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Updated on January 1, 2010

Kendo is a ritualized form of Japanese sword-fighting derived from ancient combat skills. It is now a competitive sport for men and women. Kendo means the way (do) of the sword (ken). In kendo, the weapon is represented by a bamboo sword, shinai, for contest, and by a wooden sword, bokuto, for training and practice. The philosophy of kendo is based on the belief that strict discipline and formal training procedures result in spiritual and mental refinement. The relationship of teacher to student is that of master and disciple.

For centuries swordsmanship was admired in Japan, and an elaborate etiquette evolved for the carrying and use of the sword. As early as the 8th century, warriors entered competition to demonstrate proficiency in kendo. In the 18th century, protective equipment was introduced, and kendo began to develop into its present form.

Photo by Darya Klevetova
Photo by Darya Klevetova

In the past, kendo was associated with militarism and nationalism. When the samurai class was abolished in 1869 and the carrying of swords was outlawed, kendo declined. The Sino-Japanese war in 1894-1895 and the Russo-Japanese war in 1904-1905 provided the background for a renewal of the martial spirit, and from 1911 until World War II, kendo was widely practiced and was compulsory in public schools. After the war the martial arts were outlawed. In the 1950's kendo was reintroduced in school physical education programs. The International Kendo Federation was founded in 1970.

The shinai is made of four lengths of split bamboo bound with leather thongs. The hilt is leather covered. It is from 1.10 to 1.18 meters (43-46 inches) long. The bokuto is about 100 cm (40 inches) long for adults. Clothing consists of a jacket and a floor-length garment, hakama, tied around the waist. The hakama is full and pleated and may be skirtlike or split, trouser fashion. In the formal preparation for kendo, the jacket and hakama are put on first. Then the contestant kneels with the buttocks resting on the heels, and puts on the hip-and-waist protector and the chest protector. A cotton towel is wrapped around the head. The head-and-neck gear and gloves are put on last.

The kendo practice hall is called a dojo. The contest area is a wood floor from 9 to 11 meters (29-36 feet) square. After the contestants rise and bow, they stand with the right foot slightly advanced and the left heel slightly raised. The shinai is held in both hands, the tip directed toward the opponent's throat.

Basic Kendo Actions

The basic actions are: (1) with the shinai held overhead, a downward cut onto the head; (2) diagonal swings to the sides of the head or body or to the wrists; and (3) a forward thrust into the throat. Training involves learning the cuts, thrusts, appropriate blocks and parries, counterattacks, and footwork. To earn a point, the contestant calls out the intended target area. Points are given for strikes to the areas of the body listed above. Matches usually last five minutes, and the first man to score two points wins. If there is a tie, the referee may declare the winner, or lots may be drawn.

Another form of kendo practice is kata, a formal series of prearranged attack-defense moves, performed without protective equipment. The objective of kata is perfection of technique. One school of thought values kata because competition is not a factor. Kata, in that view, is "pure" kendo. In most kata, both individuals use the bokuto, but in some kata one opponent uses a single-handed, shorter wooden sword.


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    • captainchris profile image


      8 years ago

      I never thought they banned martial arts in the 50's. But it's amazing how other forms of Japanese martial arts were still passed on until today.

      But I think Kendo is an art in itself. Great piece of trivial hub!

    • Storytellersrus profile image


      8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Ecclectic is great! And so is this hub, thanks!


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