Kendo (the Japanese art of fencing) (剣道)

Kendo means Budo (martial art), which was introduced as a competitive sport through the reorganization of Gekken (swordsmanship), which was the Shinai (bamboo sword) training of Kenjutsu (swordplay), a time-honored Japanese Bujutsu (martial art); also, it's a way or ascetic training aiming at character-building through the practice of the Ken (sword with two sharpened edges) principle.

The name "Kendo" seems to have been established in or around the end of Meiji period to the early Taisho period, as it recorded that Dai Nippon Butoku Kai, which was established in 1899 to restore Bujutsu, using examples from Jujutsu versus Judo of the Kodokan Judo Institute, established the Kendo name in around 1919 so that Kenjutsu and Gekken, which were handed down from the Edo period, would be introduced into physical education in the school system by changing the training methods and making it a form of mental training such as Yamato-gokoro (Japanese spirit) (Yamato-damashii [Japanese spirit]) (a poem of Sasaburo TAKANO describes, "Kendo is a God-instructed way; this technique refines Yamato-gokoro") (the term "Kendo" was used by some schools as early as the Edo period; for instance, Abe-tate densho (book) in 1667 described that since Kenjutsu was for daily use the name of Kendo would be used).

Related associations

There are two associations domestically and one overseas.

The All Japan Kendo Federation (AJKF)

The AJKF is a domestic Kendo sports association in Japan. It's affiliated with the Japan Amateur Sports Association, the Japanese Olympic Committee and the International Kendo Federation.

The International Kendo Federation (FIK)

The FIK was established in 1970. Since then, it has held the World Kendo Championships every three years. Forty-four domestic sports associations are affiliated with the Federation (as of July 2003). It is affiliated with the GAISF, which is an IOC-approved association. It aspires to become a member of the IOC-approved International Sports Association.

Nihon Kendo Kyokai

In matches, not only attacks using a Shinai but also the body check, foot sweep, grappling and so on are allowed.

Although the All Japan Kendo Federation is affiliated with the JOC and the International Kendo Federation is a member of the GAISF, which is affiliated with the IOC, both have consistently opposed the idea of Kendo becoming an official Olympic sport or an demonstration sport.

The style of match competition (All Japan Kendo Federation)

A Kendo match always involved one-to-one fighting. This principle is also applied to team competition. The contenders enter the match site, step forward two paces, bow to each other, step forward three paces, take a Sonkyo (squatting position) and stand up when the referee calls out, 'Hajime (Start),' and then fight to the finish using their techniques or until the specified duration of the match has elapsed. Although in principle it is the Sanbon-shobu (three-point match), the Ippon-shobu (one-point match) is also accepted.

The area of the match

A square or rectangular match area is set out on a boarded floor by drawing nine- or eleven-meter sides (including the area of borderline), in which the matches will be held. The borderline is usually set out by applying white-line tape. Also, the position where a contender stands at the start of a match is shown near the center of the match area by white-line tape.

Match duration

The standard duration of a match is five minutes, but it's three minutes longer in the case of an extension. However, the adoption of the match time other than these is also permitted for administrative reasons, etc., and in 2007 the time was changed to ten minutes for the deciding match of an official competition.


All techniques involve the means by which to strike predetermined places on the protective armour (Kendo) with one's Shinai.

The technique of striking Kote (wrist) Kote-uchi (wrist strike), Hiki-kote-uchi (retreating wrist strike)

The technique of striking the Men (head) Men-uchi (head strike), Hiki-men-uchi (retreating head strike), Kote-men-uchi (wrist-head strike)

The technique of thrusting the throat protective armour of the Men (head) Tsuki (thrust) (principally, prohibited for elementary and junior high school students). This technique is sometimes prohibited even for high-school students or senior levels.

The technique of thrusting the Mune-ate (chest protector) of Do (abdomen) Mune-tsuki (thrust to the chest) (formerly, one Ippon (a full point) was earned only when the other contender was taking the upper-level position). Currently, it is permitted only when the other contender is using Nito-ryu (the two-sword style)).

The technique of striking on the right side of Do Do-uchi (abdomen strike), Hiki-do-uchi (retreating abdomen strike), or Nuki-do

The technique of striking on the left side of Do Gyaku-do-uchi (abdomen strike on the left side)

Additionally, such prefixes as 'Ai (mutual)-,' 'Nuki (dodging)-,' 'Kaeshi (returning)-,' 'Harai (sweeping)-,' 'Suriage (sliding up)-,' 'Hiki (pull)-' and so on are sometimes added to the above techniques according to a contender's movement immediately before a technique is used.


