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Code of the Warrior

Soul of Japan

Bushido was the guiding philosophy of the samurai, or bushi (military gentry), as they were commonly called. It has often been compared to the code of chivalry followed by European knights. Perhaps bushido's aim was the same, namely to provide a code of honor and rules for living for the country's armed forces. But bushido is uniquely Eastern. It was born of a blend of Buddhism, Chu-Tsu, Confucius and Shinto, and -- though officially introduced in the seventeenth century, it was ingrained in the bushi from the time of their origin.

Following are the eight principles of bushido:


History, Philosophy and Culture

Early records

The sword has been a part of Japanese culture since the earliest surviving records of that country. References to swordsmanship can be found in the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters), and the Nihon Shoki (History of Japan), two of the oldest chronicles of Japanese history. Though it is difficult to make accurate date estimates from those sources (dated to the 8th century A.D.), other sources describe references to the use of the bokken (wooden sword) as a weapon as early as A.D. 400.

During feudal times in Japan, the sword was an important instrument in the establishment of social and political rule. The early part of Japanese history is largely dominated by wars between various provinces. The feudal lords employed armies of Samurai warriors to defend their land, conquer enemies, and maintain order. Swordsmanship was a basic discipline of military training, and a strict training regimen was developed to ensure that the proper lessons were taught in a systematic manner. Strong sword teachers were highly prized by the feudal lords, and powerful warlords made substantial efforts to identify and hire the best swordsmen in the land. A teacher of swordsmanship was frequently relied upon to provide both military and moral leadership for the men under his tutelage.

Evolution of the warrior

With the advent of firearms, and the establishment of a stable military rule, the sword lost much of its value as a battlefield weapon. Nevertheless, swordsmanship fluorished during the Tokugawa shogunate (around the year 1600). The warrior (Bu) training of the Samurai was considered to be the perfect complement to academic and social (Bun) learning, and both were considered necessary in the development of well-rounded individuals.

The art of swordsmanship directly coevolved with technological, cultural, and philosophical developments in Japanese society. For example metallurgical discoveries made by swordsmiths were applied to other areas. One of the most intriguing aspects of Japanese swordsmanship is the way in which the ideals of the warrior were married to the study of Zen Buddhism, which made it's way to Japan from India, via China. Because so many aspects of Zen training and philosophy were in harmony with the ideals and training of the Samurai, Japanese warriors embraced Zen, and found that it lent moral and ethical depth to their experience as humans.

Zen and the Samurai

To a great extent the development of the modern ideal of the Samurai was shaped by the influence of Zen Buddhism. Though the religion and its leaders did not actively promote the endeavors of the Samurai, it did seem to offer them a belief system that fit well with the kind of life they lived.

One of the hallmarks of Zen is the rejection of any intellectual device that could provide a barrier to one's perception of reality. Even the most mundane experience is elevated to the sublime if it is conveyed directly to one's senses without prejudgement, or analysis. For the Samurai warrior, whose life could depend on a split second judgement, the simple clarity of Zen was appealing. A moment's thought could mean death, so there could be no delay between knowing, and acting. The ultimate goal of both the Samurai and the Zen monk was to become in harmony with the universe, so that one's actions would naturally be in accordance with the divine powers.

The life of a Zen monk was in many ways similar to that of a Samurai. Both considered that perfection was only attainable through austere practice. There were many cases of Samurai warriors augmenting their training at a Zen temple. There are also cases of Zen temples that became known for the combat valor of their monks, who trained in martial arts to perfect their practice of Zen.

Modern Kendo

Today, Kendo is practiced by millions of men, women, and children. Not only is it still popular in Japan, but enthusiasm for Japanese fencing has spread to Korea, the United States, Canada, South America, Europe, and the Netherlands.

In the United States, strong clubs have existed in the major cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, for decades. Smaller cities like Portland, Seattle, Austin, and Denver have well-established Kendo programs. Through the dedication of many individuals, Kendo clubs are becoming established in smaller communities like Salt Lake City, Boise, Cheyenne, Lincoln, and even Pocatello (my home).

Modern Kendo has developed a strong sporting aspect. The All-Japan Kendo Championships are a major sporting event in Japan, and are widely televised each November. Many Kendoists have an ambivalence toward tournament match play in Kendo. Most experts seem to agree that the tournament aspect can often dilute Kendo's martial art roots. Nevertheless, if approached with the proper attitude, Kendo tournaments can be a fun, invigorating, activity that provides many opportunities to improve one's skills, and to meet other enthusiasts.

