Kendo vs. Fencing: Crucial Differences


Kendo vs Fencing lg

Kendo and fencing look similar, and the differences may seem confusing at first glance. You’ve probably wondered about how they differ. To help with that, I researched and decided to share some facts on Kendo vs. fencing.

Here’s what I found out:

Both Kendo and fencing are offshoots of the art of swordsmanship. But Kendo is of Japanese origin. It’s learned and practiced as a competitive sport and a budō. Budō is a way of elevating oneself spiritually. Fencing, on the other hand, is simply a competitive sport that is of Western origin.

But there’s a lot more to know.

In this article, we’ll explore whether fencing is like sword fighting. We’ll find out whether Kendo is good for self-defense. But we’ll also find out whether you should do Kendo or fencing.

Let the fun begin

Is fencing like sword fighting?

Fencing is not like sword fighting. There’s no fight when two people fence. Instead, it’s a rules-based sport that’s about the display of the right technique. Sword fighting is an actual fight in which swords are used, while fencing is mainly about defense.

In fact, that is where the word fencing is derived from.

In a real sword fight, there’s no question of technique or rules. The goal is to harm and defeat, if not kill, one’s opponent any which way. It’s not a sport.

It’s actual combat where the goal is to attack an opponent and defend oneself against their attacks. The idea is to take out an opponent as quickly as possible. Sword fighters are not constrained as to how they can move.

It can be gruesome.

It’s now obvious that fencing is not another word for sword fighting, even though modern fencing evolved from sword fighting. It is a game. Fencing is not sword fighting.

It’s a show of physical dexterity that’s enjoyed by the participants and the spectators.

A lot of emphasis is placed on the correct technique, and it’s done on a strip, where linear motion is allowed. Fencers can only go back and forth.

It does not have to be done with swords; any weapon can be used to fence (to defend).

But the following are the weapons that are used:

At the Olympic level, three fencing blades are allowed, foil, epee, and saber.  They are actually derived from classical swords. But over time, they’ve assumed a different aspect.

The foil is the most popular blade used in the U.S.

Another way in which fencing and sword fighting differ is that there is a uniform and related gear that fencers must wear, while swordfighters don’t give a fig about proper attire.

And fencing is guided by rules that participants must follow.

Is Kendo good for self-defense?

Kendo is not good for self-defense. Even if one is adept at using bamboo swords, it is highly unlikely that practitioners would always have them on hand in everyday life. Kendo is practiced mainly as a competitive sport and not as a means to defend oneself when faced with an assailant.

Now don’t get me wrong. Knowing Kendo is better than not knowing any martial art. And in a pinch, you could find and utilize a stick, pole, or other found items as a weapon and use them effectively.

But the techniques taught cannot translate to real fights where assailants may attack with knives, bottles, and other deadly weapons.

Real fights are often so chaotic and intense, with seasoned street fighters employing a variety of styles in quick succession. A person whose sole style is Kendo would be quickly overwhelmed and subdued.

As a sport and a budō, Kendo is interesting, but it’s largely ineffective when it comes to self-defense. In addition to learning Kendo, it is smart to learn another martial art for self-defense.

Martial arts offer a host of benefits. In a recent article, I looked at the key benefits and why we need to learn self-defense.

But I also explored the elephant in the room: do martial arts make you violent? And I spent some time on the side effects of martial arts.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Should I do Kendo or fencing?

Kendo is a better choice than fencing for those that want to incorporate a whole lifestyle. Kendo focuses on budō (meaning martial way, it refers to Japanese martial arts whose ultimate goal is spiritual or ethical development). Fencing, on the other hand, is simply a sport.

There are no higher aspirations attached to its practice. Fencing is also finer than Kendo which involves more intense and more realistic moves.

Let’s explore a bit about each art form and some of the distinguishing features. That way, it would be easier to decide which one to do.

Kendo

Kendo is a Japanese martial art form.

The word Kendo translates to “sword path” or “way of the sword.” It evolved from Kenjutsu (swordsmanship), shinai (bamboo swords), and bogu (protective armor).

It’s a sport and a budō.

The latter means that it’s a life-long effort or way to develop oneself spiritually. It’s a way to discipline oneself.

A common feature of most martial arts of Asian origin. It has high and lofty ideals which involve honor and the promotion of peace and prosperity among all people.

Kendo is fought with both hands.

Fencing

Fencing, like Kendo, evolved from actual sword fighting.

But in its present form, it’s simply a sport and nothing more. Those who practice it do it for the fun of it, not as a way to elevate or refine themselves spiritually and not as a form of self-defense.

It’s a sport that’s practiced and watched for its entertainment value.

It’s a game, and no one considers it as anything more than that. It’s fought on a strip in a restricted linear fashion, which many have pointed out makes it highly unsuitable for self-defense.

Fencing is fought with one hand.

If you’re interested in simply having some fun by engaging in a sport, fencing might be the way to go. But if you’re looking for something more, something with a spiritual component, then Kendo is ideal.

Can you learn Kendo and fencing at the same time?

It’s not advisable to learn both Kendo and Fencing at the same time. Learning one martial art or sport and becoming good at it takes time. There’s also the possibility of confusing some of the rules. Ideally, it’s better to learn each one at a time. 

After all, multitasking doesn’t really work.

But if you aren’t sure, I suggest that you attend 1-2 classes of each to feel them out. There are similarities, but there are a lot of differences too.

You could try a few classes and then stick to the one that’s more fun or aligned to your goals.

After you’ve become proficient at it, you could add the second one. It’s quite possible that at that point, you’d have changed your mind about doing both at the same time.

The commitment required to do both would be too much. It could rob you of the time to really enjoy the sports as it would feel like grinding, seeing as there would hardly be any time to rest.

How do the rules of Kendo differ from fencing?

The rules of Kendo differ from fencing’s rules in several ways, including when and how a point is actually scored. Kendo’s rules are more complex than fencing. There’s also the unwritten rule of respect and decorum in Kendo.

Kendo has so many rules that define the right thing to do in a wide variety of cases.

Fencing rules are not as involved and are relatively easier to meet. For example, in fencing, a point is scored when a fencer touches an opponent in an approved target area of the body.

This depends on the type of weapon being used. In the Olympics, the fencer to score 15 points first wins.

Kendo matches are based on three points.

The first Kendoka to win 2 points wins. When there’s a tie, the match could be continued until one person wins, a draw is declared, or the victor is decided by the referees, who vote by raising their flags.

In Kendo, it’s not enough that one party touched the other in an approved target area. The name of the specific part of the body that is struck must also be called out in a sharp voice, and there must be a stomp at the very moment the other party is struck.

This is a part of Zanshin (the continuation of awareness) that must be shown before, during, and after the strike. The Kendoka must also be alert even after they just struck someone, such that they are ready to strike again.

A Kendo match is overlooked by 3 high-ranking referees, while there’s one referee in fencing and a video referee. There may be two visual referees at the request of a fencer.

Even though it’s not a written rule, Kendokas know they must show respect and ensure there is decorum.

Fencers, on the other hand, have no such restriction or expectation. They can be emotional and even throw tantrums.

Conclusion

In the article, we looked at whether fencing is like sword fighting and whether Kendo is good for self-defense.

We also explored whether you should do Kendo or fencing. And we found out if you can learn Kendo and fencing at the same time.

Lastly, we wrapped things up by looking at how the rules of Kendo differ from the rules of fencing.


Photos that require attribution:

Fencing by Eugene Kim and Kendo by Vincent Diamante are licensed under CC2.0 and were cropped, edited, merged, and had a graphic and text overlay added.

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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