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.


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.


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.


Kendo, Inherited Wisdom and Personal Reflections – Geoff Salmon

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

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 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.

Shinai grip 竹刀の握り

Yesterday I popped into my sempai’s kendo shop in central Osaka to buy a shinai. Almost all my shinai have round handles, but sometimes I do use koban (oval-handled) shinai, so I picked one up. I took a snap and posted it on facebook to quickly see if kenshi247 readers also try koban shinai. Of course the answer was in the affermative.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am really picky about shinai. This has led me, over the years, to experiment with different types of shinai, be that lengths, weights, brands, balance, handle length, and even handle shapes. I think only the last one will raise an experienced kenshi’s eyebrows. Even then, for most people a change in handle shape means the decision to use a normal round handled shinai, or the oval, more sword-like, koban handled shinai. Thats it. But the reality is that there are various types of shinai handle shapes out there. Although rare, I’ve tried SQUARE and OCTAGONAL handles, and I’ve heard of triangular and hexagonal.

As a quick comparison, please take a look at these snaps of square, octagonal, and oval handles on these shinai that I own:

But why bother with using a non-round handled shinai anyway? Here are a selection of comments from the original image I posted on facebook:

“I use one pretty regularly. What I like about it (aside from how it fits in the hands) is that it is a more realistic representation of how an actual sword would feel when gripping.”
– Scott

“I use koban only. I feel my grip is more over the top of the Shinai. It helps my seme, tenuchi and feels more like a katana.”
– Simon

“My definitive preference is koban shinais. Considering the shape of a half-closed human hand is that of an oval, I would consider koban to be more anatomically correct, comfortable, and a better representation of a katana grip.”
– Leo

“I did for a while when I had a lot of trouble keeping my hasuji accurate. It also helped strengthen my tenouchi.”
– David

“It helps me with Do(u).”
– Israel

“I love the oval grip. I do notice it tends to make me lazy when using a normal shinai and tend to let the shinai drift from left to right in my grip.”
– Wes

“I prefer koban… I think they’re easier to use than the round grips.”
– Joe

“I started Iaido and Kendo at the same time it only felt natural to have a koban styled shinai.”
– Lance

“After many years of battodo, iaido and taijutsu I couldn’t get used to a standard tsuka, koban gata feels more natural for me and helps with correct hasuji.”
– Graeme

“I started kendo after several years of iaido practice. Koban tsuka was a natural choice.”
– Raymond

I don’t really have too much to add on top of what everyone wrote, but if I try to summarise everything it would go something like this: basically, koban are easier to use because they fit into the hand better, they promote a better awareness of the ‘blade’ part of the shinai (thus leading to better, more correct hasuji), and they fit more into the shinai-as-a-sword part of kendo’s culture. I think the other handle shapes also promote the same things to a degree (though the square shaped handle can bite into the hands a bit).

What I do want to add is this: I think its worth exploring different handle shapes in order to explore how you use your hands, not only in the action of striking, but how the shinai sits in your hands in static kamae, and how this changes during the actions of osae, harai, etc. For me personally it took a long time (over 15 years?) to begin to become aware the subtleties of finger use and to wake up to the fact that my grip was constantly changing during an encounter (and that this is normal). Also – and this is an important point for me in particular – deeper understanding of shinogi use and concomitant change in how the wrists work – is very hard if not impossible to come by while using only a round handle.

At any rate, although you can do all this with a normal, round-handled shinai anyway, I do think its a good exercise to use an oval (or whatever) handled shinai now and then in order to explore what your hands and fingers are doing during keiko. Try it!

I’m super busy at the moment, so this article was a little bit rushed… I hope it actually makes sense! Feel free to comment on facebook or below. Cheers!

Bunburyodo 文武両道

Bunburyodo is a term that I’m sure many if not all budo practitioners are familiar with. It’s a term used to describe someone who has become or is trying their best to become ‘accomplished in the both military and literary arts’ (martial arts and arts/sciences). The first recorded use of a similar term (「文事ある者は必ず武備あり」) is found in the ‘Records of the Grand Historian’ (史記), written in Han-era China around about BCE 109-91. When the Records came to Japan and how and when the term was was changed to ‘bunburyodo’ seems to be unknown, but various other synonymous kanji combinations have been used for a very long time.