Though originally limited to the privileged warrior classes, Kendo now enjoys wide participation by people in a broad range of social and economic classes. Nonetheless, Kendo is still considered a "gentleman's sport," and retains a certain cachet not unlike the sport of polo has in Europe.


Training Hall Etiquette

Strict formalities are observed in almost all phases of Kendo practice. The rigid training methods are partly due to the military tradition of the art. There are many benefits to a detailed code of behavior in the dojo (training hall).

By establishing a detailed standard of behavior, students of Kendo can receive high quality training in almost any country. Also, carefully refined training standards help to provide a safe environment where students can exert a maximum effort with little fear of injury.

Students of Kendo are encouraged to look to the senior students (Sempai) to learn proper behavior. The senior students are relied upon as role models, and are treated with respect. The Sensei, or teacher, needs only to correct the senior students, and all others are expected to take the same criticism to heart.

Here are some basic standards of behavior that should be obeyed at all times:


The system used to rank Kendoists is called Dan to Kyu. According to the Japanese-English Dictionary of Kendo, the first Dan rank was used in Judo in 1883. Kyu ranking was initially used by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department in 1885. In 1908, the Tokyo Higher Normal School first used the Dan system in Kendo. In Kendo today, both systems are used. The lowest rank is sixth Kyu, ranging upward to first Kyu. After the Kyu ranks, the Dan ranks begin. The lowest Dan rank is first Dan, ranging upward to tenth Dan. Kendoists do not wear any outward display of rank.

Before practice

Before practice begins, you should be properly dressed in hakama, keiko gi, tare, and do. All equipment should be clean, in good repair, and securely fastened. You clothes should be clean, and in good repair. Remove all jewelry, especially rings and watches. Inspect your shinai closely for cracks and splinters. Never use a damaged shinai in practice.


Before you can safely exert yourself, you must go through a set of warm-up exercises to loosen your tendons and ligaments, and get blood flowing to your muscles. Practice usually begins with a group warm-up session that touches upon all the major muscle groups.

After a brief warm-up, the group uses the shinai for basic swing practice called Suburi. Suburi exercise combines a basic swing with a rhythmic back-and-forth footwork.


Every Kendo practice starts and finishes with a kneeling bow (zarei). Students line up according to rank, and take the seiza, or kneeling position, following the lead of the senior students. In a traditional dojo, two bows are performed: One to the spirit of the training hall (kamiza), and one to the teacher. Many dojo, in order to accommodate students with a wide range of beliefs, substitute the bow to the kamiza with a bow to shomen, or the front of the hall. Students may consider the bow to shomen an acknowledgment of something they personally consider to be worthy of honor. The second bow to the teacher is both a show of respect, and a promise to try one's best. When bowing to the teacher, many students voice the words onegai shimasu, asking the teacher to grant them the favor of a lesson.

In Kendo training, the student relies heavily on his or her partner for instruction. A lazy or inattentive partner will not only diminish the quality of one's training, but can be downright dangerous. Almost every drill in Kendo begins and ends with a standing bow to one's training partner. The bow to one's partner should be taken as a very serious pledge to do one's best. Without a high level of commitment by both partners, Kendo training is not just worthless; it is hazardous.


Basic practice (kihon) consists of old and carefully refined drills to establish the basic elements necessary to face an opponent: These basic drills are performed in every practice by every member of the dojo. Even the most experienced teacher of Kendo will not neglect these fundamental drills, as they provide the basis of all Kendo technique.
Suburi combines the basic overhead swing with forward and backward movement. The goal is to cultivate a smooth, free swing that is properly timed with one's footwork. Another important goal of suburi is to establish the proper posture at the moment one's sword contacts the target.
Kirikaeshi is a drill done with a partner that involves a succession of strikes to the men. Kirikaeshi was established as a basic exercise around the end of the Meiji era (1868-1912). The exercise typically begins with a strike to the center of the men, followed by a series of strikes to the yokomen (left and right sides of the men, alternating). Though the exact method of kirikaeshi can vary among dojo, the most common scheme involves a single strike to the center of the men, followed by four yokomen strikes going forward (starting on the receiver's left side), and five strokes going backward. Kirikaeshi practice is the staple of Kendo training. It teaches a number of important principles including proper distance and timing, accuracy, rhythm, and smoothness.
Uchikomi geiko
Uchikomi (single-step striking) practice is designed to allow students to attack a passive receiver. The receiver typically makes a target available to the student, who strikes and follows through just as if it were a real match. It is in uchikomi practice that the student perfects the coordination of sword stroke, body movement, and intent. The goal is to bring all one's physical and mental powers to bear upon the target at a precise moment in time.

