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.
The following rule changes will probably not impact your kendo training any time soon nor in the near future. However, implementation of them in competition for young Japanese kenshi ensures that there will be a stylistic change in the kendo leaders of the future and it is also strongly hints at what the kendo leaders of today see as bad style.
The changes have been in discussion and trial over quite a while here in Japan (implementation was decided in May 2009, and I have personally seen the rules been applied in shiai), but it is only from this month (October 2009) where competitors will get a hansoku rather than a warning, i.e. the rules go into full implementation.
This was a question that was asked in an interview with Iho Kiyotsugu hanshi in 1993.
Iho hanshi held various kendo teaching posts during his lifetime (Police Academy, Kokushikan university, Chukyo university, etc), had a successful shiai career (All Japan high school championships 1st place 3 times, 9th All Japans 1st place, Nippon Budokan 15th Anniversary hanshi 8dan shiai 1st place, once defeated 26 opponents in the tozai-taiko, etc), and is the author of numerous kendo books. He is said to have been of the most influential figures in the kendo scene during the kendo-boom in the late 60s and early 70s. He died in 1999.
This is his reply to the above question.
The reason that kendo has changed is because of the changes in the shiai rules. These changes have made shiai both better and worse at the same time. When I was a student (before the war), there were no lines marking the competition area, no time limits, and only 2 judges (omote and ura shinpan). I wonder if the rules today have become too restrictive.
I think the biggest problem lies in how we time a competition. Once the time of the closing ceremony has been decided – which is something that usually happens first – this basically decides the length of individual shiai. From that stemmed the introduction of the hantei [where judges decide on a winner without a point being scored. Used exclusively with children]. Back in the day, there was no ippon-shobu. The shiai went on until one of the kenshi got 2 points.