Saskatoon Kendo Club
i. Introduction *
ii. Acknowledgements *
iii. Revisions *
1.0 What is kendo? *
1.1 OK, then what is kenjutsu? *
1.2 Isn’t bokken technique taught in aikido? *
1.3 What is kumdo? *
1.4 Are there different styles of kendo/kenjutsu? *
2.0 What is iaido? *
2.1 OK, then what is iaijutsu? *
2.2 Are there different styles of iaido/iaijutsu? *
3.0 What about batto-jutsu, tameshi-giri, shinkendo and others? *
3.1 OK, so if they’re watered down, why study kendo or iaido? *
4.0 How do I find a school? *
4.1 How do I evaluate a school? *
5.0 Are there any other net.resources? *
6.0 How did kendo originate? *
7.0 How did iaido originate? *
8.0 What are those funny clothes kendo and iaido players wear? *
8.1 What virtues do the hakama pleats represent? *
9.0 How is a Japanese sword constructed? *
9.1 How many layers in a Japanese sword? *
9.2 What are the different types of Japanese swords? *
9.3 How is a Japanese sword measured? *
10.0 What sort of weapons are used for practice? *
10.1 What is required for shinai maintenance? *
10.2 What are the regulation sizes for shinai? *
11.0 What is the armour for kendo? *
11.1 How much does kendo armour cost? *
11.2 What are you paying for in those expensive sets, anyway? *
11.2.1 Futon *
11.2.2 Quality of materials *
11.2.3 Men-gane (mask) *
11.2.4 Doh *
11.2.5 Decoration *
11.2.6 General comments *
11.3 What are the two methods used to tie the men-himo? *
12.0 Are kendo and iaido dangerous? *
12.1 What are the common injuries? *
12.2 Does a shinai blow hurt? *
13.0 How does the ranking work in kendo and iaido? *
13.1 What are the names of the ranks? *
13.2 What is the traditional system of ranking? *
13.3 How are the ranks tested and what do they mean? *
14.0 Kendo competition *
14.1 World kendo championships results *
15.0 I want to buy a Japanese sword. What do I do? *
15.1 How much do they cost? *
15.2 Where can I find swords to purchase? *
15.3 How can I tell if it’s a good sword? *
15.4 How can I tell if the sword is right for me? *
15.5 Are there special concerns for iaido? *
15.6 What About Having a Sword Made? *
16.0 Bibliography *
16.1 Kendo *
16.2 Kenjutsu *
16.3 Iaido *
16.4 Philosophy *
16.5 History *
16.6 Swords *
16.7 Other Related Topics *
17.0 Organisation Contacts *
17.1 Kendo Federations *
17.2 Sword Clubs *
18.0 Equipment Suppliers *
18.1 Kendo and Iaido Equipment *
18.2 Nihon-to (Japanese swords) and Replica Nihon-to *
18.3 Nihon-to Fittings and Supplies *
18.4 Budo Literature *
This document is copyright 2001 by Neil Gendzwill, all rights reserved. Permission is granted for free distribution in electronic or hard copy, provided that the document is maintained as a complete work. Copying or distribution for profit is expressly denied.
This FAQ is intended to cover all aspects of Japanese swordsmanship. However, my particular bent is towards kendo, so any flames about other arts are probably deserved. Heck, corrections or additions on anything in this document are welcome. Please *mail* comments to Neil Gendzwill. If you have comments, I’ll either incorporate your changes or explain to you why I didn’t.
WEB-HEADS PLEASE NOTE: If you have trouble with the web page you’re reading this on, please DO NOT contact me unless you are at www.kendo-sask.com. I do not maintain any other web pages. Please contact whomever is the proprietor of the web site.
Thanks to Kjartan Clausen for maintaining the website most commonly used to access this document.
Thanks to Jens Nilsson for the WKC results and European federation addresses and Don Seto for most of the rest of the organisation addresses. If your organisation has been overlooked or has inaccuracies in its entry, let me know.
Thanks to Frank Lindquist and Richard Stein for Section 15 (on purchasing nihon-to).
Thanks to Karl Friday for straightening out my history sections.
Thanks to all the members of iaido-l who have helped expand my knowledge, especially the owners, Kim Taylor and Johanna Botari. Thanks to Kim for the information on the koryu. Thanks to all who have written, your comments have been incorporated where possible.
The following sections have had content changes with respect to version 2.8, there were spelling fixes throughout:
Note: N = new, r = minor revision, R = major revision
r 4 How do I find a school?
R 5 Are there any other net.resources?
r 14 Kendo Competition
R 17 Organisation Contacts
r 18 Equipment Suppliers
Kendo is the way of the sword, Japanese fencing. Kendo in a modern context means the form of Japanese fencing governed by the International Kendo Federation and the Zen-Nippon Kendo Renmei, or similar styles. About 8 million people world-wide participate, 7 million of them in Japan. It is taught as part of the school physical education curriculum. College kendo teams in Japan are high-profile; major competitions are televised complete with colour commentary. Kendoka wear armour protecting the head, throat, wrists and abdomen; these are the only legal targets. The split-bamboo practice sword, called a shinai, is wielded two-handed; the kendoka faces his opponent squarely. A small number of high-level practitioners utilise a shinai in each hand. Kendoka move using a peculiar gliding step refined for use on the smooth floors of the dojo. Kendoka generally practice as partners although the basics of posture, movement, grip and swing are learned in supervised solo practice. Because of the equipment, kendoka can and do practice full speed and full power, including free-sparring. Kendoka sometimes practice partner kata similar to kenjutsu, in which two partners carry out a prescribed series of attacks with wooden or steel swords.
Kenjutsu is the generic term for Japanese sword-fighting. Donn Draegger, the well-known martial artist and scholar, used the convention that in Japanese martial arts, the “do” forms are those used to improve the self, while the “jutsu” forms concentrate on teaching the techniques of war. Note that this is a modern convention, not something that reflects historical usage of the suffixes. However, it has come to be the way that many people use the terms.
Using the broad (non-Draegger) definition of the term, all Japanese sword fighting is kenjutsu, even kendo. This document uses the term kenjutsu to refer to the fencing curriculum of any of the koryu, or old schools of Japanese martial arts In other words, old-style (not kendo) Japanese sword fighting after the swords have been drawn is kenjutsu. The term kenjutsu encompasses rather a lot of different styles of sword fighting which incorporate various training methods.
The primary goal of kendo is to improve oneself through the study of the sword. Kendo also has a strong sporting aspect with big tournaments avidly followed by the Japanese public. Thus kendo could be considered the philosophical/sporting aspect of Japanese swordsmanship. Since the early 1700s virtually all ryuha teaching kenjutsu have promoted it as a means to self-improvement and emphasised the philosophical aspects of the art. As a general statement though Draegger was correct: most kenjutsu has more of a focus on the techniques of war. In practice, both concentrate on practising hard and learning proper technique: improvement of the spirit falls out of that naturally as there is no separation of mind and body in kendo or koryu philosophy.
In terms of learning to fight with a sword, kenjutsu has a more complete curriculum. Kendo of necessity limits the range of techniques and targets. Kendoka generally use shinai, which allow techniques which do not work with real swords. Kenjutsu practitioners do not usually use shinai in training, preferring to use bokken (wooden swords) or katana (steel swords) in order to preserve the cutting techniques of real sword fighting. Kenjutsu training largely consists of practising cutting technique and performing partner kata. For safety reasons, free-sparring is seldom practised with bokken or katana.
In some ryu, there is contact, which usually happens in a controlled manner within a partner kata. Some of the ryu use protective equipment, such as the gloves and head padding of the Maniwa Nen Ryu. Others, Shinkage Ryu in particular, use a fukuro shinai which is made of bamboo split into many pieces at the end and completely covered with leather.
Yes, with qualifications. Not every aikido dojo offers qualified instruction in actual sword techniques. Many of them use bokken practice only as a way of better understanding the empty-handed techniques, as these techniques are grounded in kenjutsu.
Ueshiba-sensei was trained in many styles of bujutsu, including kenjutsu, jojutsu and aikijutsu. He distilled and modified the myriad of techniques he knew into modern aikido. Most modern students do not have the time or inclination to learn the empty handed curriculum as well as bokken and jo, so the concentration tends to be on the aiki techniques. Even among those dojos which emphasise bokken, the techniques are somewhat different from kenjutsu. Ueshiba-sensei’s swordsmanship was excellent, incidentally. Should you ever get an opportunity to watch film of him with a bokken, take it.
Kumdo is the Korean pronunciation of kendo. Kendo was introduced to Korea by the Japanese during the occupation. After the Japanese left, the Koreans continued practising using slightly different gear and new terminology. A considerable amount of revisionist history can be found regarding Kumdo which can be attributed to a strong nationalistic attitude, not to mention bitterness towards the Japanese.
According to some sources, Korea does have its own style of swordsmanship but it is little practised and mostly lost. The older style seems quite circular and often incorporates kicks and punches into the forms: it seems related to Kumdo only in that a sword is used. During the 15th century Japanese swords were imported in significant numbers; previously Korean swords had been straight and mostly double-edged. Most of the older texts which survive label the weapons used as “Japanese swords” but may have been showing older forms incorporating the more modern weapon.
Kendo is pretty much the same world-wide. Most dojos are governed by the International Kendo Federation (IKF), which grew from the Zen-Nippon Kendo Renmei (ZNKR, the All-Japan Kendo Federation). There is a second federation in Japan, not as popular, but the differences are more political than technical.
There used to be hundreds of kenjutsu ryu; only two dozen or so have survived and they are mostly very small organisations. One of the oldest is Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu. There is also Itto Ryu, from which much of modern kendo is derived. Here is a list of known surviving ryu compiled by Antony Karasulas and Satoshi Yokota:
- Abe Ryu
- Yagyu Shinkage Ryu
- Niten Ichi Ryu
- Mugai Ryu
- Jigen Ryu
- Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu
- Omori Ryu
- Katori Shinto Ryu
- Kashima Shinto Ryu
- Suio Ryu
- Muso Shinden Ryu
- Maniwa Nen Ryu
- Takenouchi Ryu
- Yagyu Shingan Ryu
- Tatsumi Ryu
- Shinkage Ryu
- Muraku Ryu
- Jikishinkage Ryu
- Hoki Ryu
- Ono-ha Itto Ryu
- Hokushin Ryu
- Nakanishi-ha Itto Ryu
- Tamiya Ryu
- Shindo Munen Ryu
- Itto Ryu
Iaido is the art of drawing and attacking with a sword. “Iai” is composed of the characters “i(ru)” (to be, to stay in, to sit, to remain seated) and “a(u)” (to come together, to meet, to harmonise). There is some debate among experts as to how and why the term “iai” came to refer to drawing the sword. One school of thought contends the terms originated with the practice of drawing the sword while seated, which had no practical value in traditional times, since samurai did not wear their long swords while seated. Another possibility is that “iai” was adopted for this purpose to connote the idea of handling an opponent instantly and without moving from the spot on which one is attacked.
