Kendo is based on kenjutsu, “Japanese swordsmanship”. Kenjutsu is the kind of swordsmanship which the samurai used in order to defeat and usually also kill opponents by sword.

Kenjutsu is the “ancestor” of kendo. Kendo, “the way of the sword”, is used as a training method. The term do (way) represents the philosophy and is usually used to refer to the kind of training, which is characterized by ritualized movement sequences and the pursuit of perfection in technique and harmony of body and mind.

Of course, kendo practitioners do not use real swords. Kendo is practiced with bamboo swords, the shinai, which should be treated just the same as real swords. Target areas are specified and protected by the protective armor, the bogu, to prevent injuries. Weight and length of the shinai varies according to the practitioner’s age and sex (there are special rules for competitions). The protective armor consists of a helmet (men), a breastplate (do), gloves (kote), and the tare, which protects the waist and groin area.

The bokuto, a wooden sword, is being used to practice kata (form). The kata is a standardized form of fixed patterns, to train attack and counter-attack techniques and perfect their harmonious movement sequences. The techniques are being performed slowly and focused. Perfecting these movements helps to execute them during a fight quickly and well-controlled.

Kendo training is hard and demands a high level of discipline. Discipline and etiquette (reigi/reiho) are important parts of this type of martial art and should be considered seriously. To be a good kendoka means more that to be good fighter. [1]

The Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), which regards kendo as physical education, explains the relevant characteristics of kendo as follows: [1]

  1. About physical development
    • Development of body strength, including speed and agility
    • Development of a correct posture
  2. Development of social behavior
    • Improvement of concentration and determination
    • Development of a sense of responsibility and self-sufficiency
    • Respect for fellow human beings and simultaneous appreciation of formality
  3. Health care in the sense of prevention

Furthermore, kendo meets the demands of pure physical exercise. The primary orientation to master techniques is to gain victories; but simultaneously, one has to reflect on its multifaceted meaning. The training might be hard and exhausting, but one will be rewarded with the joy of its perfection. [1]

Kendo is an art, which promotes the fitness of body and mind and strengthens one’s character. The aim is harmony of body and mind.

What does dojo mean?

A dojo is a place, where one practices the way (do = way, jo = place). If there is a sincere connection between student (deshi) and dojo, substance and clarity improve when practicing the way (geiko). Hence, according to the oshi (teachings of the way) the dojo is not a training room but a sacred place, which is also referred to as “place of enlightenment”. The term dojo refers to the place of practice, but it also symbolizes the deep connection between the student and his art. [2]

Originally, the term dojo comes from Buddhism and refers to a place of self-discovery and meditation. Later, its meaning changed and it referred to a place where martial arts is practiced. The meaning, however, remains the same. To everyone who practices sincerely, the dojo still is a place of meditation and focus, it’s an honored place of learning, of brotherhood (and sisterhood), of friendship and mutual respect. It’s more than just a term, it’s a symbol of the way of martial arts. [2]

In the philosophical sense, the term dojo refers to any place where people train body and mind according to the idea of budo (way of the warrior). Moreover, the kind of relationship a practitioner has to his or her dojo, defines his or her endeavors to think and act righteously. The true relationship to the dojo is part of the teachings of the way. It consists of the pursuit of selfless devotion to serve the soul of budo and one’s personal progress, which a practitioner achieves in the dojo, by honestly attesting to those values. The dojo becomes a second home to a true practitioner (deshi). A balancing value emerges through such a dojo-connection, through which again the single practitioner can mature and the soul of budo (shin) can thrive. Selfish people who use the dojo as a simple training room, cannot participate in this. A dojo lives of the practitioner’s devotion to the ideals of martial arts. Only in this way, the student can find a connection to the way. [2]

In each dojo, there is a sensei (master) and several advanced students (sempai), of whom some might be masters themselves. Students of the dojo, who want to learn martial arts, are only becoming a part of the dojo after they have achieved the right attitude (shisei) to understand and respect the deeper meaning of the dojo relationship (shitei). There are no advanced students who take more from the dojo than they give. In this regard, dojos are different from normal training rooms or gyms. Even if the physical exercise (shosa) might be the same, only the right attitude (shisei) will allow progress on the way. [2]

[1] Kendo – Lehrbuch des japanischen Schwertkampfes, 11. Auflage, Weinmann, Berlin, 1998

[2] Ostasiatische Kampfkünste, Das Lexikon, Werner Lind (Hrsg.), Berlin 1996