Many American children grow up playing baseball, football, and basketball while many European youth play soccer. In Japan, it’s baseball and more prominently, the ancient art of kendo — the way of the sword.
Kendo is both a martial art and an athletic sport. It’s now practiced worldwide using non-combative techniques, with the option to learn the original techniques given to advanced kendoka, or practitioners.
What makes kendo so appealing? I think the answer lies rooted in history. Kendo has transformed from a lethal fighting art used by samurai warriors in feudal Japan to a fascinating and exhilarating modern sport. You may also know it as Japanese fencing.
Many benefits are derived from the practice of kendo. The objective of kendo is physical and mental control, and good manners and respect are emphasized throughout training. Students gain confidence, physical fitness, patience, coordination, balance, and grace with continued practice. Young kendoka often aquire better zan shin (alertness), to the delight of their parents. Learned discipline helps develop good character.
Kendo has been described as ‘fighting that’s fun.’ The padded equipment worn during practice protects the students. Shinai (bamboo swords) are used while fighting. Self-control is emphasized and the training armor prevents injuries.
Practice begins with stretching and calisthenics. When the warm-up is complete the new kendoka are shown how to wear their training armor. Students are led through kirikaeshi (repetition of sword cuts and parries). Basic techniques consist of cuts, thrusts, slicing movements, and parries. Techniques are practiced in chudan no kamae (fighting stance.)
After basics lessons, footwork with short gliding movements is taught. For example, the choice to attack or counter-attack determines which foot leads while in fighting stance.
For many, the real fun begins when practice fighting is introduced. Footwork, split-second timing, and the basic techniques blend together to the delight of enthusiastic practitioners. Skills are honed with every practice session. Respect is shown to your training partner in the form of a bow with a pause at the start and end of each sparring session.
Advanced kendoka sometimes use bokuto (wooden swords). Controlled techniques are essential. Years of training produce the necessary discipline of advanced training. Masters of kendo will use a katana (Japanese steel sword) for demonstrations and sword katas. Katas are formal movements in which kendoka can practice sword techniques alone.
As in other martial arts, mental discipline follows repetitive physical training. The practice of kendo relieves the stress and strains of everyday life. You can also achieve greater self-discipline in general.
The sport of kendo teaches invaluable lessons. Parents may consider kendo for their children when seeking ways for them to function maturely. It might be easy to convince them to try, especially if they like the 3 musketeers.