Note: This study guide reflects general concepts agreed upon by many
Kendoists, however, there will always be those who have their own viewpoints
and ideas. To fully learn about the philosophy and concepts of Kendo,
one must continue their own education by studying all aspects of Kendo
and not only limiting their study to this "guide".
Contributors & Sources
- Points to be aware of in a Kendo Examination - M. Tanigami
& M. Asaoka
- Kendo Examination - S. Nakamura, T. Haga, N. Sato
- The Path to Higher Degrees - T. Haga, K. Iho, N. Sato
- Instructional Manual for Youth & Children - AJKF
- Japanese-English Kendo Dictionary -AJKF
It is said that Kendo begins and ends with rei-gi,
so a natural place for this guide to start is with a discussion of rei-gi.
The physical aspect of rei-gi is represented by the rei as
one enters the dojo or shiai-jo, thus starting each practice by
the display of respect for the place of practice and its members. The
end is by repeating the process thanking everyone for the practice as
one leaves the dojo. The natural outgrowth of this is that same manners
carry over into all aspects the Kenshiís daily life.
The rei-gi of Kendo is correct behavior in all dealings with other
people as you work through your daily activities. In Kendo, a failure
in this behavior is a moral failure in the Kenshiís character and training.
At the practice level, Kendo is an art form the purpose of which is to
defeat one's opponent in a combat of mind against mind and strength against
strength. Without the rules of etiquette from beginning to end, the Kendo
becomes merely a bashing of the opponent with the only goal to win with
any means possible. Kendo with rei-gi remains an art and the opponent
is yourself to overcome. With this in mind one is thankful to your partner
for having struck you, this exposes your weakness and allows you to improve.
Thus practice is an exchange of technique and the Kenshi must always be
polite to the person giving you such a gift.
Before the first hajime of the exam, the examiners
have started to grade the candidate. At each progressive level the Kenshi
must have a dignity and presence the exudes that rank for which they are
testing. At the lower ranks this may only be the proper wearing of the
uniform and equipment. All of us have seen Kenshi who don't wear their
uniform and equipment properly. Here are some areas of observation:
The keiko-gi should not be worn in the fashion of a geisha with
the nape of the neck exposed or bulging out in the back. After the hakama
obi are tied the person needs to reach inside and pull the ends of
the keiko-gi across the front to remove all bulges and wrinkles
from the back.
The hakama should be the right length with the hem lower in the
front and a little higher in the back and crossing at the ankle bone.
The koshi-ita should not be hanging loosely, but fit tightly and
flatly against the small of the back. The obi should be tied in
a square knot and the ends tucked into the obi along the waist at the
hips. The hakama pleats should be straight as they represent the
samurai code of ethics. Jin (humanity), Gi (justice), Rei (courtesy), Chi (knowledge) and Shin (trust).
The tenugui should be tied on the head so that there is no part
flapping out of the back of the men like a chicken tail. Neither should
the tenugui be so low on the forehead that it is visible through
the men-gane. There should not be an extra tenugui folded
up inside the men in the chin area, a special pad is made to be
placed inside the men to take up space on a men that is
too large. Often children have a men that is too large for the
size of their head and should use a pad. The special pad not only provides
extra protection for the child on the top of the head but eliminates the
unsightly situation of the tenugui in the chin area which often
falls out during keiko.
The men should have the himo tied in the proper bow knot (cho-musubi) and be in straight lines as if one cord rather than
look as though a fishnet has been cast upon the persons head. The length
of the ends and the loops of the bow knots should all be the same and
not exceed 40 centimeters.
The upper doh himo should be tied with the ends tucked inside and
not hanging down the front of the mune. The lower doh himo should be horizontal and tied in a bow knot (cho-musubi).
The tare obi should be flat, run across the koshi-ita in
the back and not bulging under the odare in the front.
The kote should not have frayed himo. Lastly the Kenshi
should stand tall, straight and walk with dignity. These are the basics
before the match even starts.
