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Here is a short list of commonly used Japanese terms heard in the dojo. Do not worry about knowing all the Japanese terms in the beginning, you will pick them up along the way. For simple things expressing basic manners, English is perfectly acceptable and preferred over saying nothing at all — this is just common courtesy.
Greetings / Courtesy
- konbanwa: good evening
- konnichiwa: good day / good afternoon
- ohayo-gozaimasu: good morning
- sayonara: good bye
- oyasumi nasai: good night (when leaving)
- arigato gozaimashita: thank you
- sumimasen: excuse me
- gomen-nasai: I'm sorry
- onegai shimasu: please [do something / have good will towards me]
- sensei: instructor
- senpai: senior
- shinai: bamboo sword
- bokken / bokuto: solid wood sword
- gi / keikogi / kendogi: thick cotton double breasted jacket
- hakama: loose, pleated, wide trousers
- bogu: armor
- men: helmet
- kote: gauntlet
- do: torso protector
Commands / Activity
- hajime: begin
- yame: stop
- rei: bow
- seiza / chakuza: formal sitting position
- mokuso: meditate
- keiko: practice
- kiai: vocal expression of spirit
- seiretsu: line up
- ashisabaki: footwork
- suburi: solo practice swinging / cutting with the sword
- sonkyo: squatting ready position
- kamae: ready stance
- waza: technique
- nuke-to: draw the sword
- osame-to: sheath the sword
Direction / Orientation
- mae: front
- ushiro: behind
- migi: right
- hidari: left
- ue: above
- shita: under
- omote:front side
- ura: reverse side
- shomen ni: to the front
- otagai ni: to each other
- ichi: one
- ni: two
- san: three
- shi / yon: four
- go: five
- roku: six
- shichi / nana: seven
- hachi: eight
- kyu: nine
- ju: ten
- a: as in "all"
- i: like e as in "eel"
- u: as in "truth"
- e: as in "set"
- o: as in "go"
What is kendo?
Kendo is a modern Japanese martial art and fencing sport with origins in samurai swordsmanship. On the website of the All Japan Kendo Federation, you can find more expanded explanations of kendo history and the official concept of kendo. You can also view a video documentary produced by the NHK here: [Japanology] The Art Of Kendo.
What is iaido?
Iaido is a related art comprised of solo kata where the practitioner simultaneously draws and cuts an imaginary opponent using a mock blade called iaito. Wikipedia
I am new to kendo. What is practice like and how do I get started?
Is kendo expensive? How much does it cost?
Compared to many other group activities, sports, and commercial martial arts, kendo is relatively inexpensive. Our club dues for adults are $105 per quarter plus another nominal yearly fee to the regional federation. (See all Member Dues) As a beginner you do not need to purchase any equipment. Your first shinai is provided free with your dues and you will only need basic exercise clothing to start, a t-shirt and sweatpants will suffice. Additional and replacement shinai start from approximately $25-$35. After about 6 months, you will wear the uniform (hakama and keikogi) which can be purchased for as low as $80-$120 for an adult basic set.
The largest investment you will make in your first few years is the armor. You will not need to purchase one until sensei approves of your progress and you are ready to start wearing bogu. Do not purchase bogu without first talking to sensei. A full adult set starts around $400-$600 for a basic beginner set, then upwards of several thousands of dollars for a premium handmade set. This set can last you many years, with a few costs in upkeep and repair along the way.
Depending on how fast you progress and how often you practice, it takes about a year before you are ready to start wearing bogu. So you will have some of time to budget for that equipment as well as decide if you are committed to kendo in the long term.
Do not spend too much on your first bogu before you have the experience to understand the differences in quality and impact to your kendo. After years of practice, you will develop your own personal preferences and can make better judgements should you choose to upgrade or replace your kendo equipment. Remember that a modest set of bogu is all you may ever need for many years.
Do I need to be in good physical shape to practice kendo?
If you have concerns about your health, you should always consult your doctor before engaging any physical activity. That said, kendo is practiced by many people of all ages and varying physical fitness. You should know your limits. If physical fitness is your primary goal, kendo alone once or twice a week is probably not enough. Our practices can vary in effort depending on the day's agenda and mix of students. But for comparison to something more familiar, an average hour of kendo is similar in physical demand to an hour of playing basketball. There is a mixture of continuous aerobic effort coupled with more explosive short bursts and sprints. You should observe one of our practice sessions to get an idea of what the activity and duration is like. Also, see Our Practice page to read a description of the general categories of practice.
Am I too old / young to practice kendo?
Kendo is practiced by people of all ages, from youth of about 7 to seniors well into their 70's and up. Obviously, at the extreme ends of the age spectrum, physicality affects how you train. You should take your age into consideration and be realistic about your goals. Still, kendo is more than just about physical athleticism or competition, and the art is deep and nuanced enough for it to provide enjoyable benefits to all. For children, we recommend a minimum age of around 8 years old. Some have started younger, but that is dependant on the child's maturity and ability to follow group instruction.
