Rule changes for the better

In 2009 I wrote a post called TSUBAZERIA RULE CHANGES IN HIGH SCHOOL KENDO that looked at new rules that were being implemented for high school kendo competitions here in Japan. Just over 4 years later and I can say without a doubt that the flow of shiai has improved drastically due to this simple change: there is less time wasting in tsubazeriai and students kendo has become a lot more positive and forward-attacking than it was before. There’s probably not been enough time since the rule implementation for a larger change in shiai flow to occur in university and adult shiai, but I’m pretty positive we are going in a good direction. So, it’s with great interest that I listened to a sempai of mine talk about a further change happening in Junior High School kendo (which I am not personally involved in).

A new rule in junior high school change states the following under the section “Strange defensive postures” (変形な構え等の防御姿勢):

“In the case of a strange defensive kamae, the following shall occur:

In the first instance: call a goki and instruct the players (of what is acceptable and what isn’t);

In the second instance: issue a hansoku.”

What is defined as a “strange defensive posture” is basically when you “lift your left hand above your eye level in order to block your men, kote, and dou” i.e. the “Sanpomamori” posture referred to by Morishima Tateo sensei. The rule change goes onto state that any waza executed out of this kamae (or something near to) will not be judged as valid.

As things stand at the moment, you can see people run into tsubazeriai using this posture a lot in shiai. I guess it’s a combination of not wanting to be hit and time wasting. Even if you look at video of the All Japan Kendo Championships – and of 3-time winner Uchimura Ryoichi – you can see that in the highest level shiai in Japan this type of movement happens a lot. It’s not just time wasting and defensiveness that’s the problem – it’s that it looks ugly.

I think that this is a great rule change. If it’s as successful as the tsubazeriai rule change in high school kendo then I think the flow of shiai will become much better in the future, and we will see students perform not only more beautiful kendo, but also less defensive, more positive kendo.

Personally, it’s my hope that this new rule in junior high school, plus the tsubazeriai rule of high school, be applied to not only adult competition here in Japan, but be spread abroad as well (the conduit for which would be the World Kendo Championships). I assume that these changes are part of the ZNKR’s long term plan, the aim of which is to eventually produce kenshi with better kendo who will in turn teach and influence others. Will it work? I guess only time will tell.


平成25年度 (公財)日本中学校体育連盟剣道競技部申し合わせ事項

16th World Kendo Championships

So, at the 2012 World Kendo Championships in Italy there was a presentation and vote to decide where the next championships would be held. There were two countries in contention: Japan and Korea.

A few weeks before the event I was contacted by a rep of the ZNKR and asked to give my opinion on how to grab the interest of non-Japanese kenshi (I assumed, and still assume now that they asked quite a few people the same questions). i.e. they wanted something that would appeal to the FIK board members to choose Japan over Korea.

One of my ideas was to interview famous kenshi and have them talk about why the Budokan is THE place to take part in shiai… about their experiences there, and about how its often seen as the pinnacle of every (Japanese) kenshi’s dream to compete there.

I was told that this idea was used, but I never saw the result of it until today – here it is (or at least a re-edit). I’m sure other people had the same or similar ideas, but it’s a thrill to see it nonetheless !!!

London Cup 2013

This year saw Tora Dojo host the 6th London Cup. Once again we were lucky enough to be joined by kenshi from all over Europe, including various current and former national team members. Countries taking part included France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Spain, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Over the years we’ve been amazed and touched by the support and interest in the competition. This year was no exception, the taikai had 175 registered participants. 33 teams in the team championship, 32 ladies, and 125 men registered. We also received the continued support of John Howell Sensei 7th Dan Kyoshi, Geoff Salmon Sensei 7th Dan Kyoshi, and Terry Holt Sensei, 7th Dan Kyoshi. As well as the matches themselves, which ran on Saturday and Sunday, there was ji-geiko on Friday evening and each day of the Taikai after the matches. Many competitors also joined the regular Tora Dojo practice on Thursday evening, where we had 45 people taking part in the keiko.

It was great to see so many people not only enjoying the shiai, but also the ji-geiko together. As a goodwill taikai the most important thing to us as organisers is letting people come together and enjoy kendo together. Making new friends, seeing great matches, and experiencing kendo that they might otherwise had not had the chance to.

In the team event this year, a mixed team from France, and Sweden took the gold, after a close fought final against Tora Dojo’s A team. The final saw fights between German, Swedish, British, and New Zealand national team members, as well as a former French national team member and rival club level fighters. The were also Nito and Jodan fighters! So it proved to be a very varied showcase of kendo at a great level. Bronze medals went to North West a mixed team from England, and Scotland another mixed team. Both teams were made up of British team members and their dojo mates.

Regardless of the finals, the event saw some great players all throughout the rounds. Especially a mixed team from Switzerland that consisted of national team members from Switzerland and Germany, and Mumeishi 1, a very strong team made up of high level Japanese competitors 4th Dan to 6th Dan.

The individual events also offered some great matches, with some very close fights all day. This year saw Sabrina Kumpf from Arrau take gold in the ladies event, and for the first time a non Japanese fighter took gold in the mens individual, Dominik Christ of Tora Dojo.

Once again we would like to thank everyone who came to London and made the Taikai so special. Without the competitors, who also helped as Shinpan, the event would be nothing. Thanks also to our Sponsor Sankei International who have supported us with fantastic medals and trophies over the years.

We very much look forward to another exciting event next year, and hope to welcome many more of you to London in 2014!


Team event

1st Place – Sweden/France combination team (MMM)
2nd Place – Tora A
3rd Place – North West 1
3rd Place – Scotland

Fighting Spirit – Sarfraz Aziz, Mumeishi Dojo London

Ladies Individual

1st Place – Sabrina Kumpf, TenDoKan Aarau Switzerland
2nd Place – Yukie Williams, Oxford
3rd Place – Melissa Keranovic, TenDoKan Aarau Switzerland
3rd Place – Masumi Owa, Wakaba Dojo London

Fighting Spirit – Laure Bellivier, Shung Do Kwan Geneva, Switzerland

Mens Individual

1st Place – Dominik Christ, Tora Dojo London
2nd Place – Mathieu Schoch, Tshiku Sei Kan Basel, Switzerland
3rd Place – Jon Fitzgerald, Tora Dojo London
3rd Place – Hirohito Tanaka, Mumeishi Dojo London

Fighting Spirit – David Bryce, Scotland

Photos courtesy Debbie Bevan and Chris Seto.

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。

Is kendo faster than the human eye?

Take a look at the video below. This is the winning point of this years Zen nippon senshuken taikai (All Japan championships), held in the Tokyo Budokan on the 3rd of November 2010.

This is the shiai that determines/determined who is the strongest competitor (young/male) in the country (and by extension, the world), and is the most prestigious of all kendo competitions. At such a high level you would expect the shinpan to be able to discriminate between a hit that’s on and one that’s not. But – as you can see – the men-strike does not actually connect.

Continue reading Is kendo faster than the human eye?