During the ji-geiko phase of the examination the following points
are observed by the examiners:
Is the beginning rei to the opponent done properly, is the shinai at sage-to during the rei and at tai-to with
thumb on the tsuba as each Kenshi advances onto the court.
The footwork as they advance onto the court should be smooth sliding
steps with the toes down. The draw of the sword should be in the kesa-giri manner as each Kenshi starts their third step. The sonkyo position
should be assumed with the back straight and the elbows not touching the
The ken-sen should be pointed at the opponents nodo. The shinai will have the naka-yui in the proper place 1/3 from
the ken-sen and the grip on the tsuka should be with the
left hand on the end and the right hand near the tsuba.
At all levels of the examination, the manner of keiko should not
be as if one were fighting for shiai points but be proper basic
Kendo. During the match, proper footwork, striking and posture must be
maintained rather than avoiding being struck by excessive blocking, dodging
by bending the waist and bobbing the head. Hanging at tsuba-zeri-ai is not proper but instead maintaining the correct ma-ai of isoku-itto is what the judges are looking for. At each successive level, the ability
to know when to attack and recognize the opportunity (chance) of attack
will determine your success in the examination. Just hitting indiscriminately,
when you want, rather than when an opening exists, results in poor strikes.
This is not to say that you should not be offensive, it is said Kendo
is 50% offense and 50% defense, but offense is the bigger half. Defensive
hitting is downgraded while even unsuccessful offensive attacks with good
spirit that result in ai-uchi (simultaneous
strikes by both opponents) will help you pass. Opportunity is created
in a number of ways and this study guide will address those methods after
finishing this section.
Other factors in ji-geiko are good ki-ai and ki-ken-tai-ichi, seme, sutemi and zanshin which will all be covered
in later sections.
The failure of most candidates kata at lower dan is the lack of
practice, the mechanics should be just rote memory. It is very obvious which
candidates have neglected kata for long periods of time, hurriedly
preparing by practicing only a few times before their test. Logically one would
expect that if kata is 50% of the test the candidate would put more
effort in to the practice and the learning of kata.
The uchidachi must demonstrate a strong leading of the shitachi, while the shitachi must be able to read the uchidachiís intention. A kodansha performing kata must express a
strong and true spirit, reasonable mind and balanced zanshin. The
performance shows stroke with drive and spirit, ri-ai, ma-ai, and
understands the rhythm of each of the 10 forms.
Starting at 1st-Kyu where just the basic mechanics are needed to Sandan where all the mechanics and the basic fundamentals previously
discussed are required, the kata of the candidate should improve at each
dan level. At Yondan the kata must demonstrate a better
understanding of the hei-ho of Kendo, the rhythm, seme and zanshin. All these things must steadily improve at each succeeding level.
Points that are observed when grading by the examiners:
- Manner before and after the tachi-ai.
- Does the candidate understand all five kamae in 1 through 7 and han-mi and iri-mi in the kodachi kata?
- Does the candidate demonstrate an understanding of me-tsuke and
breath control matching with the partner?
- Does the candidate demonstrate an attitude of reality and dignity for the
- Does the candidate demonstrate the relationship between uchidachi and shitachi in movement and rhythm?
- Is the timing of the strikes correct, is the shitachi receiving
- Is the ma-ai correct?
- Is the strike with mono-uchi?
- Are the basic mechanics of the strikes correct? Not too big or too small.
- Is the footwork sliding or just walking? Are the heels touching the
- Does the shitachi demonstrate ki-gurai and does the uchidachi respond to the shitachi's zanshin?
Expectations of Rank
6th-kyu through 2nd-kyu can be awarded
at the dojo level depending on the regional federation. Other federations
formally test for these grades and some have age restrictions for children. 1st-kyu and above are done through the formal examination process.
