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Kendo literally means the way (path) of the sword, this means that through learning the sword, we walk the path towards an ultimate goal in life. It is commonly understood to mean that this ultimate goal is to become the best person that you can be, or even just better than you are now. What the defining characteristic of "better" is, will be your own personal discovery.

We follow the Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei for the principles of kendō. The ZNKR describe kendō as:

The Concept of Kendo

The concept of Kendo is to discipline the human character through the application of the principles of the Katana (sword).

The Purpose of Practicing Kendo

The purpose of practicing Kendo is:

To mold the mind and body, To cultivate a vigorous spirit, And through correct and rigid training, To strive for improvement in the art of Kendo, To hold in esteem human courtesy and honour, To associate with others with sincerity, And to forever pursue the cultivation of oneself. This will make one be able: To love his/her country and society, To contribute to the development of culture, And to promote peace and prosperity among all peoples.


How this translates to actual practice

Somewhat unfortunately, kendō is praticed as a sport and as a budō, both in New Zealand and in Japan. There are even sensei who describe kendō as a sport, which may be surprising to some people. We do not belong to this way of thinking and the spirit of kendō as set out by the ZNKR does not prescribe for kendō to be practiced as purely a sport. When Japanese people state that kendō is a sport, they still mean to include that reigi and seishin is an inseparable part of the practice of kendō, but winning is emphasised over self-improvement. In Japan, even sports will contain a high degree of the elements which make budō uniquely different to a sport.

Kendō as a budō also does not mean that it is meditation with a sword, the techniques and purpose of winning the fight are fundamentally the same as with sports kendō, but the mindset behind them is diffeernt. You do not train purely to win the fight and beat your opponent, but this is the natural consequence of correct training. The purpose of training is (very simplified) to make yourself a better person.

We are strict with the reigi aspects of training, but recognise that there are various physical limits for everyone. You need to push yourself as physically hard as you can manage, but correct reigi is always expected in our dojo. This means beign on time and having good communication as much as it means about correct bowing and folding your gear properly. The reigi aspects are what differentiates kendō as budō to sports chanbara.

ZNKR Guidelines

The ZNKR has published interpretations of what aspects of kendō mean.

The Significance of the Shinai
For the correct transmission and development of Kendo, efforts should be made to teach the correct way of handling the shinai in accordance with the principles of the sword.  Kendo is a way where the individual cultivates one’s mind (the self) by aiming for shin-ki-ryoku-itchi (unification of mind, spirit and technique) utilizing the shinai. The “shinai-sword” should be not only directed at one’s opponent but also at the self. Thus, the primary aim of instruction is to encourage the unification of mind, body and shinai through training in this discipline.

Reiho - Etiquette 
When instructing, emphasis should be placed on etiquette to encourage respect for partners, and nurture people with a dignified and humane character. 
Even in competitive matches, importance is placed on upholding etiquette in Kendo. The primary emphasis should thus be placed on instruction in the spirit and forms of reiho (etiquette) so that the practitioner can develop a modest attitude to life, and realize the ideal of koken-chiai (the desire to achieve mutual understanding and betterment of humanity through Kendo.)

Lifelong Kendo
While providing instruction, students should be encouraged to apply the full measure of care to issues of safety and health, and to devote themselves to the development of their character throughout their lives.  Kendo is a “way of life” that successive generations can learn together. The prime objective of instructing Kendo is to encourage the practitioner to discover and define their way in life through training in the techniques of Kendo. Thus, the practitioner will be able to develop a rich outlook on life and be able to put the culture of Kendo into use, thereby benefitting from its value in their daily lives through increased social vigour. 

March 14, 2007 
All Japan Kendo Federation

* Translation of ‘Kendo Shido no Kokoro Gamae (The Mindset of Kendo Instruction)’ and its explanation in Japanese
* From the IKF English website