equipment history kendo shiai

Shinai Kyogi

Shinai kyogi was a new sport that sprung up In the ruin and confusion of the post war period.”

… is the first line of the chapter on Shinai-kyogi in the book “How to study kendo” that was published in 1965. It goes on to explain in a bit more detail:

To say it another way: a modern and democratic sport was born out of the older kendo. At the end of the war, when both the outside pressure (GHQ) and self-reproach from inside kendo circles caused the breakup/dissolution of kendo (i.e. the Butokukai) the discipline was at a crossroads; it was at this time a chance was taken and the new sport was created.

At that time the (kendo equipment) manufacturers and kendo exponents wanted to somehow (in any way possible) keep at least the essence of kendo alive but, because of the severity of the situation (the current state of destitution and poverty in post-war Japan combined with the strict law of occupied rule), kendo wasn’t allowed to continue as it was (i.e. it was banned by GHQ).

Despite this situation, the involved parties continued to work ceaselessly in negotiations with the the occupied authority, gathering as much information and working with their total energy and concentration to leave the purity of kendo intact, the result of which was a version of kendo with modern elements added that we call shinai kyogi.”

What follows is a 80 page plus manual of shinai kyogi instruction (the first 230 pages are about kendo).

What was this ‘shinai kyogi,’ where did it spring from, and what happened to it? This article will look very briefly at this often ignored yet important aspect of kendo’s history.


It’s almost certainly probable that kendo only started to become widely practised after its introduction into schools in 1911, and especially once it was made a mandatory part of the education system in the 1930s. Japan at that point was becoming increasingly militaristic and kendo was co-opted as part of the war effort, primarily as a way of ‘spiritual and physical training’ of male youths (girls were eventually made to practise ‘naginata,’ created as a form of calisthenics and thinly disguised budo).

Changes in the development of kendo during the 15 year war period (brief explanation)

Starting from the invasion of Manchuria in 1931, Japan was constantly at a state of war until 1945, a period of over 15 years. As the tension in Japan escalated the younger the age for mandatory kendo training became, and the emphasis on group drills and practise (rather than a person-to-person training) increased. Eventually training took place outside, shinai become shorter and heavier, and even hakama and keikogi were abandoned in favour of trousers and shirts. Rules in kendo competition changed to reflect a more ‘real-life’ situation: ippon-shobu, no katate-waza, no jodan, no nito, and all cuts must be big.

This was the situation of kendo at the time of the end of the war and was the kendo that the American occupation forces banned (the war-cabinet controlled Butokukai dissolved itself under pressure soon after the war ended).

The aftermath of the war

Kendo was banned but – obviously due the sheer number of people who had experience in it – not forgotten. During the banned period various groups continued to practise in secret anyway. A public effort was made to promote kendo at higher diplomatic levels. Often cited at this point is Sasamori Junzo sensei’s (Ono-ha itto-ryu soke) influence: educated in America (PhD from Denver University) and a fluent English speaker (and Christian priest) he worked with GHQ during the occupation period, and supported the re-introduction of kendo in educational circles (he was headmaster of various universities and eventually worked in the Education Ministry. He emerged in the post-war kendo community as the head of the Shinai Kyogi association, then eventually the university kendo association).

Obviously wary about the militarism that was inherent in the immediate pre-war country controlled Butokukai, GHQ was seemingly very reticent to allow its restart. To battle this, the pro-kendo lobby introduced not ‘kendo’ but a new kendo-inspired sport called ‘shinai kyogi.’ Renamed, and without some of the more nationalist attributes, it wasn’t ‘kendo’ per-se, but it was to have a long lasting on the art.

What follows here is some information about the sport itself.

Name and term changes

It is important to note that the ‘shinai’ portion of shinai-kyogi is written in hiragana and not kanji (though there is kanji for it), much like the change that was done for naginata. This might not seem particularly important to non-Japanese speakers, but it had 2 effects:

1. It explicitly removed the ‘weapon’ aspect of the arts name, thus giving it a “softer, less violent feeling”;

2. It gave the sense that something new was being made. In the naginata community they actually named it ‘atarashii (new) naginata’ to reflect this. The new sport created from kendo was called ‘shinai KYOGI,’ a term that refers to pure sport.

