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 cuts—the 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.

Targets in kendo. Migi = right, hidari = left

Targets in kendo. Migi = right, hidari = left

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.


Kendo has many established customs and traditions that may take some time to get used to. You will likely make mistakes at first. However, it would be greatly appreciated if all members do their best to observe proper etiquette when practising kendo with the club. The most important thing is to always be humble and respectful. The rest will come with practice and experience.

Always be mindful of the club's existing hierarchy, which is based on seniority—individuals who joined the club earlier are higher ranking ("senpai"), regardless of age, grade or skill.

If you have any questions, about kendo etiquette or just in general, please don't hesitate to ask one of your sensei or senpai!

Here is a condensed cheat sheet for etiquette.

Below are some of the basics:

Rei (giving thanks and showing respect)
Bowing In

  1. Bow 15 degrees

  2. Bringing shinai up to waist, with thumb on tsuba, take 3 steps in.

  3. Sonkyo (squatting bow) with back straight and no jumping/hopping to correct distance.

Bowing Out

  1. Take five steps back as when bowing in.

  2. Bow 15 degrees

      1.   When bowing in at beginning of practice, say "onegaishimasu" ("if you please").
      2.   When bowing out, always say domo arigato gozaimashita ("thank you very much")

Seiretsu (lineup) & Seiza (kneeling)

  1. Lineup according to rank (senior to junior from left to right, facing sensei)

  2. When kneeling, left knee goes down first then right knee.

  3. Don’t forget the domino-effect: wait for the person immediately to the left to kneel first before kneeling.

  4. Gently (silently) lay down shinai. Shinai binding cord facing down or away from body.

  5. Keep back straight when sitting in seiza.

  6. Line up tsuba, knees and kote/men (if applicable) to the person immediately to your left.

Treating Shinai with Respect
Always treat the shinai with respect and care, just as if it was a real sword. The side opposite the tsuru (binding cord) represents the cutting edge.

Never do the following:

  1. Lean on shinai.

  2. Hold shinai over one’s shoulder.

  3. Step or jump over shinai and bogu.

When resting shinai against the wall:

  1. When placing shinai against wall, always have the tip of the shinai pointing upwards.

During Practice...

  1. Follow instructions from sensei as quickly and accurately as possible. (Don't walk, run!)

  2. Don’t lean against the wall, or sit down unless instructed to by sensei or senpai.

  3. Always be ready and show respect and appreciation.

  4. Always bow and sonkyo before taiso and practice, even if one arrives late.

  5. Remove all jewellery/accessories before stepping into dojo.

  6. Make sure club uniform (keikogi & hakama) are worn properly.

  7. Avoid individual breaks unless absolutely necessary. Frequent individual breaks are disruptive for other students.

Wearing Bogu

  1. Practice wearing bogu until you can put the whole set on in less than 3 minutes (you should be able to put it on faster than your senpai!)

  2. Always sit in seiza when putting on or fixing your bogu.

  3. Do your best to put on your bogu properly so you do not have to fix it during practice.

  4. Do not take off your men during practice unless it is absolutely necessary.

  5. Ensure that all of your bogu is worn in a neat and proper fashion.

 Additional Notes

  1. Do not speak when sensei is giving instructions.

  2. Keep talking to a minimum.

  3. Respond/reply to instructions (“hai”).

  4. Use proper honorifics (address sensei simply as “sensei”).

  5. Always bow and give thanks when given advice or instructions by sensei or senpai.

  6. Bow slightly when walking across in front of members in seiza (it is best if possible to walk behind members seated in seiza).


The uniform used in practicing kendo is commonly known as the keikogi (uniform top) and hakama (uniform pants).

The bogu is the training armour used primarily in kendo. The name consists of two parts: bo meaning "protect" or "defend," and gu meaning "equipment" or "tool."

A set of bogu has four components: 
Men - combined face mask and shoulder protectors
Kote - hand and foream protectors
Do - torso protector
Tare - groin and leg protectors

The shinai is a bamboo sword, made up of four strips of bamboo bound together with leather. It is the primary sword used in kendo practice and tournaments.

A wooden sword called the bokuto or bokken is used for grading or when practising kendo kata (forms).

To download a .pdf file outlining proper use, care, and maintenance of kendo equipment, please click here.


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