Kendo: The Japanese Art of Fencing

kendo banniere

Kendo is literally translated as the way of the sword. It is a sport which was highly publicized throughout Japan.

More than a sport, Kendo includes spiritual elements aimed at bringing the practitioner to a higher level of consciousness and Zen.

Key points of Kendo

  • it is the way of the sword
  • it is a very competitive sport in Japan
  • it aims to develop strength of character and discipline
  • it is practiced with unsharpened weapons and with an armor
  • it is very codified, the movements are cut out to be worked in depth

How is Kendo practiced?

Kendo is not practiced any old way. It is codified and brings all the necessary safety to the practitioner. Kendo has kept its spirit of efficiency since kenjutsu. Practitioners must therefore take their own measures to avoid injury during training and fights.

The armor in Kendo

Kendo practitioners are called kendokas. They practice this art wearing armor. This one protects them at the level of the head, the throat, the hands, and the abdomen which are the targets that one will aim in this discipline.

The sword in Kendo

The sword will also have a function of protection of the competitors. It is unsharpened and made of bamboo material. He is called Shinai. It is composed of four flat blades from the same bamboo.

It is held with both hands and with an upright posture. Like kenjutsu, the objective is to attack your opponent while striking back at the same time. Kendokas also excel in the initiative of their strikes. They are trained to spot the first opportunity to attack and strike a fatal blow.

The movements of the kendoka

The movements of the kendoka are done only with the help of the okuri ashi. This is a sliding step that allows you to throw yourself forward to hit your target. During training, kendokas are not enemies, they work together to improve their discipline.

The exercises are performed in pairs. The one who takes the initiative is called moto dachi and the one who responds is called kakari. But thanks to the armor they wear, they can also practice free assaults. They can then hit their partner with all their strength.

This work method pushes practitioners to their limits, just like in real combat. They can then use their Kendo technique with speed and strength. Kendo is practiced with the help of kata, where kendokas must perform a series of prepared attacks that are supposed to be effective in real combat.

Kendo illustration

Types of swords for Kendo

The types of weapons in Kendo are identified by their length .

1. Daitô is the most used in Kendo. It has a length of two shaku, about 60 cm. This is the default sword that is used and is considered to be of normal size.

2. For the kata series, the shoto is also used. It includes swords of one shaku, about 30cm. They are called wakizashi, or tanto which can be even smaller than 30 cm.

In Kendo, it is possible to use unsharpened versions of Japanese swords. Thus, kendokas can choose from a wide variety of swords according to their style. But the most common is the daito which is held by the belt and with the edge up.

The measure of a Japanese sword

The length of a nihonto (katana) is determined from the tip to the point where the tip enters the handle (habaki). The measurement is done in a straight line and ignores the curved shape of the katana.

This type of measurement allows the effective length of the blade to be measured in combat. A katana with a longer but more curved blade would cover the same distance as a less curved and shorter sword.

Good to know: the type of katana is not only determined by the length of the blade. We take into account:

  • the width of the blade
  • the type of cutting edge applied
  • the length of the tip

Each katana corresponds to a particular period in Japan. The natives make a big difference depending on the sword, even if it can be minimal for a westerner.

Each type of katana also has a different forging and quality.

If you want to buy a katana, please visit our katana store.

Kendo illustration

Kata: codified techniques

Kata was established to allow the transmission of sword techniques in an efficient manner. There are ten such techniques for Kendo.

The Uchi Dachi partner must take the initiative with his daito and perform a series of 7 movements. He then uses his short sword (shoto) to make the last 3 movements.

In kendo, dummy swords are used that imitate Japanese swords. They are called bokken or Iaito.

Kata, vestiges of a thousand-year-old experience in combat

Kendo was inspired by the combat experience of the samurai. These legendary warriors have recorded all the most impactful techniques to win in a sword fight. Initially taught through kenjutsu, it gradually transformed into the modern art of kendo.

Kendo was first taught to soldiers wearing heavy armor on the battlefield. The modernization of weapons did not allow soldiers to wear this kind of armor anymore. They had become useless against firearms and too heavy to move.

Lighter armors have appeared and allow the development of agility of warriors in combat. In times of peace, kata were transmitted through this kind of discipline. They have proven to be very effective, leading to both body and mind work.