Iaido is usually used to refer to mainstream iaido: the standard set of techniques proscribed by the Zen-Nippon Kendo Renmei (seitei-gata) or those proscribed by the Zen-Nippon Iaido Renmei (iaido toho). Iaidoka generally practice both those techniques and an accompanying koryu, usually either Muso Jikiden Eishen Ryu or Muso Shinden Ryu.
Iaidoka (and kendoka) wield a sword not to control their opponent, but to control themselves. Iaido is mostly performed solo as a series of kata, executing varied techniques against single or multiple imaginary opponents. Each kata begins and ends with the sword sheathed. In addition to sword technique, it requires imagination and concentration in order to maintain the feeling of a real fight and to keep the kata fresh. Iaidoka are often recommended to practice kendo to preserve that fighting feel; it is common for high ranking kendoka to hold high rank in iaido and vice versa.
In order to properly perform the kata, iaidoka also learn posture and movement, grip and swing. Sometimes iaidoka will practice partner kata similar to kendo or kenjutsu kata. Unlike kendo, iaido is never practised in a free-sparring manner.
Iaijutsu is another term for iaido. Some koryu call their iai iaido, others call it iaijutsu, depending on whether they feel the emphasis is personal development or practicality. Generally the term is used the same way as kenjutsu is, to differentiate an older set of techniques more focussed on the art of killing on the draw than improving the self. Practically what is called iaido and what is called iaijutsu are very close, aside from the technical differences that separate any koryu. Iaijutsu as a term is not used very often.
Seitei-gata iaido (that set of techniques recommended by the ZNKR) is like a moving meditation – the draw and cut are very deliberate, formalised and beautiful. The iai done by koryu can be more direct and forceful, less concerned with the state of the practitioner’s mind and more with dispatching the opponent. Iaido schools are generally affiliated with a particular koryu. In addition to the seitei-gata, students also learn their own ryu’s techniques, which may be close to the seitei-gata in feeling or close to what is thought of as iaijutsu. It’s not completely black and white.
Iai is like karate, it is a broad “method of combat” which involves drawing and cutting like karate involves kicking and punching. The various styles are just that, styles. The main thrust stays constant.
The most well-known ryu that calls part of its curriculum iaijutsu is the Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu. Katori Shinto Ryu is a sogo bujutsu ryu, meaning many types of armed and unarmed combat are taught. Another sogo bujutsu incorporating iaijutsu in its curriculum is Tatsumi Ryu. Most other so-called iaijutsu schools are run by charlatans.
Katori Shinto, Tatsumi and Shindo Munen Ryu are three of the oldest koryu extant today teaching iai. The other ryu listed here, and most of the ryu practised today come from a common root, the Muso Ryu of Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu. These include Sekiguchi Ryu, Hoki Ryu, Tamiya Ryu, Jushin Ryu, Suio Ryu and Ichinomiya Ryu.
The most popular (in terms of numbers of students) forms of iaido are represented by the Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu and the Muso Shinden Ryu. The iaido of the ZNKR is heavily based on these two schools, that of the ZNIR (Zen-Nippon Iaido Renmei, the All-Japan Iaido Federation) mostly based on the former. Most modern students belong to one of the two ryu, plus the ZNKR or ZNIR.
Toyama Ryu and Dai Nihon Batto Ho are offshoots of Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu, although Toyama Ryu is actually just a subset.
There are many other ryu, especially in Japan. This has been a partial listing of the most popular.
Again, *generally*, batto-jutsu is another word for iaijutsu, tameshi-giri is the art of physically cutting with the sword and shinkendo is fencing from a real sword perspective. However, hundreds of years ago, the various sword teachers called their arts by various names which all designated more or less complete curricula of sword technique. In other words, what one ryu called kendo (or iaijutsu, or kenjutsu, or batto-jutsu) in the 15th century is not the same as what we call kendo today – it would have incorporated techniques of fencing, drawing and cutting, as no swordsman would be sufficiently trained without all three skills.
Shinkendo today generally refers to Obata Toshishiro’s system of swordsmanship.
Studying swordsmanship in the late 20th century is not a practical matter. Unlike the various empty-handed arts, there is no direct application for self-defence. You are unlikely to whip out a katana or bokken when accosted in a dark alley. People start the study of swordsmanship for a variety of reasons. Those who study for a long time end up staying for two reasons: they enjoy the practice, and they feel they improve themselves through their practice. These things can be accomplished through kendo and iaido, in fact some might say they are more readily accomplished through the do forms, as that is their intent. Note that just because an art is labelled jutsu does not mean that there is no spiritual side to the training; that is a distinction that separates the most extreme sides to each style. If your interest is in accurate and realistic sword technique applications, then you may not be satisfied with kendo or iaido. Be aware that *qualified* instructors of kenjutsu or iaijutsu are extremely difficult to find. There are only a handful in North America, and a whole passle of charlatans.
The operative word here is “a”. Unless you’re lucky enough to be living in Japan or an area with a large Japanese community, there may only be one choice in your area, and it may be iaido rather than kendo, kendo rather than kenjutsu, and so forth. In North America, prime areas include: San Francisco, southern California, Seattle, New York City, Vancouver and Toronto.
Lists of dojos can be found on the web at the federation websites – see section 5. Bear in mind that the lists may not be complete or may be out of date. If there is nothing in your area or if the contact for your area is a dead end, contact the next closest dojo and ask for help.
If you are looking at a kendo dojo, they should be affiliated with the International Kendo Federation through the local federation. For example, dojos in Canada belong to a local federation such as the Ontario Kendo Federation, which is in turn a member of the Canadian Kendo Federation, which is a member organisation of the IKF. Dojos in the US are likewise linked through a regional federation such as the Pacific Northwest Kendo Federation to the All US Kendo Federation and then to the IKF
If you are looking at a iaido dojo, then a similar association through the IKF would be one sign of legitimacy, or else a link to the Zen Nippon Iaido Renmei. Not all iaido dojos belong to one of the two federations, though. In that case, you should ask what ryu (tradition or school) the dojo belongs to and what the instructor’s qualifications are.
For federation-affiliated kendo and iaido, ideally the instructor should be at least yondan (4th degree). But in some isolated areas that is not possible and you may find a junior person doing the best they can.
If you have your heart set on kenjutsu or iaijutsu you are probably out of luck. Instructors are few and far between. If you find a school, be cautious – there are frauds about. Be especially wary if a lot of money is being charged. Kendo and iaido instructors are always volunteer and most legitimate kenjutsu instructors work the same way. Another warning sign is if the kenjutsu classes are offered as one of many styles taught by the same school – “we teach karate, jujutsu, tai chi and kenjutsu at Bubba’s Black Belts”. Similar to unaffiliated iaido dojos, find out what the ryu is, what the instructor’s qualifications are and who his teacher is. If you get unsatisfactory answers or the questions are being dodged, don’t join.
Ask if you can observe a class – there should be no problem. When visiting a class, arrive early and stay for the entire class. If you have questions, ask them before class or save them for after class. Be polite.
At the rec.martial-arts FTP site, you can locate the Newbie Guide to the martial arts, which has some good generic advice on locating a dojo.
Why, yes there are.
If you are interested in more information on sword arts, subscribe to the iaido-l mailing list. Covering mostly iaido, kendo and sword collection, but also kenjutsu and iaijutsu, this excellent service comes to us courtesy of Kim Taylor and Johanna Botari. Send e-mail to:
with the only contents being:
SUBSCRIBE iaido-l Your Name
Wouldn’t hurt to have it in the subject either. Once you’re on, send mail to email@example.com to contribute. Please note that the “Your Name” part must be a two word name, not your e-mail address.
If you are interested in nihon-to specifically, there is the nihonto-l mailing list. Nihonto-l is available for those readers wishing to participate in discussions more related to craft, history, and collecting of Japanese Swords.
To subscribe to nihonto-l, please send e-mail to:
with no subject and the only contents being:
The list owner is Robert Cole, Shoshin@northcoast.com.
The list of web sites which cover Japanese sword arts is now too long to maintain here in the FAQ. Those sites related to suppliers can be found in the list of suppliers at the end of this FAQ. Here are a few key sites:
All United States Kendo Federation:
British Kendo Association:
Canadian Kendo Federation:
Australian Kendo Federation:
European Kendo Federation:
Zen-Nippon Kendo Renmei:
List of IKF Members:
Furyu Journal Online
Electronic Journals of Martial Arts and Sciences (EJMAS)
Japanese Sword Society of the United States
Saskatoon Kendo Club (the author’s webpage):
Kim Taylor’s links:
Tom Bolling’s Kendo Links (comprehensive)
The earliest swords known to exist in Japan were of Chinese style and origin and date to the 2nd century BC. These ancient swords are referred to as ken or tsurugi, depending on whether you use the sino-Japanese or Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese ideogram for sword or knife. From this term comes kendo, way of the sword, and kenjutsu, art of the sword. The first curved swords were also continental imports called kanto tachi, used during the 6th and 7th centuries. Japanese sword technology began to outstrip the continental blades around the 8th century, with the advent of the first Japanese curved swords. These swords were probably based on a second type of curved sword called a warabite-to.
There were no schools of swordsmanship in ancient times. Reference to the use of bokken (wooden sword) for fighting and training date back to 400 AD. This was followed by tachikaki, the art of drawing the sword. Tachikaki developed into tachiuchi (match with swords) by the 8th century, after which there was slow development in kenjutsu. Most scholars believe that by the early 15th century swordsmanship had acquired regional personality and formalised schools (ryuha) began to develop. This was part of a generalised trend of the times among Japanese arts of various sorts to formalise styles and lines of transmission,
Scholars have identified five such regional traditions in existence around the 15th century: that of the Kashima-Katori area, known as the Shinto-ryu or Kashima-no-tachi; that of the capital region, called the Kyoryu (“capital tradition”) or Kyohachi-ryu (“8 styles of the capital”); that of Hyuga region in Kyushu, called the Kage-ryu (“shadow style”); that of the Chujo family in the Kamakura area (the Chujo-ryu), and the Nen-ryu tradition of the north-east.
One of the pioneers in the early development of swordsmanship was Kamiizumi Ise-no-kami. He lived in the 16th century and is credited with the invention of the fukuro shinai, a bamboo sword split 16 or 32 ways and completely covered in leather.
Shinkage ryu is a family of many ryuha which still exist today, all claiming descent from Kamiizumi.
In the 17th century, Ittosai Ito Kagehisa achieved a reputation for peerless swordsmanship and deep-thinking philosophy. He named himself Ittosai (one sword man) and founded Itto-ryu, the one sword school. It still exists today and strongly influences modern kendo.
In the mid-18th century, Chuto Nakanishi developed the modern four- piece shinai and the kote (gloves). The do (chestplate) and men (helmet) followed, and by the end of the century, the practice armour and weapons had been refined into more or less the form they are used today. The new equipment required a new set of rules for the dojo, and the new style of fencing ultimately became known as kendo, although that specific term was not popularised until the early 1900s.
