This site is intended as an introduction to the Japanese martial art of Kendo,
either for the simply curious, or those actively looking to start.

Kendo is, for lack of a better term, Japanese fencing. It is impossible to classify solely as a martial art or solely as a sport, although that doesn't stop people from trying. It is undeniably a martial art with a very rich, extensive history, however it is also one Japan's official national sports, along with judo and sumo. A huge percentage of Japanese school kids have tried kendo at least once, usually during middle or high school. Most public and private schools have either a kendo club on campus, or an actual full kendo class.

The history of kendo is extremely long, stemming from the Japanese warrior class and the hundreds of swordfighting schools that littered the country during its tumultuous history. Unfortunately, a detailed history would take far more space than can be afforded here. It is, however, inextricably linked to the Japanese culture and military history, which is why I have included both the civilian and former military national flags to the right.

The "gist" of kendo can be summarized in the pithy phrase "ki ken tai icchi," the characters for which are above. It's the semi-official motto of kendo, because it encompasses the entirety of what determines a succesful strike and what a kendo practitioner (kenshi or kendoka), trains for. Essentially, ki ken tai icchi is the entire point of kendo, and it's what separates a kendoka from someone simply swinging a stick around until they hit something.

Unfortunately, the first character, ki, is also the hardest to explain. There are two explanations for the meaning of ki -- a scientific explanation, and a spiritual one. In the interest of fairness, I will cover both. I promise the other characters' explanation will be much shorter.

1) Spiritual Explanation

The most well-known definition is the spiritual one: that ki is spiritual energy. While the character is the same, its pronunciation in different languages varies, which is why it's sometimes spelled chi or qi. It is almost impossible to describe in words how important the concept of ki was to the ancient Japanese. Any sort of energy that could not be explained before the advent of modern science was described in terms of ki. To this day, there is almost no other character more widely used in Japanese words. "Weather" is "heavenly ki," or tenki. "Air" is the "sky's ki," or kuuki. Someone who is timid is naiki, or "inward ki." Being "healthy" is having "original ki," or genki. There are over 800 words in Japanese that use the character ki in some respect, and most of them would never be associated with any kind of "spiritual energy" today.

Warriors would meditate and train trying to focus and cultivate ki. Priests would mutter mantras which would supposedly channel ki for semi-magical effects. The ki of the world and nature was used as an explanation for all sorts of natural events. Many traditional martial artists believe in the spiritual explanation of ki, and continually try to meditate and train in the endless attempt of growing and developing it. Many claim that you can "sense" the level of ki in another person, and it is this sets a trained martial artist apart from an amateur. Some claim it is your "soul," your "aura," or what have you.

2) Scientific Explanation

Many people agree that animals can "sense" fear in a person. This isn't a "sense" so much as a highly evolved evolutionary ability to size up everything about another animal and come to a general feeling about what they intend to do. Humans have it as well. It is no different than determining someone's mood from their facial expression, except applied to the whole body. You can tell volumes about someone's personality about how they stand, how they place their feet, how they use their eyes, how fluidly they move, etc. You can tell when someone is intending to stand and fight, or looks ready to break and run.

"Ki" is an amalgamation of every visible characteristic about you. Your balance, your posture, the muscles around your eyes, the weight on your feet, how you hold a weapon, how fluidly you move, whether you look ready to spring forward at any moment, or fall backwards in defeat. Someone's "ki" is the "sense" that they give off when you look at them, which is your brain unconsciously processing thousands of minute visual cues and coming to a general "feeling" about the person you're looking at. A trained kenshi gives off such a strong "ki" of competance and practice that you can often tell who will win a fight before anyone has even swung. It is not something that you can directly control, but something that is slowly pieced together through years of mental concentration and physical training.

  • Okay, that's nice and all, but what does that mean for kendo?

