What’s Kendo?

Print anything with Printful

Kendo is a Japanese martial art that evolved from samurai sword fencing techniques. It focuses on physical, mental, and spiritual development, using non-lethal tools and armor. Kendoka practice kata and engage in keiko to test their live combat ability. Kendo emphasizes etiquette and form, distinguishing it from other martial arts.

Kendo, literally meaning “The Way of the Sword”, is a contemporary Japanese martial art that evolved from the traditions of the samurai, the warrior class of ancient Japan, based on sword fencing techniques developed over the centuries of fighting. Like many Japanese martial arts, Kendo’s philosophical underpinnings revolve around the precepts of Zen Buddhism and the guiding belief that enlightenment and heightened awareness result from the ability to focus and still the mind. Following in the footsteps of the samurai, modern practitioners of Kendo, or “Kendoka” as they are called, strive not only to master the physical techniques of Japanese swordsmanship, but also the mental and spiritual aspects.

Although the roots of Kendo lie with the ancient samurai, the art has evolved over the centuries, adapting to changing social conditions, to its current form in which competition between practitioners does not imply life-or-death combat with razor sharp blades, but controlled encounters governed by strict rules of conduct and non-lethal tools. This difference in focus distinguishes Kendo from ‘Kenjutsu’, which is also a Japanese sword art derived from traditional fencing. Unlike Kendo, whose techniques are updated for practice as a non-lethal aesthetic, Kenjutsu’s primary focus is combat and warfare, and as such closely parallels the actual lethal techniques employed by samurai on the battlefield.

Instead of the katana, the traditional samurai sword, modern Kendoka use the shinai, an instrument constructed with four bamboo staves tied together at specific points with leather bands. This non-lethal weapon, together with the use of armor, or “bogu,” as it is called in Kendo, allows the Kendoka to engage in fencing contests without fear of death or serious bodily injury. The bogu is modeled after traditional samurai armor, which unlike the cumbersome metal armor of European knights, was lightweight and designed for optimal movement and flexibility.

Kendo practice traditionally takes place in a training hall or “dojo.” The organization of a dojo is hierarchical, with the master at the top and the beginning students at the bottom. As in other Japanese martial arts, the belt or ‘kyu’ system is employed, with the highest rank or ‘dan’ being the black belt. Students train in Kendo through the practice of ‘kata’, a series of formal exercises handed down through the ages that replicate the movements and techniques required in traditional combat. In addition to learning and practicing the different kata, the Kendoka also engages in informal bouts known as “keiko” or “kumite,” moderated by senior members of the dojo, and test the practitioner’s live combat ability.

A demanding and rigorous martial art, Kendo is distinguished from other forms of martial activity primarily by its intense involvement in observing the etiquette and form of established traditions. While other martial arts focus primarily on the physical performance of the practitioner, Kendo is equally concerned with the mental and spiritual development of the individual. Through the mastery of traditional kata and the experience of kumite, Kendoka strive to achieve the same sense of transcendence and discipline exemplified by the samurai, the swordsmen originally from Japan.

Protect your devices with Threat Protection by NordVPN

Skip to content