Kendo Technique

Kendo technique, introduction, equipment

Kendo Kendo Technique

Kendo Technique

The way of the sword, Kendo, has its origin embedded in the antiquities of Japanese history.  The weapon of survival with is multitudes of styles as perfected by the Japanese samurai (warriors) such as Musashi and Kojiro has left its impact and evolved into one of the most interesting and fasted action sports in modern times.  The word “Kendo” when written in Kanji (Chinese form of writing adopted by the Japanese in the 5th Century) is made up of two ideograms; (ken, meaning the sword) and (do, the way or philosophy).

Most Japanese historians are in agreement on many aspects of Kendo technique as contained in the Kojiki (Stories of Ancient Japan) that covers the period of Japanese history from mythological ages to the reign of Emperor Suiko (593-628) and in Nihonshoki (720 A.D.) pertaining to period up to the reign of Emperor Jito (686-697).  It is generally conceded that Iyenao Yamashironokame Iishino (known later as Choisai Iishino) opened one of the first schools of fencing.  It was called the Shinto Ryu.

The development of Kendo comes from a crude form of combat began some 1600 years ago.  The use of a solid wooden sword (bokken) and the establishment of the art of Tachikaki (the attack or the drawing of sword technique) is recorded about 400 A.D.  Kendo developed one of individual art of swordsmanship during the Taika Restoration (646 A.D.). This form continued until the later part of the Heian Period (794 to 119 A.D.).

In order to comprehend the evolution of Kendo, one must study the rise to power of the samurai, the warrior-knights of Japan.  The rise of the samurai class in 1067 A.D. heralded the beginning of various styles or schools (ryu’s) in sword techniques.

Before the Heian Period the samurai wore his sword suspended from a sash-like belt (obi) by two strings with the cutting edge of the blade toward the ground.  However, at the turn of the 10th century the long sword was worn on the left side by tucking it through the obi with the cutting edge upward.  This facilitated a “quick draw” in which the sword was withdrawn with cutting edge toward the enemy with minimum effort.  It was not until later that a short sword was worn tucked in the obi with the long sword.

During the Nara Era (650-793 A.D.) Tachikaki was replaced by a new form of combat, the Tachiuchi (duel).  This form was comparable to the European combat-of-arms.  The various styles of fencing underwent a slow transition for many years, but began to exert itself during the latter part of the Heian Era to the Kamakura Period (1192-1336 A.D.).

The rise of the samurai into the Japanese historical picture developed slowly; it began soon after the capitol was moved from Nara to Kyoto (794 A.D.).  As the defects in the system of the centralized government began to assert themselves, discords with the rural administration began to plague the central authorities.  As the landowners in rural communities were forced to maintain armed forces to insure the safety of their possessions, the groundwork for the entrance of the samurai was laid.

The samurai, who arose from families of influential persons, local chieftains, or servants of government officials or nobles, began to exert a greater influence in the rural estates of the noblemen.  The aristocrats now enjoying the peace and ease of metropolitan life in Kyoto, the new capitol, were indifferent and failed to remedy this dangerous trend.  The class who was to gain power in the following periods arose from those who had served the aristocracy during the peaceful Nara and Heian periods . . . the samurai.

However, it was during this transition that the art of Kendo developed.  Opportunities offered to master swordsman spurred samurai to seek skillful Kendo teachers in order to perfect their fencing or sword techniques.  As a master swordsman a samurai could set up a fencing school subsidized by a lord of a clan.

For the next 200 years and until the Ashikaga Era (1337 – 1573 A.D.) the art of fencing underwent very little change.  However, during Ashikaga Era many fencing schools flourished and the popularity of Kendo was, again, on the rise.  Fencing schools (dojos) founded by exceptionally strong and skillful swordsmen produced various styles of Kendo.  The most famous of these were the fencing schools of Nagahide Chujo (1380), Bunguro (1380), Bunguro Hukida (1437), Choisai Iizasa (1488) and In-Ei (1521), a renowned spearman as well as a swordsman.

During practices zealous students with a desire to display their skill before their teachers would be carried away with such enthusiasm that he would challenge anyone in the gym.  Such actions often led to serious injuries and in some cases … death.

Contests where contact was made, i.e., with a wooden sword (bokken), etc., distressed the famed Iko Aisu (1452–1538 A.D.).  During his meditations at Udo Shrine in Miyazaki Prefecture, the inspired Aisu devised a new method of defense techniques.  His school, established in 1488 and called the Aisu Kuge School of Swordsmanship, was to have a profound influence on the Yagyu Clan; the most distinguished swordsmen of later years.

During the later part of the Ashikaga Era, Kendo as a martial art stagnated.  However, during this period Kata-kenjitsu (where two fencers faced one another and practiced with a wooded sword) was developed.  Stress was placed upon form and motion; personal contact was restricted.  The Kata-kenjitsu techniques required skill and the mastering of many movements with little thought given to realistic values of contact.

The interest in action and actual contact with wooden sword was renewed during the Nobunaga (1568–1581 A.D.) and the Hideyoshi (1582–598 A.D.) periods.  This, again, resulted in serious injuries and even deaths to the participants during practice sessions.