    This is the main point separating kendo from someone simply swinging a sword around. A katana is not a magical piece of metal that mysteriously cuts someone simply by touching them with it. In order for a sword to do any damage, the blow must be essentially perfect. It must be crisp, strong, and exact, but more importantly, there needs to be ki in the strike. All of your focus and "mental momentum" has to go into the hit. You must completely, 100%, commit to the swing. You cannot nimbly dance back and forth, lightly tapping one another. Kendo is not a touch sport. If you strike a valid target but there is no force, commitment, or ki to the swing, the strike does not count because it would not have done enough damage to kill.

    Part of the way of ensuring there is ki in a strike is the kiai ("meeting ki"). In kendo, all targets must be called as they are struck. The kiai of other martial arts is, in kendo, a scream which is also the name of the target you are striking. In this way, there are no accidental strikes. By screaming the target as you make contact, and maintaining the kiai as you follow through, you are not only showing that you meant to hit where you did, but that you are throwing all of your ki into the strike, and that it would have done damage it it were a real weapon. Most people seeing kendo for the first time are baffled by the sheer amount of screaming that goes on.

    The point of kendo is not to come out of a fight unscathed. When two samurai of roughly equal skill would fight, there were three possible outcomes, each of likely probability: you win, you lose, or you both die. Considering that's only a 33% chance of staying alive, those are not good odds. If you attempt to hold back and stay uninjured, you will guarantee your defeat. The assumption is made that you will be injured, but "you cut skin, I cut flesh; you cut flesh, I cut bone."

Ken is simply the ken of kendo, meaning "sword." In this case, it means that the sword must be handled with precision. The "cutting edge" of the practice sword must hit solidly and with correct angle and force to cause damage were it a real weapon.

Tai simply means "body." In this case, it means your body must completely commit to every strike you make. There is no lightly dancing around in kendo. When you swing for a target, your body must charge forward with 100% commitment and no hesitation, and you must follow through with full momentum. You cannot timidly strike in kendo.
Finally icchi means "as one," or "in harmony." As the final part of the puzzle, succesful kendo technique incorporates proper ki, proper handling of the sword, and proper movement of your body all acting in unison. If any of these is off, the strike will not count. This is what separates real kendo from the rest. It is not something that can be "thought about," but something that must be slowly learned through years of practice, until you no longer have to think about it.

Kendo Equipment

The shinai, (literally "bamboo blade") is the basic training weapon in modern kendo. It is formed of four cut and polished interlocking slats of bamboo around a hollow center, capped with white rawhide on the tip, and wrapped with a long white rawhide handle. The shinai is slightly longer than a regular katana due to a longer handle, which is necessary to accomodate the gloves used in modern kendo. The shinai is designed to prevent serious injury -- the slats slide past one another slightly to absorb the impact of the blow. However, it is still capable of leaving bruises if it strikes exposed skin.

The shinai has a long thin string running down the length of the weapon. This symbolizes the back side of the blade. All strikes must be made with the slat opposite this string. It also has a thin loop of rawhide about 9 inches down from the tip. Traditionally, these 9 inches were the only part of a katana that was kept extremely sharp. You cannot parry another weapon directly with a sharpened sword, or it will ruin your edge and possible even notch the metal, ruining the katana entirely. The rest of the blade was kept only slightly sharp so that it could be used to parry an oncoming strike, and to protect the kenshi from accidentally injuring himself. In modern kendo, only these ~9 inches (opposite the string) count as a valid striking area.

Standard length and weight for an adult male (high school or above) is size 39.

The bokken or bokuto (literally "wooden sword") is the secondary training weapon in kendo. It is usually formed of Japanese white or red oak, but there are cheaper alternatives. Before the invention of the shinai in the late 19th century, all aspiring kenshi trained exclusively with bokken, often breaking bones and skulls in the process. Bokken are not used for fighting any longer, but are used for kata (forms), and similar demonstrations. They are the same shape and length as a katana, and are still used so that kendoka will not forget the shape and aerodynamics of a real sword.

