JAPANESE SWORD ARTS FAQ VERSION 2.1 (Part 1 of 2)
May 24, 1994
This document is copyright 1994 by Neil Gendzwill, all rights reserved.
Permission is granted for free distribution in electronic or hard copy,
provided that the document is maintained as a complete work. Copying
or distribution for profit is expressly denied.
This FAQ is intended to cover all aspects of Japanese swordsmanship.
However, my particular bent is towards kendo, so any flames about
other arts are probably deserved. Corrections or additions are welcome.
incorporate your changes or explain to you why I didn't.
This FAQ has been cross-posted to rec.martial-arts, rec.sport.fencing,
rec.org.sca, soc.culture.japan and the iaido mailing list. It is also
available by anonymous FTP from cs.huji.ac.il (22.214.171.124) in the
directory /pub/doc/faq/rec/martial-arts, file name sword-art-faq.gz. The
file is g-zipped ASCII text. The FTP availability usually lags the
posting date by a few days for new versions, so if you find an older
version there, wait a while.
If you are interested in more information on sword arts, subscribe to the
iaido mailing list. Covering mostly iaido, but also kendo and the ko-
ryu, this excellent service comes to us courtesy of Kim Taylor. Send e-
with the only contents being:
Wouldn't hurt to have it in the subject either. Once you're on, send
Thanks to Jens Nilsson for the WKC results and European federation
addresses and Don Seto for most of the rest of the organization
addresses. If your organization has been overlooked or has inaccuracies
in its entry, let me know. Sorry, due to space considerations individual
dojos can't be listed. However, I maintain the Canadian dojo list and
Robert Stroud maintains the U.S. dojo list - our e-mail addresses are in
the contacts section if you would like a copy. I also have a U.S. list, if
you have trouble obtaining Robert's more up-to-date version (his e-mail
can be balky).
Thanks to Frank Lindquist and Richard Stein for Section 12 (on
purchasing nihon-to). Thanks to Kim Taylor for the information on the
ko-ryu. Thanks to all who have written, your comments have been
incorporated where possible.
Table o' Contents
Key to change index (with respect to version 2.0):
N = new, r = minor revision, R = major revision
In Part 1 (this post):
1. What is kendo?
R 1a. OK, then what is kenjutsu?
r 1b. Isn't bokken technique taught in aikido?
1c. What is kumdo?
N 1d. Are there different styles of kendo/kenjutsu?
2. What is iaido?
2a. OK, then what is iaijutsu?
N 2b. Are there different styles of iaido/iaijutsu?
3. What about batto-jutsu, tamashi-giri, shinkendo and others?
3a. OK, so if they're watered down, why study kendo or iaido?
r 4. How did kendo originate?
r 5. How did iaido originate?
6. What are those funny clothes kendo and iaido players wear?
6a. Why do they wear hakama?
7. How is a Japanese sword constructed?
7a. How many layers in a Japanese sword?
7b. What are the different types of Japanese swords?
8. What sort of weapons are used for practice?
9. What is the armour for kendo?
9a. How much does kendo armour cost?
10. How does the ranking work in kendo and iaido?
11. Kendo competition
R 11a. World kendo championships results
In Part 2 (the other post):
R 12. I want to buy a Japanese sword. What do I do?
12a. How much do they cost?
12b. Where can I find swords to purchase?
12c. How can I tell if it's a good sword?
12d. How can I tell if the sword is right for me?
N 12e. Are there special concerns for iaido?
R 13. Bibliography
14. Organization Contacts
R 14a. Kendo Federations
14b. Sword Clubs
r 15. Equipment Suppliers
1. What is kendo?
Kendo is the way of the sword, Japanese fencing. About 8 million
people worldwide participate, 7 million of them in Japan. It is taught as
part of the school physical education curriculum. College kendo teams
in Japan are high-profile; major competitions are televised complete with
Kendoka wear armour protecting the head, throat, wrists and abdomen;
these are the only legal targets. The split-bamboo practice sword, called
a shinai, is wielded two-handed; the kendoka faces his opponent
squarely. A small number of high-level practitioners utilize a shinai in
each hand. Kendoka move using a peculiar gliding step refined for use
on the smooth floors of the dojo.
1a. OK, then what is kenjutsu?
*Generally* (but not always) in Japanese martial arts, the "do" forms
are those used to improve the self, while the "jutsu" forms concentrate
on teaching the techniques of war.