During the classical, feudal, and Tokugawa periods of Japanese history, the term is said to have referred to the importance of understanding both academic and warrior arts in order to be able to govern effectively. That is, an effective ruler (and subordinates) would ideally have a balance of both. The need for this balance was promoted by Tokugawa Ieyasu, and became increasingly looked at as an ideal situation for the ruling class in general by the 19th century. However, nowadays in Japan (a country with a far less hierarchical class system that existed before), this ideal has been reworked to simply refer to those that try hard in both their study and some sort of physical activity (e.g. baseball), and it seems to be used almost exclusively in reference to students.

… which brings me neatly round to the point of this article – the reason for the slow down of written content over the last while (or, at least, why I’m not writing as much as I want to!). Basically, the study for my 2nd degree is literally taking up all my free time, which I didn’t have enough of anyway! Between an agressive keiko schedule (8 times on a slow week), a full time job, and my private life, its been hard to fit in time for translations and article writing. I also had to suspend work on the next kenshi247 publication… which is about 65% done as we speak.

Not to fear, however, as I intend to start work on the above publication in May with hopefully a summer release, and will be back to work with some kendo articles around the same time. In the meantime, I will continue to post updates on facebook, and I also seem to be addicted to instagram at the moment (#kenshi247)… so check out both those channels for continual kendo-related updates and pictures. Cheers!!!!!

* In case you are interested, I’m currently studying History. My first degree was in the completely unrelated area of Computer Science…

Mazeru – mix it up 交ぜる

Recently a long-time kendo friend living in the U.K. messaged me on facebook to tell me he was bored with kendo (again). The problem – as I put it to him – was that he has probably “little variation in his keiko” and that he is “constantly stuck with the same partners, doing the same thing.” He readily agreed to my analysis. When you combine this with the lack of a large kodansha base (whereby there are few senior people to learn under nor aim towards), then you can see where his boredom comes from and can easily understand the root of his frustration.

My suggestion was for him to get out of his usual comfortable keiko-zones and go and visit other places. A 2-week kendo trip to Japan would be optimal of course, but is far from realistic for most people most of the time. Simply visiting another dojo now and then can make a world of difference. Being based in Europe gives him the added ease of making a weekend kendo trip to another country, say France, Germany, or Italy.

I am in a very lucky situation here in Osaka, but I still make the effort every now and then to practise in places that I haven’t been (or barely go) to. At the same time, I try to do the same thing with my high school students (when you practise 6-times a week with friends its easy to become over comfortable with them), but in the following 3 ways (and in this order):

  1. Renshu-jiai

    Where we go to another school (or visa versa) and spend the day doing as many practise shiai as possible. Scores are kept but there is no league or competition per-se. At the end we may do a little bit of jigeiko. Students generally don’t know each other.

  2. Godo-renshu

    Again, were we go to another school (or visa versa) and take part in their keiko (or them ours) menu. The aim here is to practise polishing our kendo. Again, theres usually a little bit of jigeiko at the end and students may not know each other.

  3. Degeiko

    When I take a number of students (not all of them as there are too many!) to an adult dojo for some instruction/practise with my sempai and sensei.

Of course, sometimes 1 and 2 are done in combination.

The aim in all this is basically to change mood, but there are also added pluses such as exposure to different teachers or training methods; sometimes something as simple as a change in venue helps a lot. If you find yourself bored or frustrated with your kendo practise, get out of your normal dojo and go somewhere else or even call a friend at another dojo and tell them to bring their friends along to training next week.

A term used in kendo circles that everyone knows is 交剣知愛 (ko-ken-chi-ai). The KO portion is the kanji 交 which means to MIX or CROSS. Kendo-wise, that refers to the crossing of shinai, and can be taken to infer – in our term above – the making of friendships.

In other words, If you get out of your normal dojo and do kendo with different people, I’ll guarantee that you’ll not only make new or perhaps deepen older friendships, but your boredom and frustration will also disappear!!


