Kendo can mean many things to different people. It’s a zen martial art, a competitive sport with world and regional championships and a way to strengthen the mind and body through determined training. Kendo can be practised by children of six or seven and by seniors in their eighties. For these and all the stages in between, kendo offers not just a diversion from everyday life but a way to strengthen your character.

Kendo is not a short cut to satori  or nirvana. Nor is it an imitation of samurai swordsmanship. It is a martial sport descended from the many fencing schools created by the samurai, refined through the competition styles of gekken which were adopted when the carrying of two swords was outlawed and more recently fostered as modern kendo by the All Japan Kendo Federation and its international arm FIK.

Like other martial arts kendo has a grade system, in our case from 6th to 1st kyu and from 1st to 8th dan. There are also 3 character or teaching grades, Renshi, Kyoshi and Hanshi. The highest dan and teaching grades held by a Caucasian are incidentally held by a Mumeishi instructor.

Kendo is equally frustrating and enjoyable. Previous experience of few other sports give the kendo student an advantage. The posture and footwork of other martial arts are very different to kendo as is that of western fencing.  To succeed in kendo, the beginner needs to be prepared to undertake months of basic training. Although it’s satisfying, it’s past this stage when it starts to be fun. Get over the initial hurdles and a whole series of opportunities open, not just to test yourself against others but to set off on a lifelong journey of self-improvement.

Kendo is predominantly a “not for profit” activity, so there has been no diversification into separate money making schools. Consequently we can take our bogu to any dojo in the country, or the world for that matter and you will be greeted as family. If you are on a short trip you may even find some kind sole who will lend you their armour.

Kendo matches are won on good technique, speed and mental agility. There are no weight classes in kendo and although men’s, women’s and children’s competition are separate. It is common for us all to train together, making an ideal pastime for the whole family. Whilst not strictly aerobic, kendo encourages sustained use of most of the muscle groups, , so if you are looking for an exercise regime that frees your mind from everyday stress, you should try kendo.

Geoff Salmon