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Kendo: Japanese Martial Art of Sword

Kendo: Japanese Martial Art of Sword

Kendo is a rather modern Japanese martial art that was modeled after the Japanese traditional martial art of sword - kenjutsu. In Japanese, Ken means “sword” and “do” means “way” or path. It’s a combat sport similar to fencing in some ways. As for the rules, winning points in both Kendo and fencing are gained through the weapon's contact with the opponent. Furthermore, they are both transformed from the swordsmanship of knights/warriors that lay stress on honor, dignity, and courtesy. Therefore, Kendo is also a practice to mold not only the body but also the mind.

History of Kendo

Kendo Match

The Japanese legend of the sword can be traced back to the early Japan period when Yamato Takeru (72-113CE), the Japanese King Arthur, was saved by his god-given sword - Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi(Grass Cutting Sword). This legendary sword is now still used at enthronement ceremonies of the Japanese Emperor. In the middle of the Heian period, due to the battlefield experience, the Japanese invented the single-edged curved sword, which was the prototype of the modern “Japanese sword”.

Kamakura period (1192-1333CE) saw many wars in Japan, which catalyzed the emergence of military clans that stressed various martial arts. During this period, Japanese warriors honed their sword skills and established schools of kenjutsu. Kata, the formal pattern of the kenjutsu movement, was formed in this period.

During the Edo period (1603-1868CE), Naganuma Shirōzaemon Kunisato introduced the shinai (bamboo sword used for practice) and bogu (armor) into sword training. At that time, the practice and competition of swordsmanship was the prototype of modern kendo. After the Meiji Restoration, the Japanese Police forces recruited swordsmen from all over the country and developed the modern kendo kata according to the ancient kenjutsu kata. The Keishicho Gekken Kata (Police department attacking motion kendo kata) consisted of ten techniques selected from 10 of the most prominent Ryu (genre) and was adopted by police academies throughout the country.

Rules of Kendo

Kendo Equipment

Two contenders held the shinai with both hands and use the “cutting” edge to attack. The contender who scores two points is the winner. To win a point, the attacker should strike a proper target with his/her shinai and shout the name of the attack area. Moreover, the attacker’s front foot must contact the ground. A proper attack target includes the head (left side, right side, and top), wrist (left and right), trunk (left and right), and throat. The strike is the proper attack technique for the body part, including the head, wrists, and trunk. The thrust should only be used to attack the throat.

Before the competition starts, the contenders should bow to each other and squat. They should not stand up and fight until the referee shout “start”. The duration of a match is five minutes, and extra three minutes for overtime extension. Since 2007, the duration of a deciding match is 10 minutes.

Equipment of Kendo


As an aggressive sport, it’s easy to get harmed without proper protection. Traditional Japanese armor should be worn when practicing kendo. The armor is called bogu which consists of four parts: men (face mask), do (chest protector), tare (waist protector), and kote (glove).

  1. Men: It consists of thick cotton pads, a metal grill, and leather flaps. It can protect the head, ears, face, throat, and shoulder.
  2. Do: It is made from bamboo, fiberglass, or high-strength plastic. It can protect the chest and flanks.
  3. Tare: It looks like an apron but makes of heavily quilted cotton and leather. It can protect the hips, thighs, and groin.
  4. Kote: It’s a pair of gloves made of leather and cotton to protect contenders’ hands and wrists.