The kendo uniform itself is two pieces, the keikogi (or just gi,) and the hakama. The keikogi is similar to the tops of gi's for other martial arts, except made of a thick quilted material designed to provide added protection from shinai strikes. The sleeves only come down to just past the elbows to accomodate the gloves. The colors of kendo are indigo (a deep navy blue, almost black) and white. These are the only colors allowed for the uniform. Traditionally, both keikogi and hakama are indigo but some will wear a white top or a black hakama, and some even wear white on white, although this is rare. Indigo is the color of Fudou, The Immovable, the Buddhist god of violent justice and patron saint of traditional samurai. It is used today just out of tradition.

The hakama appears at first glance to be a skirt, however it is actually a pair of divided pants with very wide legs. The front is crossed by five pleats, three on the left and two on the right, symbolizing the gotoku, or the 5 main principles of bushido: loyalty, honor, humanity, justice, and respect.

The tenugui or hachimaki is a headband or bandana tied around the head and worn underneath the helmet. It both absorbs sweat, and keeps your hair out of your eyes. There are no regulations governing colors or what is written on a tenugui, so they are the most personal part of a kenshi's uniform. Usually they have some kind of personal philosophical phrase written in Japanese. Sometimes they are gifts given to visiting students, or given out as promotional items by kendo equipment stores.


The armor, or bogu, is comprised of five overlapping pieces that are tied on with thick cord. The men is the helmet, which is made of rigid canvas with metal bars for the face plate. It includes shoulder flaps to protect the shoulders, but these are not considered valid targets. The kote are the gloves, usually made of leather or deerskin for the fingers and canvas for the forearms. The chest protector is the do, made of fiberglass, laquered bamboo, or sharkskin for very high end sets. The tare wraps around the waist and protects the groin and upper legs, but is also not considered a valid target. Note that all armor pieces only cover the front of a person, and the back is unprotected. Strikes from behind are not permitted and considered extremely rude.

Tare usually also have a zekken, or name tag, on the front panel which shows dojo affiliation, last name in Japanese characters, and then again in roman characters. Beware of kenshi with their country's flag in place of their name -- this usually means they are skilled enough to attend international competitions as representatives of their country.

The good news is, all legitimate kendo in the world is regulated by the same organization, the International Kendo Federation, (IKF or kokusai kendou renmei) which is in turn governed by the All Japan Kendo Federation. (zen nihon kendou renmei). Kendo has traditionally always been free, and the IKF and JKF try and keep as close to this as possible. Kendo instructors are almost always volunteer, and make no money personally for their time. Because there is no financial incentive involved, many people find kendo a refreshing change from the highly commercialized martial arts that are so prevelent today.

Because there is no way to afford rent, kendo is usually done at a public facility donated for use, such as a Buddhist or Shinto temple, Japanese cultural center, or college gymnasium. Some colleges will charge slight fees for the use of their facilities, which can raise the price slightly at some dojos. The All US Kendo Federation (AUSKF) also charges $40/year to keep its members insured in case of legal action. (A downside to living in a country full of people who sue.) There are also local state dues, which vary from state to state. Some charge as little as $5/mo, others as much as $40. Regardless, it is still far cheaper than most martial arts today.

The equipment, unfortunately, is another matter. Shinai cost anywhere from $15 to $70 depending on the quality of the bamboo. The more expensive shinai tend to be oiled and sanded to withstand use. Shinai do break and need replacing every few years. A shinai is the bare minimum needed to start practicing kendo, although some dojos will have shinai to loan beginners. There are also carbon fiber shinai, colored to look like bamboo, which do not break and require little care. They can run up to $200 though, and many complain that they lack the traditional "feel" of bamboo.

US Kendo

The gi and hakama are not necessary for a beginner, however many try and buy them as soon as possible so that they can get used to them quicker. Gi and hakama are either made of polyester or tetron for the cheaper versions, which require less care, or 100% cotton with natural hand dye for the expensive versions, which require more care but look better. Low end gi and hakama typically run $50-$150 for the set. Extremely high end sets can run $500 or more.

Bogu is expensive, but American dojos usually do not allow beginners to wear armor for quite awhile anyway, to prevent injury. Sadly, many people starting kendo do so because of something they saw on television or in a movie, and if they were allowed to wear armor from the beginning they may end up seriously injuring themselves or others. This means a beginner doesn't have to worry about buying armor for quite awhile. Entry level bogu sets typically run $150-250 and will last the life of the kendoka with proper care. High end sets can run thousands of dollars, and extremely high end sets, such as those used by the top sensei in Japan can run $10,000 or more.

