Guest Author - Caroline Baker
Kendo, the art of Japanese Sword fighting, can be compared to the Western image of fencing with large bamboo sticks. Not to be confused with a similar named Martial Arts, Kenpo, this form of Martial Arts derives from one of the main traditions passed down from the samurai.
Using a specially constructed lance, known as the shinai, opponents face off against one another much like what is seen in Western fencing matches. The shinai is constructed of bamboo staves tied together and capped at one end with a hilt. This modernization of a “sword” allows participants to practice without serious injury to their opponents or themselves. In addition, the warrior will also wear a series of protective armor: men (a helmet), body padding (doh), gloves (kote), and groin protection (tare). These pieces are collectively known as bogu and comprises the basic equipment every participant needs.
In addition to facing off against another opponent, students will learn a variety of techniques around footwork, posture, stand, and sword movements. These translate to kata’s, similar to ones seen in other Martial Arts forms. The training also embodies a great deal of teachings around respect and honor, two critical aspects of a samurai’s life.
Unlike Western fencing, the movements are focused more on a sword attacking rather than a eppie. The forms offer broad striking motions, often with a two-handed grip on the sword and not just a piercing motion.
These days, Kendo is often referenced in association with Jodo, the way of the wooden staff, and Iaido, the art of drawing a sword, or carries aspects of these other two Japanese sword styles. In contrast with Kendo, the other two styles often do involve real, or live, weapons, bringing yet another aspect of the samurai training to light. In addition, as Kendo spread across Asian, it obtained other pronunciations of its name, such as the Korean form, Kumdo.
With the rise of Martial Arts in general, this art form is getting more coverage through movies and other media. More recent movies like, The Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise, help bring this art form to the big screen.