Is Kendo Like Real Sword Fighting?


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Kendo is a Japanese form of fencing. It’s highly popular in the East and other parts of the world. But is Kendo like real sword fighting?

Here’s what I found out:

Kendo is not like real sword fighting and is more of a sport like fencing. Kendo is based on the ancient art of Kenjutsu, which is an umbrella term for Japanese swordsmanship. But Kendo’s ultimate goal is about the refinement of one’s character and not self-defense or injuring an opponent.

But there’s more to know.

In this article, we’ll explore whether real swords are used in Kendo and whether sword fighting is like what we see portrayed in movies. But we’ll also check out if wooden sticks are the only type of sticks used in Kendo.

Let the fun begin.

Does Kendo use real swords?

No, real swords are not used in Kendo. Rather, practice swords made out of bamboo are used by practitioners. This is to reduce injuries and ensure no fatalities. The sword used is known as Shinai, and it does not look like a real sword.

The Shinai is made of lightweight bamboo. 4 thin slats are essentially tied together with a handle at the end known as a Tsuka. Because of their lightweight, they can be drawn quickly, and they are easy to hold. Due to it being compromised of 4 thin slats, it can also bend and flex.

Kendo is the art of Japanese fencing.

So, just as in Western fencing, pretend swords are used. Both are not meant to be real sword fights. They are sports where the focus naturally involves the acquisition of skills, but their real value is in the fact that they are entertaining.

How does Kendo differ from fencing? 

In a recent article of mine, I looked at the crucial differences between Kendo and fencing. I explored Kendo in relation to sword fighting and whether it’s ideal for self-defense. What really surprised me was the 1 huge difference between the two.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Is sword fighting like the movies?

Sword fighting is not the way it’s represented in movies. In a movie, the goal is to entertain. As such, the moves are choreographed. But in a real sword fight, the goal is to maim or kill an opponent. As such, the movements may be deadlier but less visually stunning.

Real sword fights are brutal and short.

There are no captivating soundtracks to accompany the fighter’s movements. But the fight scenes in movies are beautiful and longer than what would happen in real life. In a real sword fight, both parties know they can be maimed or that they can lose their lives in seconds.

So, there’s more aggression and a more natural display of superb skills.

In movies, in scenes where the protagonist is surrounded by many folks who are equally wielding swords, we almost always know that the protagonist would win!

The reality is that no matter how skilled or how strong a person is, it’s really difficult (read: impossible) to fight seven people at a time.

While you’re trying to strike a person, two or three are attacking you. You’d be overwhelmed. But, in movies, the protagonist always wins.

Does Kendo only use wooden sticks?

Kendo only uses wooden sticks and does not use metal swords. Kendo often uses shinai, which is made of bamboo but may also use wooden sticks called bokken. However, they are not used as much because wooden sticks are more likely to cause injuries.

In fact, bamboo sticks (shinai) were developed a long time ago to prevent or at least minimize the dangers that real and wooden swords present.

The wooden sticks are usually made from red or white oak and are heavy relative to the shinai or the Katana (used by the samurai). The bokken, because of its heft, is often used to also train the muscles of the hand.

The logic is that students who practice with heavy swords would find real swords easier to wield when they’re confronted with real threats in the heat of battle.

But, in modern times, the shinai is the weapon of choice for Kendo practitioners, while the bokken (wooden sticks) are not used as much as they were in the past. Bokken is used for practicing Katas. These are the established patterns and forms of the artform that practitioners have to perform repeatedly.

You’ve probably wondered how Kendo compares to Kempo. 

In a recent article of mine, I explored both. I looked at the difference and whether Kendo is a fighting style. While the names may be similar, the styles are very different. But there is one huge way the 2 are similar.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

What is the objective of Kendo?

The objective of Kendo is to cultivate a vigorous spirit, to train the body and mind, and to refine one’s character. To respect and honor others, contribute to one’s culture, and foster peace and harmony.

Kendo, like most Eastern martial arts, is multi-layered.

At first glance, what we see is the fencing aspect. Two people trying to hit each other with their swords. What we see is purely physical. But Kendo has mental and spiritual dimensions, and this is the real objective.

The physical dimension is a path to the realization of the higher spiritual objective.

To excel at the physical facet of Kendo, one draws upon one’s mental and inner qualities. For example, to truly win against an opponent, one has to conquer fear. To really trounce fear, one has to conquer one’s ego.

So, it requires introspection and ultimately gifts serious practitioners with the ability to persevere, be alert, and have an uncanny ability to concentrate!

It’s more than a sport, it’s actually a way of life that’s defined by discipline, attained through continual, life-long practice.

It’s about becoming a better version of oneself and having a positive effect on one’s community.

How does Kendo differ from other sword styles?

The primary way in which Kendo differs from other sword styles is that Kendo is more of a sport where the refinement of one’s character is the top goal, and injuring or defeating another is not the primary goal. But western sword styles also lack a spiritual component.

And other sword arts can be a lot more brutal.

So, to avoid comparisons that are shallow and overly broad, let’s look at how Kendo compares to HEMA. Granted, HEMA is an umbrella term, but it’s a collection of similar arts. One of the first things we note is that the former is actually a spiritual practice, while the latter is essentially a sport that’s meant for entertainment.

Western martial arts do not have the spiritual and philosophical hue that’s a defining characteristic of most Eastern martial arts.

And I suppose this makes it a tad difficult for Westerners to truly grok these Eastern traditions. A monk is different from a Knight from a Western perspective. But in the East, the monk is often also a knight!

Ki-Ken-tai-chi is a central part of Kendo.

This is the unity of the spirit, the sword, and the body. And this ultimately results in skilled fencers who also place a premium on morals. As such, it’s a holistic art form.

Kendo is ritualized.

And practitioners are expected to adhere to these rituals. Of course, they are free to explore and exploit other forms. HEMA is not ritualized. It’s essentially about leveraging the most efficient way to fight.

Both Kendo and HEMA are connected to forms practiced in the past.

HEMA is more attuned to being faithful to the forms of swordsmanship on which they are based. Historical records are employed as reference material for this purpose.

If you’d like to explore the distinction further, check out a recent article of mine where I explored whether HEMA is better than Kendo.

In it, I looked at what HEMA is and whether Kendo truly counts as a martial art. I also spoke about whether real swords are used in Kendo. And I revealed whether HEMA is good for self-defense.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Conclusion

In this article, we explored whether real swords are used in Kendo and whether sword fighting is like what we see portrayed in movies.

But, we also checked out if wooden sticks are the only type of sticks used in Kendo. Then, we looked at the objective of Kendo. Lastly, we looked at how Kendo differs from HEMA.


Image by Dmitrii Bardadim from Pixabay

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell was Academy Director for a large martial arts school for over 7 years, and has trained extensively in a variety of martial arts including Brazilian Jiujitsu, different styles of Karate, the Russian Martial Art of Systema, Aikido, and much more.

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