Targets in kendo. Migi = right, hidari = left.

Targets in kendo. Migi = right, hidari = left.

Kendo can be translated as “The Way of the Sword”. Intended to improve the mind and body through the practice of swordsmanship, kendo is a martial art with roots in the Japanese samurai tradition, dating back to the Edo period of Japan when the samurai still practised their techniques. Many of today's equipment are modelled after what samurai used in their training. Wooden swords and practice armour were created so that they could practise their techniques without harming each other. As time went on, samurai schools began condensing their techniques down to basic fundamentals. Today, modern kendo has only three cutsthe head (men), wrists (kote), stomach (d0)and one thrust (tsuki) to the throat. The many different variations and timings of these deceptively simple techniques are what makes kendo such a dynamic martial art.

Modern kendo involves two basic types of practice. The first is kata, consisting of choreographed series of attacks and counter-attacks practised using wooden swords or replica live blades. The second is practice using the “shinai”, a bamboo sword designed to be safely used in combination with protective equipment, to permit full contact practice and competition.

The practice of kendo as a physical activity has a long tradition within Japanese culture. Originally a method of sword manipulation, kendo came to be more fully understood through observance of natural laws on the battlefield. It can be divided into three components:

  1. The way of the body – how to hold the sword, maai (spatial distance separating two opponents), etc.
  2. The way of the sword – how to execute a strike, the right moment to execute a strike, etc.
  3. The way of the mind – the correct mental attitude.

The adoption of the term kendo, or "the way of the sword," implies that in modern kendo, we look to achieve more than just proficiency in using the sword. Proficiency in swordsmanship is no longer of much practical value. We practise kendo today for the satisfaction we get from pushing ourselves both physically and mentally, beyond our old limits, improving ourselves in the process. Some of the benefits of practising kendo include:

  • Developing stamina and energy.
  • Developing respect for yourself and other people. This was commonly referred to as character development.
  • Learning about Japanese culture.
  • Gaining friendships with active and interesting people.
  • Learning about the mental states and physical realities necessary to perform Japanese sword fighting at as high a level as you are prepared to develop yourself.