KENDO THE WAY OF THE SWORDHISTORY AND PRACTICE
THE TRADITION AND CULTURE OF THE SAMURAI
A DISCIPLINE FOR PERSONAL GROWTH
Kendo has its roots in the culture and tradition of feudal Japan, representing in a modern setting the traditional combat technique of the samurai – the famous warriors dedicated to protecting their lord.
The two terms that make up its name, Ken (sword) and Do (way), indicate a discipline that pursues respect for the opponent and personal growth. It involves not only physical activity but also mental and spiritual development that involves the practitioner in all aspects of being human, from sportsmanship to moral and cultural aspects. The practice can be performed by people of all ages, gender, weight, and height; the discipline can be performed by young and old, men and women. Young age or physicality may represent an athletic advantage over older individuals who, however, compensate for this gap with experience and technical level developed through constant and continuous practice over time. Few other disciplines allow such a balance of forces.
Martial arts’ principles help develop self-awareness, discipline, self-control, respect for others, and a strong spirit from a young age, in addition to keeping the body fit and the mind focused.
During the 19th century, after the end of large-scale battles, kendo was codified into its modern form. This included defining forms and possible strikes for competitions, principles and requirements for obtaining a grade expressed in Dan (the concept of “belt” common to all martial arts), armor and swords for safe practice. During this time, a federation was established with the aim of coordinating and promoting kendo worldwide, pursuing its spread and cooperation among countries while respecting all practitioners around the world.
CLOTHING and ARMOR – GI, HAKAMA e BOGU
To practice kendo, a two-piece outfit is used: the GI (upper part) consisting of a jacket with wide sleeves of slightly greater length than the elbow, open at the front and fastened with two ties, and a traditional skirt-pants, HAKAMA, which allows for free movement and conceals foot movement from the opponent.
Kendo training takes place in gyms, called DOJO, usually equipped with a wooden floor, as practitioners train barefoot. In addition to the traditional clothing, a protective armor called BOGU is worn, consisting of a helmet (MEN) made of a titanium visor and a cotton support with a classic wing-shaped design that covers the shoulders, a plastic or bamboo torso protector (DO) for the chest and hips, two padded gloves (KOTE) to protect the hands and forearms, and a belt to protect the hips and thighs (TARE).
THE SWORD- SHINAI
In Kendo, a set of four bamboo sticks assembled and tied together (through a leather grip and cap anchored with a cord) is used, called SHINAI. The shinai is the modern and sporty version of the Katana (Japanese sword). There are different types of shinai, which vary in shape and size to fit all practitioners. For competitions, weight and length limits are established based on the category, with differences between men, women, and juniors. The care of the shinai and armor is one of the first teachings transmitted to new kendoka. It is necessary to check the integrity of the shinai and the functionality of the armor to avoid damage or risking harm to one’s practice partners’ health.
Competitions in Kendo involve both individual matches and team matches.
During the World Championships there will be men’s and women’s individual competitions, as well as team competitions with 5 male and female members, likewise other major Olympic sports.
Competition in Kendo is always an individual combat, even in team matches; each member of the respective teams challenges their opponent one by one. Each match lasts 5 minutes and is refereed by 3 expert practitioners who are able to assess the development of the action and recognize if a strike is valid.
A strike to be considered valid (IPPON) must consist of several factors: it is not enough that the strike hits a valid point on the opponent (the head, throat, wrist or flank), but the correct posture and movement (FUMIKOMI) must also be present. In addition, the correct spirit must be demonstrated through the use of voice (KIAI). These elements are evaluated in their complexity by the referees; the strike is considered valid when at least two of the three referees award it to one of the contenders, raising one of the two flags (red or white), where each flag represents one athlete during the match.
Each match is structured according to the “best of three” format, so to win, you must score 2 valid strikes within the time limit before the opponent, or be in the lead when time runs out. In case of a tie, the final outcome of the match, both in the group phase and in the single matches of team competitions, remains unchanged. However, in the knockout stage, a tie-break match will be played where the challenge continues without a time limit until one of the two competitors executes a valid strike correctly.
In team competitions, such as those in the World Championships with 5 members, the victory will go to the team that obtains the most wins in the individual matches. In case of a tie in the results of the 5 matches between the two teams, a tie-breaker between the 2 captains will be played to determine which team will advance to the next round
The competition area, SHIAI-JO, has a square shape – with a side of 11 meters – and leaving it without justification is sanctioned with a penalty, HANSOKU; receiving 2 penalties results in the award of a point (IPPON) to the opponent.
The allowed strikes in KENDO are 4: MEN – head, KOTE – wrist, Do – side, and TSUKI – throat. Striking an unprotected part, if done intentionally, results in a penalty. Strikes are never carried out on the opponent’s legs or back.
MEN: One can strike their opponent on the head from above, in a central manner or with an inclination of about 45 degrees. A strike executed correctly on the head is considered IPPON and represents one of the two most frequent strikes.
KOTE: The second most frequent strike is delivered to the forearm of the forward arm, usually the right arm, executed between the wrist and the elbow on the rigid cotton protection, KOTE.
DO: Striking the abdomen, with a cut from top to bottom on the side (right or left), earns the competitor a DO in KENDO.
TSUKI: The most difficult strike is certainly the one to the throat, which is reserved for more experienced practitioners. The TSUKI is the part of the mask that protects the throat. The striking is performed with a thrusting motion rather than a cutting one.