Online Kendo Equipment Stores:


Kendo Ranking System

There is no outward display of rank in kendo. Everyone wears the same uniform, with the same colors. There are no colored belts or patches. Some people find this a welcome relief from the belt-oriented world of other martial arts. Others find it frustrating to not have anything physical to show for your effort. It is still usually very easy to judge what rank someone is by watching them fight, as well as how they dress and act.

Kendo uses the kyu/dan system. At the lowest rank is 10th kyu, which procede upwards to 1st kyu. The next step after 1st kyu is 1st dan, or shodan, equivalent to "black belt" in other martial arts. The dan ranks then extend upwards to 10th dan. In practice however, most adults start at around 4th to 6th kyu. There are no more 10th dans alive. Naturally, you cannot raise someone to a rank higher than your own, and no 10th dans were promoted before the rest of them died out. Therefore there will never be another 10th. Similarly, there are only a handful of 9th dans left in the world, and it appears likely the same thing may happen with them.

Traditionally, there were no kyu ranks, and you were mudan (unranked) for many years before you recieved 1st dan. That is why 1st dan is still called shodan, or "beginner's rank."

Kyoushi, renshi, and hanshi are honorary ranks awarded to very high level kendoka, for superb skill as well as having a good character and helping the development and practice of kendo.

Dojo Etiquette and Respect

There are a number of traditions and rules governing proper respect whenever inside a kendo dojo. Even if the dojo is a school gymnasium, or a run down temple, whenever keiko (training) is in session you treat the building with full respect.

Seiza is the proper way to sit in a dojo. From a standing position, kneel on to your left foot, keeping your back upright. (This is tradition, because until your right foot is pulled back you can still draw a sword.) Then pull your right leg back, and sit back gently on your legs and heels, with the tops of your feet on the floor. Your toes should touch in back, and your knees should be slightly spread in front. For a non-Japanese, this is often extremely uncomfortable at first for any length of time. You will slowly get used to it. Your hands should rest on your knees or upper thighs and your back should be straight, not leaning forward to try and relieve the discomfort -- you'll get used to it with time. The shinai is placed at your left side, string down, handle facing forward, crossguard (tsuba) in line with your knees.

The bow, or rei, is done from either a standing position with your back straight, hands at your sides, or from seiza. When performing a seated rei, place your left and right hands in front, forming a triangle with your thumbs and the rest of your fingers. Then bow towards the triangle, keeping your back straight and your butt down. Hold for a brief second, longer to show added respect, and then come back up.


Mokusou: brief cool-down meditatation at the start and end of a training session. Sit in seiza position, touch the tips of your thumbs together, and cup your left fingers lightly with your right, forming a diamond. Rest them naturally in your lap, close your eyes, breath deeply, and try and relax


Kendo Technique and Basics

How to Grip the Shinai

You do not hold a shinai like a baseball bat. Do not grab it from the sides in a full fisted grip. Instead, hold it loosely from the top, so that if you look down on the handle from above, the gab between the thumb and index fingers on each hand will form two V's lined up with one another down the top of the handle. Your pinky and ring fingers should be providing most of the pressure, and your other fingers should be only lightly gripping the handle.

Your right hand goes on top, all the way up under the crossguard. Your left hand goes at the bottom, all the way down until there is little to no white showing past your pinky and ring finger on your left hand. This might seen like a very wide grip at first, but it provides the greatest amount of angular leverage for control and speed. No, katanas are not used one-handed, no matter what you see in movies. A katana is too heavy for one hand unless you are very big and extremely strong, and even famous dual-wielding swordsmen such as Miyamoto Musashi had to use a lighter wakizashi instead of a second katana in the left.

The shinai grip is identical for right-handed and left-handed kenshi alike. Left-handers may be a little worried about this, but the kendo swing is so unnatural at first that no one has an advantage. It will be just as akward for you as it is for the righties, so you'll both learn at the same rate.

