japanese samurai swords

One of the few martial arts that necessitates the use of several protective gear aside from the traditional kimono or gi. Practitioners look threatening and quite ominous with their black hakama (wide pants covering the legs), bogu body armor (for the torso, shoulders and part of the head), the men or helmet and the metal grilled mask, and of course, the sword.

The katana, or samurai sword was the centerpiece of Japanese history. Noble samurai held these in almost god-like regard. To these medieval warriors, the sword was an object of profound veneration and is one ot the three sacred treasures of Japan. According to Japanese folklore, when Susa no wo no Mikota, nephew of Amaterasu- the Sun Godess slew an eight-headed dragon, he found a katana in its tail.

The study of the Japanese art of swordsmanship or Kenjutsu was restricted only to those of nobility and included many aspects which included Tameshi-giri or the art of cutting and Iai- the art of drawing a sword. This is where the modern art of Kendo descended from. Derived from the words ken, or sword and do or way of life, Kendo literally translated means ‘The Way of the Sword’. It reflects the spirit of the Samurai whose aim it was to cut through their opponents in one initial blow. Being able to achieve such a feat needed a combination of speed, strength and flexibility.

Because the design of the sword used in Kendo is quite different from the traditional Western sword, so too are the movements used in the sword strikes. For obvious reasons, the razor-sharp katana is replaced by wooden bamboo swords called shinai or sometimes boken or wooden swords. Strikes are allowed on specific targets like the top of the head, the upper-left and upper right areas of the head, the right wrist, the left wrist when it’s raised, and either side of the torso. Thrusts to the neck are only allowed for kendokas (practitioners) who have reached advanced levels to avoid risking accidental injury.

Kendo training sessions are relatively noisier because in addition to the kiai shouts, stomping-like fumikomi-ashi are also performed every time a strike is executed. These are essential as improperly-timed steps result in invalid strikes- meaning no point is awarded for the hit.

With approximately 8 million people around the world practicing Kendo, it is hardly a secret martial art. Its combination of strong martial arts values and competitive and physical aspects have earned it a huge following in throughout the world. Kendo halls or dojos has been a long-time symbol Japan and its culture and movies have been using Kendo scenes to add Japanese flavor to the film.

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