The purpose of modern Kendo is not to win real-life duels or use martial art techniques in a fight. While Kendo has evolved from Samurai sword arts, one of the many reasons why people practice it today is for the benefits it can bring to the kendoka’s personal life.
Kendo may look brutal, but it is not. It carries principles of samurai swordsmanship. But it is also a “sport” with the purpose of improving one’s character through discipline and the application of the principles of the Katana (sword). These principles of the sword are called kata.
The suffix Do in Kendo is what points towards a martial art with a mental focus as opposed to a purely technical sport. Do signifies a “way of life” that points to practice or experience of the discipline. In other words, Kendo is the practice of the “way of the sword”.
You can better understand what this means by comparing Kendo with Kenjutsu, which is a term that applies to all types of Japanese swordsmanship.
In Kenjutsu, the suffix jutsu signifies “technique”. Therefore, the martial arts of Kenjutsu, which originate from the samurai of feudal Japan largely involve battlefield techniques with or without an opponent. Weapons typically used in Kenjutsu are bokken/bokuto or wooden swords. Kenjutsu is designed for killing, so often there’s no actual fighting unlike Kendo.
The Benefits of Kendo
In Kendo, a major tenet is “know the way of the sword, know yourself”. To look at it another way, it implies that you are your biggest enemy. That is the enemy you have to beat in kendo. In other words, you can improve yourself through the sport.
Anyone who practices the principles of Kendo as they are meant to be practiced all their lives will not only eventually achieve 8th Dan, but will also enjoy the personal benefits of this discipline. These benefits include the physical and the mental.
Physical benefits: Kendo is a sport that makes demands of the body. You must learn how to wield a shinai and a bogu when you spar. You must get used to the weight of the bogu, and this is only possible through training. There are few other sports in which the entire body is engaged all at once, like it is in kendo. During particularly intense training drills, short bursts of energy can help to train the strength of muscles. It also improves endurance. This is why many practitioners train in kendo partly for physical fitness.
Mental benefits: Kendo is known for its mental benefits. But as with any martial art, to get the maximum out of your training, you must be focused. Here it is proper to pull out the old clichÃ©, practice makes perfect. Only with rigorous, focused practice will you be able to achieve the perfect Ippon. In the process, as a kendoka, you will be able to learn how to perform in the face of stress. In situations of stress, Kendoka know how to keep mentally calm and stay balanced, all because of their mental training. It teaches self-control, respect and mercy.
“Full Spirit”: Another benefit of the training of Kendo is the ability to act with a “full spirit” even when the odds are against you. This means keeping your full concentration and enthusiasm no matter the situation. With enough practice, kendoka are able to achieve high levels of engagement and concentration for long periods of time when they are sparring. Competitive kendo is nothing but a test of such skills. This valuable skill can then be applied to deal with daily situations in life as well.
It must be remembered that modern kendo will only offer its benefits to those who have understood that the sport is not just a way of winning over an opponent but a way of living.
There is a reason why Japan’s organizational bodies have stopped awarding the 9th Dan for the last two decades. It is because after a point in training, you can no longer measure the skills of kendo. Beyond the 9th Dan, improvement becomes subjective. At that time, the only way to measure improvements is through the benefits that you observe kendo to have brought into your own life.