According to the All Japan Kendo Federation, Ippon means 'a stroke or thrust a contender properly makes with strong fervor and proper posture on a targeted part of the opponent's body with the proper part of blade of a bamboo sword (main part of blade on the opposite side of the bowstring-shape side) and has preparedness against the opponent's counterattack.'
If the referee deems it applicable, he will raise a flag.

Foul play

If a contender commits two fouls during one match, the other contender will automatically get one Ippon. If the contender commits four fouls, the count for the other contender becomes Nihon (two Ippon), and then the match finishes.

If a contender steps out of bounds from the match site;

If a contender drops his/her Shinai;

If a contender is improperly equipped with his/her costume and protective armour;

If a contender's Men-himo string is 40 cm or longer;

If a contender touches a part of the Shinai other than the Tsuka (hilt) without permission.


Three referees (consisting of one chief referee and two assistant referees) hold red and white flags, and a Yuko-datotsu (effective strike) is indicated by raising the flags. If two or three referees show a Yuko-datotsu, or if one referee shows a Yuko-datotsu and the other two show their abstention from the decision, then one Ippon is taken.

Also, if the following cases arise, the chief referee can stop the match by shouting 'Stop!' and raising both the red and white flags to the same level.

If one contender asks for stopping to the referees by raising his/her one hand getting off of "Shinai";

If a contender falls;

If a foul play takes place;

If the referees confer (in this case, the referees hold their flags in the right hand, raise them vertically and call out, 'Confer';

Additionally, if the referees deem it necessary.

Meanwhile, the assistant referees can also ask to stop the match.
It is the chief referee who, on this occasion, shouts 'Yame (Stop) !'

When a Tsubazeriai (pushing each other's sword guard) continues for a long period of time, the chief referee declares a 'Wakare (break)' and lets the contenders break away on the spot by throwing out both of his/her flags, after which the match immediately resumes.

Victory or defeat

As for victory or defeat, the contender who first gets two Ippon for Sanbon-shobu and one Ippon for Ippon-shobu during the match time wins the match. In Sanbon-shobu, if the match time is up, then the contender who has earned one Ippon wins. If a match doesn't come to a finish within the match time, the contender who first gets one Ippon wins in a extended match. In some cases, the winner is decided on point or by lot, or the match is considered a draw rather than being extended. In the case of a decision on point or by lot, the winner gets one Ippon. Each match of a team competition is, in principle, held on Ippon-shobu.

Nito-ryu (two-sword style)

Nito-ryu is not prohibited by the Kendo rules in principle, but today it is all but abolished.

In the early Showa period, Nito-ryu only for winning a match was widespread among students, who resorted to such underhanded measures that Nito-ryu contenders would, in a team competition, draw the match by only maintaining defense, so Nito (two swords) came to be prohibited in some student competitions. After the war, when contemporary Kendo was revived under the All Japan Kendo Federation, the student Kendo world prohibited Nito following the pre-war way, so Nito students became very few in number.

However, some people were concerned about the discontinuity of tradition and so the prohibition on Nito was withdrawn in 1992 for University Kendo (official matches/Kendo dan examinations). However, Nito is still prohibited for the official matches/Kendo dan examinations of the All Japan High School Athletic Federation/Nippon Junior High School Physical Culture Association, and in the case of elementary school pupils Datotsu (strike/thrust) with Shinai held in one hand is not regarded as an Ippon, so the situation of Nito with regard to students of high-school age and younger is essentially prohibited to a large extent.

For Nito-ryu, two types of Shinai--a long sword and a short sword--are used. The length and weight are specified for each sword, i.e., in the case of men's use, a long sword is three jaku 7 sun (112.11cm) or less long (for Itto, three jaku 9 sun (118.17cm) or less long) and a short sword is two shaku (60.6cm) or less long.

The present situation is that both coaches and contenders of Nito-ryu are small in number, due to the facts that Nito-ryu has been denied for a long time, that Shinai of different lengths are used as above, and that a contender of Nito-ryu is allowed to make Mune-tsuki to the other contender, which is a handicap for the latter. Nito-ryu was only shown at official competitions held in 1961, 1963 and 2007.

The uniform worn by contenders

The Kendo costume and "Hakama" (pleated and divided skirt made in fine stripes) are worn. While the contenders are basically barefoot, some wear Tabi (split-toe socks). During matches and training, in principle such kendo implements as Tare (waist protector), Do, Men and Kote (gloves) as Yoroi (armour) are worn. Additionally, in matches between different arts with Naginata (long-handled sword), the Sune-ate (shin guard) must also be worn. When putting on the Men, a Tenugui (cotton towel) (Men-Tenugui, Men-towel) is generally wrapped around the head. The Zekken (number cloth) on which the contender's name and the name of the dojo (the hall used for martial-arts training) to which he or she belongs, etc., is shown is usually attached to the Tare. Tabi can generally be used if permission is obtained. Also, each contender attaches a red or white cross brace respectively on his or her back (cross-point of Do-himo string) as a means of identification during the match.

