Translated by Hilary Keyes
Try Traditional Martial Arts! Samurai Trip Kendo Classroom
Written by Jumpei Kawashima
Kendo is one of the great martial arts perfected by the samurai in old Japan. At Samurai Trip, you can experience this bamboo sword fighting - in English!
Kendo is one of the many traditional martial arts practiced in Japan. While wearing armor and wielding a wooden practice sword known as a shinai, two fighters face off in a battle of skill and spirit. As it is practice that has gone on since the age of the samurai, the Japanese are very familiar with this art.
Today we would like to introduce to you Samurai Trip where you can experience the thrill of kendō in an English-speaking setting. Designed with visitors to Japan in mind, this wonderful service aims to give non-Japanese speakers the opportunity to freely enjoy the essence of kendō.
Kendo - Elevating Humanity Through Discipline
Kendō is not simply a sport. A martial art to the end, kendō requires discipline and dedication to one's training; it is a means of developing the mind and body together. Not only must you be fully aware of your actions as you sharpen your skills, but you must constantly treat your opponent with the respect that they deserve - these are necessities of kendō.
Begin by Changing into the Uniform
With that in mind, now let's take a closer look at the kendō learning experience at Samurai Trip.
The basis of kendō is exchanging blows with the shinai (wooden practice sword). For that reason, wearing armor is a must. In the class, your first step is to learn how to wear the necessary armor to protect yourself during training. First you change into the dogi , the dark blue under uniform, then put on the chest protector. For beginners this may be more difficult than it looks, but the instructors are there to help you.
Once you have your uniform and armor securely in place, it is time to focus on your concentration. In order to be more like a samurai, you must have a dignified bearing. You might find that your facial expression starts to feel a bit tense during this process.
"Begin and End with Good Manners" - the Tenet of all Martial Arts
There is a saying in Japan that starts "begin with manners, end with manners". This expression accurately states the mindset of martial arts: expressing both decorum and respect are the hallmarks of a true martial artist.
Before the fighting portion of a kendō match takes place the opponents sit opposite one another and both give a deep bow; the same show of respect is repeated once the match is completed as well. At Samurai Trip you will learn the proper etiquette for kendō from start to finish.
Once you have exchanged bows, it is time to start warming up. In order to prevent any injuries, it's important to make sure that your entire body has been properly stretched and prepared for the bout. And once you are ready, it's time to start learning the practical skills of kendō.
Learning the Three Forms: Head, Torso, Forearm
The three basic strike patterns of kendō are men (striking the head), dō (striking the chest plate), and kote (striking the gauntlet/forearm).
To begin with, by first practicing your strikes against the instructor's sword you will become acclimatized to the physical motions required in kendō. At the same time as you use each technique, you must also remember to say the name of the technique you are performing. This is very important. By saying the name of the technique you are uniting your body and mind in action, thus helping you to more smoothly perform each motion.
When the sound of the strikes has become delightfully resonant, then you will have proof of the improvement in your skill. Now, without hesitation, it's time to strike with all your might!
Show Your Skills - Time for the Helmet and Gauntlets
Now that you have learned the main techniques, it's time to put on your masked helmet (men) and gauntlets (kote). These are meant to protect your head, face and neck, and your hands and wrists respectively. Incidentally, the total weight of the armor that you are now wearing is roughly 5 kg (11 lbs).
Now that you are protected, it is time to really practice the skills that you have learned. Don't forget to say the names of the techniques as you sally forth.
Once you have mastered the fundamentals of these skills, your practice time is finished. Now the time to battle has come!
A Game of Victory or Defeat
Samurai Trip has a game system where you wage war with your opponent. A paper balloon is placed on each of the three strike areas (head, forearms and chest) which acts as a target you must attack.
The rules are simple: whoever knocks off or pops the paper balloon is the winner of the match. As the match intensifies, you are sure to hear cheers of encouragement from those around you. It's time to use the skills that you've learned to strategize and have fun battling your opponent!
Watch the Instructors Really Battle
And once the game is over, you can watch as two of the instructors fight in earnest against one another right before your eyes. With years of training and experience under their belts, the sheer fluidity of their movements and the proficiency of their skill is a sight you cannot pass up.
The participants and viewers on this day were on the edge of their seats watching the match intently, eager to see the final outcome.
End with a Bow
At the very end, all the participants bow to one another, and that is the end of the kendō experience. Now you have been able to fully enjoy from start to finish learning the rules and techniques of the ancient martial art of kendō.
At Samurai Trip, you can learn detailed explanations of each step in the process from their instructors. And as there are English-speaking staff on hand, even non-Japanese speaking visitors can fully take part in this experience without worrying about any language barriers.
If you would like to take part in this amazing experience, you will need to make a reservation in advance online. The time and the location of the course differs based on their schedule, so please refer to their homepage for more information.
Image courtesy of SAMURAI TRIP
The long hand towel that you were given prior to putting on your helmet is yours to keep. Isn't that a cool souvenir of your experience as a samurai?
If you would like to have an authentic taste of Japanese martial arts, please head to Samurai Trip!