From 1868 through the 1880s the Meiji government tried to move Japanese society away from outdated arts like swordsmanship, closing traditional fencing academies and tightening restrictions on the wearing of swords in public, banning them outright in 1878. Kenjutsu was barely able to survive in this period. The Japanese police are credited with much of the effort in keeping swordsmanship alive during this period. In 1872 Sakibara Kenkichi was permitted to organise the Gekken Kaisha (Fencing Company) and hold public demonstrations and competitions. These proved popular, spawning a handful of other gekken groups. The involvement of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police in fencing promotions began in 1879; it was the police, who needed to establish standardised techniques and rules for training recruits, that took the biggest early steps away from old-style, ryuha-idiosyncratic swordsmanship and toward the homogenised sportive version of swordsmanship that eventually became modern kendo. In 1909, the first college kendo federation was formed, followed by the Zen-Nippon Kendo Renmei (ZNKR, All-Japan Kendo Federation) in 1928. This federation, along with the Zen-Nippon Iaido Renmei (ZNIR, All-Japan Iaido Federation), govern kendo and iaido today.
The above history of kendo/jutsu applies also to iaido/jutsu. In the latter half of the 15th century, Iizasa Ienao (also known as Iizasa Choisai) founded the Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu. This ryu, and in the early part of the 16th century, the Tatsumi Ryu and Takenouchi Ryu all taught drawing as a formal part of their curriculum. These ryu all claim to be among the earliest to develop such skills.
In the late 16th century, Shigenobu Jinsuke allegedly was divinely inspired to develop a new sword-drawing art. He renamed himself Hayashizaki after the inspirational place and founded the Shimmei Muso Ryu to teach his art, called batto-jutsu. He was one of the first to teach swordsmanship as a way for spiritual development. Popularly misidentified as the originator of iai-jutsu, his influence has been great. More than 200 ryu have been founded in the wake of Jinsuke’s inspiration and image, many of them named after him. Various headmasters in the line of Jinsuke’s teachings formed their own ryu. Among them were Shigemasa Tamiya (Tamiya Ryu), Kinrose Nagano (Muraku Ryu) and Eishin Hasegawa (Eishin Ryu), who were the 1st, 3rd and 7th headmasters descending from Jinsuke. At the 12th headmaster, the line splits into Shimomura-ha with Masuyori Hisanari and Tanimura-ha with Hayashi Masamori. The other ryu which branched out from the teachings of these and others are too numerous to mention here. Hakudo Nakayama, who lived at the beginning of the 20th century, studied Omori Ryu, Muraku Ryu and Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu and was experienced in all aspects of swordsmanship. He became the 16th successor to the Jinsuke/Eishin line (Shimomura-ha). He also studied Shindo Munen Ryu and Yamaguchi Itto Ryu. He went on to develop his own style, Muso Shinden Ryu batto-jutsu. Due to his diverse experience, the ryu boasted a bewildering array of techniques. He was asked to develop a simplified curriculum. He did so, and made the techniques available to all interested persons, largely kendoka. These forms of iai-jutsu, along with others, were gradually restyled as iaido in the late 40s. Oe Masamichi Shikei also lived at the turn of the century and was the 17th successor (Tanimura-ha). He formed Muso Jikiden Eishen Ryu. These two styles (MSR and MJER) make up the bulk of the iaido being practised today.
In 1967, the Zen-Nippon Kendo Renmei formed a committee to develop a standardised curriculum of study for iaido. This curriculum was to be recommended as study to students of kendo, who were losing touch with the dynamics of combat with real swords. Members of Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu, Muso Shinden Ryu and Hoki Ryu recommended a curriculum of seven kata that became known as the seitei gata. In 1977, another committee from the same ryu plus Tamiya Ryu added three more kata to the seitei gata. The seitei-gata iaido has the largest popular following in Japan and abroad. The Zen-Nippon Iaido Renmei was formed in 1948, and has done a great deal of work to promote iai-jutsu and iaido. It has its own autonomy and standards. Only a handful of ryu are represented by the major organisations; thus the hundreds of traditional iai-jutsu ryu did not contribute to the foundation of iaido. Classical iai-jutsu exists today but largely goes its separate way from iaido.
The top is called a keiko-gi, uwagi, kendo-gi or just gi. Technically uwagi is the correct term, but the others are all commonly (mis)used. It is a heavy, quilted cotton shirt with three-quarter length sleeves. The kendo-gi is very similar to the top of the judo uniform, but longer. Iaidoka usually wear a gi about the same weight as a karate uniform. Kenjutsuka and iaijutsuka may use kendo or iaido style uwagi or perhaps a kimono: there is no standard.
The bottom is called a hakama. It is a pleated, divided skirt (the modern term might be culottes, but that’s not strictly accurate) generally made of cotton or cotton-poly blend. The hakama are the same as aikidoka wear, except that kendo/iaido attaches no particular grade to the hakama. In my club, we let beginners wear them as soon as the footwork is solid enough that we don’t have to correct it constantly (the hakama hides the feet).
Traditionally in kendo, the hakama is black or indigo blue for men and white for women. The gi is blue or white. Iaidoka sometimes wear all black or all white regardless of sex. Children’s gi have a diamond-shaped line pattern on them. Most people wear all blue. A good quality Japanese gi is died with natural indigo, and so is the kendoka wearing it until the salt from sweat sets the dye. You can also cheat and wash a new gi in cold water and salt before wearing. 8a. Why do they wear hakama? Hakama and keiko-gi are robust versions of the formal samurai clothing of the 18th and 19th centuries. They are worn during sword practice, in preference to something like the clothes worn in karate, to emphasise the formality of occasion. Kendo or iaido training is meant to be more than just physical training, and the choice of clothes emphasises this. Additionally, the clothes add grace and dignity to an already graceful and dignified art.
From a practical standpoint, the hakama is cool and comfortable, allows easy movement and disguises the feet from the opponent.
1: Jin (benevolence)
2: Gi (justice)
3: Rei (manners)
4: Chi (wisdom)
5: Shin (faithfulness, trustfulness)
Seriously, there are as many as a half-dozen people involved in the construction of a sword. The swordsmith forges the actual blade. He starts usually with a special kind of traditional Japanese steel called tamahagane, and works with hammer and forge to fold it a number of times. There are two processes in general, one to make core steel (shinganae) and the other to make jacket steel (kawagane). Kawagane is folded more times and ends up being harder and less ductile than shinganae. In the most simple construction, a piece of kawagane is folded around a piece of shinganae to form a jacketed core. Thus the shinganae allows the sword to flex instead of breaking on impact, and the kawagane allows it to take the famous razor edge. More complicated construction methods can produce swords made of as many of 5 pieces of steel, all forged differently.
The folding process is used to closely control the uniformity and carbon content of the steel. An accomplished smith can tell by eye to within a tenth of a percent the carbon content of a piece of steel.
When the basic blank has been constructed, the smith will continue to work what is essentially a metal bar into the shape of the sword. When the forging is done, the blade is the correct length, curvature and general shape, but lacks a finish and certain of the various edges and features. The smith will then use coarse polishing stones to further define the blade before passing it onto the polisher. The polisher uses successive grades of stone to finish the blade. The polisher is responsible for the famous edge, but that is only one part of his job. His real job is to bring out the beauty of the smiths art. Properly polished, the complexity of the construction is revealed. Improperly polished, the blade is ruined. A woodcarver makes a saya (scabbard) for the sword. Each saya is custom carved out of wood from the ho tree. The actual blade is required, as the carver will use it as a template to make a properly fitting saya.
A jeweller makes the habaki, the small but critical metal piece which is constructed to fit exactly on the blade next to the tang, and provide the snug friction fit which keeps the blade from rattling in the saya.
Further craftsmen make the finishings. There can be separate craftsmen for the tsuka (handle), tsuba (handguard) and menuki (hilt ornaments).
It depends on the smith. Shinganae is generally folded about 10 times, resulting in about a 1000 layers. Kawagane is folded anywhere from 12 to 16 times, depending on the smith and the metal he is working with, and so could have from 4000 to 65000 layers.
Generally, the swords are classified by length. A daito is a sword with a blade longer than two shaku ( shaku = 11.9 inches ). A wakizashi is between one and two shaku in length, and a tanto is less than one shaku.
There are lots of other names. The most common one, katana, refers to the style most people have seen, a daito which is worn stuck through the obi (belt) with the edge up. A tachi is an older style, slightly longer and more curved, worn slung on cords with the edge down, usually used in a cavalry style. A nodachi is a bigger tachi, with a very long handle, worn slung over the back for battlefield application. A kodachi is a smaller tachi. A wakizashi is also a short sword, although of a newer style (kodachi is often used as a generic term for short sword, and so may also be used to refer to a wakizashi). A chokuto, or ken, is a very old style straight sword.
The length of a Nihon-To is measured from the back of the tip in a straight line to the mune-machi (which is where the back of the blade fits into the habaki). Since some blades have more or less sori (curve) than others, the measurement is done in a straight line for simplicity and commonality. A sword with a lot of sori would be actually longer if you followed the shinogi, for example, than a sword without much sori. But in the final result, they both reach the same distance away from the swordsman. The handle is not included because it doesn’t matter how long the handle is.
For record keeping purposes there are several different measurements made on the blade to give a more complete description. Besides the length of the blade, the length of the tang is measured, the width of the blade at the machi (where the blade meets the tang), the width at the yokote (defining line between tip and blade), the thickness at the mune machi and the yokote, and the length of the kissaki (tip).
The usual weapon used in Kendo is the shinai. It is constructed of 4 pieces of split bamboo. The tip of the shinai is covered in leather; the four staves are held apart by a t-shaped piece of rubber. The staves are held together at the opposite end by a long leather handle. The handle is round rather than oval like a real katana. A leather lace tied in a complicated knot about a third of the way from the tip keeps the staves from spreading too far apart. A string runs down one stave -it signifies the dull edge, or back of the sword. The split construction allows the staves to both flex and compress against each other, absorbing much of the energy of the blow. Attacks which miss the armour cause bruises; nothing more. Poorly maintained shinai can be dangerous – bamboo shinai must be checked and sanded regularly to avoid splinters, and oiled or waxed to help prevent drying out and subsequent breakage. For this reason carbon fibre shinai have become popular. Although expensive and less lively-feeling compared to bamboo, they are virtually maintenance free and last for years. Also, carbon fibre shinai may be purchased with an oval grip, which many people prefer. Previously, only expensive hand-made bamboo shinai had oval grips.
More advanced kendoka use bokken, or wooden swords. Bokken are usually constructed of white Japanese oak, although they can be made of a variety of exotic hardwoods. They are curved and sized like a katana, and the handle is about the same length and oval. Kenjutsu is often practised with bokken, and in fact kendoka use bokken to practice the kendo kata, which are derived from kenjutsu.
Iaidoka at lower ranks use iaito, which are dull katana. A good iaito at the least has a proper handle with rayskin and cord grip and is constructed strongly enough so as not to be a danger in practice. The more expensive a iaito gets, the more closely it’s construction mirrors that of a good sharp sword (shinken). Kendo kata swords are like iaito, but a little heavier and capable of withstanding the blows received in the course of the kata. Kenjutsu is sometimes practised with these. Sharp katana, or shinken, are real Japanese swords. Iaidoka in the ZNKR are required to take their 5th dan exam using a shinken; advanced kenjutsu practice uses them.