Does it hurt?
To an observer, kendo can look like a very high-paced, vigorous exchange of blows—this is further amplified by the loud clash of bamboo, fierce yells, and stomping on hardwood floors. You might have the impression that these strikes are painful, but the armor is designed to absorb and protect from impacts with a shinai. That doesn't mean you will not feel the strike or that it might not sting a little; it is similar to any other padded contact sport. You will become conditioned to this as you progress. Like any physical activity or sport, there is risk of injury. However, kendo injuries are relatively infrequent, especially compared to many other martial arts and contact sports.
Kendo has only a few designated targets, and these are protected by armor. There may occasionally be errant or wayward strikes to an unarmored spot, and these can result in a slight sting or a bruise. But the bamboo shinai has enough suppleness so that injury beyond that is extremely rare. Also, there is greater emphasis on form over strength and speed, and beginners spend at least a year or more before engaging in any free sparring; and this is preceded by requiring the explicit permission of the sensei to evaluate if you are ready and accurate enough for this or not.
If anything, the most common kendo injuries are repetitive stress ailments you might incur doing any sport like running, tennis, or basketball. As a beginner, blisters to the hands and feet can also happen until you build up the calluses from repeated practice. Please let sensei know if you have any injuries or ailments that might prevent or hinder your range of activity.
Do I need to do any additional conditioning or cross-training for kendo?
Cross training is not required to enjoy kendo, but it is still a good idea to maintain good health habits. Obviously, kendo is a physical activity and your level of fitness does play a role. If increasing or maintaining your fitness is a goal, kendo once or twice a week may not be enough. If possible, it is always good to supplement kendo with some light aerobic activity as well as working on increasing flexibility, mobility, and light strengthening, especially around the joints.
Again, remember that kendo success is not about brute strength or pure speed, but directly related to coordination, timing, correct form, and attitude.
How does ranking work in kendo? I don't see any belts.
Kendo uses a similar ranking system found in other martial arts like judo and karate. You progress from kyu-levels to dan-levels. These correspond to the belt system most are familiar with: colored belts (kyu) to black belts (dan). Kyu levels start at 6-kyu for kids, and 4-kyu for adults then progress down to 1-kyu. Thereafter, the dan levels increase from 1-dan (shodan) up to 8-dan.
Promotion examinations (shinsa) are run at the federation level and you are judged by a panel of at least four or five sensei, of which none of them may be from your dojo. This is a good thing. It emphasizes the merit of your skill and creates a more standard leveling of rank across all members in the federation. The PNKF holds examinations twice a year for ranks up to 4th dan. For higher dan grades, you need to test at the national level with varying locations around the country. For each rank, there may be prerequisite criteria of age and time since achieving your current rank. You can find criteria for each rank on the PNKF website.
No, we do not have visible belts to display our rank, but there is a saying that kendo doesn't lie—once you are on the floor it becomes quickly apparent what your level is.
In tournaments and examinations, you are separated into divisions so that you are paired against similar levels.
How quickly can I get my black belt? Is there a black belt course or program?
There is no program that will automatically predispose you to earning a dan-level (black belt) certificate. Ranking in kendo is earned through your consistent effort and ultimately your performance on examination day. Provided all criteria are met, you train regularly and pass each test, you can reach 1st-Dan (shodan) as quickly as three years after beginning training in full armor.
There is often a fixation, especially in the West, towards achieving "black belt" status. Some equate it with mastery. This is not the case, and shodan is literally translated as the "first level". Kendo can provide many, many decades of learning and discovery. Rather than fixating on rank, it is more important to adopt the kendo attitude of striving to be better today than you were yesterday.
Are there any public transit stops nearby?
Yes. There are several bus routes as well as a trolley that come within a few blocks. We practice in the gym of St. Peter's Episcopal church, just south of downtown between Chinatown and the Central District neighborhoods. On the King County Metro site, you can find both a trip planner as well as a route map.
Where do I park?
There is a small parking lot at the rear of the building, accessed from the alley on South Jackson Pl. Please park only on the South side of the alley facing the church in designated parking spots (the opposite facing lot is restricted 24/7), otherwise please park on adjacent streets. There is also a front entrance to the gymnasium on King Street. Please make sure not to leave any valuables in your car while attending class.
I will be visiting Seattle for a few days. Do you have bogu I could borrow?
No. We do not carry extra stock of bogu. You may be able to purchase a shinai for your visit, but please contact us first about availability.
Is there a visitor drop-in fee to practice?
No. We do not have any fees for visitors, but you must be either a current paid AUSKF member or FIK affiliated dojo member to join practice. First time visitors will also need to sign a waiver form.
