Frequently Asked Questions
In this section we attempt to answer any questions you might have. We also advise you to read "Kendo For Beginners".
- What is Kendo?
- Can anyone take part in Kendo?
- What do I need to bring?
- Will I have to buy a lot of expensive equipment?
- Is Kendo dangerous?
- How does grading work in Kendo?
- What if I already have experience of Kendo?
Kendo in Japanese means the way of the sword and its practise has been central to Japanese society for many hundreds of years. During a particularly turbulent era of Japanese history, around the 16th century, called the Sengoku Jidai or 'Age of the Country At War' many schools of swordsmanship sprang up run by great masters. Each school had its own particular style and was associated with a particular clan - it was in these schools that the now legendary samurai learned their skills.
After the civil war and the introduction of muskets to Japan the need for samurai and their skills started to die out. This was seen as a shame by many who regarded the samurai and their code of honour and mental and physical discipline as a cornerstone to Japanese society. To preserve the samurai tradition, the most sucessful schools continued to train samurai; however, after many accidental deaths bamboo swords called shinai and armour were introduced.
Over the centuries the many hundreds of moves and stances have been reduced so that modern kendo consists of only a handful of basic moves, two main stances and only four target areas. Kendo is a now seen very much as a sport in Japan and it is hugely popular with most schools and universities. However, in Britain it still remains widely unknown.
Anyone can take part in Kendo and enjoy it, no matter what level you reach. Unlike many other martial arts, kendo does not rely on brute strength or physical force, but rather steady nerves, quick reactions and speed. This makes it an ideal sport for women, and on many occasions I have seen a smaller women easily beat a large man simply because they are able to react more quickly.
To take part in Kendo you will need a fair to good level of fitness. You will need to be supple with a good range of movement in both your arms and legs - you won't be required to maintain vigourous exercise for a long while but rather the ability to release all your energy in a single explosive burst.
Nothing! The club owns a supply of practice swords (bokken) and fencing swords (shinai), providing in the Beginner's Package. Through kind donations from Japan and other sources, the club also has several sets of armour (bogu) available for extended loan (please ask a committee member for the details on deposit and termly fee for the loan).
To start Kendo all you will need is a pair of jogging bottoms and a T-shirt. Once you become more involved and experienced you may wish to purchase your own Keikogi (practice jacket), Hakama (wide pleated divided skirt) and shinai.
When you have reached a certain standard, usually after about 4-6 months you will be offered the chance to wear armour, the club can usually rent you a set of bogu for a £75 deposit and then £20 per college term, about 4 months. However, if you wish to buy your own, sets are available from various sources from £180. We recommend using Eurokendo, the club’s official supplier.
In a word no, when you start kendo you will initially practice the basic moves without a partner so there is no chance of any injury. When you are good enough you will be allowed to wear bogu (kendo armour) and pracice against other Kendoka (kendo practitioners). Bogu is made from traditional materials and has been designed over hundreds of years to provide maximum protection during kendo practice. Bogu covers the head, face with a metal guard or fence, throat, chest, stomach, waist, thighs, hands and wrists. The sword shinai that is used is actually made of four peices of bamboo that make a loud noise when a hit is made but do not actually hurt. However kendo is heavy on the feet and beginners may find that bad, energetic kendo may lead to blisters. For more information about kendo armour see below.
If you have any pre-existing injuries (knee, back, hip etc) it is important to do a good warm up and stretching before the practice (just as it is important for everyone). Do let us know on your application form and talk to our instructors so that a special guidance can be provided.
Also, please note that it is important to check your equipments regularly (especially the shinai) to prevent you and other members from getting injured. Please take a look at the Kendo Equipment Manual (from Fukuda Budogu) for details.
Grades go from 6th Kyu for beginners to 1st Kyu (Ikkyu), then 1st Dan (Shodan) and up. Grades below 2nd Kyu are awarded for no charge at open gradings held by the club and may be skipped. From Ikkyu onwards they are awarded nationally and must be taken in sequence. Taking the Ikkyu examination costs £30 if you pass.
More information about grading can be found on the British Kendo Association website.
If you have practiced kendo before coming to Oxford, you would be welcome to join any of our practices straight away. Our members have a wide range of ability, so we hope you will settle in well.
The club has a small stock of second hand bogu, which we can loan to our members if required.