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Frequently Asked Questions About Kendo

What is kendo?

Kendo is a Japanese martial art focused on learning principles of fencing with a samurai sword.  Instruction is focused on studying techniques derived from traditional concepts used by the samurai in combat.  However, modern kendo has evolved these techniques into a fast-paced sport.  Practitioners use swords made of split bamboo called “shinai” and wear padded armor called “bogu”.  Strikes are limited to the head, hand, and upper torso.  Points are awarded by judges during a match for the proper execution of a technique.  Kendo students also learn a series of prearranged strikes and blocks called “kata” which are practiced with a partner.


What is a typical practice session like?

A typical practice session involves students working in pairs to execute various strikes and other techniques in rotating sequences.  Training is intense for more advanced practitioners, who wear full armor to absorb the impact of partner strikes.  Practice can also get quite noisy as students give spirited shouts known as “kiai” to help project their techniques.  Beginning students (without armor) focus on building basic skills and learning etiquette.


Who should train in kendo?

Kendo is for anyone interested and willing to train hard in a traditional martial art.  In Japan, children begin studying from an early age in elementary school and may continue practicing for life.  Nashville Kendo Club trains children and adults alike within a wide range of ages.  The minimum age to begin instruction for children varies depending on their ability to pay attention and follow instructions.  A typical age for a child to begin is around 10 years old.  However, it is the sole discretion of the teacher to determine the suitability of a child for joining practice.  As well, minors must have a parent or guardian in attendance for each class.  Adults may begin practicing at any age.


What do beginners need to start practice?

People interested in kendo are asked to come observe for their first class.  Afterward, they may join the regular practice on the following class date.  No special equipment is needed for the first few practices.  It is highly encouraged for prospective students to train for several sessions before making a commitment to join the club.  Kendo does not always hold its appeal after participating in a session.  As such, beginners are not expected to incur any expense for equipment during the initial stages of training.  Potential students should just wear comfortable clothing appropriate for exercise.  Practice swords are available for loan for the first few classes.  Once a prospective student decides to formally join the club, further instructions will be provided as to how and when to purchase necessary clothing and equipment.


Do participants get injured during practice?

Most kendo training sessions are injury free.  The impact of strikes during practice may be felt through the armor, but aren’t painful for the most part when executed properly.  Injuries arise more often from strained muscles/joints and blisters, which are typical of most sports activities.  However, kendo is a martial art requiring much strenuous effort.  As such, there’s no guarantee that injury can’t occur.  Achilles tendon tears are perhaps the most common serious ailment in kendo.  However, with proper conditioning, students should be unhindered by this condition.  Safety and good health are a primary concern during practice at all times.   


What should I expect during the first months of practice?

During the first few months, practitioners do not wear armor.  However, they should acquire a practice uniform “keikogi” and “hakama” and a bamboo sword “shinai”.  Such equipment can be purchased online from a number of recommended suppliers usually for less than $100.  Repetition is the primary word to describe kendo training for beginners at this stage.  As a traditional martial art, kendo practitioners must learn to execute techniques with a high level of precision.  Training focuses mainly on etiquette and on drills that isolate the various components of striking and footwork.  Beginners must be patient to learn both concepts and the fine details of kendo movement.  This initial phase of training can be boring for some people.  The majority of new students typically quit kendo during this time period.  Patience will be rewarded later on with the ability to execute techniques at a much higher level of proficiency. 


When should I get my armor (bogu) and how much does it cost?

Beginners are typically given permission by the instructor to wear armor in practice after training for about 6 months.  However, there is no precise timeline for when students may be given permission or for when they must purchase armor.  Each individual progresses differently and may have extenuating financial circumstances that dictates when it is possible to get their equipment.  A reasonable set of bogu goes for around $200 - $300 and can range much higher for better quality.  Students should consult the instructor or other senior members of the club for assistance with selecting armor before purchasing anything from an online kendo supplier.


Can I earn rank in kendo?

Yes.  Most kendo practitioners earn rank at some point in their training.  Students are given the opportunity to test for rank in kendo at various annual events held across the Southeast and other regions by the All U.S. Kendo Federation (AUSKF).   The AUSKF is the governing body for kendo in the United States and is affiliated with the International Kendo Federation.  Kendo follows the same traditional ranking system of many other Japanese martial arts.  Beginner (kyu) ranks start in the AUSKF at 6th-kyu and go to 1st-kyu.  However, initial test recommendations for beginners are at the discretion of the instructor.  Expert (dan) ranks begin at 1st-dan and proceed upward.  Unlike other martial arts, kendo practitioners do not wear colored belts or any other markings to denote their rank.  Skill in the training hall (dojo) is the most important determinant of rank.


How much does it cost to train?

The Nashville Kendo Club (NKC) is operated as a non-profit organization.  The primary goal of NKC is to promote the spread of kendo as a martial art form and not to generate revenue.  Instructors and club administrators are unpaid.  As such, monthly dues are set at $20 per month.  Families (two or more individuals) may join for $30 per month.  Dues are collected at the beginning of each quarter Jan, Apr, Jul, and Oct.  No contracts are required to join.  The only other financial requirement is a $100 annual dues payment for adults ($60 children) to the AUSKF.  It is required for all NKC members to join the AUSKF for insurance purposes and for rank testing requirements.  Fees for testing are set by the AUSKF and vary according to rank and age.


When and where does the club meet for practice?

Practice is held on Sunday mornings in the gymnasium at Montgomery Bell Academy (see map link).  Class begins at 9:00 am and lasts until noon.  Students should arrive earlier than 9:00 am to dress and warm up prior to the start of practice.  


Who can I speak with to find out more about the Nashville Kendo Club?

For more detailed information about the club, please contact Iko Bullington by email (iko@nashvillekendo.com) at this website.  She can accommodate both English and Japanese language speakers.