Not only this, but many long-used words were changed to make shinai-kyogi more sporty for example ‘nafuda’ (name tag) was changed to ‘zekken’ (a term of German origin that refers in Japan to names/numbers on athletes), ‘ippon’ was changed to ‘tokuten’ (points), and tasuki to ‘hyoshiki’ (flag). The white line from where participants start a match was called the ‘shuppatsusen’ or ‘starting line.’

The parts of the bogu were also renamed (see below).



– clothes should be made of strong cloth, a tracksuit top and trousers should be worn;
– girls may wear a skirt instead of trousers;
– shiai held outdoors generally require the use of footwear. If the ground is safe then you can use socks or go barefoot;
– any colour may be freely worn but black doesn’t fit with the bogu well, so its banned;
– clothing should be a little bit loose, not tight fitting;


– shinai should be wrapped on the outside with leather (i.e. a fukuro-shinai);
– shinai must be split in either 4, 8, 16, or more pieces;
– shinai must be equal to or less than 3.8 in length and weights where set based on age/gender;
– the kote-dome (i.e. tsuba) must be smaller than 3-sun and made of leather or rubber. It can be of any shape.


– bogu consists of a men, doate, and tebukuro (‘gloves’)*
– names were also given in hiragana MASUKU (‘mask’ i.e. men), PROTEKUTA (‘protector’ i.e. dou), and GURABU (‘glove’ i.e. kote);

* Note that the ‘tsuba’ has been renamed ‘kote dome,’ the kote ‘tebukuro’ (gloves), and other pieces given English-sounding alternatives in order to de-swordify the art and make it seem more sporty, much like the use of the name ‘shinai kyogi’ itself (see above). We could also surmise that this was done to placate GHQ as well.



– usually matches occur indoors, but outside is ok too;
– whether held inside or out the area must be flat and have no obstructions;
– the shiaijo is to be 6×7 meters and have a space of 1.5m between the middle and each player;
– if you are outside you can mark the shiaijo boundaries with stones or paint;
– if the shiaijo is raised it would be preferably if the boundaries were roped (like boxing)*;

* early all Japan championships also seem to have this feature


– at the start of the match shinai must not be touching (a change from pre-war);
– shiai were 3 points (pre-war this varied);
– there will be 3 shinpan (apart from tenran shiai, there was almost only ever 1 shinpan, sometimes 2);
– time limits and the use of encho (and hantei) were defined.


– violent behaviour (e.g. taiatari or leg sweeping);
– use of shouts (i.e. kiai);
– going out of bounds.

Impact on kendo

If you look at the history of kendo as told by the ZNKR (All Japan kendo federation) you would be mistaken in thinking that shinai-kyogi had a short life-span and was irrelevant to kendo in the long run. This isn’t true. Although the shinai-kyogi association was created in 1950 and merged with the new ZNKR in 1954, books continued to be written and shiai run for quite some time it seems. The book mentioned in the opening was published in 1965, showing that a full 11 years after the dissolution of the shinai-kyogi association there was still a market for manuals. More than that, just this last weekend (end of January 2012) I found reference to shinai-kyogi shiai results from 1975 in a shiai brochure… a full 21 years after the merge.

So we have shown that shinai-kyogi outlasted its original remit, but what lasting impact – if any – did it have on kendo?

I don’t want to go into the complete ins and outs of this topic as it would require some very detailed research and presentation (maybe in the future). In brief, here are some of the far-reaching impacts of shinai-kyogi. Those in bold are fundamental changes to kendo as it existed prior to or during the war:

– fixing shiaijo sizes;
fixing of shinai weights and lengths;
– definition of time limits;
– creation of a more democracy i.e. males and females could practise and compete equally;
establishing 3 shinpan for all shiai;
disallowing violent actions, specifically foot sweeps;
creation of a ‘sporty’ image.

There are of course more things we can add to this list, for example how a yuko-datotsu was defined, but I will leave it here today.

Shinai-kyogi gallery


This has only been a very brief look into shinai-kyogi and its impact on modern kendo. We do know it had a massive impact on the kendo community as the sportive element of kendo (introduced by shinai-kyogi) went in a direction and at a speed no-one seemed to predict. Proof of this can be seen in the writing of various senior sensei in the 50s and 60s lamenting over the state of kendo at the time. Their unifying cries ended up with the ZNKR getting together a group of its most senior people; the publication of ‘Concept of Kendo’ was the result.

