A Beginner’s Guide to the Japanese Martial Art of Kendo

  • Have you ever heard of kendo (剣道)? It’s a type of Japanese martial arts. A kendo player wears armor and fights with a bamboo stick called “shinai (竹刀).” By hitting your opponent in the right place with the shinai, you will gain a point. There are four parts of the body that you should aim at: men (面; head), kote (小手; forearm), do (胴; belly), and tsuki (突き; throat). Even though kendo is known by literally everyone in Japan, it’s still not famous outside of Japan, which I think is sad because kendo is really exciting, fun, and healthy for your mind and body. So let me introduce kendo in this article.

    What is kendo?


    The most important thing to know about kendo is that it is not just a sport. Politeness, manners, and the mind are as highly regarded in kendo as physical abilities, kendo skills, and techniques. I’d like to explain a famous kendo phrase: “Ki Ken Tai Icchi (気剣体一致).” A literal translation would be, “The coordination of mind, sword, and body.” This means that even though you hit your opponent in the right place, if your mind or body is not ready for the strike, it won’t be a valid point. All of these three aspects must focus on the strike. Thus, kendo players try to train their mindsーespecially in terms of concentration and calmnessーas well as their kendo skills.

    When I started kendo at the age of 12, one of the first things I was taught by my coach was to yell seriously. To those who have no knowledge of kendo, it might look a bit weird. But screaming, yelling, and shouting at your opponents conveys your “readiness” to defeat them. Even if you strike your opponent in the right place a million times, if you cannot shout at the same time, you will never get a point. The judges will think that your mind was left behind. “No yelling. Thus, the strike was a mere coincidence.”

    Kendo in Japan

    In Japan, kendo is one of the most well-known sports. Almost every school has a kendo club. At my junior high school and high school, I belonged to the Kendo Club where I practiced kendo almost every day. Furthermore, kendo is included in the National Physical Education Curriculum for boys.

    Kendo is popular among adults, too. Both my city and the university that I went to have several kendo clubs. Kendo is simply suitable for anyone, from children to the elderly, men or women. An agile and tall young man can lose to a short elderly woman. Experience, techniques, and strategies are often stronger than speed, power, and youth.

    Kendo Around the World

    In some countries, kendo seems to have gained popularity. There is a World Kendo Championship (世界剣道選手権大会) every three years. About 50 countries from all over the world participated in the 2015 WKC.

    Most of the time, Japan wins the competition in all four sections (Men’s Team, Women’s Team, Men’s Individual, and Women’s Individual). However, Korea and America are also very strong; and in 2006, Korea won the Men’s Team section.

    Kendo is deep. It’s impossible to explain everything about it no matter how much time and space I have.

    If you are interested in kendo, I recommend you to watch kendo videos. Watching kendo matches will give you a general feeling about it. If your towns or cities have local kendo clubs, that’s fantastic. If you ever have a chance to stay in Japan for a long while, that would be a wonderful opportunity to start kendo!

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