The Meiji period

In 1895

In 1895, the 'Dai Nippon Butoku Kai' was established, which started to promote not only Kenjutsu but various types of traditional martial arts.

In August 1905, the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai set up the Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseisho (Training Institute for Martial Arts' Teachers) in Kyoto.

In 1911, the Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseisho was renamed as the Bujutsu Senmon Gakko (Vocational Training School of Martial Arts).

It became possible to include the Gekken in the regular junior high school curriculum under the old system of education.

In 1912, the Bujutsu Senmon Gakko was accredited (it was renamed as "Budo Senmon Gakko [Vocational Training School of Martial Arts]" in 1919).

The birth of Kendo (from the Taisho to the Showa period [until Japan's defeat in the war])

In 1919, the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai renamed Kenjutsu as "Kendo."

After that, Kendo spread throughout the nation and prospered until Japan's defeat in the war. National competition and Tenran-Jiai (competition held with the Emperor in attendance) were held three times, drawing many spectators.

In May 1929, the first Kendo Tenran-Jiai was held (the winners included Mochida [designated] and Yokoyama [prefectures]).

In May 1934, the second Kendo Tenran-Jiai was held (the winners included Yamamoto [designated] and Noma [prefectures]).

In June 1940, the Kendo Tenran-Jiai was held as a ceremony to commemorate the 2,600th year of the founding of Japan (the winners included Masuda [designated] and Mochizuki [prefectures]).

When Japan, as the Empire of Japan carried on the universal conscription to confront the allied Western powers by force, easy-to-learn Kendo, as derived from time-honored Kenjutsu, was acquired and became popular among students of the old-system junior high schools who were not samurai (warriors) of the former warrior class, and this influenced the national spirit.

On the other hand, the thought of a 'restored Bushido (the way of the samurai)' which sought spiritual beauty and found supreme value in the fighting method of Kendo, interfered with Japan's essential understanding of modern warfare. That constituted a remote cause of the tragedies of war, as seen in the Gyokusai (audacious attacks), Banzai charges and so on during World War II.

The present day (after World War II)

On November 6, 1945, the General Headquarters of the Allied Powers (GHQ) prohibited Kendo in school (the Budo Ban).

On August 25, 1946, Kendo as a social form of physical education was prohibited.

From 1946 to 1947, the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai was dissolved and more than 1,300 persons concerned were purged.

On March 5, 1950, the All Japan Kendo Sport Federation was founded. It was renamed as the All Japan Shinai Sport Federation.

On May 4, 1951, the First National Shinai Sport Competition was held at the Tokyo-Hibiya park.

On October 14, 1952, the All Japan Kendo Federation (AJKF) was formed. The ban on Kendo was removed upon the termination of the Occupation.

On January 23, 1953, the Mainichi Shinbun newspaper reported that the Shinai sport would be introduced in school beginning with the new semester. The First All Japan Kendo Championships were held.

On May 19, 1953, the Ministry of Education lifted the restrictions on Kendo as a social form of physical education.

On March 14, 1954, the All Japan Shinai Sport Federation and the All Japan Kendo Federation merged into the All Japan Kendo Federation.

On May 20, 1957, Shinai sport and Kendo were combined, thus making it possible to include Kendo in the regular curriculum in junior and senior high schools.

The grading system of Kyu and Dan

The Kyu and Dan grading system of Kendo consists of Kyu (junior rank) from Rokkyu (sixth Kyu level) to Ikkyu (first Kyu level) and Dan-i (senior rank) of Shodan (first Dan level), Nidan (second), Sandan (third), Yodan (fourth), Godan (fifth), Rokudan (sixth), Shichidan (seventh) and Hachidan (eighth).

Dan-i (qualification of rank) and titles are granted after an examination (selection match) in which 'technical skill of Kendo (including mental factors)' for Dan-i,' as well as titles pertaining to one's 'level of achievement as a Kendo person with leadership and discretion.'