Unfortunately, the Concept of Kendo didn’t really work out to be the call to rally as expected, and kendos sportive elements have continued to evolve, sometimes seemingly in opposition to its stated goals. The ‘Mindset of Kendo Instruction’ (published 2007) has been a newer initiative to address the situation but its end point may potentially be that as the earlier Concept Of Kendo. Inclusion of kendo as an eveny in the Olympic/GAISF ‘Combat Games’ in 2010 is yet more evidence of the continued sportification of kendo, a process that has its roots in shinai-kyogi. Some people may argue that kendo was heading in this way anyway, but a closer inspection of kendo in the 1930s and during the war suggests that kendo was getting very much back to its roots. That story, however, is for another time.

I hope you found this brief introduction interesting!!!

Check out Morishima Tateo sensei’s ‘Pursuing the spirit of modern kendo‘ for a further insight into the comments above.


剣道に内在する武道・スポーツ性について:しない競技規程と剣道試合・審判規則の比較から。国分 国友。鹿屋体育大学。1990発行。

By George

George is the founder and chief editor of
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21 replies on “Shinai Kyogi”

Very interesting. Looking forward to the more in-depth look in the future 🙂

Funny how the one part that stuck with me was ‘no nito’ made cry a little on the inside.

A parallel story to this is postwar kendo in Taiwan after the Japanese occupation ended. The incoming Kuomingtang from mainland China made efforts to purge Japanese influence from the minds of the Taiwanese (in addition to promoting a unified Chinese identity which included the discouragement of speaking Taiwanese let alone Japanese). The effects of this can be seen in the uniforms the Taiwanese/ROC delegation wore to the first WKC. They resembled white karate uniforms and did not include hakama so they looked a bit similar to shinai-kyogi players. That didn’t stop them from taking 2nd place though!

Hey Dillon,

I’ve seen pictures of that team actually. Do you have any source material (in Japanese/English) that I could look at in reference to what you mention above???

Once again, something about Kendo history I never knew about. Well done. I must say that I’m pleased “Shinai Kyogi” didn’t take root. No kiai? How weird would that be? Answer – very.

George, my source was from memory of a KWF thread post made in reference to photos of the 1st WKC on the 14th WKC Brazil homepage (now taken down). The gentleman who wrote the account (under the handle “Darknails”) seems to have direct contact with sensei who were in that team. His blog is

I do not have direct source otherwise but have spoken to sensei in Taiwan whose lineage are from one of those Taiwanese sensei. That conversation was more along the lines of this is our genealogy rather than a recount of those days.

Ben, thanks for the Link. Thats not shinai-kyogi but military kendo. The video was taken in 1938… (assuming that this is correct that would make it about 12 years or so before the invention of shinai-kyogi). War-time kendo obviously had an impact on shinai-kyofi of-course.


Are you referring to sports-chanbara? If so then the answer is no. Historically shinai-kyogi was created for a particular reason, i.e. to soften/quicken the reintroduction of kendo. Sports-chanbara, on the other hand, was the creation of a single person based on a popular childrens game in the early 1970s. That person was a kendoka I believe. Sports chanbara is a ‘hit and dont be hit’ game, nothing like kendo nor shinai-kyogi for that matter, and has no lofty claims other than that. I dont know, but I assume there is a money involved in franchising of it and selling of equipment (unlike kendo).

Then, I take it that shinai kyogi had stricter requirements for scoring a point? If so, what were those? With kiai considered hansoku, I expected the requirements to be extremely lax.

Briefly looking at the text it seems that the point-scoring system was the same as kendo at the time basically. Although kiai was disallowed in shinai-kyogi its not explicitly part of a yuko-datorsu in modern kendo as many people assume (fumikomi is another assumed non-requirement). With or without kiai theres no reason to assume that the judging of points was either mor or less lax than kendo at that time.

Hi George.
Very interesting, as always.

Your articles highlight a duality that even I (an humble ikkyu) feel is present in “modern” Kendo: the “sport” Kendo and the “budo” Kendo. I don’t like when someone refers to kendo as a sport. Shure, Kendo (as other martial arts) has dynamic aspects that can be related to sport, but for me, Kendo is, first and foremost, budo.

I don’t want to sound reactionary, but I’m against “the continued sportification of kendo” for sure.

