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The Techniques and Concepts of Kendo

There are five stances (kamae) in modern kendo that have been adapted from the various traditional styles of kenjutsu: Chudan (middle), jodan (overhead), hasso (vertical on the right side), wakigamae (blade pointing to the rear), and gedan (lower front). All of the kamae are used in the ten All Japan Kendo Kata, but only chudan or jodan are used in shinai training. Opponents usually face off at sword's length (issoku-itto-no-maai) from chudan. A comparatively small number of practitioners prefer to engage their opponent from the jodan stance, and there is an even smaller group who use two-swords (nito). All beginners, however, first learn how to execute techniques from chudan as the standard approach.

Training in modern kendo consists mainly of the repetition of fundamental attack and defensive techniques (kihon-waza) and full-contact sparring (shiai-keiko). The student trains to perfect the various elements of attack and defence which includes correct stance, straight posture, accurate blade direction (hasuji), relaxed manipulation of the shinai, smooth footwork, and an understanding of correct distance (maai). The four legitimate target areas are the men (head), kote (wrists), do (torso), and tsuki (by a thrust to the throat). There are numerous possible variations of waza that can be employed to strike the four valid targets in kendo. These are divided into attack (shikake) and defence (oji) and utilize feints, parries and blocks, while maneuvering forwards or backwards.


Ippon-uchi-no-waza — Single strikes to men, kote, do, and thrusts to the throat.
Harai-waza — Deflecting opponent's shinai then striking.
Ni / Sandan-no-waza — Combination techniques.
Hiki-waza— Rearward-moving techniques executed from close-quarters.
Katsugi-waza — Shouldering the shinai before striking.
Maki-waza — Deflecting the opponent's shinai with a circular motion.
Katate-waza — One-handed techniques.
Jodan-waza — Techniques executed from the overhead stance.


Debana-waza — Striking just as the opponent initiates their technique.
Suriage-waza — Parrying techniques.
Kaeshi-waza — Parrying then striking the reverse side.
Uchiotoshi-waza — Knocking the opponent's shinai down.
Nuki-waza — Avoiding the opponents strike then counter-attacking.

Kendo competitions are competed as individual or team events, and are always fought one-on-one. The number of members in a team varies depending on the event, but is usually five or seven competitors. Three referees judge the validity of the attacks and decide the match. The first competitor to score two points within the set time frame (usually 3-5 minutes) will be the victor. If only one point has been scored by the end of time, the competitor who has scored will be declared the winner. If no points are scored by either competitor, a time extension (encho) may be implemented until a contestant scores (only in individual tournaments), or in some cases a draw may be called. The match court is a square measuring from nine to eleven metres on each side.

Points are scored by accurately executing the technique with ki-ken-tai-itchi (unified spirit, sword, and body) and a number of other precise criteria. According to Article 12 of "The Regulations of Kendo Shiai and Shinpan", a valid strike (yuko-datotsu) in kendo must consist of the following elements;

"Yuko-datotsu is defined as an accurate strike or thrust made onto the datotsu-bui of the opponent's kendo-gu with shinai at its datotsu-bu in high spirits and correct posture, being followed by zanshin."

In other words, for a strike or thrust to be judged as valid, the target (datotsu-bui) must be struck with blade-edge (datotsu-bu), with the portion about about one-sixth of the way down from the tip. If the strike is too shallow or deep, it will not be judget valid. The attack must be executed in full spirit with vocalization of the target being hit (kiai). The attacker's spirit, sword and body must be in complete unison. Furthermore, the attacker also must show continued physical and mental alertness (zanshin) after making the cut, and be prepared for the opponent's counter-attack. Starting from the basic kamae, all of these criteria must be completed in a smooth sequence to be deemed a valid attack.

Apart from training in full armour, there is also a set of ten kata utilizing a wooden sword (bokuto or bokken). These kata were created by the Dai-Nippon Butokukai in 1912 as a way of disseminating a unified form of kendo in schools. They are always included in promotion examinations and demonstrated before tournaments, but are rarely seen as a competition event.

Of particular concern to the kendo leadership is the growing obsession with adopting tricks to win competitions. This has invited considerable criticism from those who believe in the educational and character-improving value of kendo, lamenting the deviation from proper kendo in favour of a "win at all costs" approach in order to obtain good results in tournaments. Although competitions are an important aspect of kendo, the philosophical underpinnings are a distinctive aspect of kendo education. The "Concept of Kendo" outlines the principles and theory of kendo. Namely, to recognize the characteristics of the katana as a curved, single-edged sword, of being aware of how to manipulate it correctly, and according to those principles score a valid strike (yuko-datotsu).

Kendo practitioners use a shinai which represents a sword, and don bogu (or kendo-gu) which enables unbridled exchanges of techniques. Because of this, there may be a tendency to execute numerous, random attacks, without paying heed to the underlying principles of the katana. This inclination is considered to be contrary to the principles of true kendo, and negates its potential as a way for cultivating the self.

