Kendo FAQ

What is kendo?

Kendo, "the way of the sword" - from ken (sword) and do (the way) - can simplistically be described as a Japanese martial art which is similar to fencing. It is a contact martial art with its roots in historical Japanese swordsmanship. A wealth of information on the history of kendo is available on the internet. A good place to start is the Wikipedia article.

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Are kendo and kumdo the same?

Kumdo refers to a large category of Korean sword-based martial arts (the meaning of kumdo in Korean is the same as that of kendo in Japanese). Without delving into historical origins, daehan kumdo and kendo are considered the same for practical purposes, apart from some cosmetic differences such as terminology.

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Is kendo useful for self-defense?

The purpose of kendo training is to improve oneself, and not to find avenues for applying kendo techniques to self defense, especially in an age of pervasive firearms. Japanese swordsmanship is depicted with various levels of fidelity in movies, graphic novels, comics, and period dramas. Some show choreographed sequences which are physically unrealistic or impractical, while others strive to show a historically accurate picture of combat in that period. The inability to distinguish between the two can often lead to misconceptions about kendo or other Japanese sword arts. You are advised to watch some kendo videos first (e.g. the Kendo World channel on Youtube) so that you do not start kendo practice at MVKD (or anywhere else) with unrealistic expectations.

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Am I too unfit / too old for kendo?

As long as you have no health issues that will be aggravated by kendo, no. It always helps to supplement kendo training with other activities which enhance cardio-vascular fitness and core strength.

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I've never practiced any martial art before. Can I still learn kendo?

Yes. Kendo training starts from scratch and does not assume prior experience in any other martial art. 

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I have experience with (or hold a rank in) another martial art. Will that help my kendo?

If you have trained in another martial art then you have probably experienced some of its benefits such as breath control and body posture. However, techniques from other martial arts seldom carry over to kendo, and it is most useful to approach kendo without any preconceived notions. Some people practice both kendo and another sword art such as iaido, but typically they are informed enough to know what can or cannot carry over from one to another.

Ranks from other martial arts do not carry over to kendo. 

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What is the medium of instruction at MVKD?

Instruction is in English, although we use Japanese terminology and commands. A Japanese/Korean/English lexicon available in the Documents section.

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What does kendo practice at MVKD look like?

The general format of kendo keiko (practice) at MVKD consists of 10-15 minutes of stretching  and warm up, followed by about 1 hour of paired drills. After a short water break, the rest of the evening is either spent performing additional drills, or in jigeiko (free sparring). 

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What kind of equipment do you use?

Kendo uses shinai (bamboo sword) and bogu (armor) which is composed mainly of fabric and leather. The armor consists of men (helmet / face mask), kote (gloves), do (chest protector), and tare (hip / groin protector), which protect the four targets of kendo - the forehead, throat, wrists, and belly. A tenugui (head cloth) is worn underneath the men to absorb sweat. Some people also opt to wear wrist guards or other forms of padding underneath their bogu. Kendo uniform consists of keikogi (a thick fabric jacket) and hakama (pleated pants to allow free leg movement). Generally indigo keikogi and hakama are worn, although some people choose to wear white. 

MVKD does not enforce any specific color code on its members. However, members should be aware that people participating in kendo gradings generally avoid wearing anything that can identify them to the examining committee.

Wearing bogu can be a time-consuming experience for beginners. They are advised to practice wearing / securing and taking off the bogu at home so that they do not hold up practice.

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Why do you guys yell so much during practice?

Kiai is an essential part of kendo, meant to regulate breathing, and to assert and exhibit fighting spirit. Shouting out the strike (men! kote! do! tsuki!) is an essential part of a valid point in kendo.

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How much money should I expect to spend on kendo?

Apart from dojo and federation fees, everyone is expect to purchase their own shinai (bamboo sword), keikogi (uniform), and bogu (armor). Shinai can last for several months with proper care and technique, and prices can vary from $30 to $80 each (this estimate does not include carbon-fibre shinai, which are considerably more expensive). Keikogi can last several years with proper care, and can be as cheap as $150 for a set, all the way up to several hundred dollars for high-end sets. Keikogi come in a variety of materials (tetron, cotton, etc.) with different life spans and elegance. 

Beginner and low-end bogu sets cost about $400 and high-end, hand-made or customized sets can cost several thousand dollars. Even cheap sets can hold up well to several years of use. High-end sets can last several decades. Depending on their budget and preferences, people often customize their bogu, such as by choosing a different color for the do-dai or embroidery on the men, etc. 

A bokken (wooden sword) is required for kendo kata. While it is always useful to practice kata, only people testing for 1-kyu rank and higher will need a bokken for the test. Candidates for 3-dan will also need a kodachi (short sword). Together they cost approximately $50 to $100 depending on the quality of the wood.

Unlike a few decades ago, there are several online retailers of kendo equipment, including some in Japan who waive shipping costs and some who are based in the Bay Area. Purchasing from local retailers can be advantageous since you can inspect a bogu for correct size in person without worrying about getting measurements wrong. While MVKD does not endorse any single retailer, a list of websites where MVKD members have purchased equipment in the past is provided here. An excellent resource which addresses different aspects of the bogu purchasing experience in detail is given here.

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How does the kendo ranking system work?

The kendo rank system generally starts at 6-kyu, towards 1-kyu, and then onwards to 1-dan,  2-dan, etc. Unranked kendo practitioners are considered 0-kyu and the first rank tested for by a beginner is generally 5-kyu. A more elaborate description of ranks and their requirements in the context of US kendo is available at the AUSKF website. Currently 8-dan is the highest rank possible worldwide, of which the US has very few. All instructors in dojo affiliated with the North California Kendo Federation (NCKF) are ranked at least 4-dan. NCKF is fortunate to have several highly ranked instructors of up to 7-dan rank.

Please note that there is no outward display of rank.

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How fast should I expect to progress?

Generally speaking, people who practice kendo do so with the understanding that it is a life-time activity, so focusing on short-terms goals can be unproductive. One's rank is often a good indicator of the quality of one's kendo. Our typical yondan (4-dan) instructor has at least a decade of experience in kendo.

For beginners, the first 2-3 months are generally spent in solidifying basics such as footwork, after which one progresses to wearing bogu. Individual progress varies, and depends on regularity in practice and general fitness. Kendo is an activity with a high dropout rate. For this reason, we ask beginners to pay 3-months' dues in advance in order to ensure diligence.

Wearing bogu can be a strange experience initially due to the additional weight and loss of peripheral vision. A lot of beginners drop out of kendo when they first start wearing bogu. However, the only way to get used to wearing bogu is to wear it more frequently, i.e. regularity and diligence in practice. For this reason we urge beginners to fully determine whether kendo is for them before making any expensive purchases.

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Have another question?

If you have a question which is not covered in this FAQ, please contact us. Better yet, visit us!

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