Shinai are not ready for use when brand new. They must be taken apart, sanded and oiled to make them safe for use in practice. Additionally, staves which are splintered or damaged from use should be repaired or replaced. Here’s some instructions for doing so:
Untie the string (or tsuru) at the handle and pull the tsukagawa (leather handle) off. Hold the staves together with one hand while you do this, and before you separate them mark the butt ends so you know which is top, bottom, left, right. Then pull off the sakigawa (leather tip) and nakayui (the fancy knot in the middle) along with the tsuru.
NOTE: there’s usually no need to untie any knots other than the one at the handle – make sure you undo the string there, not the leather! However, from time to time, as the nakayui works loose it should be retied as one of its functions is to retain large splinters within the shinai body rather than to allow them to protrude.
The sakigawa, nakayui and string all slip off the end together. There’s a rubber t-shaped thing called the sakigomi that separates the staves at the tip, it may come off with the sakigawa or you may have to pull it out. Inside the handle portion of the bamboo, there’s a little metal square that fits into some notches. Don’t lose it, it helps keep the staves in the proper position relative to each other.
Once you’ve got it all apart, take some sanding paper and smooth over the edges of the staves where they meet and rub against each other. You’ll note that they are fairly sharp when new. You don’t have to do a lot of sanding – 2 or 3 strokes should do it. The purpose is to make the staves move smoothly past one another without binding or generating splinters. I like to use a foam sanding block for this job, but anything with a medium-fine grit should work. You can also get special tools from Japan, I have a combination file/plane that works very nicely.
Once that’s done, lay the staves down on some paper towels in your basement or something (somewhere that spilled oil won’t matter) and oil them. I like to lay them outside down, so that the concave inner surface is up. Then I fill the concave surface with oil. A light oil is best, like sewing machine oil or gun oil (without bluing), but you can use vegetable oil like Mazola. There’s also commercial oils available from Japan. Anyway, if you use a light oil let the staves soak for at least 5 days, if you use vegetable oil let them soak for 3 days. Oversoaking with the light oil isn’t a problem, but too long with the vegetable oil can leave them heavy and soggy. Check each day and if the oil has been absorbed add a little more. When they’re done soaking, wipe off the excess oil and reassemble.
A faster alternative is to hand rub the oil into the take… be careful that there are absolutely no splinters if you chose to do this… there shouldn’t be anyway. Take a cloth lightly soaked in oil and rub the take on all sides to help them absorb the oil.
Check your shinai for cracks and splinters before, after and during each class. Small splinters can be sanded out. Follow the same procedure for disassembling and reassembling your shinai.
Cracks and larger splinters should not be repaired. Save the take from shinai that have been damaged. By carefully selecting from among them, you can rescue a damaged shinai by substituting the spare take which fits best. Repaired take have been known to cause serious injury.
If you are at the stage of your practice when you are hitting a real target (another shinai or a motodachi in bogu) then you should have two shinai in case one breaks during class.
In addition, to distribute the wear over all of the take as evenly as possible, from time to time ‘rotate’ the take (unless you have one of those fancy dobari kobun tsuka [the ones with the oval cross section]). To rotate the take, undo the tsuru knot where it ties to the tsukagawa. Slide the nakayui slightly upwards (towards the sakigawa). Rotate the sakigawa and nakayui 1/4 turn to the right (left if you prefer just go the same direction each time), pull the tsukagawa part-way off to loosen it and rotate it 1/4 turn in the same direction. Reseat the nakayui and tsukagawa and retie the knot.
The purpose of all this is for safety and durability. Shinai come from a climate which is much more humid than North America or many parts of Europe, and so it is necessary to oil them to prevent breakage and splintering. Unoiled shinai will tend to splinter more, break sooner and thus be more dangerous and cost you more money. Properly maintained, a bamboo shinai can last as long as a year.
Itto shinai standards:
|Age||Max. Length||Min. Weight Men||Women|
|<=15||114 cm||425 g||400 g|
|16-18||117 cm||470 g||410 g|
|>=19||120 cm||500 g||420 g|
Nito shinai standards:
|Shinai||Max. Length||Min. Weight Men||Women||Max. Weight Men||Women|
|Daito||114 cm||425 g||425 g||–||–|
|Shoto||62 cm||280 g||250 g||300 g||280 g|
The armour protects the head, throat, wrists and abdomen; these are the only legal targets. The helmet is called a men. An oval steel cage protects the face; a throat guard extends down from the cage and provides the “tsuki” target – about 3″ by 4″. Padding for the top of the head, ears and shoulders is attached to the cage. Traditionally the padding would be horse hair but modern bogu uses a thick felt. The padding is covered with cotton fabric and compressed with close stitching. The whole affair is tied on with long woven strings. The “men” target is the top of the head, from corner to corner, as it were. A cotton towel called a tenugui is worn under the men for comfort and to soak up the sweat. Tenugui are printed with a design, usually kanji, and given as souvenirs. Equipment manufacturers also give them as promotional items.
The tare, also of felt and cloth construction, protects the hip and groin. There is no legal target on the tare. Usually the tare will have the kendoka’s name and dojo affiliation displayed (this is a requirement for tournament competition) on the main flap via an embroidered cover called a zekken.
Overlapping the tare is the chest protector, called the do. The do is constructed of from 48 to 64 bamboo staves, covered in leather and lacquered. Cheap ones are fibreglass. The do protects the entire front of the chest, and extends around the sides to protect from roughly the hip bone to the first couple of ribs. The abdominal portion of the do is the “do” target. The portion covering the heart (called the mune) becomes a legal “tsuki” target in certain positions.
The kote protect the hands and wrists. The backs of the hands and knuckles are covered in heavy padding with a leather exterior. The portion of the kote covering the wrists is constructed like the men padding. The palms are covered with a layer of leather. They look like boxing gloves crossed with medieval gauntlets.
A decent used set (if you can find one) might cost $US200. The minimum you could expect to pay for a set from Japan you would be happy with for some years would be $US600 (5 mm with fibreglass do, discounted 50% from list). Cheaper Taiwanese sets could be had for about $US400, but the money would be better put towards a good Japanese set. At the high end, complete sets can be $US10,000 or more.
Fortunately, many clubs have old sets of armour available to loan or rent. If they did not do so, they would have trouble attracting new students. Sooner or later you will be expected to shell out.
The futon is the padding on the kote barrel, top of the men and tare which may be hand or machine-stitched. Machine-stitching is at the low end. Quality is largely determined by how far the rows are apart, the closer the better (and more expensive). 8mm is OK for little kids, 6 mm might work for older kids, 5 mm is bare minimum for adults, 4 mm is a decent adult set, 3 mm is a good adult set, 2.5 or 2 mm is the high end of machine stitching.
Hand-stitching is the next level. Hand stitching is measured in bu, 1 bu is about 3mm. 2.5 bu is the low end, and hardly worth it. 1.5 bu is the preferred choice for many people. Stitching as tight as 1 bu is available: some people like it, other people find it too hard and difficult to break in. The hand-stitching process allows the padding to be much harder than machine stitching, so a 1 bu hand-stitched is way harder than 3 mm machine.
There’s varying qualities of hand-stitching, you can use a triangular needle or a round needle and there’s a couple flavours of stitching patterns. The triangular needle makes the stitching process easier (thus faster and cheaper) but the edges of the needle cut and weaken the cloth. Round needles do a better job but are much harder to get through the cloth, therefore the cost is higher. You can also stitch using a triangular shape or a square shape like so:
/\ /\ | | | |
/ \/ \ VS | |__| |
The second style is called nagazashi and is a little more complex than the drawing above but you get the general idea. I’m not sure what the triangular style is called, but obviously it uses less thread and is quicker. The nagazashi style makes better little pads, makes the tension on the thread even and thus less likely to break, and does not unravel even if the thread breaks.
You can use various grades of cotton and leather. At the low end, they use mostly cotton with a little leather and synthetic leather where they can get away with it. As they move up, they start to use better cotton and more leather. A cheap kote has cowskin palm, and the “head” or the part over the knuckles is part cotton, part leather. Better kote have a head completely covered in leather, better still have deerskin palm (more flexible, doesn’t tend to get as stiff with use), top end use very high quality leather and reinforce high wear areas with more leather. Same for the men and tare. At the high end, you’ll see leather at the top of the flaps of the tare and on top of the men, and of course the corner reinforcements will be high quality leather, not synthetic (or even non-existent on the low end).
As you move up the line, the men-gane gets of better quality. At the low end, it’s steel and at the high end it’s titanium, and in between there’s several grades of alloy that are used.
At the low low end for kids, they’re plastic. As you move up, they move into fibreglass and then eventually bamboo. You can get 43, 50 or 60 slat doh, the more slats the better. The quality of the construction varies a lot, and also the quality of the materials, including the bamboo, leather, lacquer and stitching used.
The quality of the decoration is usually built into the price structure. At the low end, there’s not much for nice finishing details, and the choice of colours is limited to 1 or maybe 2. As you move up the ladder, they offer you more choices of stitching styles and colours, and also styles of mune (the top part of the doh). At the very high end, you can specify exactly what you want, send them a picture and they’ll do it for you. The doh-dai (the contact area of the doh) finish is black by default, and at the high end the default is roiro, a super-high quality black lacquer finish. You can also pay extra to get various lacquer colours, textured finishes, wood finishes (cherry is very very nice) or sharkskin.
A 3 or 4 mm machine stitched bogu works just fine, there isn’t any real need to go better than that, unless you want to. Problem being, after a while most people want to. The nice stuff is really nice, and it does work better, there’s just a point of diminishing returns. After you get the 1.5 or 1.2 bu nagazashi-stitched with round needle with titanium men and 60 slat doh, you’ve pretty much hit the top as far as function goes, any more money to be spent goes on all-round quality or just making it prettier. Regarding the all-round quality: most bogu are assembled in Japan out of parts made elsewhere, and it shows. 10 years ago this wasn’t the case and the quality was much higher. At the high end, you’re still buying stuff entirely made in Japan, and that’s part of why the price is so high.
The most common style of tying the men has the himo attaching to the fourth bar from the bottom, then looping around the back, through the top and back again. This is called the Kanto style after the region where it is popular. The second style sometimes seen has the himo attached to the top, looping around the back, wrapping around the nodo, then back and through the top again before finally coming back to be tied. This is called the Kansai style after the region where it is popular. Kanto is the eastern, Tokyo side and Kansai is the western side including Kyoto, Osaka and Kyushu. I’ve used both styles: Kansai is stronger but takes longer to tie. Either works well.
Kendo and iaido probably have a lower rate of injury than most martial arts. Kendoka rarely incur injuries worse than a bruise, although there are exceptions of course. Iaidoka have to be extremely careful, especially with shinken (sharp swords), but in general don’t get injured very often. Both kendo and iaido are subject to the usual range of strains and soreness to be expected in any sport.
The common injuries in kendo are associated with the feet and ankles. The Achilles tendon can be torn, and it is also possible tear the Plantar Fasia muscle (the tensioning muscle on the bottom of the foot). Both injuries can be prevented with a proper stretching program. Less serious but more common is a bruised heel, caused by improper fumikomi-ashi (stamping attack step).
