Kendo is the martial art of Japanese fencing, developed from traditional techniques of Japanese swordsmanship known as kenjutsu. Since 1975 the goal of Kendo has been stated by the All Japan Kendo Federation as “to discipline the human character through the application of the principles of the katana (the Japanese standard two handed sword)”. Taught using “swords” made of split bamboo (shinai) and extensive protective armour (Bogu), practitioners are called kendoka or “kenshi”. Kendoka means one who practices kendo, with Kenshi meaning swordsman. Kendoka also use bokuto (wooden katana) to practice set forms known as kata. On formal occasions, real swords or metal swords with a blunt edge, called habiki, can be used.
Kendo, “The Way of The Sword”, embodies the essence of the Japanese fighting arts. Since the earliest samurai government in Japan, during the Kamakura period (1185-1233), sword fencing, together with horse riding and archery, were the main martial pursuits of the military clans. In this period Kendo developed under the strong influence of Zen Buddhism. The samurai could equate the disregard for his own life in the heat of battle, which was considered necessary for victory in individual combat, to the Buddhist concept of the illusory nature of the distinction between life and death.
Since that time many warriors have become enlightened through Kendo practice. Those swordsmen established schools of Kendo training which continued for centuries, and which form the basis of Kendo practice today. The names of the schools reflect the essence of the originator’s enlightenment. Thus the Itto-Ryu (Single sword school) indicates the founder’s illumination that all possible cuts with the sword emanate from and are contained in one original essential cut. The Muto (sword less school) expresses the comprehension of the originator Yamaoka Tesshu, that “There is no sword outside the mind”. The ‘Munen Muso Ryu’ (No Intent, No preconception) similarly expresses the understanding that the essence of Kendo transcends the reflective thought process.
The formal Kendo exercises set down sometime several centuries ago are studied today using wooden swords in set forms, or ‘kata’. The present form of using “shinai” and “bogu” is started in the 18th century by Naganuma Sirozaemon Kunisato (1688-1767).
Training using bamboo practice swords and substantial armour includes both formal exercises and free fencing. Thus today it is possible to embark on the quest for spiritual enlightenment followed by the samurai of old. Concepts such as ‘Mushin’, or ‘empty mind’ as professed by exponents of Zen are an essential attainment for high level Kendo. Fudoshin, or ‘Unmoving Mind’, a conceptual attribute of the deity Fudo Myo-O, one of the five ‘Kings of Light’ of Shingon Buddhism, implies that the fencer cannot be led astray by delusions of anger, doubt, fear, or surprise arising from his opponent’s actions.
In 1920, Dai Nippon Butoku Kai (developer of the Japan Martial Arts Foundation) changed the name of Gekiken (“hitting sword”) to Kendo.
Modern kendo combines martial arts values with sport elements. There are eight basic scoring regions, spread over two types of attacks – strikes and thrusts. Strikes are allowed against only certain areas on the body, datotsu bui. The valid targets are men (top of the opponent’s head), migi-men or hidari-men (the left and right side of the opponent’s head), right kote (wrist) at any time, the left kote when it is in a raised position (such as jodan), the left or right do (stomach – in tournament situations points are rarely awarded for striking the left side of the opponent’s do). Thrusts are only allowed to the throat (tsuki). However, since a wrongly done thrust could injure the neck, thrust techniques are often left out at the starting level and are practiced only at later levels. In matches, a point is only awarded when the attack is done firmly and properly to any of the allowed targets with Ki-ken-tai-ichi, or spirit, sword, and body as one as well as “Zanshin” or continuation of awareness. This means for an attack to be successful the shinai must strike a proper target at the same time the attacker’s front foot makes contact with the ground and at the same time of kiai (shout) that displays good spirit. Though it is common, especially in matches within a dojo, kiai need not be the name of the target that is being struck.
In a tournament, there are three judges (shinpan), each holds a red and a white flag in opposing hands. Each competitor has either a white or red ribbon attached to his or her back. For a point to be awarded, a minimum of two judges must agree. To signal this, the judges raise the corresponding coloured flag of the player who scored the point. The first to score two points wins the match. If the time limit runs out before two points are awarded, several things may happen: If one player has one point and the other does not, then the player with one point wins. In cases of a tie, the match may be declared a draw or decided by a period of overtime, sudden death overtime (the first to score a point wins regardless of time left), or a hantei, or judges’ decision.
Technical achievement in Kendo is measured by advancement in grade, rank or level. The “kyu” and “dan” system is used to assess the level of ones skill in kendo. The dan levels are from 1-dan (sho-dan) to 10-dan (ju-dan). 1-dan is equivalent to a first degree blackbelt. 1-dan (sho-dan) to 8-dan (hachi-dan) are awarded after a physical test and submitting an examination paper. There is no physical test for 9-dan (kyu-dan) and 10-dan (ju-dan), those levels are awarded by a special committee set up for the purpose. Additionally there are seven ranks below dan known as kyu. The number preceding the kyu is the number of ranks it is below the first dan rank (sho-dan). In kendo there is no external sign of rank, meaning that an expert will often be dressed just like a beginner.
There are ten Kata in Kendo, which are performed with either a wooden sword (bokken/bokuto) or occasionally with a blunt edged sword. Kata 1~7 are performed with both partners using a bokken of around 102 cm. Kata 8~10 are performed with one partner using a bokken and the other using a kodachi of around 55cm. During kata, the two participants take the roles of uchidachi (teacher, this side always is the ‘losing’ side in kata) and shidachi (student, this is the ‘winning’ side).
International Kendo Federation
The International Kendo Federation (IKF) was founded in 1970. Seventeen countries and regions participated in the IKF when it was established, but the number had grown to 45 countries and regions by December, 2005. The federation is a non-governmental organization, and its aim is to promote and popularize Kendo (including Iaido). The secretariat of the IKF is located in the All Japan Kendo Federation building in Tokyo.
Australian Kendo Renmei
The Australian Kendo Renmei grew from the beginning of kendo in Australia in the 1960′s and is a founding member of the IKF. Annual Australian Kendo Championships have been held in Australia for over 30 years.