physical fitness. Kendo is practiced wearing traditional Japanese clothing and armor (bogu), using one or less commonly two bamboo swords (shinai). 

A practitioner of kendo is called kendoka, “one who practices kendo”, but is sometimes also called kenshi which means “swordsman”. Kendo is different from European fencing in the way the sword is handled. Kendo employs strikes involving both the edge and tip of the shinai.

Kendo is practiced worldwide and there is more than 6 million people training. In 1970 the International Kendo Federation (FIK) was established and today around 60 national or regional federations are members.  The World Kendo Championships is held every three years since 1970. 


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 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 on 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 armor 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, or techniques, such as 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.

In 1876, five years after a voluntary surrender of swords, the government banned the use of swords by the surviving samurai and initiated sword hunts. Meanwhile, in an attempt to standardize the sword styles (kenjutsu) used by policemen, Kawaji Toshiyoshi recruited swordsmen from various schools to come up with a unified swordsmanship style. 

This led to the rise of the Battotai lit. Drawn Sword Corps), which mainly featured sword-bearing policemen. However, it proved difficult to integrate all sword arts, which led to a compromise of ten practice moves (kata) for police training. Difficulties of integration notwithstanding, this integration effort led to the development of kendo, which remains in use to date. 

In 1878, Kawaji wrote a book on swordsmanship, titled Gekiken Saikō-ron (Revitalizing Swordsmanship), wherein he stressed that sword styles should not disappear with modernization, considering that other countries have been fascinated with them, but should be integrated as necessary skills for the police. He draws a particular example from his experience with the Satsuma Rebellion.

The Junsa Kyōshūjo (Patrolman’s Training Institute), founded in 1879, provided a curriculum which allowed policemen to study the sword arts during their off-hours (gekiken). In the same year, Kawaji wrote another book on swordsmanship, titled Kendo Saikō-ron (Revitalizing Kendo), wherein he defended the significance of such sword art training for the police. While the institute remained active only until 1881, the police continued to support such practice.

The DNBK changed the name of the sporting form of swordsmanship, called gekiken, (Kyūjitai:; Shinjitai:, “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. The DNBK was also disbanded. Kendo was allowed to return to the curriculum in 1950 (first as “shinai competition” (shinai kyōgi) 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. 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.


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.

Protective armour is worn to protect specified target areas on the head, arms and body. The head is protected by a stylised 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.

In Kendo, Kendoka judge their opponent’s strength and skill by how well they wear their Kendo gear, this is known as Chakuso.

If your Kendo Bogu armor, gi and hakama are not worn properly, you will start the match at a disadvantage. You will experience trouble with your freedom of movement, along with impaired vision. This will easily slow down your progress.

How you look to your opponent, as well as your mindset, is very important. If you don’t seem prepared, the opponent might think that you are weak and have a boost in their confidence. It is not rare to see practitioners fail Kendo gradings due to poor Chakuso.

For example, if the Men is not your size, you won’t be able to see your opponent clearly. As a result, you will be forced to lower your center of gravity to cover up and end up taking a bad position.

By doing this, you will find yourself leaning too far forward and not practicing with the correct form. This exposes the top of your head to your opponent, which can very painful if your opponent lands a strike.

Be sure to practice Kendo the way it is meant to be and avoid picking up bad habits by wearing the proper gear the proper way.

Modern practice

Kendo training is quite noisy in comparison to some 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.

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 mensayu-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.

Author: Nigel Taylor

I`m Nigel Taylor – originally from England – owner of The Backyard Gym in Round Rock Texas. We specialize in personal training, kickboxing cardio and self-defense. With over 25 years experience as a personal trainer, I know what works! From weight loss to bulking up to toning up, I can help you get your desired look and achieve your fitness goals. I can also offer you the privacy of a 100% private personal training studio in which to enjoy and get the most out of your workouts.