Valid Targets in Kendo

There are only certain valid targets in kendo - those that would cause immediate incapacitation or death if they were struck with a real sword. Targets such as the shoulders, legs, and upper arms are not valid because they are not necessarily lethal or incapacitating.

All targets are struck with a slashing motion except for tsuki, which is a thrust to the throat. However, a thrust to the throat even with a shinai can be extremely dangerous and potentially fatal. Beginners do not learn tsuki until much higher level.

Note that the do protector only covers the sides from the lowest rib to the hips, and the unprotected area of the ribcage itself under the arms is not a valid target. It is quite hard to slash through someone's ribcage, however a strike to the soft sides of the stomach will be immediately debilitating.

The Force of the Swing

It seems unnatural at first, but the strength and power in a swing comes from your left hand, not your right. Your right arm should provide little to no force to the swing. Your left arm drives and pulls the shinai, and your right hand simply adjusts the angle and position of the tip, and also stops the swing. Perhaps the most common mistake of beginners is to use the muscles of the right arm to swing. Ask any golfer what happens if you try and use the muscles of your right hand in a golf swing. The swing will go wild, you won't hit your target, and you'll hit very hard with no self control. This not only looks terrible, but will piss off your opponent as well. A trained kenshi can swing with full force in the left hand, and use the right hand to bring the tip to a perfect crisp stop an inch from their target if they are so inclined.. You cannot do this if you're swinging with your right hand.

If you want to cut a piece of meat, you don't grab a steak knife and try to push down on it as hard as you can. The only way to cut is to slice neatly with the correct angle. A proper kendo swing combines the power of the left hand with the precision of the right to include both strength and precision without sacrificing either.

Sonkyou - Starting a Match

While all martial arts have a bow before starting the match, kendo has a slightly longer process. From a distance of 9 paces, both kenshi face one another and perform a standing bow, with the shinai held naturally down in the left hand, "blade" facing upwards. When the judge gives the go-ahead to begin, the shinai is brought to a position on your left hip in the position where a katana would normally be sheathed. The thumb comes up to cover the crossguard (tsuba).

Both kenshi take three steps forward, drawing the shinai in a large arc over the head and down towards chuudan no kamae while very slowly crouching down into a balanced position on the balls of both feet. If the distance is correct, the tips of the shinai will just barely touch. A properly executed sonkyou is beautiful to watch, and you can often tell someone's rank just by their sankyou.

When the judge calls hajime, both kenshi stand and shift into guard positions, and the match begins.

When the match is over, both kenshi return to the middle, crouch back in to sonkyou, and the process is reversed. The shinai is "sheathed," the opponents slowly stand, walk backwards five paces, (because people tend to naturally take smaller steps to cover distance while walking backwards), drop the shinai back to their sides, and exit the arena.

Chuudan no Kamae

Chuudan no kamae means "center guard" or "middle posture" and is the basic guard or ready position in kendo. Although it is not particularly flashy or impressive to look at, it was developed over centuries of trial and error and is the strongest balance of offensive and defensive ability.

Your right and left foot both point foward, with the right root in front. Your left foot goes behind, but close enough so that if seen from the side, the toes of your left foot and the heel of your right foot would be in line. The heel of your left foot is raised slightly with weight on the balls of both feet. Your weight should be divided relatively evenly, but with more weight on your front foot than the back. (If you are caught with your weight on your back foot, your balance is dead and you will probably get smacked a second later.) Regardless, it should be equal enough that if you raise your right foot, you will slowly tip forward and fall, and the same for your back foot. Your right leg should be very slightly bent, and your left leg will naturally be mostly straight, but not locked.

The shinai should be held naturally, with proper grip, with the left hand about one fist away from your body. The blade faces down. (Meaning the string is up.) Your shoulders should face forward squarely with the shinai facing right down the middle of your body. The tip should be aimed directly at your opponent's throat.

Other kamae positions:

There are other guard positions as well, however only one of them is ever regularly used, and even that is rare.