The scale of organizing associations to hold Kyu-i/Dan-i examinations varies according to the Dan-i and Kyu-i. Examinations for Kyu-i from Rokkyu to Ikkyu are held by the branch of the Kendo Federation in each municipality. Examinations for Dan-i from Shodan to Godan are held by the Kendo Federation in each prefecture. In many cases, examinations for Dan-i from Shodan to Sandan are jointly held by the branches under the Federation in several areas of the prefecture (for Yodan/Godan, examinations are held jointly at one location). However, the examinations for Sandan and Yodan are sometimes held by Kendo Clubs in high schools and university federations, independently of general examinations.

The examinations for the Rokudan and higher levels are jointly held exclusively by the All Japan Kendo Federation.
In the case of Rokudan and higher levels, the names of successful applicants are listed by such Kendo magazines as 'Kendo Nihon' and 'Kendo Jidai.'
Although the number of examinations held per year varies according to Dan-i, there are approximately eight for Rokudan, six for Shichidan and four for Hachidan. Also, examinations are held in major cities and so on, nationwide, including Tokyo and Kyoto.

Also, each Kyu-i/Dan-i is subject to age restrictions and other conditions. Most of the Kyu-i from Rokkyu to Ikkyu are obtained by elementary school pupils, who aren't eligible for the Kendo Dan examinations. If someone takes a Kendo Kyu examination for junior high school students and above and passes it, he or she is granted Ikkyu at that time. If someone is in the second grade or above in junior high school when he or she passes Ikkyu, it is possible for him or her to take a Dan examination (to be held at least three months later) for Shodan in the next Dan examination, but if the student is in the first grade he or she isn't eligible to take an examination for a year after he or she passes Ikkyu, due to age restrictions.

The Kyu-i from Rokkyu to Sankyu are not subject to eligibility conditions and age restrictions. For the Kyu-i of Ikkyu and Nikyu, the sixth-grade pupils and above of elementary schools are eligible to take examinations.

Rules for examination for qualification of Kendo titles and ranks' On March 23, 2005, it was partially amended and on April 1, 2005 it went into effect. All Japan Kendo Federation

The average examination pass rate varies among Dai-i. It is approximately 80% to 90% for Shodan, 60% to 70% for Nidan, 40% to 50% for Sandan, 30% to 45% for Yodan and 20% to 30% for Godan.

Also, the examination pass rate decreases further for Rokudan and above, which forms a strait gate as approximately 10% for Rokudan, 8% to10% for Shichidan and, in the case of the highest level, Hachidan, only 1%.


In addition to the above-mentioned Dan-i/Kyu-i, there are three titles: Renshi (Senior Teacher), Kyoshi (prestigious title) and Hanshi (the top rank). Only holders of high-ranking Rokudan to Hachidan are eligible to take the examination on the condition that each candidate be recommended by the president of the association with which he or she is affiliated.

After obtaining a title, he or she can put the title before the Dan-i like Renshi-Rokudan and Hanshi-Hachidan.

Judan-i (ten-level) grading system/titles

Before the revision of the examination rules in March 2005, Kyudan (the ninth Dan level) and Judan (the tenth) existed. Also, holders of Godan and above were eligible to take the examination for Kyoshi, and those of Shichidan and above were eligible to take the examination for Hanshi. Consequently, there existed Renshi Godan, Hanshi Shichidan and so on, but this situation is impossible to achieve in the present system. However, in order to re-establish 'Hanshi as the top rank in the Kendo world,' and in consideration of the fact that Hanshi titles were granted to Hachidan holders on the basis of seniority, Kyudan and Judan were abolished and the rules of examination were revised as in the above list. However, Dan-i already granted before the abolishment remained valid. It is understood, however, that the title of Hanshi is, even today, subject to something like a Kendo-specific seniority tradition.

The period of Kendo prohibition

During the period of Japan's defeat in the war (beginning in 1945), all Budo, including Kendo, were absolutely prohibited by the General Headquarters of the Allied Powers. During this time, the practice of Kendo was forbidden not only in the dojo but also in schools and so on (it is thought that some people practiced Kendo secretly). During this period, Kendo devotees worked hard to restore Kendo and came up with ideas on the Shinai sport, which incorporated the elements of Kendo, so that it gradually became widespread. The ban on Kendo was removed upon the termination of GHQ's Occupation, whereupon Kendo and the Shinai sport merged into one organization that continues to this day.

The problem of plagiarized/fabricated Kendo origin

Some related Koreans have alleged that Kendo derives from the Korean version of Kendo--called Kumdo--but when the Korean sources were disclosed on the Internet, many fabricated points were found and the allegation is now completely denied.

This plagiarism problem with regard to Kendo's origin was also taken up by the All Japan Kendo Federation (in its official statement), and the fact that Kendo has its origin in Japan was shown on the English version of the website as an international publicity action.

[Original Japanese]