The most common injury in iaido is a cut or pierced left hand. A careless draw with a shinken is likely to severely cut the base of the left thumb. A careless noto (sheathing of the sword) can pierce the hand, even with an iaito.
Iaidoka and kendoka share the hazard of tripping over the hakama, which can cause the usual variety of injuries from falling on a hard surface. Some kendoka and iaidoka can incur chronic wrist injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, from overuse. These are further aggravated if the practitioner also does some other wrist-aggravating activity, such as typing or playing the piano.
A common problem in Iaido is “tennis elbow”. This is a pain on the outer side of the forearm muscles, just below or inside the elbow joint. A related problem is “carpal tunnel syndrome” where the other ends of these muscles go under a strap of tissue onto the back of the hand. By using your thumb you can usually find a couple of very painful spots on the elbow, press in and hold or press in and apply friction to all that you can find. Stretch this muscle group by putting your thumb (palm facing out) on your knee and roll your elbow inward with your arm straight. This technique works for both injuries. A pain in the wrist may sometimes be helped by icing the elbow since the pain of a swelled muscle here may be “referring” down into the wrist.
Author’s note: I would like to expand this section. Contributions regarding common injuries and prevention schemes appreciated.
A correct shinai blow which lands on target, i.e. on the armour, doesn’t hurt. You know you’ve been hit, but there is no pain. A heavy handed cut driven by too much muscle, a typical beginner’s stroke, can hurt a bit, more so if the armour is old and soft. The shinai itself is designed to flex and absorb the blow. A cut which misses the armour causes no worse than a bruise, although it certainly can hurt at the time.
Kendo is strongly organised, with most kendo governed by a single federation in each country receiving direction from the International Kendo Federation (which grew from the Japanese organisation, the Zen- Nippon Kendo Renmei, or ZNKR). Iaido is usually affiliated with either the IKF/ZNKR or the Zen-Nippon Iaido Renmei (ZNIR).
Kendo and iaido have a pretty consistent nine dan system of ranking. Dojo-dan are not allowed – you must grade in front of a committee. A typical committee for first dan would be six or more people ranked fifth dan or higher. Often, bigger committees are used for higher ranks, if enough qualified people are available. For IKF-affiliated organisations, responsibility for conferring the ranks rests with each member country, but every other country is bound to recognise ranks awarded by member countries.
Kyu (“coloured belts”) are given to children as incentives, but not usually adults. If kyu are given, they may start at tenth or more usually sixth and advance up to first. Dan then start at first and advance up to nine. No outward indication of rank is usually worn, although some federations give small coloured patches to sew on the shoulder for kids. Shodan can be accomplished in 2 or 3 years for a persistent and reasonably talented person. A dojo’s head instructor in North America should be at least fourth dan; many are fifth or sixth dan.
Teaching certificates are awarded in addition to rank. Each certificate has a requirement that the recipient be of a minimum rank and age and are awarded for excellence in instruction and/or contribution to the art.
Kyu from 10 to 1: jukyu, kukyu, hachikyu, nanakyu, rokyu, gokyu, yonkyu, sankyu, nikkyu, ikkyu.
Dan from 1 to 9: shodan, nidan, sandan, yondan, godan, rokudan, nanadan, hachidan, kudan.
Teaching certificates from lowest to highest: renshi, kyoshi, hanshi.
The older schools (koryu) did not have dan ranks – they are a modern invention. Instead, they used certificates of merit. There is virtually no standardisation or commonality. Two common terms are menkyo-kaiden, referring to “graduates”, and kirigami for a first rank. Many ryu consider the ranks as levels of initiation which have no parallel to dan and kyu. Still others broke the ranks down simply as student and teacher, of possibly various levels.
For now, this answer is restricted to kendo as adjudicated by the Canadian Kendo Federation. Iaido has different test requirements but the comments on experience and ability are still fair. Different countries have differing examination requirements but they are roughly similar.
For kendo, the rank test consists of 3 parts: kata (two-person forms), kiri-kaeshi (diagonal cutting exercise) and ji-geiko (free sparring). For ranks below ikkyu, the kata is dropped. Kids below ikkyu do kakari-geiko (controlled attacking practice) instead of ji-geiko.
Here’s the kata requirements and minimum time/usual pass time between ranks:
|Rank||Kata required||Min. time since last exam||Usual time since last exam|
|ikkyu||tachi 1-3||–||after 1 year of practice|
|shodan||tachi 1-5||3 months||1 year|
|nidan||tachi 1-7||1 years||2 years|
|sandan||all||2 years||2-3 years|
|yondan||all||3 years||3-5 years|
|godan||all||4 years||6-7 years|
|rokudan||all||5 years||Sometimes never…|
I’m not sure of the time for nanadan and hachidan, but they still require an exam. Kudan is granted without examination. Tachi no kata is done with both people holding a long sword (tachi), kodachi no kata is with one holding a long sword and the other holding a short sword (kodachi). Aside from the number of kata changing, the exam is the same for all ranks. It takes less than half an hour. What changes is what the judges are looking for. There’s a panel of judges. In Canada, we need at least 5 judges of godan or higher to award shodan, unless special dispensation is received.
Here’s the rough ability levels associated with rank:
|shodan||beginner with solid basics|
|nidan||starting to understand a little bit about kendo|
|sandan||intermediate, able to instruct beginners|
Rokudan is the usual top rank for dedicated amateur players – I guess you could call it a master level, but we don’t use that terminology. Nanadan is a very high level instructor, usually a professional (like a police instructor, high school or college coach in Japan). Hachidan is superhuman. Every year, about 1500 nanadan candidates try the hachidan exam in Japan. The pass rate is usually about 1%. These are all famous guys – tournament champions and so forth, but the hachidan exam is very rigorous.
Competition is not the be-all and end-all of kendo. Many people practice kendo with little or no tournament experience. Many sensei discourage focusing on tournaments, and specifically discourage degrading technique to a tournament-oriented style.
Having said that, competition is a big part of kendo. Herein is a brief description of tournament rules.
A match is held in a square area from 9 to 11 metres a side. A match is adjudicated by a referee (shimpan) and two corner judges. Scoring is best two of three points, similar to traditional karate. Matches are usually 5 minutes long for men, 3 minutes for women and juniors. If the score is tied at the end of regulation time, sudden-death overtime periods (ensho) are held.
The four legal targets in kendo are the men (top of the head), do (abdomen), kote (wrist) and tsuki (throat). The official regulations contain pages of directives as to what comprises a point, but the two most important things are: ki-ken-tai-ichi and zanshin.
Ki-ken-tai-ichi means mind, sword and body as one. The cut is not only with the sword, but also with the body and the mind. In practical terms, the shinai must accurately strike the target at the same time as the body weight comes down onto the leading foot (accompanied by a loud stamping sound) and the targets name is yelled (kiai).
Zanshin literally means the heart that remains. In practice, it means to be in a state of physical and mental readiness; to be in such a position to continue the attack; to be sufficiently alert so as to not be in danger of attack. In practical terms this means following through after the cut and ending up in the correct posture, obviously alert and ready to fight.
In addition to individual matches, team matches are held in which teams (usually 5, but sometimes 3 or 7) of opponents fight each other, one pair of opponents at a time. The team with the most wins, wins. If the number of wins is tied, then the contest goes to the team with the most points scored. If that is tied, a tie-breaker match is held between the team captains. For team of five, the names of the positions (from lead through captain) are: Sempo, Jiho, Chuken, Fukusho, Taisho.
The world championships are held every three years. Although not the premier event in kendo (it is roughly fourth behind the All-Japan Championships, the All-Japan Policeman’s Championship and the All- Japan College Championships) it is the premier event for non-Japanese.
Note: Kendo tournaments are single knockout, therefore third place is always a tie.
|Location, Year||Place||Team result||Individual Result|
|1||Japan||M. Kobayashi (Japan)|
|2||Taiwan||T. Toda (Japan)|
|3||Brazil||Y. Taniguchi (Japan)|
|3||Okinawa||T. Ohta (Japan)|
|2nd WKC |
San Francisco, USA
|1||Japan||T. Sakuragi (Japan)|
|2||Canada||H. Yano (Japan)|
|3||USA||J.R. Rhee (Korea)|
|3||Hawaii||T .Fujita (Japan)|
Milton Keynes, England
|1||Japan||E .Yokoo (Japan)|
|2||Canada||K .Ono (Japan)|
|3||USA||C-T .Wu (Taiwan)|
|3||Taiwan||R .Hosoda (Japan)|
|4th WKC |
|1||Japan||H .Yamada (Japan)|
|2||Korea||K .Furukawa (Japan)|
|3||USA||H .Aikawa (Japan)|
|3||Hawaii||K .Terada (Japan)|
Sao Paulo, Brazil
|1||Japan||M .Makita (Japan)|
|2||Brazil||T .Kosaka (Japan)|
|3||USA||H .Yasugahira (Japan)|
|3||Korea||T .Okajiwa (Japan)|
|6th WKC |
|1||Japan||K .Koda (Japan)|
|2||Brazil||H .Ogawa (Japan)|
|3||Korea||K.N .Kim (Korea)|
|3||Canada||J.C .Park (Korea)|
|7th WKC |
|1||Japan||I .Okido (Japan)|
|2||Korea||A .Hayashi (Japan)|
|3||Canada||H .Sakata (Japan)|
|3||Brazil||K.N .Kim (Korea)|
|8th WKC |
|1||Japan||S .Muto (Japan)|
|2||Korea||H .Sakata (Japan)|
|3||Taiwan||S .Shimizu (Japan)|
|3||Canada||M .Yamamato (Japan)|
|9th WKC |
|1||Japan||H .Takahashi (Japan)|
|2||Korea||K .Takei (Japan)|
|3||Canada||N .Eiga (Japan)|
|3||Taiwan||S .Hirano (Japan)|
|10th WKC |
|1||Japan||M .Miyazaki (Japan)|
|2||Korea||F .Miyazaki (Japan)|
|11th WKC |
Santa Clara, USA
|1||Japan||N .Eiga (Japan)|
|2||Korea||K .Takenaka (Japan)|
|3||Canada||S.-S. Hong (Korea)|
|3||Brazil||T. Someya (Japan)|
|11th WKC |
Santa Clara, USA
|1||Japan||T. Kawano (Japan)|
|2||Brazil||K. Baba (Japan)|
|3||USA||S. Asahina (Japan)|
|3||Canada||H. Yano (Japan)|
This section only briefly touches on the main issues involved in purchasing a nihon-To (Japanese-Sword). The topics of swordsmith, dating, value and type are too complex for inclusion here – books only give a generalisation in 100+ pages.
Your best weapon is information. Join the Japanese Sword Society of the United States (JSS/US). Take your time to find out who the reputable dealers are and deal with them only – the JSS/US can help you out here. Study and look at a lot of blades first, before buying. Find a trusted advisor/collector to assist you. Buy and read John Yumoto’s Book: The Samurai Sword – A Handbook. You will find it invaluable. Read other Japanese sword books.