Advanced practice

When a student gains a level of mastery of the basics, he or she is introduced to other forms of practice to help bridge the gap between basic practice and free combat. The advanced methods are designed to help the student apply basic technique in a manner that more closely resembles an actual match.
Kakari geiko
Kakari geiko means attacking practice, and it was developed from kirikaeshi toward the end of the Taisho era (1912-1926). Kakari geiko is performed with a partner, usually a student with a teacher. The teacher provides a target, and the student must strike the target as soon as possible after it appears. Typically, the teacher provides one target immediately after another, so the student attacks more or less continuously until the teacher stops the drill. Kakari geiko is designed to teach the student to spot an opening, and strike without hesitation. It takes a highly skilled teacher to receive kakari geiko properly. The teacher must judge the student's technique in a split second, and if any aspect of the strike is not performed correctly, the teacher must suppress the student's attack. In that way, the student gets reinforcement of proper technique, since only correctly executed strikes will be allowed to hit the target.
Waza practice
Waza practice is designed to teach specific combat tactics. Typically, the practice focuses on a specific technique to help the student learn how and why the technique works. As with all Kendo practice, repetition is the key to precise execution.
Kata are prearranged combat sequences performed with a partner. Each kata is designed to teach specific lessons about strategy, tactics, and mental focus. Kata are performed without armor, using solid wooden swords (bokken). As each strike is directed to an unprotected target, keen mental focus is required to prevent injury. The Kendo Kata were established in 1912 by the Dai Nippon Budokai to help preserve correct sword technique because the use of the shinai alone is inadequate to teach proper grip and blade angle.

Ji Geiko

At one time, the term ji geiko referred to all around training methods, including exercises like kirikaeshi, and kakari geiko. Today, ji geiko is usually taken to mean some kind of free sparring. Free sparring can be between a teacher and student (hikitate geiko) or between equals (gokaku geiko). Tournament matchplay (shiai geiko) has a detailed set of rules.

Free sparring is the ultimate test of one's Kendo practice. In a match, one tries to strike a legitimate target with proper footwork, sword technique, and mental focus. One must cleanly deliver a decisive stroke to an exposed target in order to be victorious. Several elements must be present to score a recognized point. Correct body posture, and an expression of decisive intention are required. The target area that is struck must be a valid target area, and the strike must be made from the correct distance, using the proper striking region of one's shinai. The mental focus during follow-though is another indispensable element of a valid strike.


This document describes the standard drills one is likely to perform in the course of Kendo training. The fine details of these drills vary from dojo to dojo. Nevertheless, one will see some form of these basic practice drills in many, if not most, Kendo dojo. I divide the drills into three areas, based upon my own experience: Basic drills, core drills, and technique drills.

Basic drills are not used by some instructors, who instead choose to teach the core drills from the start. Other teachers feel that a gentler introduction than the core drills is beneficial to novices. Technical drills examine specific elements of attack and counterattack. Technical drills help bridge the gap between the core drills and free-sparring. The core drills are the fundamental training elements of Kendo.


The Kihon, or basic drills, are typically taught to beginners before the core training drills are introduced. By simplifying the practice, one can individually reinforce the basic elements of swinging the shinai, movement, timing, and distance. Once basic drills are mastered, the student moves on to the core drills as the staple of Kendo training.

Ichi-men-san (also kote, do)

These drills, done with a partner, are a good way to reinforce proper distance, and posture at the moment of contact. For each of the three target areas, each blow is broken into three parts:
It is important for the receiver to provide a good target. It is also important to pause at each step, so that kamae, and contact posture, can be corrected.

Following drills

In following drills, students are paired. It is helpful to pair by height. Students assume the ai chudan posture, and the leading side can move forward, back, and side to side. The following side must mirror the leader's motions so that the ai chudan position is maintained. The leader must be sure to move smoothly, and not too quickly. Make certain that proper eye contact is maintained, do not allow the follower to look at the leader's feet.

Yakusoku Kakari-geiko

In this drill, the student performs a prearranged series of attacks on a receiver. The choice of attack sequence can be geared to the student's ability.

Core Drills


Suburi is an individual practice. It is simply a smooth swing coordinated with forward and backward motion. The swing can be to any target, but usually it is to the men. A mirror is a very helpful tool in suburi practice.
Suburi can also be performed with a jumping motion. Usually this type of suburi (haya-suburi, or choyaku-suburi) makes a leap forward corrdinated with a men strike, and a jump backward while withdrawing the sword to jodan no kamae.
Suburi is often used as a warm-up as well as a core drill.


