Kendo 101: the way of the sword

16 October, 2013   Gloria Lin

image credit: VOXSPORTS

What is Kendo?

Kendo is a modern Japanese martial art form known as the ‘Way Of The Sword’. The word ‘Kendo’ is comprised of two kanji characters - ken (剣), which means ‘sword’, and do (道), which means ‘way’. Thus, kendo literally means the ‘way of the sword’. It was adapted from Kenjutsu, the traditional Japanese swordsmanship, and also incorporates the sword skills of ancient Japanese samurai warriors’ who used the katana. Kendo aims to engage not only the body but also the mind, with an emphasis placed on cultural awareness. 

The main components of Kendo are the Shinai, or bamboo sword, and the Bogu, or modern armour. The Bogu is made of thick cotton and protects one from the opponent’s blows. 

How to Play

Compared to other martial art forms, Kendo may strike some as being noisy. This is due to the Kendo belief that shouting during combat is a sign of one’s fighting spirit. When striking, Kendōkas also stamp down hard on their front foot.

There are four valid target areas which opponents aim for in combat: the Men, or head, the Kote, or wrists, the Do, or torso and the Tsuki, or throat. They can either strike, or thrust, although thrusting is only permitted on the Tsuki.

There are many ways to execute a blow in Kendo, although they are classified into two categories of techniques - the Shikake-waza, or offensive technique, and the Oji-waza, or defensive technique. Shikake means ‘challenge’, and Oji means ‘respond’, thus the Shikake-waza is an initiated attack while the Oji-waza is the defensive technique that is done as a response to an opponent’s attack. 

However, some techniques are a combination of the two wazas, even though they are classed under either category. These include the Harai-waza, or the deflecting technique, which is an offensive technique involving a strike made after deflecting the opponent’s blow, and the Nuki-waza, or the avoiding technique, where one avoids the opponent’s blow and causes their Shinai to swing through the air, and then attacking them afterwards. 

Why try Kendo?

Learning Kendo opens up opportunities to meet a wide variety of people, as Kendo classes usually consist of a mix of people of different backgrounds and demographics. With its teaching philosophies and methods, Kendo does not discriminate against any age group and thus makes it suitable for people looking for a well-rounded sport. 

It also caters to a range of physical fitness. At the beginner level, Kendo is gentle, with the intensity builds up going into the advanced levels. 

For those interested in learning Kendo, the Singapore Kendo Club conducts a beginners course that lasts for six months with lessons occurring twice a week.