Note the following definitions:
Blade: the steel blade only – no fittings (handle/guard/scabbard/etc.). Sword: includes the blade & all fittings.
Note that all prices given are in US dollars, and are approximate. Your mileage may definitely vary.
If you are looking for an antique sword, the starting point is about $500 for a relatively new (20th century) blade, rising up to $5-50k for good swords by well-known smiths, and $100k+ for famous swords by famous smiths. For a decent working sword, expect to part with at least $1, 000.
If you buy an antique, it may need polishing. A reasonable minor touch-up polish may cost about $10 to $20 per inch of blade length from a US polisher. A major polish by a US polisher may run $30 to $50 per inch. Your prices may vary. Blade length is measured from the tip (kissaki) to the back notch (mune-machi) where the blade collar (habaki) stops against the blade.
If you want to buy a newly made Japanese sword, the starting point is about $2, 000 for an OK blade only, through about $10, 000 for a good blade to $50k+ for a blade by one of the top smiths. Note that these prices are just for the blade. If you are buying a new blade, you will need to buy fittings – the tsuka and all its pieces, the tsuba and a saya. Expect to pay about $700 minimum for everything, more if you want real artwork.
If you want a iaito, you can get a complete sword including fittings and saya for anywhere from $300 to $2000. Cheaper ones are available but are considered dangerous as the handle may break.
If you are buying an antique sword, you may get only the blade or you may need to repair/replace some of the fittings. Both antique and replica parts are available. Antique tsuba cost $75 to $300+; replica brass $30 to $50, and replica iron/silver tsuba $90 to $120+.
Antique grip aids (menuki) cost $50 to $150+; replicas $20 to $30 for brass, $50 for silver/gold plated silver. Antique handle front and butt piece (fuchi/kashira) cost $75 to $200+; replicas $50 to $100.
A beat up saya can be fixed. Horn pieces are about $15 each, metal parts are also available. A simple black water-based lacquer paint job is about $100. A new saya in simple black lacquer made for your blade costs about $150 to $300. Antique blades may need new silk or leather handle cord (tsuka-ito), costs about $120 for materials and labour for a good job.
The availability of Japanese Swords in the US is due primarily to large numbers of swords brought back by GIs after W.W.II. As such, the quality varies all over the place – from excellent old Koto blades to late W.W.II machine made pieces of steel.
Japanese swords can be found at major gun shows. There are also annual Japanese Sword Shows in San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas and Florida, among other places. Major auction houses often have auctions featuring Japanese blades.
At auctions, sometime good buys can be found on the last day, or in “off/odd” lots – not featured in the catalogue. Inspect every blade at the preview. Learn what is good, and also the actual “hammer price” the blade sold for.
Sword clubs, especially the Japanese Sword Society of the US (JSS/US) can help put you in touch with sellers. The JSS/US newsletter has advertisements from various dealers and polishers. Addresses for sword clubs are found elsewhere in this FAQ.
Nosyuiaido is a firm that specializes in matching customers with newly-made Japanese swords. Try www.nosyuiaido.com.
Learn, learn, learn. Join the JSS/US. Read Yumoto. Read him again. Read him a third time. Read other sources of information. As in any other consumer exchange, it’s possible/likely for you to get burned. Find a knowledgeable mentor you can trust to help you.
Curved Japanese blades were made from the 900s to today. Age of blade by itself is not indicative of quality – there are many periods in Japan when swords were cranked out in high volume to meet war-time conditions. Don’t buy a crummy blade because the polish job looks good or the fittings/wrap looks good. Focus on the blade itself first. Know the age of the blade – a lot of recent (19th/20th century) blades are passed off as old blades. Learn the terminology of eras of swordmaking (Koto, Shinto, Shin-Shinto, Showa-to, Gendai-to, Gunto, etc. ).
The order of consideration is #1 blade, #2 polish, #3 fittings, #4 scabbard and #5 handle. In addition to all this, if the blade is to be a working blade for iaido, tameshi-giri or whatever, it must fit you and be suited to the purpose.
When examining blades, ask first! Don’t touch the blade with your fingers, the salts & moisture on your hands can cause fingerprint rust marks on the blade – major faux pas! Don’t touch the edge to see if it’s sharp. Again, you may rust the blade and you may also severely cut yourself (much less important than damaging a valuable blade). Don’t breath on the blade either! Treat every blade with respect – for the maker, the present owner and the blade itself. The Japanese sword was often called “the Soul of a Samurai”.
Inspecting the sword – always hold the sword by both the tsuka and saya when picking it up for the first time. Hold it horizontally, as the saya/habaki fit may be very loose or the wood/bamboo handle pin (mekugi) may be loose or missing; check first. Inspect all exterior fittings first, do they match in design/ age? To remove the blade from the saya, hold the sword by the tsuka with one hand, cutting edge up, either horizontally or vertically, and separate the blade and saya – sliding on the mune only. This minimises/eliminates putting scratches on the sides of the blade. Examine the blade (length, curve, style, hamon, defects, feel, etc.). If you are still interested in the blade, have the owner remove the tsuka – handles can often be ill-fitting, or in the case of Gunto (W.W.II) mounts, have a lot of spacers (seppa) and miscellaneous hardware.
Many of the W.W.II blades are machine made single bars of steel. Some Navy blades are stainless steel with faked (via polishing) temper lines. A few blades will have engraving (horimono) – it was often done by machine to primarily W.W.II blades after the war for GIs, a dragon chasing a flaming pearl being a popular example. Engraving can also be used to hide flaws in the blade. Many of the W.W.II blades were crudely made, using machines and non-swordsmith workers. Are the lines straight on the blade? Does the main line (shinogi) waver about?
For terminology of age and features, be sure and read Yumoto. Look for defects, chips, fissures, etc. Check the temper/hardening line (hamon) on both sides and in the tip area carefully. The hamon tells a lot about the blade, study Yumoto and others to understand what it is saying. The steels used in the 20th century for mass production of Japanese blades are such that flashy looking hamon can be made on poor quality blades. Check the grain of the blade – again, some very flashy, large grain (contrasting layers) blades are sometimes of poor quality. Hamon questionable or no grain visible? Hold your breath and your wallet!
Does the line in the tip area (ko-shinogi) match the tip cutting edge (fukura) in shape? If not, this is a clue that the point was reshaped after a chip or break. Look down the mune from the tsuba. Bent blades may have been straightened, you may see zigzags (major or minor) or “stretch marks” on the sides of the blade. If the blade looks questionable, don’t buy it.
Look at the tang (nakago). Signature(s) may mean everything or nothing. A famous name signature may turn out to be the 7th generation son of the famous maker or a forgery. Go to a trusted expert to understand the signature (or lack of it) and its meaning.
The polish job on the blade is the second consideration. A good polish job will show the grain of the blade without being bright shiny. If the whole blade is like a mirror, chances are someone has been using Semi-Chrome(tm) polish on the blade to make it look good. If you can’t see the grain or the hamon or the hamon fades in and out it, it may be a good blade with a bad polish. Or it may be a “tired” blade – polished out with the core steel showing. Or it may be just a bad blade (poor workmanship/materials) with a bad polish.
The mountings on the blade are the third consideration. Be aware that replica tsuba, menuki, fuchi/kashira, etc. can be treated to look antique. This is OK as long as you are aware of what you are getting. The saya is the fourth. A beat-up saya can be repaired or replaced fairly cheaply, unless it is very fancy. Last is the handle. Again, a poor handle can be re-wrapped or remade.
Quality of the blade aside, you must find one that fits you. Many katana for sale in the US are relatively short, (around 24-26 in. – measured along the top from the kissaki to mune-machi) as the longer katana are often valued by collectors/users.
If you are of typical non-Asian height (5’10”-6′), look for a 26″ to 29″ blade length. Hold the handle with right hand at front next to the tsuba, and carefully let the blade hang down at your side, arm relaxed. Don’t let the tip hit the floor or you’ve just bought a blade with a bent or broken tip! A correct length blade should come close to, but not touch the floor.
Hold the sword with both hands, without saya (scabbard). It should feel good to you, live and natural, not dead, like you’re holding just a bar of steel. This is a very subjective feeling. If you are going to do any tameshi-giri (test cutting), you should be buying a heavier blade. Also, a fine polish job is probably not your greatest concern for tameshi-giri. If the blade is to be used primarily for iaido, it should be light, yet not too light. You’re not swinging a bokuto, a sword has some substance to it!
Yes. A moderate curvature seems best in that it is easier to draw and sheath. An extremely straight sword forces the iaido practitioner to over stretch when drawing the blade. A sword with extreme curvature (mostly older tachi blades in katana mounts) is likewise awkward to draw. A medium point (chu-kissaki) is easier to sheath; less likely to cause cuts to either the practitioner or the saya. Blades with long points (o-kissaki) are more likely to cut the user when being drawn or sheathed and may also cut and damage the saya mouth. The ultra small point (ko-kissaki) is normally associated with the tachi blade. A katana blade with a ko-kissaki may very well have had its point broken and reshaped.
The design of the temperline is not critical to the function of the sword.
A moderate to long tsuka is easier to control and offers much better leverage for cutting. However, be sure the tang of the blade runs practically the full length of the tsuka. Long tsuka hiding short tangs are dangerous in that the strain on the tsuka without the underlying tang is extreme as it leads to broken handles (tsuka).
The twisted style ito (handle wrapping) is less likely to loosen and slip with prolonged use than other styles. It is critical that the tsuka be properly fitted, tight on the tang, with tight ito. If the tang rattles in the tsuka it is the incorrect tsuka for that blade. This makes it impossible to properly fit the mekugi (peg) which secures the blade. The mekugi is more likely to break in a poorly fitted tsuka, which is very dangerous to the practitioner, his fellows and the blade.
A properly fitted wooden saya is easier to draw from and much easier to sheath the blade into. Poorly fitting saya are noisy, rattle and more easily trap dirt which may damage the blade. Also the blade may just plain fall out of a poorly fitted saya. The metal gunto saya of the Russo-Japanese War period or WW II period nearly always have brass or other metal throats – these will damage the blade as sooner or later most everyone “drags” the edge on the saya mouth. It the saya mouth is metal, the edge will be damaged or ruined.
Please don’t use a high quality old blade – accidents may happen, and damage to ha (cutting edge) is not repairable – only more material can removed to smooth out the chip contour.
A wide-groove (bo-hi) in the flat sides of blade (shinogi-ji) is not a blood groove. It serves to lighten the blade, providing a more lively feel. It also has the side effect of making a loud “hiss” when the sword is swung straight (back of blade (mune) in line with the ha). If the sword is swung tilted, it will not “hiss”. A blade with bo-hi is often desirable for this reason – you and everyone else will know if the sword was swung true.
Swords for iaido (iai-to) are modern day replica swords, the blade is made of soft metal that cannot be sharpened. These are recommended for beginning iaidoka.
