What is Kendo?
Japan may be just an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean but its geographical handicaps have in no way impeded its ambition to create a niche for itself in the global arena. Among the several forms of martial arts that have hailed from this island nation, karate is the most popular. But there is yet another form of combat which is equally interesting and engaging, not to mention intriguing.
Kendo is a relatively contemporary form of combat as compared to karate but one that demands equal measures of physical fitness, mental alertness and discipline. The word 'Kendo' is an amalgamation of two words wherein 'Ken' is the Japanese word for sword and 'Do' translates into path or way. Therefore, Kendo could be interpreted as the 'way of the sword' or a path which the practitioner should follow on commencing Kendo training. In one of her famous "adapted quotes" from Kendo, debbie says "Understanding is a three edged sword....your side....their side....and the TRUTH."
Understanding the Concept of Kendo
Kendo derives its essence from traditional Japanese swordsmanship, namely 'kenjutsu' which can be traced back to the 18th century. Kendo, as it is practiced today, evolved over a period of time and received patronage mostly during the 20th century, thus leading to the laying down of concepts by its regulatory authority in 1975.
Like other forms of martial arts, Kendo is also based on the concept of self discipline wherein the practitioner is trained in character-building techniques while weilding the 'shinai' or bamboo sword. Because much of application entails following the principles as laid down in 'katana', Kendo as such is a physically strenuous sport that requires stamina and perseverance. Given that Kendo entails striking the body of your opponent, it is mandatory for the practitioners to don a gear known as 'bogu' which is meant to serve as protection.
A typical contest in kedo begins with both participants bowing to each other, the bow in Japanese being referred to as 'rei'. It is mainly indicative of the person's aspiration for attaining victory but it is also a way of paying respect to instructors and expressing gratitude to fellow contestants and practitioners. Discipline in Kendo comes into play during actual combat wherein even though the objective is to strike the opponent's body, contestants are bound by rules to strike only in specific areas while at the same time calling out the name of the specific area where the strike is about to be made. There are three specific strike zones which are commonly used during training namely 'men' or head, 'do' or trunk and 'kote' or forearm while the fourth namely 'tsuki' or part of the throat is regarded as being dangerous and hence omitted till a certain age.
During the contest, the only way in which contestants can score points entails striking within the three zones and a strike which is beyond these three zones does not earn any point. Time-frame for every contest is five minutes and the objective is to score two points, meaning the contestant who manages to score two points at the end of five minutes emerges as the winner.
Purpose of Kendo
Following is the purpose of Kendo as laid down by AJKF (All Japan Kendo Federation) in 1975 to be mandatorily followed by all organizations related to this martial art the world over -
To mold the mind and body;
To cultivate a vigorous spirit;
And through correct and rigid training,
To strive for improvement in the art of Kendo.
To hold in esteem human courtesy and honor,
To associate with others with sincerity,
And to forever pursue the cultivation of oneself.
Thus will one be able:
To love one's country and society;
To contribute to the development of culture;
And to promote peace and prosperity among all people.
Something that is truly upheld in Kendo is 'Reiho', meaning etiquette wherein practitioners are encouraged to respect their adversaries. From the moment they commence training, Kendo practitioners are nurtured in a manner that encourages dignity and respect for humanity. As a result, they are groomed to be modest and develop faith in 'koken-chiai', meaning mutual understanding.
In olden days, anyone who used to practice kendo was labelled as a kendoist but nowadays, practitioners are referred to as kendoka, meaning a person who trains in kendo. Practitioners are also referred to as 'kenshi', a Japanese term denoting swordsman courtesy of the usage of bamboo stick.
The main equipment used in Kendo is the shinai which comprises of four bamboo grafts assembled together with the help of leather fittings. Shinai is representative of Japanese sword, namely katana, and nowadays it is also available in a contemporary version wherein carbon fiber and not bamboo is the main material.
To master kata, Kendo practitioners use bokuto, a hard wooden sword wherein the tip or the edge is projected forward in order to make a strike.
Protection to the body is granted through an armor wherein the head and the face are shielded by a helmet with a metal grille. Part of the helmet continues in form of leather and fabric flaps added with the intention of shielding the throat, neck and shoulders from injury.
Much of the torso comes under the protection of the breastplate while the hands are granted protection by donning long, thick and padded gloves named kote. These serve the purpose not just of protecting hands but also wrists and forearms. Waist and groin regions of the body are protected by thick vertical flaps of fabric known as tare.