While it is normal to have both adults and children testing for the same
level of kyu there can be a great deal of difference in the basic skills
between the adults and children. Most often the children have been doing
Kendo much longer and have much better basics than the adults. However
when the mental maturity of the adults is factored in this should not
be a problem. An experienced examiner will understand this kind of situation
and grade accordingly. (see attachments for skill guidelines used by some
1st-kyu requirements: enter and leave the court properly,
strike with ki-ken-tai-ichi, good energy and 1 or 2 yuko-datotsu.
Shodan: same as above with nidan waza included.
Nidan: demonstrate the use of shikake waza, harai waza,
debana waza, hiki waza, and oji (oh-ji) waza. Obviously the
occasion may not arise to use most of the mentioned waza, but the
candidate should show better basics than the Shodan level and be
able to use more advanced technique as above. The Kenshi at this level
should not be obsessed with the use of waza but start to master
the opportunity of attack. Cuts should have good vertical motion with
the use of both hands and te-no-uchi.
Sandan: Use seme and ken-sen to initiate attacks
and have sharp waza. Particularly the use of oji type of waza should be incorporated in the candidates Kendo.
Yondan: should display very solid Kendo and kamae,
display mastery of a variety of techniques, yuko-datotsu, excellent
footwork and posture. An attacking kamae full of spiritual energy
should be displayed rather than a waiting kamae that reacts to
Godan: starting with the Godan examination the candidate
must truly exhibit the use of seme and ken-sen to create
the moment of attack. Often failure is caused by the candidate doing shiai style of keiko and trying to win points. One must demonstrate the
control of the center, the opponents spirit, and mastery of the footwork
and shinai. The Kendo must be logical without unnecessary strikes and
actions. The strike is followed by zanshin that is true mental
Rokudan: the same as Godan, but even more, the ri-ai must
be demonstrated. Strong control of the center, efficient use of waza and footwork, mental control of the opponent and situation.
Nanadan: all aspects of the previous ranks must be present
and an essence of dignity that speaks to quality Kendo. This dignity shows
both on and off the court in the persons life.
Kodansha Kendo is not only just winning a strong shiai,
strong keiko or beating an opponent in the shinsa. You must
express your Kendo with the correct kamae, strong ken-sen,
reasonable ma-ai, smooth flowing footwork, body movement and a
strong, smooth stroke in your strikes. This must be performed in one rhythm
with sharp te-no-uchi.
The Written Exam
The written examination asks the candidate to either discuss or list
concepts, principles and even opinions on the various aspects of Kendo.
This section will present the material in a discussion and a factual manner.
It is up to the candidate to read and absorb the material such that the
test questions can be answered.
Kirikaeshi is one of the fundamental learning tools used
in Kendo. It contains 5 elements which are described by the metropolitan
police as the following: 1. sho-men, 2. tai-atari, 3. four yoko-men forward followed by five backwards, sho-men, 4.
four yoko-men forward followed by five backward, 5. sho-men followed by zanshin.
Conceptually kirikaeshi develops strong ki-ai and breath
control, large motion, correct cutting angle (ha-suji), correct
grip (te-no-uchi), correct footwork (ashi-sabaki) all with ki-ken-tai-ichi. It also limbers the muscles, promotes harmonious
action of the whole body and correct ma-ai, follow through with zanshin. Kirikaeshi is said to provide 10 virtues to the
attacker and 8 virtues to the receiver. It makes the waza sharp
and swift, strengthens the cut, builds stamina, relaxes the stroke and
body, improves the motion of the body, improves dexterity and grip, improves
the vision of the partner, improves the ma-ai, teaches mental tranquillity,
improves observation of the opponent, makes the grip firm yet flexible.
Ma-ai is the interval between the two opponents or partners
when practicing Kendo or kata. It is described as 3 intervals:
Issoku-itto-no-ma-ai (one step-one sword interval). This ma-ai allows you to strike the opponent by taking one step forward and to
avoid the opponents attacks by taking one step to the rear or to the side.
It is also called uchi-ma or the strike interval. At this interval
either party can strike.
Toii-ma-ai (to-ma) or distant interval is when the opponents are
separated such that more than one step is required to strike the opponent.