If you’re looking for a blade to actually use, you can try to find a suitable old blade, or have a new one made. Advantages of a new blade are getting what you want when you want it, and not having to fear committing a mortal sin if you ding it. Advantages of an older blade are possibly lower cost (compared to a folded new blade) and perhaps higher and easier cost recovery on resale. Finding the right older blade at a good price is difficult and tricky. It is unlikely you’ll find an older blade over 27″ without paying a hefty premium. And then you have to decide whether you want to have it remounted, particularly if it’s in gunto garb (not exactly cheap, even with reproduction pieces). If there is any danger of you damaging the blade, then go with a new blade, or with a bar stock WWII gunto. If there is very little chance of damage, then consider looking for a (shin) shinto blade that might fit you, one in low end, but traditional samurai mounts.
If you get a blade made, you can choose from having one smithed traditionally in Japan (gendaito), or having one made by a smith working outside of Japan. Estimates are that actual Japanese new gendaito runs $US5000 from a “C” grade smith, $15000 from a “B” grade smith, and $30000+ from an “A” grade smith (like Yoshihara). This is for the polished, unmounted blade. Cutting Edge Technologies (www.nosyuiaido.com) is a reputable firm that can help put a gendaito in your hands, starting at about $US6000 complete.
A popular choice is to use one of Bob Engnath’s blades, which are available in rough shaped form fairly inexpensively. One can polish an Engnath blade and mount it in the traditional appearing (but cast) koshirae from Fred Lohman (fuchi-kashira, tsuba, seppa and menuki would run about $200, plus $125 for a handle wrap). Habaki are available from a few people at about $175 a pop for a plain copper single, and saya for another $200 or so. Throw in another $100 for odds and ends, and be prepared for a lot of work for the polish. If you want a traditional Japanese polish kit, Lohman has them for $500. Failing this, you can probably get away with hard block and sandpaper up to about 1000 grit, then switch to hazuya and jizuya finger stones ($35 each from Lohman – you need to prepare the stones for polishing). If you can’t sight down swords and tell a good polished shape from a poor one, then don’t even think about trying to polish one yourself.
Another choice is to buy a finished and mounted sword, if you haven’t the time, patience or talent to do your own finishing work. There are a number of smiths working in North America who do such work. The following is a list compiled by Kim Taylor with additional comments from Rick Bliss and Christopher Lau (please note prices are $US and may be out of date: use as a rough guideline only).
|Bob Engnath||bar stock, traditionally tempered 1050 blades||about $9/inch in rough shaped form||Blades show a nice wide habuchi, and big bright ashi. The blades have fumbari and a very well defined kissaki area.|
|Bugei Trading||bar stock, traditionally tempered katana in traditional style mounts||about $2200 fully finished||I believe their tempered, unfinished blades come from Engnath, and the fittings look like they come from Lohman.|
|Scott Slobodian||bar stock (1045 to 1060 steel, depending on length), traditionally tempered||about $3000 mounted||Mounts are traditional style, but cast (silver). Excels in his saya – many choices of exotic woods, pressure resin impregnated, with a very hard and durable clear finish. Polishes are non-traditional.|
|Phill Hartsfield||A2 tool steel bar stock, “traditionally tempered” katana||about $5000 mounted||Blade shape and mounts are somewhat non-traditional. Claim to fame is imputed cutting ability of his blades.|
|Barry Dawson||Stock removal||?||Stock removal, prices rather steep IMO|
|Don Fogg||Forged||?||Decent forging, questionable yaki-ire technique though|
|Paul Champagne||?||?||Made sword for Obata used in helmet cutting video|
|Michael Bell||hand forged “cutting sword” out of multi-strand carbon steel cable||about $5000 in simple mounts, or $8000 for traditionally folded construction||–|
|Tom Maringer||Stock removal, some forging, D2 steel||?||–|
|Francis Boyd||Traditional||?||Student of Nakajima|
|Wally Hayes||Damascus||?||Student of Don Fogg, made blade of damascus for prototype of Kane sword used in movie Highlander III|
|Mike Faul||Traditional and bar stock||?||Pretty good work|
|Keith Austin||Traditional||?||Possibly the other Japanese-trained US smith|
|Muh-tsyr Yee||?||?||Student of Bell, taught smithing class at Guelph Japanese Sword Arts School|
This is Kendo
Junzo Sasamori & Gordon Warner
Publisher: Charles E. Tuttle Company
Summary: The standard English language text. Covers history, basic technique and terminology. Kata are not covered. For years was pretty much the only choice easily found in English, but very good even so. Sasamori was judan (yup, that’s pretty good).
Compiled by All Japan Kendo Federation
Publisher: Japan Publications, Inc.
ISBN: 0 87040 226 9
Summary: Describes many different techniques, all shown with sequential photography. Also describes how to take care of your equipment, different training methods and a very good kata description with a lot of pictures. Unfortunately out of print (first published in 1973): if you find it somewhere, buy it.
Kendo: The Definitive Guide
Summary: Not really a definitive guide but a good introductory text and well-translated. Good chapters on basics, fundamental waza and kata. Appendices include the official match regulations. History section not too strong. Recommended.
Looking At A Far Mountain: A Study of Kendo Kata
Publisher: Ward Lock
Summary: Good comprehensive overview of ZNKR kendo kata.
Kendo No Kata: Forms of Japanese Kendo
Publisher: Paladin Press
Summary: Photos, 64 pages.
Kendo-Lehrbuch des japanischen Schwertkampfes
Kotaro Oshima & Kozo Ando
Publisher: Verlag Weinmann-Berlin
ISBN: 3 87892 037 7
Summary: German language, contains information on technique, equipment etc. There are illustrations for all techniques and also on how to take care of the equipment. If you know German it is a very good book if not you can still see a lot from all the illustrations.
16.2 KenjutsuShinkage-ryu Sword Techniques,
Traditional Japanese Martial Arts Vol. 1
Tadashige Watanabe (trans. Balsom, Ronald)
Publisher: Sugawara Martial Arts Institute, Inc.
20-13 Tadao 3 chome
Distributor: Kodansha America, Inc.,
Summary: Covers posture, bowing and kata for beginning and intermediate students, mostly through sequential photographs. Unfortunately, the sequences often devote many pictures to something simple like retreating or advancing and miss key points of the actual technique. Interesting nonetheless but pricey.
The Sword and the Mind
Publisher: The Overlook Press
Summary: Translation of 3 documents pertaining to Yagyu family kenjutsu (shinkage-ryu), the Heiho Kaden Sho, Fudochi Shinmyo Roku and Taia Ki. Includes reproductions of the pages of the Heiho. Could just as well be in the philosophy section, but there is a lot of technique described. Fascinating.
Bokken: Art of the Japanese Sword
Summary: Another shinkage-ryu book with chapters devoted to the history of the use of the bokken, equipment selection, basics, striking with the bokken, combination techniques, two-person kata, and the seated bo. Techniques are generally well-described using photographs and text, although some of the advanced techniques are difficult to follow.
Japan’s Complete Fighting System – Shin Kage Ryu
Robin L. Reilly
Publisher: Charles Tuttle
Summary: Another shinkage-ryu book, describes empty-handed and weapon techniques, including bo, jo, sword and knife. Only about 50 pages on sword technique, including stance basics, basic strikes with a katana, some individual exercises, and some solo and two-man kata, all demonstrated using shinken.
The Deity and the Sword (three volumes)
Publisher: Minato Research & Trading Co.
2 0-13 Tadao 3-Chome, Machida-shi,
Tokyo 194-02 Japan
Distributor: Japan Publications Trading Company
200 Clearbrook Rd
ISBNs 0-87040-378-8, 0-87040-405-9, 0-87040-406-7
Summary: Technique and philosophy of Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu Kenjutsu, in both Japanese and English.
Bugei Ju-Happan: The Spirit of Samurai
Shigeru Nakajima Masayoshi
Publisher: G.O. Ltd.
39 Jimbou-cho, 1-Chome,
Kanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Distributor: Japan Publications Trading Co.
Summary: This book contains information on the Takenouchi- Hangan Ryu, including sword, iai-jutsu and some other weapons defence against sword. In English.
The Art of Japanese Swordsmanship
Publisher: Unique Publications
Donn F. Draeger
Summary: Not much technique, interesting history, covers a number of bujutsu styles. Would be better with more detail on the ryu, but still recommended.
Samurai Swordsmanship – Vol. 1
Dale S. Kirby
National Paperback Book
Crimson Steel: The Sword Technique of the Samurai
Publisher: Dragon Books
Budo Jiten 2d.
Frederick J. Lovret
Publisher: Taseki Publications
3579 Ruffin Road, #205, San Diego California 92123.
Summary: A dictionary for the traditional Japanese martial arts.
Frederick J. Lovret
Publisher: Taseki Publications
Summary: Electronic newspaper for Lovret’s students
The Way and The Power
Frederick J. Lovret
Publisher: Palladin Press
16.3 IaidoJapanese Swordsmanship
Gordon Warner & Donn F. Draeger
Summary: The standard English text for ZNKR iaido. Lots of interesting history. Iaido techniques described in detail, many of those details having changed since publication, but still useful.
The Way of the Sword
Publisher: Paladin Press
Summary: Thin oversize soft cover, with photos of the 10 techniques of Seitei-gata …its a good companion to Warner/Draeger book in that in all techniques show the “attackers” in the proper positions in the photos, so it helps to better visualise the actions required. Slim on background & philosophy.
The Art of Drawing the Sword
Publisher: Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc.
Summary: Covers Seitei-gata (only 7 – does not include Gammen- ate, Soete-tsuki or Shiho-giri, along with Mu-Gai-Ryu’s eight kata. Many drawings, very few photos. Choose Warner/Draeger first.
The Iaido Newsletter
c/o Kim Taylor
Dept. of Animal and Poultry Science
University of Guelph, Ontario
Canada N1G 2W1.
Tel (519) 824-4120 ext. 6225
Fax (519) 836-9873
Summary: A publication of shared distribution dedicated to arts of the Japanese sword: Iaido, Kendo and Koryu Kenjutsu (mostly iaido). Send your stories, comments or announcements to Kim Taylor.
Eishin-ryu iaido : manual of traditional Japanese swordsmanship
Summary: Light coverage of history and etiquette, followed by sequenced drawings of 62 kata accompanied by generalised explanations. A quick guide for students with experience or instructors.
Flashing steel : mastering Eishin-ryu swordsmanship
Masayuki Shimabukuro, Leonard Pellman
Publisher: Frog Ltd.
ZNKR Seitei Iai
Publisher: Kenseikai Publications, London England
Summary: Excellent guide, 76 pages with photos.
Iai-Do: blitzschnell die Waffe ziehen und treffen
Feliks F. Hoff
Publisher: Verlag Weinmann, Berlin
Summary: The book is in German, contains some history and etiquette and many drawings of ZNKR Seitei-iai.
Iaido – Todas Las Bases Y Los Katas Exigidos Para Cinto Negro
Jose Santos Nalda
Publisher: Editorial APas, Valencia 234,
08007 Barcelona – apartado 36274.
Summary: Spanish language book/cartoon booklet includes a pictorial history of the samurai age, manners and katas of Muso Shinden Ryu Shoden and Seitei Iai.
Naked Blade: A Manual of Samurai Swordsmanship
Publisher: Dragon Books
Summary: Toyama Ryu Iaido, with photos.
