Kendo is a martial arts sport that ultimately derives from the traditional Japanese art of sword fighting, Kenjutsu. Basically, kendo is to kenjutsu what Olympics rules fencing is to Historical European Martial Arts.
Practioners of the sport are usually called Kendoka or Kenshi. It is a very physically and mentally challenging activity that combines strong martial-arts values with sport-like physical elements.
Equipment consists of:
- Keikogi - The jacket worn under the bogu. Similar to Judo/Karate Gi, but thicker.
- Hakama - Traditional japanese trousers.
- Tenugui - A traditional Japanese head towel, worn on the head under the Men.
- Bogu - Armor set, which consists of:
- Men - The grilled mask that serves as the head protector.
- Kote - The gloves.
- Do - Chest Protector.
- Tare - Protective flaps worn on the waist.
- Shinai - Bamboo sword for training and sparring.
- Bokken - Hardwood katana, made for kata practices. Trope Maker for Wooden Katanas Are Even Better.
There are several types of acceptable striking targets in Kendo:
- Men - Strike to the head. Yoko-Men or Sayu-Men are strikes to the either sides of the head.
- Kote - Strike to the forearm.
- Do - Strike to the torso area.
- Tsuki - Thrusting strike to the throat.
The basic rules of Kendo are simple, but there are also many intricacies: a point (or "ippon") is awarded for a decisive strike to a target zone on the opponent, which the striking contestant must indicate with a shout (or "Kiai"). The blow must be delivered with the shinai held in both hands, the string along the bamboo "blade" facing the contestant, and with only the area along the last third of the "blade": blows that are too deep or too shallow may not count. A group of three judges will watch over the match, and at least two judges must agree that an ippon is scored for the point to count. Contestants must also possess awareness and focus (also known as "zanshin") throughout the match: allowing one's concentration to waver, or displays of informality, may be penalized. Formal matches continue for ten minutes or until one contestant scores two ippon. In the case of a tie, the judges may either declare a draw, make a decision on who was the better overall fighter, or allow a match to continue into sudden death, where the contestant who scores an ippon first wins.
Most schools in Japan have a Kendo dojo, and inter-school tournaments are very common in the country. The sport is also practiced in several other countries around the world and governed by the International Kendo Federation. In Korea, the sport is referred to as Kumdo and for obvious reasons its Japanese origins are downplayed, though there are some minor stylistic difference between Korean Kumdo and its more "orthodox" Japanese cousin. Many schools overseas that trace their orgin to Korean Schools also use the name Kumdo.
A related art is Atarashii Naginata, which uses similar equipment and rules, but which arms its participants with bamboo naginatas rather than swords. It used to be that kendo was for boys and Naginata for girls, but this has broken down since the Turn of the Millennium. Naginata adds an additional bit of protective gear, the sune-ate, which covers from the knees to the ankles, and an additional valid attack ("Sune"), to the sune-ate. Kendo and Naginata actually sometimes compete against one another, in matches known as isshu jiai.
Tropes involving Kendo:
- Attack! Attack! Attack!: There's a saying in Kendo: "bogyo no tame no bogyo nashi" ("there's no such thing as defense for defense's sake"). Kendo practitioners are trained to respond to attacks by themselves attacking and trying to get there first, rather than focusing on defense. The drill called kiri-kaeshi, which consists of a total of 21 men strikes done in succession, on the move. There's also the practise called kakari-geiko, where the protagonist makes continuous attacks against a defensive opponent yielding openings for strikes.
- Blade Lock: Also known as tsuba zeriai in the sport.
- Calling Your Attacks: Arguably the Trope Maker, if not Trope Codifier. In Kendo sparring matches or tournaments, points are only given for attacks that are properly called and executed properly.
- Counter-Attack: Nearly half of the techniques are based on this trope. Bonus points go to debana waza, in which you counter attack before the opponent has even moved.
- Dual Wielding: The style called nito-ryu
- Lighter and Softer: Modern Kendo compared to Pre-WWII Kendo, which is much more aggressive and violent. Legal moves included grappling, chokeholds, tripping the opponent, and picking him up bodily and tossing him out of the ring.
- Kendo Team Captain: Usually one of the top tier fighters in the dojo.
- Kiai: Related to Calling Your Attacks, and a very important element of proper Kendo technique.
- Kid Samurai: Practically all young Kendo practitioners.
- Master Swordsman: Modern real-life incarnations of the trope.
- Samurai: Kendo is the modern evolution of Kenjutsu, so many Samurai traditions and concepts survive through the sport.
- Single-Stroke Battle: Quite common during sparring matches. Kata #7 is a very good example of this.
- Suicide Attack: There are some higher level moves that, essentially, only work if you are comfortable with dying: the trade off for success is leaving yourself very open during the attack. Sort of a cross between Taking You with Me and Death-or-Glory Attack. They're for times when (a) you'll probably lose the fight anyway and/or (b) when your opponent dying is more important than your survival.
- Sword Fight: Self explanatory.
- Wooden Katanas Are Even Better: Basically the entire concept of the sport.
Media that portrays Kendo, or is inspired by Kendo:
- Asahinagu: Similar to Bamboo Blade, but following the adventures of a naginata club rather than a kendo team.
- Bamboo Blade: Revolves around a high school kendo club.
- Kurogane (2011): A Shōnen Demographic manga centering around a High School student that enters the world of kendo competitions through unique circumstances.
- Rurouni Kenshin: Kamiya-Kasshin Ryu is a Meiji era Kendo dojo.
- Tatewaki Kuno, of course.
- The real name of the Martial Arts Hero(-in-training) Battle Fist from My Hero Academia is Itsuka Kendo, although her name is written with the kanji for fist rather than the kanji for sword and she uses her fists in combat.
- Sword Art Online: Kirito used to practice kendo in school before becoming a video game enthusiast. His younger sister, Suguha, took up kendo in his stead, and her experience in the sport inspires her playstyle in Alfheim Online.
- The noir film, The Crimson Kimono, directed by Samuel Fuller, has an exhibition kendo match between the two protagonists that degenerates into a violent brawl through their rivalry over a woman and racial conflicts.
- Star Wars: Lightsaber duels from the Original Trilogy are based on Kendo movements.
- The Yakuza: One of the main characters runs a kendo school, and his skills become important later in the film.
- The bad guys in Avenging Force are shown participating in a kendo exhibition.
- Chang in Moonraker is a kendo practitioner who works for Drax as an enforcer. He uses the style in his fight with Bond which costs him his life.
- In Hex, Sinister Minister Jez challenges Plucky Comic Relief Leon to a "friendly" kendo match with the clear intention of killing him. Action Girl Ella turns up instead and beats Jez bloody before strangling him to death.
- The music video for "Too Close" by Alex Clare uses footage of Alex Clare's singing intercut with a kendo duel.
- In Snow Crash, Hiro swordfights an opponent in The Metaverse. He recognizes that his opponent is fighting according to the rules of kendo and promptly defeats him.
- In the Summer Games 2019 event for Overwatch, one of Genji's unlockable skins for the event is "Kendoka," which puts him in a full bogu, even replacing his katana with a shinai.
- A Discussed Trope in Game Grumps, as the kendoka is always that one friend who is eager to show off their kendo moves, in comparison to more quiet and reserved martial artists.