What is Kendo?

Kendo (剣道, "way of the sword") is a modern Japanese martial art originating from the experiences of the samurai who trained to use Japanese swords (nihonto) in combat. Kendo practitioners (kendoka) use bamboo swords (shinai) and armour (bogu) for fencing, and wooden swords (bokuto) for practicing traditional sword forms (kata) in pairs.

First impressions of Kendo are of a noisy, aggressive and violent full-contact martial art. Kendo is certainly dynamic, but a little study will soon reveal a high level of skill and concentration, together with a grace and physical agility that any choreographer would appreciate. Kendo may be safely practised by men, women and children of all ages, and the type and level of practice may of course be adjusted to suit each pupil.

Beginners typically start learning kendo by practicing the basic movements and techniques with a shinai or bokuto. Once students have got the hang of the basics, they will be encouraged to try wearing bogu so that they can practice more complex techniques and learn to fence other students in jigeiko (free practice between two kendoka wearing bogu).

When a kendoka has enough experience, they may take grading examinations to see if their skills have reached the level required for the next grade. The requirements for each grade are set by national/international kendo associations, depending on the grade. Kendoka may also choose to take part in tournaments (taikai) to test their skills against other kendoka from outside their own club (dojo) in a competitive environment.

The most senior Kendo teachers in the BKA are 7th Dan, with several 6th and 5th Dans who train in various parts of the country.

The Concept and Purpose of Kendo


The concept of kendo is to discipline the human character through the application of the principles of the katana (sword).


The purpose of practicing kendo is:
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.
This will make one able:
To love ones country and society,
To contribute to the development of culture,
And to promote peace and prosperity among all peoples.


In the middle of the Heian period (794–1185), swords with distinctive features such as a curvature (sori) and raised ridges along the length of the blade (shinogi) were produced by Japanese smiths and became an integral part of the samurai’s weaponry. Swords came to symbolize the samurai’s spirit, and are often referred to as embodying the “mind” of the samurai. Not only seen as weapons, sword production flourished as an expression art representing strength and beauty.

From the Warring States period (1467–1603) through to the early stages of the Edo period (1603–1868), many schools of swordsmanship (kenjutsu) were established, and in the 18th century protective training armor resembling that used in kendo today was developed. Through this a new safe, full-contact methodology for kenjutsu training using bamboo swords (shinai) took root. Consequently, a competitive style of kenjutsu competition gained popularity and spread throughout the country around the end of the Edo period. Early in the 20th century, this type of training in swordsmanship, which was referred to as “gekiken” or “kenjutsu” was renamed “kendo” which literally means the “Way of the sword”. Kendo became a representative discipline of modern Japanese “budo” (martial arts/ways), of which the underpinning ideals of self-improvement are grounded in the spirit of the samurai. The method of kendo that we study and enjoy now is a product of centuries of development in Japan. 

After the Second World War, kendo was prohibited for a while under the Occupation of the Allied Forces. In 1952, however, when the All Japan Kendo Federation was established, kendo was formally resurrected. Kendo presently plays an important role in school education in Japan, and is also popular with people of all ages and walks of life. Several million kendo practitioners enjoy participating in regular sessions of keiko (kendo training).

Furthermore, kendo is gaining interest all around the world. The International Kendo Federation (FIK) was established in 1970 and the first triennial World Kendo Championships (WKC) was held in the Nippon Budokan in the same year. 


Find a club in your area, go along at practice time and watch a session and talk to a senior member. Southampton Kendo Club runs 3-4 Beginners Courses per year, and welcomes all visitors to our Monday session.

Kendo can be practiced from childhood to old age. Southampton Kendo Club only takes students over the age of 18yrs.

Kendo favours speed and agility over strength and is particularly suitable for women. The training of Kendo is identical for men and women who practice together, however tournaments are seperated into Mens and Womens categories.

All UK clubs are listed at the British Kendo Association (BKA) website.

BKA Dojo Map

All clubs should be members of their National Federation which in turn belongs to the International Kendo Federation.(I.K.F.). When visiting a club see if the club is well-attended and if you feel comfortable there; ask any questions you may have and see if they are answered to your satisfaction.

Southampton Kendo Club has several qualified instructors. Sessions are planned and overall responsibility is taken by Adam Lindsay (Dojo leader, 3rd Dan, BKA L1 Coach). In addition we have a number of lower grade members who are very capable of teaching beginners.

When you begin Kendo you do not need to use armour right away. Beginners are required to attend a beginners course before they can become full members of Southampton Kendo Club. The current price of the beginners course is £20 for an eight week course. This includes 3 month membership of the BKA. Between 2 and 3 months after the end of the beginners course you will be ready to start training in armour; a certain number of sets will be available at the club to borrow during practice. Therefore you may practice Kendo cheaply for many months while finding out if it is for you. Eventually you will want to buy your own armour, this can be sourced from reputable suppliers and will need to be ordered to fit.

Equipment Suppliers

Armour quality can vary a lot, due to the way it is constructed and where it comes from. Basic differences in armour are:

    Modern synthetic or traditional materials
    Larger stitch width for better comfort or smaller stitch width for better durability
    Decoration and customisations
For beginners a good-fitting cheap, machine-stitiched ‘Bougu’ from a reputable supplier or bought carefully second-hand is fine, and will last you for a good few years.

Kendo injuries are rarely more serious than a bruise. Atlhough there are some strains usually associated with the feet and ankles - these can be prevented with a proper strectching programme. Generally Etiquette (Reigo-saho) in the Dojo prevents dangerous practices.

A correct shinai blow which lands on target (the armour), doesn’t hurt. You feel the hit, but no pain (except the bruised ego). The shinai is designed to flex and absorb the blow. A cut which misses the armour usually causes no worse than a bruise, although it certainly can hurt at the time.

Kendo is Graded on the Kyu-Dan system used in Japan. The Kyu grades descend in order from 6th Kyu to 1st Kyu, after which you move to a Dan grade (equivalent to a Black Belt in other arts) which then ascend from 1st Dan to 8th Dan. No belt or other indication of grade is worn - Higher grades are evident by their ability. There are time limits as to how long one has practiced at a certain grade before being permitted to take the next grading.

Tournaments are called Shiai, consisting of matches where two competitors fight in a 11m sq area. The first competitor to achieve two clean correct hits on their opponent, decided by three referees, wins the match. Matches only last for a few minutes but are intense and dynamic.