Kendo uses a lot of Japanese words, often because they simply don’t have English equivalents. It also means that whatever language you speak if you find kendo anywhere in the world then you can still understand what’s going on (probably…). You don’t have to sit and memorise all of these but you should learn the basics and pay attention to the rest as they come up while you progress.
Note on pronunciation
Japanese is pronounced phonetically (see the mnemonic), with the exception of consecutive vowels being slightly combined, and u’s and i’s at the end of words being cut short, e.g ichi ~”itch”.
Vowel mnemonic: Ah (a), we (i) soon (u) get (e) old (o).
Sensei - teacher
Senpai - senior student
Dojo - session location
Onegaishimasu - ~please practise with me
Arigatou gozaimashita - thank you very much
Hai - yes
Hajime - start
Yame - stop
Yasume - rest
Numbers 1 – 10
Ichi, Ni, San, Shi, Go, Roku, Shichi, Hachi, Kyu, Jyu
Men - head strike
Sayu men - side of the head
Kote - wrist strike (usually right)
Dou - torso strike (usually right)
Tsuki - throat strike
Kiai - shout
Kamae - stance
Chudan no kamae - centre stance (Jodan / Gedan for upper / lower)
Suburi - cutting practice
Kihon - fundamentals
Kata - paired forms with bokuto / bokken
Kakarite - person doing a technique
Motodachi - person receiving a technique
Sonkyo - squatting rei at start and end of paired practice / competition
Osame to - “sheath” the sword
Ippon migi - change partner, move one place to the right
Waza - a technique
Keiko - practice
Zanshin - continued control after a strike to the waza’s completion
Rei - bow (sitting or standing)
Faito! - cheer on / encouragement
Start / End of Practice Instructions said by the Senpai:
Sei Retsu - Line up opposite the Sensei, from senior to junior, senior on the left
Chakusa - Sit down in Seiza – Kneel left leg then right leg, sit back with the tops of your feet flat on the floor. Hands flat on your thighs.
Ki o tsuke or Shisei o tadashite - Sit up straight, ready for:
Mokuso - Cup your right hand under your left, just above your lap. (Almost) close your eyes, take several deep breaths to relax and prepare for the session.
Shomen ni rei - Bow to shomen, in essence to the dojo. Make a triangle with your
hands on the floor, lean forward with back straight.
Sensei ni rei - Bow to sensei, say onegaishimasu. Sensei-gata for more than one.
Otagai ni rei - Bow to each other, say onegaishimasu.
Kiritsu - Stand, right leg up, then left.
Men o tsuke - Put on bogu
Men o tore - Take off bogu (wait until sensei have removed their men)
At the end of practice the bows (rei) are instead in the order sensei ni, otagai ni, then shomen ni. Arigatou gozaimashita is said instead of onegaishimasu.
Ki ken tai ichi - lit. sword (strike), body (usually fumi komi or hikitsuke), and spirit (mind/intention, indicated by kiai) as one (at the same precise time of a strike).
Seme - ~pressure. Often crudely demonstrated by moving in to take the centre line – rarely that simple!
Ashi sabaki - footwork
Suri ashi - sliding footwork as in almost all of kendo
Okuri ashi - “normal” footwork, push from back foot
Ayumi ashi - crossing footwork: normal walking but with suri ashi
Hikitsuke - bringing the back foot back up into kamae after movement
Fumikomi - stamping footwork
Uchidachi - “teacher” in kata, leads the timing and loses, kiai “Yah”
Shidachi - “student” in kata, kiai “Toh”
Maai - distance to partner
Toma - far distance – kensen not touching
Issoku itto no maai - one step one cut distance – depends on your height, footwork etc. etc.
Chikama - close distance – nearer than issoku itto no maai
Tsubazeriai - both kendoka in front of each other with the tsuba touching
Te no uchi - action of the hands and wrists at the moment of striking
Sae - snap with the wrists at the moment of a strike
Hasuji - angle of the blade
Taito - position of sword at waist ready to draw
Tai atari - Body check – relaxed strong push to the opponent, not using the arms
Shiai - competition
Shinpan - referee
Ippon - a valid point
Hansoku - penalty
Omote, Ura - left and right sides of the sword and centre
Hidari, Migi - left, right
Shinai - bamboo sword
Bokken / bokuto - solid wooden sword for Kata etc.
Bogu - armour, parts have same names as the strikes (men etc.)
Kensen - tip of the shinai
Nakayui - leather tie part way down from the kensen
Monouchi - cutting area of the sword, from the kensen to the nakayui
Shinogi - line along the sides of the sword
Tsuba - hilt
Tsuba dome - rubber securing the tsuba on the tsuka
Tsuka - shinai handle
Hakama - pleated trousers
Kendogi / gi - jacket
Himo - strings or ties on bogu etc.
Waza and Keiko
Shikake waza - attacking techniques
Oji waza - “counter-attack” techniques. Always initiated by kakarite’s seme.
Gyaku dou - left dou strike
Kiri kaeshi - all-purpose exercise with fumikomi men and repeated sayu men strikes.
Uchikomi geiko - big, not-fast, perfect kendo. 5 or 6 strikes, motodachi provides targets.
Kakari geiko - small, fast, all-out kendo. 15 or 20 seconds, motodachi offers targets for lower levels, holds kamae or even spoils poor attacks for higher grades.
Jigeiko - free keiko, should be beneficial between any grades. The opportunity to put everything into practice. Not shiai geiko.
Shiai geiko - competition practice
Ippon shobu - one point match
X Debana Y - kakarite strikes Y as motodachi moves to strike X, e.g. men debana kote.
Suriage - upward sweeping movement to brush aside motodachi’s shinai with the shinogi followed as part of a single movement by kakarite’s strike, on the same side (omote or ura) as the parry. e.g. kote suriage men.
Kaeshi - similar to suriage but the strike is on the opposite side to the parry. e.g. men kaeshi dou.
Nuki - kakarite evades motodachi’s strike before striking. e.g. kote nuki men.
Uchiotoshi - striking motodachi’s shinai as they move to strike followed by striking as a second movement. e.g. dou uchiotoshi men (uncommon).
Harai - similar to suriage but as shikake waza not oji. So, motodachi is not moving to strike. Can be a downwards or upwards motion to break their centre.
Katate - one-handed (left) waza.
Hiki - waza starting from tsubazeriai with zanshin moving backwards
Typical suburi at the start of a session:
Joge buri – 20 times
Three movement suburi – men, sayu men, kote, dou; 5 times each
Two movement suburi – men, sayu men, kote, dou; 5 times each
One movement suburi – men, sayu men, kote; 10 times each
Haya suburi – 50 times, then 2 fumikomi men
Tachi - long sword
ipponme, nihonme, sanbonme, yohonme, gohonme, ropponme, nanahonme
Kodachi - short sword
ipponme, nihonme, sanbonme
Bokuto ni yoru kendo kihon waza keiko ho – Paired practice of fundamentals with bokuto:
Men, kote, dou, tsuki
(Men blocked) Hiki dou
Men nuki dou
Kote suriage men
Debana kote (“degote”)
Men kaeshi dou
Dou uchiotoshi men