I’d like to introduce kenshi247 readers to someone who has played a large part in my kendo life over the last three years: Kubota Suzunosuke. He was a key member of my high school kendo club, eventually becomng the club captain and passing his 3 dan when he was still just 17. Unfortuanately, on January 30th 2013, he passed away, so you will never be able to meet or do kendo with him. However, like I have done, I believe there is something you can learn from him by knowing a little bit about how he lived his life.

In a post that is completely different from my normal content, I would like to tell you something of his story here today, but rather than use my words, I’ll do so by translating a couple of pieces that were published in the Sankei Shinbun on February 18th 2013, adding in a couple of comments for clarification here and there (I will also add a personal section at the end). The article also reached the top of news topics on that day. Of course, because I want to respect the privacy of his family, I wont go into too many extra details.

Please note that I did get his parents permission to publish this English translation online.

I hope you can find something inspiring in his story.


(Front page of the Sankei Shinbun, February 18th 2013)

A life dedicated to children with terminal illness: School lessons while hospitalised

The high school boy who fought to establish a system to allow hospitalised children take normal school classes while himself battling ill health passed away – Osaka prefectural Otemae high school 3rd year student, Kubota Suzunosuke (18).

Although still very sick with a Ewing’s sarcoma (a type of bone cancer) he managed to sit the (very tough) national university exams.

Right up until he took his last breathe on January 30th (2013) he would give the thumbs up to the people around his bed (friends, family, hospital staff) and say “ganbaru” (“Ill do my best”). Right until the end he never gave up on his dream of going to university.
(text by Takahashi Mayuko)

A maignant Ewing’s sarcoma tumour is said to affect 4 people in every million. His cancer symptoms first appeared when he was a 2nd year junior high school student (about 14yrs old). After repeatedly undergoing painful medical treatment, even to the extent of having some bones removed, he even managed to defeat two relapses (all in all, he spent 10 months in hospital).

Kubota said that the science classes he took while hopitalised at that time were “something I will never forget” (i.e. the classes were indespinsible to him). This type of system (taking school lessons while hospitalised) didn’t exist for high school students, so he – based on his experience at junior high school and worrying about falling behind in his study – sent a request in January 2012 to Osaka City to establish such a system. The reply from Osaka major Hashimoto Toru was “If the government cant even assist you alone, then what’s the government for anyway?”

In April of the same year (3 months after the original email) Osaka prefecture created a new system where they would dispatch temp-teachers to teach hospitalised high school students. Including Kubota, about 8 students have thus far used the service.

The following month, in May 2012, another malignant tumour was found, and he was given between 3 months and 1/2 a year to live.

In November he said “I want to do something for people that are going to be hospitalised in the future, or for people who will undero even more painful experiences than me” and he started petitioning for medical aid/help for children who are afflicted with unknown illnesses (in Japan, if you have an unknown disease, or something not thought of as important by the country, you will recieve no governmental aid).

Even while his condition became severe, and with his strong desire to go to university, on January 19th and 20th (2013) he sat the national university examinations. After this his condition suddenly changed for the worse, and the door on his short life closed.

(Page 23 of the Sankei Shinbun, February 18th 2013)

“Chasing his dream”
“School lessons while hospitalised”
“Earnestly sitting national university exams depsite relapse”

3rd year Osaka prefectural Otemae high school student Kubota Suzunosuke (18) from Asahi-ku passed away on the 30th of January 2013 from cancer.

“Even if you have a good idea about something, if you dont act then nothing will come of it” – this is what he said regarding his desire to improve the situation of terminally ill high school students who, while hospitalised, are denied study help from the government. His desire to help students like this arose from his own personal experience. While working towards this he continued to do his own school study. Although he passed away too early, he managed to pass on this “dream” and “desire” to many people.

“You gave me power” – Hashimoto Toru, Osaka city mayor

Last January (2012), during a temporary lull in his illness where he was allowed to leave the hospital, he sent an email to Osaka City petitioning for change in the study situation of hospitalised high school students. After this he would go into hospital about once a week while continuing to attend school. Because he didnt want to leave school during class to go to the hospital (i.e. he strongly desired to study), he would go at lunch time or after school. Despite his mother saying “You dont have to push yourself so hard!” he would say “Im going back” and return to school to help the kendo club (he was the captain). But on the evening of the 20th of May he experienced pain in his chest: the cancer was back. The verdict was 3-6 months to live.