It is the spiritual side that will take over in the practice of Kendo. The kendoka must not only master the kata. He must adopt a dignified, calm attitude, be aware of his environment, his strength and have an iron discipline.

Kata, the central element of Kendo?

Even though kata is no longer the only element taught in kendo, it is still central. Through their practice, you will learn:

  • how to hold your own in battle
  • how to make a good cutting motion
  • to be precise

In short, kendo cannot exist without kata. Their practice will give you a certain elegance to the sword while combining strength and speed. Kata trains the mind of its practitioner by pushing him to work on his concentration, breathing and movements.

It then goes hand in hand with the development of the mind. Without kata, the practitioner cannot fully experience the full awakening of his consciousness and mind.

The origins of Kendo

Kendo takes its name from the very beginnings of the creation of Japanese swords. The original weapons made were called “ken“. They date back to the second century B.C. and are the basis of arts such as kenjutsu and kendo.

Blacksmiths quickly improved their katana forging techniques to surpass those of the mainland. The katana then became a prestigious weapon and became part of the equipment of every Japanese lord.

From this unique weapon in Japanese culture, arts were created to master them. The use of bokken is recorded four centuries after Jesus Christ. There is also tachikaki, the art of drawing a sword.

All these disciplines were taught by masters of arms with combat experience. Kenjutsu is the heir of tachiuchi, itself heir of tachikaki. In other words, the art of swordsmanship has developed over the ages and through the battles fought by the samurai.

It is in the eighth century that kenjutsu develops a lot. In the fourteenth century, it became very popular and allowed the Japanese to preserve their fighting art during successive periods.

More recently, the Japanese governor made it mandatory to practice kendo in schools in 1871. Kendo then became a popular sport, which is now broadcasted on Japanese television.

In 1909, Kendo became even more a part of Japanese culture. It was during this period that the first kendo federation was created.

The rules of kendo are very codified for a learning in accordance with the traditions.

kendo duel

Iaido, the art of drawing and striking

The concept is simple: draw your sword and strike in a single blow.

The goal of laido is to control oneself:

  • oneself
  • its sword

Iaido is practiced alone and he uses the kata for his movements. For each series of movements, the practitioner must finish with his sword sheathed.

The discipline calls for a lot of imagination as one must create efficient and elegant kata series.

Iaido is very often practiced with kendo. This helps the practitioner to stay connected with a more realistic katana practice. Iaido students learn the movements of Kendo in order to perfect their skills.

Iaijutsu, the art of killing in one blow

This technique teaches theart of drawing very quickly to counter and kill in one blow. The cutting actions are very regulated and also require a lot of concentration.

Iaijutsu is less concerned with the spiritual dimension of martial arts. He is more direct and energetic in his approach to his discipline. However, there are ryu which are types of techniques that correspond to the spirit of the practitioner.

The difference between laido and laijutsu is therefore minimal.

How does the action of drawing and sheathing a katana work?

1. When the practitioner draws his katana or tach, he must hold the scabbard with his left hand.

2. The handle must be held with the right hand. This is the starting position for drawing the katana effectively.

3. Slowly draw the katana by applying downward pressure on the handle.

4. The tsuba (guard) is pushed with the left thumb. This method of drawing the sword is primarily to avoid injury to the author. This left thumb pushes the blade out of the sheath and allows for smooth movement.

5. To sheath the katana, you must hold the opening of the scabbard in your left hand. The reverse side of the blade is pulled to the sheath to accompany the blade inside. To do this, it is held between the thumb and forefinger which guide the movement. The blade is always retracted with the blade facing up.


What is Kendo?

Kendo is the art of wielding the Japanese sword. It teaches its practitioners all the best kendo techniques used by the samurai of the time during their fights. It is practiced with the help of kata according to very codified rules. Kendo is practiced with a bokken and armor.

Whatdoes Kendo teach ?

Kendo gives you exceptional swordplay and a sharp mind. It will teach you concepts such as concentration, precision, discipline, self-control, etc. Kendo is now taught in every school in Japan and is widely followed on television.

Is it hard to learn Kendo?

Kendo is a demanding art that will take many years to master. You will have to learn the kata on your fingertips and know how to replicate them with exceptional finesse. To become a master in the art of Kendo, you will need to train at a recognized school throughout your life.