The art of winning real fights with real swords is kenjutsu. The goal of
kenjutsu is victory over opponents; the goal of kendo is to improve
oneself through the study of the sword. Kendo also has a strong
sporting aspect with big tournaments avidly followed by the Japanese
public. Thus kendo could be considered the philosophical/sporting
aspect of Japanese swordsmanship.
In terms of learning to fight with a sword, kenjutsu has a more complete
curriculum. Kendo of necessity limits the range of techniques and
targets. Kendoka generally use shinai, which allow techniques which do
not work with real swords. Kenjutsu practitioners do not usually use
shinai in training, preferring to use bokken (wooden swords) or katana
(steel swords) in order to preserve the cutting techniques of real sword
fighting. Kenjutsu training is largely consists of practicing cutting
technique and performing partner kata.
In some ryu, there is contact, which usually happens in a controlled
manner within a partner kata. Some of the ryu use protective
equipment, such as the gloves and head padding of the Maniwa Nen
Ryu. Others, Shinkage Ryu in particular, use a fukuro shinai which is
made of bamboo split into many pieces at the end and completely
covered with leather.
1b. Isn't bokken technique taught in aikido?
Yes, with qualifications. Not every aikido dojo offers qualified
instruction in actual sword techniques. Many of them use bokken
practice only as a way of better understanding the empty-handed
techniques, as these techniques are grounded in kenjutsu.
Ueshiba-sensei was trained in many styles of bujutsu, including kenjutsu,
jojutsu and aikijutsu. He distilled and modified the myriad of techniques
he knew into modern aikido. Most modern students do not have the
time or inclination to learn the empty handed curriculum as well as
bokken and jo, so the concentration tends to be on the aiki techniques.
Even among those dojos which emphasize bokken, the techniques are
somewhat different from kenjutsu. Ueshiba-sensei's swordsmanship was
excellent, incidentally. Should you ever get an opportunity to watch
film of him with a bokken, take it.
1c. What is kumdo?
Kumdo is the korean word for kendo. They wear different clothing and
dispense with the Japanese terminology for reasons based on racial
enmity, but the techniques are sufficiently similar for Korea to compete
successfully in international tournaments.
1d. Are there different styles of kendo/kenjutsu?
Kendo is pretty much the same world-wide. Most dojos are governed
by the International Kendo Federation (IKF), which grew from the Zen-
Nippon Kendo Renmei (ZNKR, the All-Japan Kendo Federation).
There is a second federation in Japan, not as popular, but the differences
are more political than technical.
There used to be many kenjutsu ryu; only a handful have survived. One
of the oldest is Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu. There is also Itto
Ryu, from which much of modern kendo is derived. Bokuden Ryu,
Kashima Ryu and Maniwa Nen Ryu still survive. Two branches of
Musashi's Niten Ichi Ryu are still going: Hyo Ho Niten Ichi (also called
Noda Ha) and Santo Ha. Yagyu family kenjutsu survives as Shinkage
Ryu, probably the most popular of the modern kenjutsu traditions.
2. What is iaido?
Iaido is the art of drawing and attacking with a sword, although a more
indepth reading of the Japanese characters for iaido results in (very
roughly) "the way of harmonizing oneself in action". Iaidoka (and
kendoka) wield a sword not to control their opponent, but to control
Iaido is performed solo as a series of kata, executing varied techniques
against single or multiple imaginary opponents. In addition to sword
technique, it requires imagination and concentration in order to maintain
the feeling of a real fight and to keep the kata fresh. Iaidoka are often
recommended to practice kendo to preserve that fighting feel; it is
common for high ranking kendoka to hold high rank in iaido and vice
2a. OK, then what is iaijutsu?
Iaijutsu is the art of killing on the draw. Iaijutsu teaches how to draw
quickly and in such a fashion as to negate an opponents attack with
Seitei-gata iaido (that set of techniques recommended by the ZNKR) is
like a moving meditation - the draw and cut are very deliberate,
formalized and beautiful. It is as far removed from iai-jutsu as kendo is
from kenjutsu. Iaijutsu is more direct and forceful, less concerned with
the state of the practitioner's mind and more with dispatching the
Having said that, iaido schools are generally affiliated with a particular
ryu of iaido. In addition to the seitei-gata, students also learn their own
ryu's techniques, which may be close to the seitei-gata in feeling or
close to what is described here as iaijutsu. It's not completely black and
2b. Are there different styles of iaido/iaijutsu?
Iai is like karate, it is a broad "method of combat" which involves
drawing and cutting like karate involves kicking and punching. The
various styles are just ...
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