Joudan no Kamae - (Upper Guard/Stance) The feet are reversed, with the left foot forward and right leg behind with the heel up. Almost all weight is on the front foot. The shinai is held overhead at an approximately 45 degree angle to the horizontal, and angled slightly so the tip points slightly back to your right. This is an extremely offensive position, sacrificing almost all of your defense. It also leaves you very vulnerable to do or kote strikes. It also severely limits which targets you can feasibly hit. Its strength lies in the fact you already have half of your swing completed, and the only part left is the downward slice. This gives you a time advantage over your opponent if you are trying to strike men, and it is often impossible to really block a men strike from joudan - instead it is better to attack someone in joudan immediately before they can swing.

Joudan can be done either with left foot forward (hidari joudan, the most common) or with the right foot forward (migi joudan, rare).

Gedan no Kamae - (Lower Guard/Stance) This is a purely defensive position. The feet are in the same position as chuudan, except the tip of the shinai is lowered and rolled slightly to the right until it is at the same height and in front of your right knee. This is never used in actual matches except to briefly taunt your opponent into attacking you.

Hassou no Kamae - (Eighth Aspect Stance) The body position is the same as joudan, with left foot forward, except instead of held over the head, the shinai is held vertically next to your face, with your fists by your right cheek. This was traditionally used for very heavy weapons which could not be held in joudan or chuudan for any length of time without tiring. It is sometimes used by high level kenshi, but only as a very brief fake on the way to a full strike.

Waki Kamae - (Flanking Stance) The most exotic position. The feet are reversed like it joudan or hassou, however your body is turned slightly to the right, and the blade is held at your right hip with the tip pointing behind you, sharpened edge up. Your body obscures the blade from view from the front. Almost entirely worthless in modern kendo, although still used in one of the forms.


You might be tempted to skip over this section, but it may be the most important part of this whole page. Unless you know how to step, and how to move your feet correctly, nothing above your feet will move right, including your hands. Proper kendo starts with your feet. They are the source of your momentum, and the principle part of the tai in ki ken tai icchi.

Kendo footwork is designed to allow movement in any direction without putting your feet in a position that compromises balance. If you walk with alternating steps, there is a brief moment where your feet are right next to one another as one crosses by the next. In this brief moment, if you are pushed in any way, you will fall over.

Instead, kendo uses sliding footwork and non-alternating steps. To move forward from chuudan, the right leg slides forward and the left left then slides up back to its original position, leaving the heel raised the whole time. To move backwards, the left foot slides back and the right foot then slides back to meet it. This way, you maintain balance and potential power if someone pushes on you during a step. To move right, the front leg slides right, then the back. To move left, the back foot slides back, then the front. You are never caught off balance with your feet next to each other.

Trained kendoka are capable of sliding across the floor very very quickly using only this sliding footwork, called suriashi ("sliding feet"). So quickly, in fact, that they appear almost to float across the floor without actually stepping at all.


Kiai is "meeting ki," or a verbal challenge in the form of a yell or scream. You cannot do kendo without proper kiai, because kiai forms the basis of the ki in ki ken tai icchi. Good kiai does not come from your chest as though you were yelling normally, but is an explosive yell that comes from deep in your stomach as loud as you can. Do not try and "say" the yell, with your vocal chords, but rather release all of your breath in an explosive discharge of energy as though you were trying to flatten your opponent with just your voice alone.

A good kiai can actually win a fight by itself, and I have personally seen it happen many times. A good, proper base explosion of verbal energy often provokes a involuntary flight response even if you see it coming ahead of time. If your own ki and self-confidence is not strong enough to meet it, it can cause you to hesitate slightly for a fraction of a second, or flinch involuntarily (mentally or physically), which is all your opponent needs to win the point.

Kiai is mandatory when you land a strike, and the word that is yelled is the target you were aiming for. However, you can also (and should) use kiai to establish superiority at the start of a match, or to try and throw your opponent off guard.