As the opponent moves forward, you have the chance to strike.
Chikai-ma-ai (chika-ma) or close interval is that distance less
than the one step interval. There are many strategies that can be employed
from this distance also.
Metsuke or enzan-no-metsuke is the fixing of the
eyes or gaze upon the opponent. Enzan-no-metsuke refers to "gazing
as though looking at a far mountain". In this sense it is to see everything
without focusing on any one object. Basically you fix your gaze at the
opponents eyes and read their intention through these windows to their
mind. When the opponents eyes fix upon an object such as your sword or
a target, their mind becomes "fixed or stopped" and you can then attack.
Ki-ken-tai-itchi or "spirit, sword, & body are one",
are the essential elements to a yuko-datotsu (correct strike).
This means that all three elements of the strike happen as one element
and make the perfect strike. The ability to do this is the ideal which
all practice should strive for as a goal.
Zanshin, what is zanshin? The typical answer given
is "remaining spirit". This is correct, but there are more meanings and
feeling to zanshin than the simple definition implies. It is very
simple. However simple does not necessarily mean easy. It is a concept
unique to martial arts and it is to the kanji that we must look for further
The kanji "zan" and "shin" can be read two ways. Kokoro-Wo-Nokosu which means "I consciously do the action of getting my spirit to remain"
and Kokoro-Ga-Nokoru which means "My spirit remains unconsciously,
The first definition is appropriate to the beginning Kenshi and the latter
to the practiced Kenshi. In effect, it means that if you must think about
it, it is too late. The action is always slowed by the thought. If you
think about zanshin preceding the cut, the cut will not be good.
If you think about zanshin after the cut, an unexpected attack
can occur in the split second that your are thinking of keeping your pressure.
Application of the principle of zanshin is most easily exemplified
in the Nihon Kendo Kata. In all ten kata the zanshin begins immediately after the cut and continues until both the uchitachi and shitachi returns to chudan-no-kamae. This is stated
specifically on ippon-me and nihon-me in Takano Sasaburo's
book on Kendo. " Immediately after the cut, if there's any movements,
my zanshin says I am ready to strike at any moment, until we both
return to chudan."
Therefore, zanshin does not mean only to take the position of jodan-no-kamae after the cut, as in ippon-me, but it is
the spirit of zanshin which must be present immediately after such
Then how can zanshin be identified in shinai Kendo? Does
anyone in shinai Kendo normally take or display the stance zanshin emphasizes in the Nihon Kendo Kata? Obviously the answer will
be no. It is spiritual awareness that is important, not the final stance, Kokoro-Ga-Nokoru, a naturalness. Zanshin thus means that the
Kenshi is always prepared, even when exhausted, even when the match is
over, the spirit remains.
Seme as defined in the dictionary is "an attack, the offensive,
assault, or siege". In Kendo, it can also be defined as pressure; that
is, to pressure the opponent before the attack. There are two kinds of seme: visible and the invisible, or physical and mental, outer
or inner. Although it is sometimes difficult to see because even the overt
actions occur in split second speed, the visible pressure is easiest to
understand. Visible seme occurs when one person pressures an opponent
by actual movements with the shinai, feet or the whole body.
Techniques vary. For example in the chudan stance, you pressure
your opponent by movement of the shinai as though you are pressuring
to strike kote. Instead you strike men because now the men is open because the opponents mind has gone to their kote. Seme occurs during actual shinai contact by the use of harai, uchiotoshi, makiotoshi or some such waza that moves
the opponents shinai off center and creates an opening. Thus if
I can see with my eyes or feel the shinai putting pressure on my kote or men the intention is already given; the seme is visible. However if the shinai doesn't move, but I can still
feel the pressure, then it is invisible seme. The tip of the sword, ken-sen, becomes alive and communicates the seme without
any shinai or body movements.
