Japanese Sport – Kendo

Kendo is one of Japan’s most famous sports; it’s a semi-contact martial art that has been practised for centuries. In this article, we will be looking at the origins of Kendo and its chances of becoming an Olympic sport in the future.


It is hard to place precisely when kendo came into practice. The way of the sword was originally born from the need to defend and fight, but the sport evolved much later. Following the Onin War, Japan experienced a hundred years of anarchy across the sixteenth century. This gave people the resolve they needed to pick up the sword and learn kenjutsu (the way of the sword), and with this resolve, various schools rose up to teach them.

From the start of the seventeenth century, Japan entered more peaceful times and sword training schools re-invented themselves to become places where Japanese warriors could find new resolves, particularly introspective ones about self-development, discipline, and swordsmanship.

Those who studied the sword from this point were often samurai, devoted to refining both body and mind. This class of literate warriors would, in turn, go on to produce a number of written works about how to live a meaningful life. This new turn towards peace brought grace to the art of kendo which shaped the sport that we know today.

In the early 18th century, the protective armour was developed alongside the shinai – a bamboo sword using in training. By the end of the 18th century, it became popular for different schools to host competitions.

Kendo went underground following the end of the Second World War when the Occupation of Allied Forces suspended it, amongst other martial arts, but it was soon revived in 1952 and has been on the rise ever since. May 2015 held the 16th World Kendo Championship in Tokyo with practitioners from a total of 56 countries.


How Kendo is Scored

Kendo is a flexible sport with different matches – usually, kendo is fought between two competitors, but there is also the option to fight in teams of between three and five.

The duration of matches between two individuals is limited to five minutes for adults and three minutes for juniors. A match ends when a participant scores two points or when the time runs out, in this case, the fighter with the most points is deemed the winner. If the match ends in a draw, the winner is decided by sudden death – first to score the next point is deemed the overall winner.

When fighting as a team, the winners are the team with the most wins across the number of matches fought. If the wins are equal, then it comes down to individual points.

To win a point, the participant must strike one of four target areas: head, body, wrist or throat. The strike must be clear, precise, and use the final third of the shinai (bamboo training sword). After a point is won, the competitors pause and return to their starting positions.

The other method for a point to be awarded is through penalties. If a combatant receives two penalties, a point is awarded to the other competitor. A penalty could be incurred by the competitor dropping their shinai or stepping out of bounds.

Kendo in Pop Culture

Like sumo, kendo doesn’t feature much in Western pop-culture, but you can see aspects of it in some franchises. For example, in Star Wars, the use of lightsabers could be likened to kendo because there’s no return from a lightsaber attack, and equally, kendo points are awarded based on the chance to kill an opponent in real combat.

Kendo has also had a huge impact on fighting anime. In kendo, fighters are expected to give a powerful shout during their attack to signal to the referees that their attack is being struck with intention and ferocity. This practice appears to have crossed over to some show’s tendency to have their characters yelling the name of an attack that they are about to execute.


Kendo at the 2020 Olympics

Kendo will not be featuring in the 2020 Olympics, in part because of the reluctance of referees and judges to accept the technology used in other sports – like video replays when judges are unsure of the outcome. On the other hand, one of the many teachings that come with practising kendo is that although there may be unfathomable victories, there are no unthinkable losses. This means that even when a kendo practitioner suffers what could be considered an unfair defeat, that this should be considered part of life and a chance to find the strength to improve oneself.

If you’ve been working up a sweat at the Liverpool Kendo club or training hard at the Manchester kendo dojo, then why not refuel at our sushi bar in Liverpool or our sushi bar in Manchester? We have a range of meals to suit different diets and tastes, whichever sport your studying be that kendo, sumo or karate.

If you’re interested in learning more about our country’s sporting culture, then you might enjoy these blogs:

Japanese Sports – Sumo

Japanese Sports – Karate

A Closer Look at Japanese Sporting Culture