In order to minimize serious injuries among fencers during the practice matched, Chuzo Nakanishi (1750) of Edo (as Tokyo was called in ancient times) invented a stave (shinai)) made with four sections of bamboo.  Each section was fitted so all dangerous edges and splinters were eliminated.  This original shinai was to undergo very little change and is basically similar to the fencing shinai of today.

Even with the introduction of the shinai, Nakanishi required all students to wear protective equipment.  Rules and regulations on fencing etiquette were established.  The style of Kata-kenjitsu was replaced by Kenjutsu or Kengaki (sword action).

The fencing skirt (hakama) and a heavy jacket (kekogei) was adopted as the standard wearing apparel.  The first protective equipment to be worn outside of the hakama was the waist band (tare) that fits snugly around the waist to protect the hips from any blow which might miss the center protective armor.  The tare has five pendants hanging down about 12 inches in length.

Next the chest armor (do … pronounced as dough) was worn for the protection of the chest.  The do was held in place by crossing the cords at the back and tying ends to the loops on each side of the armor at the front.  A cord at the base of the do prevents the armor from sliding forward.

Later the face and head protector (men) was devised so that additional action could be added to Kendo.  Before a fencer places the men on his head he generally wraps a towel over his head to prevent perspiration from running into his eyes.

The next protective equipment developed was the wrist guard (Kote).  A decisive blow was considered to be to the right wrist since the right had holds the sword.  The kote with its padded cotton reinforcing was designed to protect the joints against the powerful blows struck at the wrist.

After a kendoist has secured his equipment he must stand, place his shinai in his left hand and bow as he enters the training gym.  If there is an opponent who wishes to fence with him, both must face the head instructor and present themselves with a slight bow.  When both participants are ready, they must face each other, acknowledging with another slight bow.  They must take six steps directly toward each other, then together in unison, slowly lower to a squatting position while drawing the fencing shinai in front.  When the contestants rise together or at a command, the match is on.  This procedure must be repeated after each practice session and as in ancient times, it is still a standard procedure practiced in the fencing schools throughout the world.

Various point systems were developed for the sport of Kendo; they are a follows: Kote (wrist), Men (Migi-Men, right side of head; Men, top of head; and Hidari-Men, left side of head), Do (waist), and the Tsuki (throat).  Each strike or cut must be called out at the same time they are made.  In other words, as the kendoist strikes the opponent, he must instantaneously call out the point as he hits.  This not only develops the physical but full mental coordination.

The ready stance (Kamae) is extremely important to master in Kendo.  It is from this basic position that all movements originate.  When the Kamae of a kendoist is so perfect, it is almost impossible to find an opening.  There are instances when a match of three points ends without a point being scored because of the skill of an opponent.

Chudan Kamae, one of the basic positions or stances, must be mastered first.  Footwork is vital in Kendo.  The right foot is always forward with the left foot in a heel-up propelling position.  The right foot and the right hand always lead together.

The stave (shinai) is held by the right hand at a point one to two inches from the guard (tsuba).  The left hand firmly grasps the end of the shinai (tsuka).  The tsuka is held three inches from the lower edge of the chest armor (do).

The point of the shinai (Sakigawa) is always held pointed at the throat protector (tsuki) of the opponent when Chudanno Kamae stance is assumed.  The position of the throat protector is always the centerline of the opponent; therefore, the tip of the shinai should follow this point.

The Gedan no Kamae is similar; however, the shinai is lowered.  The left foot is always back; the heels about two and one-half inches off the floor.

The hips must be kept level, the shoulders drawn back, and the arms must be relaxed.  There are many stances.  The Left Stance (Hidari Jodan) is assumed with the left foot leading and the shinai fully above the shoulders.  The Right Stance (Migi Jodan) is the reverse; the right foot must lead.

There are two types of Kendo matches: the one point or two-out-of-three points match.  Each match lasts five minutes.  A tie results in an additional five minutes or the first blow or point scored in the overtime period wins the match.

There is no black belt as such in Kendo.  The beginner’s ranks range from 10th to 1st Class (Kyu); whereas, the advanced students or instructors are awarded ranks ranging from 1st Degree (Shodan) to 10th Degree, is reserved for active members of the art; there are only four living 10th degree (Judan) holders in the world.

Kendo is one of the most fascinating arts in the world since age, height, weight, sex, or physical condition have little bearing on heights to which a kendoist can advance.  He can develop specific skills and techniques within a pattern of set movements.  He can build his own character and attitude at a pace compatible with his daily schedule.  The training and patience is for him to choose and follow.

Kendo is a mental as well as physical activity.  The study and discipline take years to develop.  It is often said that if one will study a full year he will follow Kendo as an active member of a fencing school for many years to come.  And, like the samurai of the bygone days, the kendoists are working for the future of his country today and for a better tomorrow through an ancient art that has become a modern sport … Kendo.

Table of Contents

  1. Kendo Introduction
  2. Kendo Equipment
  3. Kendo Technique


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