He never gave up on his dream or neglected his learning. The teachers that visited him in school would proactively ask “What subjects do you want to study?” and when he sat tests at school he was attached to two small mobile medical devices that would adminster pain killers.

When his parents were told that he had only a short time left, they never told him. His mother said “I think he knew himself. He started to consider what he could do to help other patients around the world.”

At the end of the year his condition started to take a turn for the worse. Even though he was unable to stand or ingest food anymore, he (just before he passed away) sat the national university enterance exams on the 19th and 20th of January 2013. A special room was prepared for him and he did the exams in a special wheelchair. After each exam was finished he was able to lie down; using all the power that he had, he completed all of the tests.

At this time, it became difficult for him to say anything. The friends that visited him were anxious about his situation and spoke kindly to him. His classmates said “lets graduate together!” which enabled him to fight harder. He was looking forward to the graduation ceremony on the 1st of March. Even the day before he passed away he mustered up all his remaining strength, stuck one thumb up, and said “ganbaru” (“I’ll do my best“).

At the wake held on the 3rd of February, over 1000 people attended. At the funeral service, a message from Osaka mayor Hashimoto Toru was read: “Your proposal to start a special teaching system for hospitalised high school students has become reality. This is a ray of hope for them. When I think of how much you tried your best, I feel energised.”

His kendo club friends said “The image of you taking part in shiai while still fighting such a serious illness will always remain in our hearts.” (The picture used at the top of the article is Suzunosuke competing in his last ever shiai before retiring. This was in June 2012.)

The school is preparing a high school graduation certificate to be given out during the graduation ceremony. Also, (through Suzunosukes effort) Otemae high school will be one of the areas holding this years charity event Relay for Life.

His father Kazuo said that he was looking forward to when his son would become 20 so that they could go out and have a beer together (the legal age for drinking alcohol is 20 in Japan). His father said peacefully: “As a high school student I think he did his best in everything he tried, no matter what the conditions were. It didn’t matter what it was he never ran away from it; he lived an honest and earnest life.”

George’s comment

After Suzunosuke passed away I found myself re-reading some of the email and facebook conversations that we’d had. He liked English and was even selected to go and study abroad in the U.K. for a short stay during 2nd year (he probably new about his relapse when he went), so we often communicated in English, even on kendo club matters. An example of both his humour and his strong desire to do kendo can be seen in this facebook conversation snippet (I think the ? was meant to be an !):


More than anything else, Suzunosuke loved kendo. Not only that, he was very talented at it as well. When he was selected by the other students to become the captain of the club I was delighted. When he was selected to be sent by the school to the U.K. I was delighted. When he passed his 3dan I was delighted. When he relapsed it was a hard time for him, but he came to the dojo as often as he could, watching and helping to teach for the most part. After a few months he eventually got back into bogu, even leading the practise again sometimes.. and again I was delighted. Even though it was obvious that things weren’t going smoothly and after a lot of deep thinking on my part, I selected him to take part in the last shiai of his high-school kendo career and, it turned out to be, his life. Watching him take part in shiai again and lead his team into the 2nd round of competition was difficult emotionally for me (and his parents also I believe) and – now that I look back on it – I’m pretty sure he felt it was his last as well. 30 minutes after we were put out of the competition the entire kendo club gathered (at nearly 40 members, one of the largest clubs in the prefecture) and a smiling Suzunosuke gave a energetic, thoughtful, and positive retirement speech.

This English translation was done originally for the benefit of the friends that he made when he was in the UK, and also for the non-Japanese kenshi that visited me at work and did keiko with him. After speaking with his parents, they were happy for me to publish it here and to have kenshi from all over the world learn about – and learn from – his fighting spirit. A fellow kenshi, I think we all have something to learn from him.

This article was published on the 1st of March 2013, the day of Suzunosuke’s high school graduation ceremony.


難病の子供たちへ 尽くした命」・「病院で授業」訴え実る



「夢へ全力 思い継ぐ」・「病院で授業」久保田さん・「センター試験 再発負けず懸命に」