Kendo Books

UPDATE: I’ve decided to renew this particular article every so often when new and interesting books become available. The original post was published in April 2013. Most recent updated January 2017.

As I write this post at work, I have dozens of kendo books standing in the shelf on my desk: ones about learning the basics, others about how to get better at winning shiai, some general kendo history books, the occasional philosophical treatise, and even a couple of kendo-specific conditioning and training manuals. At home I have out-of-print books that were published in the 20s and 30s, and loads of digital versions of books that were published in the 19th century are on my hard drive. These are all in Japanese of course.

As far as English language publications go, the amount, type, and quality of available books is far from optimal. I know, because I own or have read them all (at least, to my knowledge). I think the main reasons for this has been the writers lack of long term exposure to kendo in Japan, plus the reliance on hearsay and 3rd hand information when relaying anecdotes/facts. For the English speaking kendoka that hungers for kendo information this is a frustrating situation.

Presented below is a handful of small reviews of great kendo books that I recommend. If you find a book online and it’s not listed here, you should probably avoid it ….


Kendo: Culture of the Sword – Alex Bennett

University of California Press, July 2015.

Quote from a different article by myself:

I devoured Alex’s book pretty quickly because a lot of the information I knew and many of the conclusions reached were similar to mine, so it was a sort of affirmation in a way for me if you will. There were, however, parts of the book that tackled areas that I’m only very vaguely familiar with (in particular the workings of and connections between the government and the Butokukai during the war and the machinations of SCAP in regards to budo after the war) which was an eye-opener.

The best part of this book for me is that Alex puts kendo in its wider cultural context, something that is missing in most people’s comprehension of how modern kendo formed, what it is today, and where it might possibly go. A close second is that he dares to condemn (although gently) the accepted idea that kendo is some sort of ancient tradition that is possessed – and can only be understood by – Japanese people. This thorny subject is something I’ve touched on lightly here before (and in my publications) and everyone who lives and practises in Japan for a long time realises. Needless to say the book is highly recommended, so please check it out.

Available in both print and digital.


Teikoku Kendo Kyohon (The Kendo Textbook of Imperial Japan) – Ogawa Kinnosuke

Self published, July 2015. Available print and digital.
Specified aim: Introducing an important historical kendo texbook to the modern English speaking kendo community.

Witten by one of the foremost kenshi of the 20th century Ogawa Kinnosuke sensei, the Teikoku Kendo Kyohon (The Kendo Textbook of Imperial Japan) was originally published in 1932, then revised and re-published in 1937. Here, for the first time in any language other than Japanese, we are proud to present a complete translation of the revised version.

This is an amazing book…. the only kendo book that comes anywhere near it is the Kendo Tokuhon listed below. Get it!

Recommended for: Experienced kendo practitioners and those who wish to dig deeper into the culture of kendo.

AVAILABLE ONLINE IN BOTH PRINT AND DIGITAL EDITIONS.
FOR MORE INFORMATION VISIT THIS SITE.


Kendo Tokukon (The Kendo Reader) – Noma Hisashi

Self published, October 2013. Available print and digital.
Specified aim: Introducing a kendo classic to the modern English speaking kendo community.

Witten by the celebrated kenshi Noma Hisashi and published posthumously in 1939, The Kendo Reader is a true kendo classic. Although the shape of kendo has evolved in the 75 years since the initial publication, the book’s content has barely aged and is still highly relevant to kendo practitioners today. Not only kendoka, however, the book will prove interesting to martial arts practitioners across various disciplines and to those interested in Japanese martial arts history and theory.

Recommended for: Experienced kendo practitioners and those who wish to dig deeper into the culture of kendo.

AVAILABLE ONLINE IN BOTH PRINT AND DIGITAL EDITIONS.
FOR MORE INFORMATION VISIT THIS SITE.

Kendo: a comprehensive guide to Japanese swordsmanship – Geoff Salmon

Tuttle, April 2013. Available print and kindle.
Specified aim: “written expressly with the objective of helping you make your kendo training more effective.”

The cover of the book is a heavily edited picture of Geoff that I took at the Kyoto Taikai a few years back, so obviously I like it! The book itself is designed and printed by an established publisher, so its easy to read and it’s layout is nice. The substance of the book itself is basically a brief run down of the A-Z of physical kendo training, including such varied content as warmup routines, shinai styles, kamae, refereeing, and gradings, as well as descriptions of all the basic cuts, thrusts, and a handful of techniques. Descriptions are to the point and work well with the illustrations.

Pros: Excellent illustrations; easy to understand.
Cons: Lacks any historical background; it’s not really comprehensive.
Recommended for: People who have just started kendo.

Available on Amazon in print or kindle edition.

