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A Japanese Martial Art for the Physically Fit and Mentally Alert

Grading in Kendo

Like other forms of Japanese martial arts, Kendo also follows the dan and kyu system of grading wherein every achievement is rewarded by an advancement to the next rank or grade. While the 'dan' grading system came into being in 1883, ranks under the first dan are referred to as 'kyu'. In all. there are six 'ryu' wherein the sixth represents the lowest rung of the ladder and the first is the highest ryu that a trainee can achieve. Having crossed the first ryu, the practioner qualifies for the dan system of grading which follows a reversal of the ryu system, meaning the first dan is the lowest and every successive achievement results in a jump to the next dan level.  

This continues till the sixth dan and subsequent to this, the competition increases manifold for the successive dan levels. With ninth dan just limited to Japanese Kendo, world championships in Kendo are bereft of both ninth as also tenth dan and this in turn implies that eight dan is the highest possible honor. In order to upgrade to the next level, the practitioner is required to appear for evaluation wherein he is tested by three independent examiners in areas of practical skills, theoretical knowledge and his knowledge of Nihon Kendo Kata. While skills are tested through a demonstration referred to as 'jitsugi', theory is tested through a comprehensive written examination. Level of difficulty of examination in the dan level increases with each successive step and the toughest is eighth dan wherein not even one percent of the total applicants qualify for the honor.  

Although the grading system in Kendo follows the same pattern as other Japanese martial arts and its dan-system is equivalent of belt based rankings, there is no visual symbol that could be indicative of the rank of the practitioner. Kyu rankings are collectively referred to as 'Mudansha' and Dan rankings are referred to as 'Yudansha'. While the Kyu system is regarded as equivalent of brown belt, the Dan system is considered as being a parallel of black belt ranks. Thus, a practitioner at first Kyu is same as a brown-belt-holder while one positioned at First Dan shares the platform with a first-degree black belt.    


Titles in Kendo

Referred to as Shogo, titles in Kendo are awarded as add-ons to the Dan grading and are added as a prefix to the Dan grade of a Kendo practitioner. In Kendo there are three titles namely renshi, kyoshi and hanshi and after having been placed in front of a dan grade, the sequence appears as kyoshi roku-dan. Like dan rankings, titles in Kendo need to be earned by meeting the minimum specified qualifications in terms of number of years, screening and theoretical test. 

'Renshi' is the first title in Kendo and it is conferred upon the practitioner after a minimum of one year having been elapsed since completion of 6th Dan. Likewise, the next title Kyoshi is conferred on practitioners who have waited for two or more years after having received the 7th Dan and Hanshi is conferred upon pratitioners who have waited for at least eight years after having accomplished the 8th Dan. 


Contemporary Kendo

If you happen to pass any locale wherein a Kendo practice session is in progress, something that will immediately strike is the noise that emanates from the area. Not only are the Kendoka supposed to shout 'Kiai' but they are also supposed to stamp their foot while making a strike, thus accounting for the noise. Kendo practice is traditionally held in a dojo but nowadays sports halls and other venues also serve as ideal locations. 

Practice of kendo is referred to a 'geiko' wherein waza geiko refers to pratice of techniques and kakari geiko refers to a short but intense practice session wherein the emphasis is on building stamina and the practitioner is tught to be constantly alert and ready so as to be able to attack. When two practitioners of the same level clash, the session is known as gokaku geiko and when a senior kendoka takes on a junior with the intention of providing guidance,  hikitate geiko is what the practice session is known as. Ji geiko occurs when the practitioner indulges in undirected practice and shiai geiko when the practitioners are judged even during normal training sessions.