Kendo: What I think I’ve learned after my Go Kyu Exam

Disclaimer: I'm a beginner, the text below might or not be correct or accurate, however,
it's my current view on the subject, which is very likely subject to change in the future
as I gain more understanding of kendo and myself.

Wait, what’s Kendo?


Interesting question, if I wanted to oversimplify matters I could say: “Kendo is a sport derived from Japanese Sword fighting where 2 people hit each other with bamboo sticks” and technically (for most of us westerners) this would be an accurate description of what the eyes see… And yet, nothing could be farther from the truth.

I could also say that Kendo is a Martial Art, created by Samurai to train and practice without the risks involved in the usage of real swords, and perhaps this would be more accurate, but not even close to the correct answer.

If that’s the case, then what is Kendo? Well, there are many places where you can get a “correct answer“, so I will express here is nothing but what I think I’ve learned in 3 months of practicing. I’m sure this answer will change in time, and the only purpose of this post is for my own benefit, to have a log of where I am today only so I can see how much I’ve advanced (if anything) in 10 years from now.

So, What how do I define Kendo today (or should I say at this stage)?

I can’t find any one single word that I can use to define kendo, when I think about kendo the words: discipline, respect, patience, tradition, hard work, ability, control and awareness immediately come to mind. Never had I knew of a sport where someone would be penalize for celebrating scoring a point (which is completely disrespectful to the opponent), you might think that’s crazy and anal, but then there’s a reason why this is so. The 2 people fighting are (for all intents and purposes) in opposites sides of a war in Feudal Japan, within the next 3 minutes one of them will be able to go home, the other one will perish on the spot, every time they get hit and a point is allocated to the opponent, that person is one step closer to death, furthermore, his/her death will probably mean his family and/or whatever else the person loves will be unprotected and open to abuse or destruction. When you understand this, you understand that being disrespectful to the opponent who just got hit, is the equivalent of laughing at a man who just got shot or wounded but still gets up to keep fighting, because not doing so means his wife will be raped and/or his children enslaved or slaughtered…

Now, Kendo is a mental fight, don’t get me wrong, you must be in proper physical shape to do be able to perform the different waza (techniques), swinging your sword to take a hit takes only a fraction of a second…. but the thing is, before you or your opponent makes a move the point has already been scored or decided if you will, it’s hard for me to explain, so bear with me, in a fraction of a second your brain has to decide whether to attack first or counter attack, figure out what your opponent is doing and decide whether to counter a counter attack might be required and what would be the most efficient way to achieve results… so there’s only one way to do this… practice, a lot… put yourself in that situation and solve the problem enough times that when you encounter it you don’t have to think, your body will move on its own… In this sense, kendo is like any other sport, furthermore, imagine this situation, pretend you’re a basketball player and your practicing your 3 point shots, if your approach is to take a ball, stand on a spot and shoot, you’ll probably get good, but you won’t be the best, simply, because when there’s another 1 or 2 or even 3 people trying to block your shot, the intensity of the moment will probably cause you to miss. So in Kendo, it’s necessary then to transport yourself in every single battle, practice or competitive to the state of mind of “I need to do this as best as I can, my life LITERALLY depends on it”. Personally, I have only wore bogu (the armor) and participated in gi geiko (sparring practice) with my sensei once, but it was by far one of the most intense feelings I’ve felt, I can’t tell whether I moved appropriately or not, but certainly, my mind raced, I kept telling myself: “Every time this person hits you on the head his one step closer to kidnapping your kid” and that feeling kept me moving forward, made me see his movements clearer even though I couldn’t move my body to match his attacks.

Kendo Men

And with the above example I will close with an idea that came into my mind the other day…. A Men (kendo helmet), has a grill in front which is to protect the face, now initially I thought “well, with all the advances in technology you’d assume that they could’ve changed this to some form of polymer that will allow better vision” but then I just shaved it off as “well tradition requires it to be like this”, but after watching a great short film called 4th dan, I realized one thing, then man gane (the grill) also has the function of hiding the opponents face, for (I think) 2 reasons, (1) it shouldn’t really matter who your fighting, what they look like or what their expression is, as far as you’re concerned he’s death coming to collect you; and (2) they also represent your internal demons, you have to fight them off, control them, tame them even, and then you need to look for an opportunity to vanquish them…

Ultimately, kendo is about bettering yourself as a person, it’s a long path where your whole objective is to make sure and just keep putting one foot in front of the other, as long as today you’re an inch better than yesterday you’re achieving this goal, fights in kendo are not against another person, it’s with yourself, it’s about being aware of what you’re doing to the last detail….

For me the struggle is like most of the challenges I’ve had in life, I tend to be good in the theory and then suck at the practice, my hope is for kendo to help me change in this (among many other regards)


About rantsh

I'm just a software engineer turned gadget junkie... View all posts by rantsh

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