Kirikaeshi is a patner drill that combines repeated strokes with forward and backward motion. Different dojo have variations on the basic theme, but most use a squence like this:
  1. Starting at ai chudan, attacker steps in with a men strike. The strike is followed by body contact (tai atari) with the receiver. Receiver absorbs the contact, and steps back to striking distance.
  2. Attacker performs a series of hiki-men strikes beginning on his right (striking the men above the opponent's left eye) and alternating to the left. Attacker makes four strikes while moving forward, one step per strike, using okuri-ashi foot movement.
  3. After the fourth blow is completed, the attacker performs five hiki-men blows while retreating. Thus the total number of hiki men strikes is nine.
  4. After the last hiki men strike is delivered, the attacker retreats to issoku itto no kamae. The cycle finishes with a blow delivered directly to the center of the receiver's men. The receiver follows through on the last men strike.
Often, the cycle is repeated several times with the same partner.
Proper performance of the kiri kaeshi drill requires many years of effort. Here are some basic pointers to proper execution:

Uchikomi geiko

Uchikomi geiko is a partner drill the allows the student to make a realistic attack on an opponent. Both sides begin in chudan no kamae, and issoku-itto no kamae distance. The attacking side performs a specified attack (either men, kote, or do) and follows through. Combinations (usually kote-men, and kote-do) are also practised.
An effective attack must demonstrate three basic elements: Correct target, proper body position, and the smooth application of power.

Kakari geiko

Kakari geiko, or continuous attack practice, is another partner drill. The principle is simple: The receiver presents a target, and the attacker strikes the target as soon as the opportunity is perceived. The attacker follows through with each blow, recovering as quickly as possible to begin the next attack.
To perform kakari geiko properly, the receiver must be a skilled Kendoist. The receiver must watch the attacker with the utmost scrutiny, suppressing those attacks that lack proper technique, and allowing those attacks that are properly performed to succeed. Thus, in a split second, the receiver must judge the attacker's Kendo, and act accordingly. Kakari geiko is one of the most effective drills in Kendo, because it rewards proper attacks, while discouraging improper ones.
Once begun, kakari geiko practice continues until the teacher is satisfied, and stops. Usually, one or two minutes of kakari geiko is enough to wear out even the most energetic student.

Waza (technique) Drills

(Under development)








The basic Kendo stance is designed to provide a balance between mobility, and stability. Here are the key elements of the Kendo stance: Because the swings are designed to develop maximum power along one's center line, it is crucial to face an opponent squarely. If your opponent moves, you do not alter your swing to compensate, but instead adjust your body position to face your opponent squarely, and swing along the center line.


Proper footwork is the basis for good Kendo. Without it, you can never become fast, accurate, and powerful. Think of it this way: Newton's Third Law states that, for each force, there must be an equal and opposite reaction. Almost all of the vigorous, strong movements you perform in Kendo must ultimately be resolved at the small spot where your feet touch the Earth. You can understand how crucial it is that the connection to the ground be solid, and capable of transmitting large forces at any instant. The majority of Kendo footwork can be classified into three basic varieties, Okuri-ashi, or gliding footwork, ayumi-ashi, or stepping footwork, and hiraki-ashi, or sidestepping footwork.
To perform okuri-ashi, you first slide the foot closest to the place you want to go, pushing off with the other foot. To move forward, you move your forward (right) foot forward, pushing off with the left foot. The trailing foot must be brought in to the standard position as quickly as possible after pushing off, to maintain balance, and prepare for the next movement. When performing okuri-ashi many times in succession, be careful to return to the standard foot position with each step. In okuri-ashi, the right foot always stays in front of the left.
Ayumi-ashi is performed with a stepping motion, with the left and right feet alternately going in front. The feet always skim the floor, avoiding the heel-to-toe stepping motion of normal walking. When performed individually, ayumi-ashi footwork involves three foot motions: First, the leading foot is extended, while pushing from the trailing foot. Second, the trailing foot slides past the leading foot, switching their relative positions. Finally, the trailing foot returns to the leading position.
Hiraki-ashi motion is shifting your position along a diagonal, relative to your opponent. The basic hiraki-ashi motions are migi-mai or moving forward and to the right, and hidari-ato, or moving backward, and to the left. To perform migi-mai, you slide your right foot diagonally to the right, and then bring the left foot into standard position. To perform hidari-ato, you slide your left foot diagonally backward and to the left, then withdraw the right foot behind the left.


