For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Kendo, it is a Japanese martial art that translates as 'the way of the sword' and there are two aspects to its practice, one involves two unarmoured practitioners working together with wooden practice swords (boken) performing the Kendo Kata, and the other, the common perception of kendo, is based on full contact practice with bamboo swords called Shinai that look like this...

while wearing bogu (or armour) that looks like this...

As you can see the bogu (armour) protects head (the men), the chest (the do), the hands / wrists (the kote), and the lower abdomen / upper thigh / groin (the tare). Of these only the tare is not covering a target area. The scoring areas in kendo being the head, wrist, chest and throat.

Kendo is a sword combat practice art, descended from kenjutsu, (see Kampai Budokai for one of the more comprehensive kenjutsu / iaijutsu /iaido sites) however the use of armour and a bamboo practice sword allows fierce combat without risking serious injury, as opposed to free sparring with boken (solid wooden practice swords) which can result in broken bones or worse. Though much younger than kenjutsu it is still relatively old, as the photo at left taken @ 1860 demonstrates. From this photo you can see there have been few changes in equipment in over a century except the addition of extra panels on the tare, while the do has the same structure as a modern childrens do.

The kendoka on the right is wearing the same formal hakama and keikogi now worn as a uniform by kendoka.

Shinai sparring, and most waza (technique) training exercises, begin from chudan-no-kamae (illustrated below), the middle guard position, also known as the water kamae due to its flexibility, being strong for both offence and defence.


The men strike illustrated below contains all of the kihon (basics) elements of a kendo cut.


The technique illustrated below, harai-otoshi-men begins with both practitioners in chudan-no-kamae, the kendoka initiating the technique then step out with the right foot while raising the shinai, which then cuts down at the opponents shinai to break their kamae (guard), opening up the opponents 'center', then in one continuous motion the shinai is raised and used to cut the men. (These diagrams are derived from 'Look-Learn-Teach Kendo Illustrated' by Shizawa and Hakamada of Nitaidai - the Japanese Physical Education University, Yokahama)


A valuable supplement to Kendo and the Kendo Kata is the art of Iaido, or the way (path) of drawing the sword, which is practiced with a metal sword, either a blunt iaito or an actual live blade. As such it is carried out by an individual, not with opponents in the manner of kendo. The Setei Gata curriculum as laid down by the ZNKR Iaido governing body consists of twelve kata, or forms, each of which involves the practitioner drawing and striking down one or more hypothetical assailants. Beyond a certain level the Setei Gata curriculum must be supplemented by one of the older iaido schools, which may have hundreds of kata. The Setei Gata curriculum was developed as a synthesis of several of these major traditional styles, drawing on each for different aspects in order to provide a framework for encouraging kendoka to learn how a real katana feels.

The Prince of Satsuma and his principal retainers - 1866
(photo from "Early Japanesese Images" Bennett 1996)

This image is included due to the special place the Satsuma clan had in 19th century Japanese Sword events. Firstly as one of the forces behind the Meiji restoration, they helped establish the political / cultural environment that lead to the making of Kendo a universal art, rather than one practiced mostly by the samurai class, against which their later revolt against the banning of the carrying of swords and other reforms stands out even more starkly.

In Japanese culture the art of the sword still has a powerful position, even these days an aspiring Prime Minister such as Ryutaro Hashimoto used the imagery of Kendo, such as the picture at left from a 1997 political advertisement. As Prime Minister he attended the 10th World Kendo Championships in Kyoto in 1997 to watch the teams event, and spent the 1997 Bunka no Hi holiday at a Kendo tournament. It is enjoyed by all levels of society.

The first Japanes / English page I saw on the net is that of Abe Akihito. Another kendo site that has the html version of Neil Gendzwill's excellent Japanese Sword FAQ on the site of the Saskatoon Kendo Club, which provides a good range of kendo and other Japanese sword links, and I must include a link to the pages of the Central Coast Kendo Club who are long time friends of Wollongong Kendo and to the Melbourne Budokai down in Victoria.

A Japanese company that does kendo, jodo, iaido and kyudo mail order is Tozando based in Kyoto, a shop well worth a visit if you are over there, though for the Iaido devotee Seki city in Gifu province is the place to go, especially at New Years. Nosyu is our company of choice there.

I personally fell into the Japanese sword arts from collecting edged weapons, especially east asian ones, of which the Javanese Kris was my particular favourite (the high cost of collecting nihonto or genuine Japanese blades put them out of my reach for many years). Since starting Kendo however I have found a growing fascination with all Japanese weapon arts, and enjoy watching tameshigiri, iaijutsu, jodo and naginata as much as Kendo, my regret being that there is insufficient time to pursue all of them, and few instructors available in the Illawarra anyway.

These are books on the Japanese sword that I have found useful, and here is a small gallery of traditional (12th to 18th century) Japanese paintings.

If you are considering visiting Japan to see Kendo in it's home environment check this NTT maintained site Schauwecker's Guide to Japan is full of information.

1996/97/98/99/02/03/05/09 Aden Steinke

Somehow this page was

for 25th March 1997.

and selected as a

Attitude Award Winner