Japan for the Uninvited

Japanese culture from a bemused foreign perspective


KendoKendo (“the way of the sword”) is the art of Japanese fencing. Its concept is “to discipline the human character through the application of the principles of the katana”.

In feudal Japan, the country was ripped apart by conflict between its most powerful provinces. Demand for warriors increased, and many schools of swordsmanship sprung up. The popular Ittoryu (“one sword school”) would provide the seed of kendo.

The martial art started to take its modern appearance in the late 18th century. Protective armour (bogu) was introduced, as well as a less-painful, bamboo sword (shinai). These became necessary, because so many people were getting hurt practicing without protection, they couldn’t fight for real.

In the modern form of kendo, competitors wear a lot of protective padding, and are masters of 3 types of sword. Shinai, the practice swords, are made of split bamboo. Bokken are wooden swords used to practice kata (set patterns). In formal competitions dull metal swords (habiki) are used.

International kendo championships are held every 3 years. The rules for kendo competition are strict. “Thrust” attacks are allowed only at the throat, while “strikes” target the top of the opponent’s head, sides of the body and forearms.

Legal attacks must be accompanied with an appropriate yell to score points in a match. This yell names the area being targeted. The first person to score two points wins the match.

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