To counter this negative trend, the AJKF established a committee in December 1971 for the purpose of formulating an official guiding-concept to ensure its continued development in an acceptable manner into the future. The committee debated kendo's educational values and what content should be included in the official concept. The objective was to keep the text as concise and clear as possible, and a more detailed explanation of the role of kendo would be included in an appendage titled "The Purpose of Practicing Kendo". The "Concept of Kendo" provides a guide as to what kendo should be. It was hoped that kendo teachers and practitioners would take the prescribed ideals to heart, and ensure that kendo maintained its core principles as a way of self-development. The "Concept" and the "Purpose" were officially endorsed at the AJKF board meeting m March 1972.


The shinai used in kendo now consist of four slats of bamboo strapped together. Prototypical shinai were made from numerous thin slats of bamboo inserted into a leather cover. The first such shinai was called a "fukuro-shinai" and was used by students of the Shinkage-ryu school of swordsmanship around 1565. The modern shinai is up to 120cm in length. This length restriction was implemented in 1856 by the Tokugawa shogunate's military academy (Kobusho) in an attempt to standardize the various shinai lengths utilized by students from different schools.

The Concept of Kendo

The Concept of Kendo is to discipline the human character through the application of the principles of the katana (sword).

 The Purpose of Practicing Kendo

The purpose of practicing kendo is:
To mould the mind and body,
To cultivate a vigorous spirit,
And through correct and rigid training,
To strive for improvement in the art of kendo,
To hold in esteem human courtesy and honour,
To associate with others with sincerity,
And to forever pursue the cultivation of oneself.
This will make one be able:
To love his/her country and society,
To contribute to the development of culture
And to promote peace and prosperity among all peoples.

Committee members:
Chairman Matsumoto Toshio, Horiguchi Kiyoshi, Ogawa Chutaro, Tamari Yoshiaki, Nakano Yasoji, Yuno Masanori, Oshima Isao, Inoue Masataka, Ogawa Masayuki, Hiromitsu Hidekuni, Kasahara Toshiaki.

More recently, the AJKF organized a working group in 2004 to consider guiding principles for kendo instructors as an extension of the "Concept" and "Purpose". In April 2006, the final draft for the "Mindset of Kendo Instruction" was completed.

 The Mindset of Kendo Instruction (The Significance of the Shinai)
For the correct transmission and development of kendo, efforts should be made to teach the correct way of handling the shinai in accordance with the principles of the sword.

 Reiho - (Etiquette)
When instructing, emphasis should be placed on etiquette to encourage respect for partners, and nurture people with a dignified and humane character.

 Lifelong Kendo
While providing instruction, students should be encouraged to apply the full measure of care to issues of safety and health, and to devote themselves to the development of their character throughout their lives.

According to the first article, the shinai should not be seen merely as a sporting implement or fighting strick, but as a real sword, and as a medium for developing one's human qualities. Although this and the other articles may seem overly conceptual and unrealistic, kendo practitioners are taught the dual ideal of attempting to score valid points on their opponents while doing so with beauty in form. They also develop an understanding that victory are defeat is not only decided in relation to one's opponent, but also by one's own technical and mental strengths and weaknesses. This provides an important insight into one's own character and what issues need to be addressed in the course of training.
In the dojo practitioners are taught philosophical ideals that originated in samurai culture and their experiences in battle. These teachings often focus on controlling the mind and overcoming mental limitations, far beyond technical issues. The student is encouraged to confront any elements of fear, surprise, confusion, or hesitation (shikai, the four weaknesses) that serve to diminish his or her resolve. Regardless of hardship, or the fearsome opponents one may be faced with, it is imperative to remain calm and collected (heijoshin) and confidently engage any opponent with respect and total commitment (sutemi), without dropping one's guard in victory or defeat (zanshin).

The practitioner learns to embody these qualities as a result of training in kendo over many years. They affect his or her demeanour and capacity to cope with an array of situations in the course of everyday life. In this way, the life of the practitioner is improved, and he or she will be better able to make a positive contribution to society.


Kendo is a vigorous martial discipline in which two people attack each other energetically with bamboo shinai. Before developing into the modern martial sport of kendo, kenjutsu was a matter of life and death. Over many centuries of evolution, ken-jutsu developed into ken-do, a means for human education and self-development. Kendo is still a highly traditional form of physical culture that retains the spirit intense seriousness, a spirit that has been passed down to the present day.

Students of kendo seek to cultivate their character through mastering the techniques. With a solid understanding of the waza, their application, and insight into the various philosophical tenets that feature in kendo, the student can apply these to overcome various problems faced in daily life. The ability to remain calm at all rimes, and make decisions instantaneously are vital for success in kendo, and in the many situations that arise each day.

Kendo students are encouraged to comply with customary forms of etiquette in a demonstration of respect for opponents and training partners. They are also taught to recognize the value of kendo as a "way of life", and not to focus only on winning competitions. Although it is essential to do one's best in matches and strive to become stronger, the lessons to be learned extend far beyond today's tournament. Kendo is a budo art that can be studied by people of all ages throughout their lives. Its potential as a lifelong pursuit of physical and spiritual study should be the foremost consideration for instructors.

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