Maai - Range

The length of the shinai and the chuudan no kamae position establishes a set range from which you can hit your opponent. A taller person will have a naturally longer reach, but an ability to jump long distances forward also extends your reach. Managing range or distance, called maai, is absolutely essential for a kenshi. You must know from how far away your opponent can strike you, and how far away you need to be to hit them back. It varies according to age, sex, strength, ability, build, shinai length, opportunity to strike, etc. It cannot be taught but is rather learned through practice.

The difference in range between kendoka sometimes varies by as little as an inch or two, but a good kendoka can manipulate maai perfectly to take full advantage of it.

Standard maai is called issoku ittou no maai, or "one step one strike range." For two kenshi of equal height with no extraordinary speed or strength, this is the range pictured above, with shinai barely crossed at the tips. This is the outer limit of range for most people. From this position, any target can be struck if you take one step forward, but taking that step also puts you within your opponent's striking distance. Most kenshi will stay at this range, moving back and forth or circling while attempting to somehow break the other person's chuudan guard, and then move in with one step to strike a target.

Zanshin - Follow Through

Zanshin literally means "remaining heart" or "left over soul," or what have you, but that doesn't explain it very well. More accurately, zanshin means that after you strike a target, you are completely mental and physically prepared to strike again or immediately defend yourself if necessary. This is absolutely critical - without showing proper zanshin, the point does not count.

In kendo, after attempting a strike, the kenshi ideally charges past their opponent (to the right or left) using suriashi footwork. This is quite natural if you already have proper form, because at that point you have so much physical and mental momentum that it's quite hard to stop. Once you have moved past your opponent and far enough to be out of range again, then you turn and prepare for another attack.

This is important because in a real sword fight, there is no guarantee that a strike will immediately disable your opponent, and you cannot afford to relax physical and mental energy until you are once again far enough away to be safe. The weight and momentum of a katana (as opposed to a lighter 1-handed weapon) makes it impossible to swing with commitment and then immediately defend. Ki ken tai icchi dictates that you must commit 100% to the swing, which means you can't hold back expecting to defend after you strike. The only thing you can do is get past them and out of range as quickly as possible.

If you do not show proper zanshin, a skilled kendoka can easily use the free opportunity to either strike you back, or take advantage of your falling ki to smack the shinai right out of your hands.

Tai-atari - Body Check

Sometimes, if both go for the same strike, neither will hit. For instance, if both kendoka attempt to strike men at the same time, both swings often deflect one another. However, both kenshi still have full forward momentum and commitment, and sometimes they can't go around or past. At this point, both kenshi run into one another and tai-atari, or tsubazeriai, (a "body check") occurs.

During tai-atari, both kenshi are locked with shinai crossed between them, pushing on one another. (And it's always far more intense than what's pictured above.) Both are trying to push the other off center while trying to come back to chuudan themselves. The problem is, the first person to break tai-atari cannot come back to chuudan instantly, and therefore they will leave themselves open. Thus, neither kenshi wants to break tai-atari without somehow covering themselves in the process. This is the only time in kendo where raw physical upper body strength has any sort of advantage.

There are a number of techniques for breaking tai-atari, and striking a target while retreating back to chuudan, called hiki waza.

Kata - Forms

Similar to other martial arts, kendo has a set of forms. One difference, however, is that kendo forms are always done in pairs. They are demonstrations of techniques used for fighting, therefore there is both an attacking and defending side to each form. They are never done alone.

Kendo has 10 forms, each with an attacking side (uchitachi) and a defending side (shitachi), for a total of 20 forms that a kenshi has to memorize. Uchitachi instigates the attack, and shitachi dodges, blocks, or otherwise counters the attack to win.

You do not need to know the forms until you test for 1st kyu, when you'll need to know both sides up to number three. For shoudan, you must know the first 5. 2dan is the first 7, and 3san is all of them.

Images are used from Kendo: The Definitive Guide by Hiroshi Ozawa et al. Images are used without permission, but I'm sure Mr. Ozawa is a very nice kendoka and not the type to sue someone like me. I highly recommend everyone buy the book, because it has 100x the information I presented here.

Other images used from,, and the International Kendo Federation.