The world of martial arts is one which at first glance may seem to be very simple, but which quickly reveals itself to be far more complex. One can learn the rules of selected styles in a day, but easily spend a lifetime trying to master the art itself. For those who are interested in the martial arts, there are many choices for which style to become involved in and which to focus on. While more well known forms such as karate or kung fu often take prominent roles in popular culture, it is sometimes the little known forms of martial arts that offer the most to the participant. This is certainly the case with “kendo”, an ancient Japanese martial art that, when translated, means, “way of the sword”.
The history of kendo is a long and interesting one. In fact, the actual practice of the art began in Japan, during the time of the samurai. In a country that was practicing a great variety of sword techniques, the quest began to unite all of these different techniques and styles into one singular and powerful art form. Although it has been debated, most will agree that the practice started with the Japanese police force around the time of the samurai. Despite the fact that it took a long time for Kendo to become an accepted martial art, and even faced being outlawed for a brief period of time, today Kendo is openly practiced throughout the world, and it is truly one of the most enjoyable sports that a person can ever take part in.
At first glance, the rules for Kendo may seem a bit strange, and, indeed, it takes most a fairly long time to master all of the intricacies which play a vital part in making the sport such a complex and often studied art form.
Knowing that kendo translates to the way of the sword, it should come as no surprise that a sword plays a central role in the art. Although the use of real swords for the art has long been done away with, participants still do participate in sword play. The weapon of choice, though, is now a four piece bamboo sword that is known as a “shinai”. In addition to the bamboo sword, other necessary equipment includes a variety of pads, including a chest guard, helmet, gloves and waist guard. These guards are in place to ensure that no one practicing kendo is seriously hurt during a match or practice session.
The scoring in kendo is slightly different from what one may expect, especially in regards to the strictness of scoring. In kendo, each person has four possible targets that can be attacked by the opponent. These areas are represented by the wrist, stomach, throat and head. However, it is not as simple as simply smacking your opponent with the bamboo sword, as each particular shot must be “called” and a motion must be made with the foot to signal the approaching strike. Before attacking, the participant must call out the name of the target he is striking and then slap his foot on the ground producing an audible noise. If the shot is not called, or it is deemed that the foot stomp was not pronounced enough, than the point will not be rewarded. In Kendo, it takes only two points to win a match, although the matches are times, and it is a common occurrence for the matches to remain scoreless and have to go into a sort of overtime, where one landed shot is all it takes to win.
Kendo may seem easy when it is described in words, however, the actual art of the sport can become very difficult and take on a meaning of it’s own. There are a variety of strategies to Kendo, and it can be very hard to land a shot when it must be called and the foot put down before striking. This practice gives way to a world of strategy that can become crucial for Kendo. A true Kendoka must properly train both his mind and body to become aware of the necessary strategy and move fluidly and accurately. Much of the art comes with anticipating the actions of one’s opponent, as knowing what is going to happen next gives the participant an edge in dodging and opens up the opportunity to counter attack and score.
Kendo was once only an art practiced in Japan. However, throughout the years it has become an activity that has been loved throughout the world. People of many different countries and age groups all participate in Kendo as a way to honor themselves and their opponents, and train their mind and body to move as one. Kendo is not as easy as it may seem, and there is a definite art to the practice. While it may seem strange at first, Kendo is something that becomes a honored past time for almost all who participate in it. However, without the background knowledge of the martial art, it is truly difficult to get a feeling for how time honored and important the art really is.