Invisible seme is the most powerful, the seme with the
whole body and soul. Invisible seme, kurai-zume, is the
ultimate aim of the Kenshi. By gazing (metsuke) into the opponents hara, intentions are detected before any movement and thus the
opponent's first move is forced. As in kata, the shitachi always
applies the pressure and is never on the defense. The spirit is always
ready and a milli-second ahead of the opponent, the opponent moves and
Because seme is pressure which creates relationship, especially
strong invisible seme, it is related to both sen and zanshin.
It is not really separate from sen, but precedes it as sen precedes zanshin. Focused to waza it is reflected in sen.
After the attack it is focused in the zanshin.
Mittsu-no-sen or the three attacks.
According to Miyamoto Musashi there are three sen:
- Ken-no-Sen, you attack just before the opponent.
- Tai-no-Sen, the opponent attacks first but you strike first and
- Tai-Tai-no-Sen, both attack at the same time but your cut is first
Takano Sasaburo explained the mittsu-no-sen as: Sensen-no-sen or kakari-no-sen: to use seme and then strike the opponent
just before he moves when their mind has committed to attack.
Go-no-Sen or Sengo-no-sen or Tai-no-sen: when the
opponent has started their technique but the action is not completed.
Move effectively avoiding their cut and strike yourself.
Sen or Senzen-no-Sen: when the opponent is in mid-attack
deflect it and counter attack.
If you study the strategy of the kata you gain an understanding of mittsu-no-sen.
Related to mittsu-no-sen is San-satsu-no-ho or San-sappo,
the 3 methods of killing.
- Kill the sword or ken-o-korosu
To kill the sword is to attack the sword with any number of waza such
as uchi-otoshi or harai, in other words sweep it away, shove
it aside, hit it down, twist it around, anything to move it out of center.
- kill the waza or waza-o-korosu
Kill the waza using sen-no-ki to attack the opponent before they
can attack you, if they are busy fighting off your attack it is hard to
counter attack. It is also to move in and spoil their attack before it
even happens by looking inside and seeing their intention. It is also
detecting their waza and using the counter waza to it such
as men, suriage-men.
- kill the spirit or ki-o-korosu
Kill the ki or mental balance by such forceful seme that
they become frightened. Use your strong ki to kill their ki,
invisible seme, mentally cut the opponent's mind with your mind.
All these methods lead to the four sicknesses; fear, doubt, surprise
and confusion. Fear by weakening the opponents mind by your strong ki.
Doubt causes the opponent to become tight and hesitant. If you
kill their waza they will begin to doubt their ability to succeed.
Weaken their mind by doing the unexpected.
Confuse them by changing the rhythm and timing of the match, this
will throw off their comfort zone, their natural mind (hei-jo-shin). Hei-jo-shin is the normal calm state of mind that allows one to
make accurate decisions.
To accomplish these things one must have excellent footwork. Ashi-sabaki or footwork is broken down into four types:
- Ayumi-ashi, which is essentially normal walking used to cover
a lot of ground quickly.
- Okuri-ashi or the basic Kendo footwork of pushing off with
the left foot positioned in the rear and sliding the right foot forward
simultaneously, followed by snapping the left foot forward to achieve
the original spacing of the feet.
- Hiraki-ashi or diagonal footwork is moving in any direction
but forward or backward with basic Kendo footwork.
- Tsugi-ashi or de-ashi is to bring the left foot up parallel
to the right foot and then step forward in an attack.
All of the footwork is performed with suri-ashi, sliding motion.
Waza are categorized as either oji (oh-ji) waza or shikake waza. The actual techniques such as suriage, harai, nuki etc. fall into one of these two categories.
- Shikake waza is further defined by whether there is blade contact
or no blade contact. In shikake waza you take the initiative
through your seme and create an opening and attack.
- In oji waza the opponent initiates the attack and you counter
see the section on mittsu-no- sen.
When you attack it must be with the mind set of sute-mi or
to have no care for your life. To throw away your life so that you have
no fear of losing but total commitment to the attack.
These discussions cover most but not all of the material of the written