Kendo: approaches for all levels – Honda Sotaro

Bunkasha International, August 2012. Available print and kindle.
Specified aim: to discuss and offer advice on how to practise kendo in a non-Japanese setting

This book starts with a completely different premise that any other kendo book I have read and is based on Honda’s sensei’s many years of training abroad (mainly in the UK). It covers a wide-range of topics but in a technically brief manner, meaning that the book is not meant for beginners or people with only a few years of experience. For the more advanced practitioner this is in no way a negative point, but allows them to concentrate on the more academic points that Honda sensei is putting across. I found myself highlighting not a few sections as I read the book. Different from Geoff’s book above, Honda sensei’s book is basically completely text based with few diagrams.

Pros: Covers a wide range of topics.
Cons: No illustrations at all; brief descriptions.
Recommended for: mainly those with a mid-level experience level who are actually involved in teaching or coaching of some sort, and for experienced practitioners looking for some advanced perspective.

Note: although I’ve picked up and flicked through the print version, this review is based mainly on reading the digital version.

Available on Amazon in print or kindle edition.

Kendo Coaching Tips and Drills – George McCall

Self published, September 2012. Available print and digital.
Specified aim: a coaching manual for new/mid-level instructors and guide of what to aim for those with less experience

Pros: The only kendo coaching book written in English by an experienced coach.
Cons: None!
Recommended for: new/mid-level instructors and those with less experience that want to learn more.

AVAILABLE ONLINE IN BOTH PRINT AND DIGITAL EDITIONS.
FOR MORE INFORMATION VISIT THIS SITE.

Kendo, Inherited Wisdom and Personal Reflections – Geoff Salmon

Self published, August 2013. Available print and digital.
Specified aim: a collection of blog posts from kendoinfo.net

Geoff sent me a pdf review copy 179 pages in length and was – as he said in his email to me – “following in your footsteps” in reference to the fact that the books contents are mainly based on blog posts, like my Kenshi247: selected articles 2008-2011 book which came out 2 years ago. Anyway, back to Geoff’s book.

The introduction states what is contained in the book very well, so I’ll just reproduce it here:

“This collection of the most popular posts from www.kendoinfo.net contains 52 articles on various aspects of kendo technique and attitude…. This is not an instruction manual. It is offered with the intention of entertaining and stimulating those interested in the art of kendo.”

The book is basically a collection of mainly bite-sized (around 2 pages in length) personal kendo-related anecdotes. Geoff writes in a friendly, easily understood manner often with comedy, which makes for light reading.

Available on Amazon in print or kindle edition.

Pros: Easy to read.
Cons: Slightly haphazard.
Recommended for: The general kendo practitioner.


Other books

I stated in the opening section that there are few book in the English language that are actually any good. Along with the books reviewed above, the following listed books are widely available and I do personally recommended.

The first list are those that I highly suggest you buy/steal/borrow:

Japanese-English Dictionary of Kendo (revised 2011): everyone should own this.
Kendo Kata: essence and application – Inoue (2003): the only kata book you’ll ever need.
This is kendo – Sasamori/Warner (1968): dated but still relevant.

If you have some spare cash and are looking to expand your kendo library, then the following may make some relaxed Sunday afternoon reading:

A Bilingual Guide to the History of Kendo – Sakai (2010) : a very brief/easy synopsis of the history of kendo aimed at foreign kenshi.
Kendo: The Definitive Guide – Ozawa (1997) : a good book, but only for complete beginners.

Note that the All Japan Kendo Federation publish books that are technically accurate, but they are so dry, boring to read, and don’t say very much, so that if I had to mention them, then i’d probably put them into this category.

Thats it. Not many eh?

If a book is not mentioned above, its not probably because I haven’t read/seen it*, but that I don’t endorse it for whatever reason. Don’t let that stop you from leafing through the various books out there and deciding yourself of-course.

*The only exception to this would be ‘Kendo: Elements, Rules, and Philosophy’ (Tokeshi, 2003) which I’ve only ever briefly looked at so cannot fairly comment on. It did seem to be pretty comprehensive though.

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George

I'm the founder and chief editor of kenshi247.net. Amongst other things I am a high school kendo club coach, an avid practitioner of classical swordsmanship, a history student, and a vegetarian.

4 thoughts on “Kendo Books”

  1. I have already pre-ordered Geoff-sensei’s book. The other two seem to be almost impossible to get the printed version here in Europe, unfortunately…

    I also enjoy the ZNKR “Official Guide for Kendo Instruction” book.

  2. Eduardo, my book can be ordered from the link above and can be with you immediately if digital, or within a week if print.

    Already many many people have ordered and received it from throughout Europe.

    Hope that helps!

  3. Hello! Thanks for the reply! I wasn’t notified of your reply so I only saw it now 🙁

    I was at the magcloud store checking out the order for the print version and with shipping and taxes it would be really expensive ordering it…

    I really do like print but it seems like I will have to “bite the bullet” and order the PDF instead…

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