What is the position of kendo’s ruling body on this argument?
What is their opinion? What is the opinion among the general kendo population?

Is someone making a stand?
Is someone trying to keep kendo firmly linked to its roots?
Or even trying to bring kendo closer to its roots? Going against the flow? Maybe trying to revert the flow?

I would greatly appreciate your feedback on this matter (maybe even an article ^_^).

Thank you.

possible repost, my first comment never showed up.

Hi Riccardo,

You touch on many things in your comment…. and its hard to reply to everything.

Whether you are against kendo’s sportification or not is pretty much irrelevant because its happened/happening. You can see this in Japan, and even more so out of it. Its a long lengthy subject and the first murmurings of complain came as early as the 1920/30s. Prior to and during the war period there was a bit of reversal, but post war (including shinia-kyogi) was a bad period for ‘orthodox’ kendo (I use ‘orthodox’ in the manner of say, Takano Sasaburo or Nakayama Hakudo). Some of the kendo people that were doing sporty kendo at that time are now hanshi 8dan and are controlling the art, so…….

I’ll leave it there!

Riccardo, After reading this post I think that you might be missing something. I am currently nidan, have been studying kendo in the UK for nearly 5 years now and I have studied other martial arts for the previous 30 years. In my humble opinion although there is a ‘sportification’ of kendo, to some degree, there are still very strong links with the budo aspect, especially from the point of ken (Excuse the pun). Surely Nihon kendo kata is a direct link to the budo aspect where each and every kata results in what would be a fatality? Kihon kendo kata teaches us all we require in terms of basic kendo technique but we still practice the 10 kata of Nihon kendo kata, why do we do this if there is no link to budo?. I appreciate the fact that the competition aspect does introduce an element of sport to the discipline but then Iaidoka take part in competition as well, is Iai regarded as a sport because of this? I think not. Any of the sword arts, regardless of their ‘sportification’ are not really about the practice of a set of techniques. They are about the practice of self development; development of the mind, body and spirit in an endless circle. When one attains a particular grade then there is a new starting point but it is always just another place on the circle that one is beginning a training regime from,[Please look up the Wikipedia entry for Kyushindo] and eventually if one practices hard enough and for long enough, the next level will be attained. This is a philosophical endeavour and not a physical one that most competition is about, that’s why most people at the top in sport are young, because they can physically out perform those that are older. They do not however, have the value of the experience that repeated practice will bring. Unless they have reached the illustrious heights of international representation that is. Remember that it is considered to be accurate that one can reach a pinnacle where one is thought to good at something after practicing for at least 10,000 hours. This is equivalent to roughly 12 hours per week over 16.5 years.

I only make these comments because every sensei that I have trained with recently place a strong emphasis on kata. This is regardless of their ranking, and recently I have trained with dojo leaders and sensei ranging from sandan to hachidan any of whom would emphasise the link to budo should they be asked directly. [Ken] is a very direct link to the Japanese past and as such is most definitely linked to budo.

George, Rob,
Thank you for your answers!

In Italy we have this (ironic) saying: “We were better off when things were worse”.
And it seems to be the case when, even in the 1920/30s, kenshi were complaining about (un)orthodox kendo. 🙂

I do hope to see an increasing emphasis on kata (maybe make them more integral to shinai keiko?).
Sometimes they seem like an afterthought more than a key element of kendo.
(You know, the “thing you have to do” during grading exams)

Anyways, I probably sounded more pessimistic (and whiny) than I really am.
After all, I have faith in Kendo! 🙂

Until next time, gambatte!

Best regards,

I have read several novels by Shohei Ooka, Haruo Umezaki, etc. There are stories of soldiers serving in the Philippines. They performed there and experienced terrible things, the death of people, hunger, helplessness, skepticism. The protagonists often ask themselves existential questions, and as a result, this leads to pacifism and non-violence. The horrors of war reshaped their perception of the world.
From time to time I also see in the biographies of kendo and iaido teachers that they fought in the WW2 (China, Mongolia, Korea), they were in internment camps and returned home to Japan only after several years.
While reading those novellas, I wondered what kind of relationship the kendo soldiers had with sword techniques and training after returning home, did it affect their training, did their kendo change? How specifically? I will be glad for any observations. Thank you

Petr, there are some books written by kendo people who went through these experiences, though I must admit I haven’t read them. Maybe I will give one a try soon.

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