There are five basic postures in Kendo. Beginners are usually trained to understand the Chudan no Kamae, or middle posture first. It is generally considered that an understanding of all postures is gained only after mastering the middle posture. In shinai Kendo, it is rare to see anyone using any stance besides the middle and high postures, but one must be able to perform all stances properly in kata practice. All five postures utilize the same principles of stance, posture, grip, and swing.
Chudan No Kamae
In chudan no kamae, one's shoulders squarely face the opponent. During the course of practice, the student's chief concern is to maintain that stance relative to the opponent. The left hand is held three or four inches in front of the navel. The right hand is held so that the tip of the sword is throat height. Both elbows are slightly bent, and both hands are directly on the center line. The cutting edge of the sword faces toward the opponent.
Jodan No Kamae
In jodan (high) stance, one holds the sword up above the head. The elbows are bent, and the left hand is slightly above, and in front of the forehead. The blade tilts backward at a 30 to 45 degree angle, and the cutting edge faces forward. The stance can be done with either the left foot forward (hidari jodan no kamae), or with the right foot forward (migi jodan no kamae).
Gedan No Kamae
The gedan (low) stance is similar to the chudan no kamae. From chudan no kamae, lower the blade tip to knee level by lowering the right hand. Do not raise the left hand from it's navel-level position, but only bend the wrist to allow the tip to be lowered. The cutting edge faces down.
Hasso No Kamae
Hasso (eight-point) no kamae is performed with the left foot forward. The left hand is held on the center line, at solar plexus level. The right hand is slightly right of center, at chin level. The sword-guard (tsuba) should be at mouth level. Hasso no kamae is similar to hidari jodan no kamae. From hidari jodan no kamae, simply lower the arms, keeping the cutting edge forward. The sword tilts slightly backward, and slightly to the right.
Waki Gamae
Waki gamae is performed with the right foot withdrawn, and the shoulders facing away from the opponent, to the right. The sword is held on the hip, with the cutting edge outward. It is very difficult to maintain a solid grip on the sword in this position, so be especially mindful of your grip.
Students often wonder why we learn five postures when we only use one, or possibly two, in actual shinai Kendo matches. It is important to remember that the art of Kendo we practice today has become stylized to fit the circumstance in which it is now widely practiced: An open training hall. In the reality of the 1600s, a Samurai in combat might have been required to face an opponent with a weapon other than a sword. It is also possible that one might have to fight an opponent on horseback, or in a confined space. A Samurai might even have to fight more than one opponent at once. We practice all five postures to remind ourselves that combat technique is based upon necessity.

Sword technique

It should be acknowledged from the start that the fine details of striking with the shinai differ in many ways from true sword technique. Because a bamboo sword rebounds when a real sword would cut, differences in follow-through are unavoidable. In all respects possible, the technique of wielding the shinai should be the same as that of wielding a sharp blade.


The proper grip is the most basic requisite of sword technique. The approach to holding the sword remains the same no matter what movement or striking technique is involved. Most beginners tend to hold the shinai too tightly, leading to wasted energy, and inaccuracy. The proper grip is firm, yet relaxed until just before the moment of contact. Then, the grip tightens as the wrists extend, transmitting the final snap of power into the blow. Immediately after contact, the arms and wrists relax again, returning to a neutral position in preparation for the next strike.

It is certain that your grip will evolve over time, and your understanding and experience become fuller. Here are some basic points you can use to develop good habits:

Ki Ken Tai Ichi

The most fundamental principles of Kendo can be summed up in the pithy phrase Ki Ken Tai Ichi. Literally, the word "Ki" means spirit, will, or intention. "Ken" means sword, "Tai" means body, and the word "Ichi" means one. Taken together, the phrase means "Spirit, sword, and body acting as one."

The goal then, is to develop all one's energies, mental, physical, and spiritual, and direct them to a precise spot in space, at a precise instant in time. With proper training, your eyes can spot the opportunity, your feet can move you into position, and your swing can bring the blade down on the target. The only other thing you need is the initiative to make it happen. That is what we refer to as "Ki."

Ki is a very misunderstood term. Some people try to describe ki in mystical, or even religious terms, but it does not have to be taken so literally to be a useful concept. Ki can simply be seen as the driving force that allows us to act decisively in a world that is filled with uncertainty. Above all, ki embodies self-confidence, and the willingness to trust our own natural abilities.

Kendo makes heavy use of the voice as an expression of ki. The yell that accompanies Kendo action is called "kiai." A fierce kiai is an expression of one's unstoppable will to succeed. The kiai is not just a noise from the voice-box; it must come from deep within the body. Physically, the kiai causes the diaphragm to contract, forcing air out of the chest. The diaphragm is a sheet-like muscle that divides the chest from the abdomen, and when it is flexed, it lends structural strength to the body. Kendoists commonly use the kiai to call out the name of the target as it is struck.


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