Jean Pierre Renier
Summary: In French.
Iai: The Art of Japanese Swordsmanship
Malcom Tiki Shewan
Publisher: European Iaido Federation
Cannes Azur – 22 av. Jean de Noailles – 06400
Summary: Muso Shinden Ryu Omori, en francais.
16.4 PhilosophyGo Rin No Sho – <Book of Five Rings>
Hardcover translation by Victor Harris
Publisher: Overlook Press
Softcover translation by Brown, Kashigawa, Barrett and Sasagawa
Publisher: Bantam Books
Translation by Thomas Cleary
Publisher: Shambhala Publications
Summary: Philosophy and general combat technique of Musashi, Japan’s most famous swordsman. Not much technical detail, more from a generalist viewpoint. Better understood after a few years of practice. Mandatory for any martial artist’s library.
The Zen Way to the Martial Arts
Publisher: Arkana (The Penguin Group)
Summary: Zen as it relates to the martial arts, often specifically kendo. Deshimaru is a Zen master, content is often question and answer with questions from Yuno-sensei, kendo hachidan. Some sections are a little too “Zen will fix your mama’s corns” for my tastes but overall, excellent.
Zen and Confucius in the art of swordsmanship :
The Tengu-geijutsu-ron of Chozan Shissai
Kammer, Reinhard; translated by Betty J. Fitzgerald
Publisher: Routledge & K. Paul
Summary: A work of the mid-Tokugawa period, influenced by neo- Confucianism. Interesting in the light of later, neo- Confucian influenced works, e.g. Hagakure. Also provides a monograph on the historical context of the Tengu-gei-jutsu-ron, and an afterward which is a condensation of one of Yamada’s articles on the various schools of Japanese swordplay.
Zen & The Way of the Sword
(Arming the Samurai Psyche)
Winston L. King – 265 pages, hardback, pub. 1993
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Summary: Run, don’t walk, *away* from this book. A mishmash compilation of some Zen, some history (1100-1980s), some parts of how Japanese sword mfg’d. Author surveyed a wide variety of texts & patched together a book.
Kendo in Japanese martial culture : swordsmanship as self-cultivation
Jeffrey Lewis Dann
Thesis (Ph. D.)–University of Washington.
300 North Zeeb Road
PO Box 1346
Ann Arbor, MI
UMI Order No: DDJ78-14421
16.5 HistoryHagakure – <Hidden Leaves>
Summary: The author was a minor samurai after the time of Musashi. The book is a collection of sayings and stories about his clan & times along with some thoughts about what it means to be a samurai. More a strong taste of the times than deep philosophy.
Lives of the Master Swordsmen
Sugawara, Makoto; edited by Burritt Sabin.
Publisher: The East Publications, Inc.
Summary: Includes excellent bibliography on Musashi, plus Ittosai’s life and the transition of Itto-ryu in the first generation. There is also material on Yagyu Munenori.
16.6 SwordsThe Samurai Sword A Handbook
John M. Yumoto
Publisher: Charles E. Tuttle Company Inc.
Summary: The standard text for collectors of antique nihon-to. A little history, discussion on the features and appraisal, short section on construction, list of smiths. Indispensable.
The Craft of the Japanese Sword
Leon and Hiroko Kapp, Yoshindo Yoshihara
Publisher: Kodansha International
ISBN: 0-87011-798-X (US) 4-7700-1298-5 (Japan)
Summary: Discussion of the techniques currently used to construct swords. Step by step through the smithing of the blade, the polishing, the scabbard construction and the making of the habaki. Highly recommended.
The Japanese Sword
Judging a Japanese Blade
Publisher: Hawley Publications
8200 Gould Ave
Summary: An informative 18 page pamphlet, including an excellent discussion of flaws & defects with examples and how to judge the cutting quality of a blade by visual inspection.
Publisher: JSS/US P.O. Box 712 Breckinridge, TX USA 76424
Summary: Published bi-monthly, this newsletter contains various articles pertaining to the collection of Japanese swords. Topics include polishing, maintenance, appraisal, overviews of smiths’ works, history. Ads for assorted suppliers of swords, sword fittings and services, as well as a catalog of books for sale (too numerous to list here). JSS/US also maintains an extensive lending library of reference material for members.
Publisher: Berghss, Stockholm, Sweden.
Summary: An introduction to Nihon-to. Basic history, terminology and etiquette. Nice photos and drawings of blades, tsuba etc.
16.7 Other Related TopicsJodo
Publisher: Budo Books
Box 4727 Dept AMA
Overland Park Kansas
Summary: Generally regarded as the finest book available on jodo.
17.0 Organisation Contacts
17.1 Kendo Federations
See http://www.rain.org/~galvan/ikfdir.htm for a list of federations belonging to the International Kendo Federation, including some non-affiliated federations. Here are some non-IKF federations of interest:
United States Classical Kendo Federation
c/o Dr. Sadao Kotaka
1182 Thurell Road
Tel (614) 885-3181
17.2 Sword ClubsBosten Token Kai
c/o Rad Smith
Colorado Token Kai
c/o David Lay
Florida Token Kai
17120 Gulf Blvd.
N. Redington Beach, FL
Houston Token Kai
c/o Paul Goodman
6310 Tam O’Shanter
Japanese Sword Society of Hawaii
c/o Al Bardi
2333 Kapiolani Blvd., Suite 3011
Tel (808) 941-8010
Japanese Sword Society of the United States
P.O. Box 712
Metropolian New York Japanese Sword Club
Box 1119 Rockefeller Center Station
New York, NY
New Mexico Token Kai
c/o John Coffman
Tel (505) 281-4049
Northern California Japanese Sword Club
P.O. Box 1397
Rafu Token Kai
#7, 940 E. 2nd St
Los Angeles, CA
Southern California Sword Society
c/o Roger W. Davis
Laguna Beach, CA
Texas Token Kai
5501 N. Lamar Blvd.
18.0 Equipment Suppliers
18.1 Kendo and Iaido EquipmentBu Jin Design
2446 30th Street
Tel (303) 444-7663
Fax (303) 444-1137
Eguchi Budo Equipment Co., LTD.
15507 So. Normandie Ave., Suite #216
Tel/Fax (818) 577-9646
148 W. 132nd Street, Suite A
Los Angeles, CA
Tel (310) 532-5448
Fax (310) 532-4996
Honda Martial Arts Supply
61 West 23rd Street
New York, New York
Tel (212) 620-4050 or (800) 872-6969
10126, Saint-Laurent Bou.
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Tel 514-387-6978 (800-363-2992)
6162 Colonial Ave.
Tel: (317) 257-4045
300-7, Hosung Bldg.7F
Tel : (82) 51 516-6826
Fax : (82) 51 512-4578
Kingfisher Wood Works
PO Box 734
Tel: (802) 295-9908
Koei Budogu Co. Ltd.
No. 8-13 Kitaimajuko 1chome
Kimei City 670 Japan
Fax (81) 792 96 1685
Meirin Syngyo Co. Ltd.
1-32 Rokumentai-cho Tennoji-ku
Fax (81) 6-772-3028
Mikado Enterprises Ltd.
701 East Hastings Street
Tel (604) 253-7168
66 Tahoe Circle
Tel (415) 892-4330
Sei Do Kai
44 Inkerman St.
Canada N1H 3C5
Tel (519) 836-4357
c/o Mr. Hiroaki Kimura
6049 Transit Road
De Pew, New York
Tel (716) 681-7911
Stingray (Thailand) Co., Ltd.
90/196 Suksawad 26 Road
Ratburana, Bangkok 10140
Robert Stroud (can order from Koei at discount for cash upfront)
6900 S.W. 130th Ave.
Tel (503) 626-7786 Home
Kyoto G.P.O. Box 10
Kyoto 600 Japan
Tel (81) 75-344-4847
Fax (81) 75-344-4719
Email firstname.lastname@example.org (Mr. Kimura)
18.2 Nihon-to (Japanese swords) and Replica Nihon-toBlades N Stuff
1019 E. Palmer Avenue
Note: This is the guy who makes sword blanks for Bugei but it
costs you about half of what Bugei charges.
Bugei Trading Company
1070 Commerce St. Suite I
San Marcos, CA
Tel (800) 437-0125
The Kiyota Co.
2326 N. Charles Street
Tel (410) 366-8275
Fax (410) 366-3540
66 Tahoe Circle
Tel (415) 892-4330
PO Box 17277
Museum Replicas Ltd./Atlanta Cutlery
2143 Gees Mill Road
Tel (800) 883-8838
Cutting Edge Technologies Inc.
P.O. Box 232
Severna Park, MD
Tel (410) 544-3611
Fax (410) 544-3611Web http://www.swordstore.com/
C. S. Story
Iron Wolf Fyne Blades
3407 Helms Farm Road
Laurel Hill, FL
P.O. Box 13144
Tel (412) 561-6156
Fax (412) 561-1452
Condell & Co., Ltd.
P.O. Box 590115
San Francisco, CA
Tel (415) 751-3784
The Wareham Forge
Hamlet of Wareham, RR #2
Proton Stn., Ontario
Canada N0C 1L0
Tel (519) 923-9219
18.3 Nihon-to Fittings and SuppliesAqua Sharping Stone, Inc.
P.O. Box 315
El Cerrito, California
Tel: (510) 525-3948
Fred Lohman Co.
3405 NE Broadway
Tel (503) 282-4567
Fax (503) 287-2678
Note: Lohman also offers saya/tsuka/sword restoration services
San Diego, Ca.
Tel (619) 697-2406
P.O. Box 11
D.R. Langenbacker & Sons
P.O. Box 933
Tel (801) 254-4400
92-31 57th Avenue,
Elmhurst, New York
Tel: (718) 592-1482
Fax: (718) 592-1513
P.O. Box 22278
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Tel (505) 757-2114
San Francisco, California
Tel: (415) 922-0618
11814 106th Ave. N.E.
Tel (206) 823-1666
P.O. Box 265
Tel (406) 482-3243
Okame Japanese Antiques
709 Devonshire Road
Canada N8Y 2L9
Tel (519) 254-4363
1427 Walgrove Ave.
Los Angeles, California
Tel: (310) 392-0825
2034 Glenelon Ave.
W. Los Angeles, California
Tel: (310) 494-8804
1405-B West Touhy Avenue
O1079 S. Oakland Avenue
Tel (818) 792-7510 or (818) 793-7272
8661 Kent Circle
Huntington Beach, California
Tel: (714) 847-3270
18.4 Budo LiteratureSophia Bookstore
725 Nelson St
Tel (604) 684-4032
870 Hampshire Road, Suite C
Westlake Village, CA
Tel (805) 371-6222
Fax (805) 371-6224
San Francisco Japantown Center
1581 Webster St.
San Francisco, CA
Tel (415) 567-7625
eWorld Martial Arts Store
K. E. Skafte
DK-4800 Nykobing Falster
Tel (45) 5485 1506
Fax (45) 5486 1422
Cheng and Tsui Company
25 West Street
PO Box 290206
Tel (800) 778-8785
21 Cinnamon Tree Lane
Berkeley Heights, NJ