I practiced kendo when I was young and I'm interested in restarting kendo as an adult. Do you have any advice on rejoining and how I should get back into it?
This has been the situation for many people. While you may have been very active in your youth, it is best to be cautious before jumping back in at full intensity if it has been some years since you were last active. You should talk to our sensei about your previous experience and determine how you can safely restart your kendo activity. We would not want you to get overzealous and injure yourself when you are just trying to get back into it. See here for joining as an experienced kenshi.
I want my child to learn some discipline and get some exercise. I heard martial arts are good for this. Should I enroll him/her in kendo?
While some of the benefits of kendo include improving one's mental discipline through physical activity, it takes a lot of self-motivation to succeed in kendo. We prefer that those who join are coming to kendo of their own choice. Please make sure you and your child observe a class prior to the start of the new quarter, and confirm that your child has the desire to learn kendo and is able to commit to regular practice. All of our sensei and senior members are volunteers and receive no pay for sharing their kendo knowledge and instruction. They are members of the club just like the students and give up their own training time to happily give back to the kendo community and growth of beginners.
Do I need to know Japanese? Is instruction provided in Japanese?
No, fluency in Japanese is not required, but much of the terminology, like targets and commands, remain in Japanese. There is no formal vocabulary test, but like any specialized sport or activity, there is specific jargon or terminology associated with it. You will pick these up along the way. You can find a short list of common Japanese terms here.
Several of our sensei and senior members are also fluent in Japanese. Instruction is sometimes done bilingually to provide clarification to both native English and Japanese speakers.
Do you offer private lessons?
No. The club operates at only the prescribed group practice times. Depending on the mix of students and differing levels, the practice is often separated into separate groups to provide appropriate attention to those levels. While this sometimes results in a one-to-one training session, we do not have the capacity to accommodate dedicated and private individual instruction.
May I / do I have to practice iaido, too?
This is your choice. Seattle Kendo Kai membership includes access to all of our practices, both kendo and iaido. Some people only practice one or the other, and some practice both. As a beginner, it is best to consult the sensei about engaging in both from the beginning. While the arts of kendo and iaido are related, there is so much to absorb in the beginning and they have enough differences that it may be difficult to balance the two right from the start without a lot of dedication.
Do I have to compete in tournaments?
No. You are not required to enter into tournaments, but we highly encourage participation in some way, even if it is just to help in organizing or supporting your fellow dojo mates. Taikai (tournaments) offer a unique environment of pressure and consequence that is difficult to replicate in the dojo alone. These are valuable opportunities for you to learn about yourself and your kendo. Whether you win or lose is secondary to how you approach the competition and what you learn from that experience to improve yourself in the future. It is also an opportunity to meet many people and make friends among the larger kendo community.
I have other martial arts experience. Do I have to start as a beginner?
Yes. While your previous experience may help you progress faster than some, it is best to take the attitude of the beginner and learn kendo in its own context.
I'm interested in taking martial arts for self-defense. Is kendo good for that?
In the most pragmatic sense and in terms of the repertoire of techniques, kendo is not the best choice if your primary motivation is self-defense. Kendo does, however, provide many physical and especially mental benefits that are complimentary to other martial arts.
How is Seattle Kendo Kai different from other kendo clubs in the area?
Fortunately, kendo as a martial art is quite homogeneous among the regional, national, and global federations. You can have a good degree of confidence that the rankings and techniques you learn are quite comparable and consistent from dojo to dojo.
Naturally, each dojo will still have its own personality, each with variations of emphasis and philosophy. The composition of membership may also be different between dojo, particularly with different sensei, teaching styles, experience, and proficiency. If you are searching for a dojo, we encourage you to visit as many as possible to see which would be the best fit for your schedule, goals, and personality.
Seattle Kendo Kai is the oldest dojo in the PNKF, with a deep heritage and a strong number of actively practicing sensei and kodansha (higher dan grade members). We are lucky and thankful to have the opportunity to learn from and practice with so many residing and visiting sensei at our dojo. Including visitors, our practice is often attended by three or four 7dan sensei and more than a handful of 4-6dan sensei. See more on our sensei page and contact us to arrange a visit to talk with us and observe how our practices are run.
I noticed that Seattle Kendo Kai is listed as a non-profit organization. Can I claim my donation? Are there other ways to support SKK?
Yes, Seattle Kendo Kai is a non-profit organization with 501(c)(3) status. This means that your generous donations qualify as charitable contributions. You can read more about this on the IRS website here: IRS Charitable Contribution Deductions
Also, our non-profit status also makes us eligible for Amazon.smile, where a small portion of your Amazon.com purchases goes to Seattle Kendo Kai. You can read more about Amazon.smile here: About Amazon Smile, and also set your charity to Seattle Kendo Kai with this link Support Seattle Kendo Kai with Amazon.smile. We sincerely thank you in advance for your continued support.
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