Kendo as an Olympic Sport

If you have ever wondered how ancient Japanese Samurai sword-fighting has translated into the modern era, the answer is Kendo. After a ban on martial arts in the wake of World War II, kendo developed as a peaceful practice with martial arts values as well as sport-like elements. Widely popular primarily in Japan and Korea, it is also practiced in communities with large Japanese immigration such as the USA, Canada, and Brazil. In a recent New York Times article, the subject of its transition into an Olympic sport became a topic of debate.

As a beginning kendo practitioner at my college’s kendo club, I have some firsthand experience with the martial arts. The appeal of kendo for me, as well as many of my fellows, is the beauty of the tradition. The article quotes David Ebihara, known to many as Ebihara – “sensei” or master as the 7th ranked Ken-zen Dojo master , “In kendo, the prime opponent is yourself.” It is a motto that defines the practice. Rather than blind violence, kendo is about overcoming internal limitations and acquiring discipline. Confidence, control, and accuracy are all taught through the bamboo “shinai” sword. In ten plus pounds of armor through several hours straight, the only win one strives towards is accomplishing everything with the best form and improvement. An opponent is merely there is assist in that. This is also why it would not be suitable for the Olympic Games.

The Olympics pit together athletes for the spirit of competition. The scoring systems for most of the inducted martial arts, however, awards too much emphasis on points rather than form that is integral to kendo. In kendo, a point is not awarded solely if the sword connects in a clean hit. Footwork and “kiai”, or spirit demonstrated through a lung-emptying shout, accompanying it must be timed and precise as well. With all of the numerous factors, it comes down to a judgment call in which two out of three judges vote through the raising of flags. Kendo is also timed, giving three minutes for the players to reach the most out of two possible points. Electronic armor like those used in fencing cannot substitute all of the necessary factors. The drastic changes needed to make kendo conform to Olympic standards are what make conversion a threat to all kendo stands for.

Despite all this, a strong counter argument is provided: kendo is a costly and underappreciated activity. “In addition to greater exposure, Olympic inclusion would bring much- needed financial help to kendoists, who can pay as much as $70 for a bamboo sword and thousands of dollars for top-quality armor,” reads the article.

I must concede with the fact that kendo is indeed pricey. At a discount, my two swords, the shinai and bokuto together were $23. With the uniform, hakama and gi at ~$75, and the armor and bag at ~$400, I had to promise my parents the world on top of the college tuition they were paying. All of this is was the cheapest and most basic equipment for the amateur I am. As part of a college sports club, I also witnessed the lack of recognition and funds that resulted from the martial art’s unpublicized status. Although our A Team brought back two bronze medals from the two tournaments we were allowed to attend, our sports center did not even provide room to display them. The reality of the exposure effect the Olympics could provide is undeniable and much called for, but at too high of a price. Unless there can be a way to introduce kendo while preserving the core elements, such as a Kendo World Championship-style Olympic tournament, the move proves too ruinous at present. Perhaps future committees can consolidate the two aspects for a better deal, and let our athletes bring home a gold too.


  1. Riccardo says:

    Kendo is a martial art, and, as such, kendo as an “olympic sport” will be the end of kendo as we know it. There are already enough tournaments and championships to emphasize the sporting aspect of kendo (which is only a part of the art). So, no olympic kendo for me. And, by the way: 1) I do not care if no one knows what kendo is. Actually, not being mainstream is part of the appeal; 2) I’m not sure that the price of my new bogu will be lower if kendo becomes an olympic sport.

    • Vida Shi says:

      Kendo could potentially take the path of other martial arts, such as judo and more recently Tae Kwon Do, but I also agree that it sacrifices too much of the art. However, greater promotion could lead to sponsorship and at the very least more prospective students. The local dojos around my area are run by senseis who do it out of their love for kendo, not profit (except for the kumdo dojos). I certainly wouldn’t mind more goers that could help expand the space and lower costs for membership.

  2. kusemono daniel says:

    Two kendos. Duh. One Olympic and one traditional. Or give the Olympics Chanbara. It may lack the grander of kendo but is in essence more cut out to be Olympia.

  3. There is no need to change anything. Olympic committee should just implement as it is.
    if the sport is about the emphasis on technique then that’s what should be judged.

    people don’t change soccer so teams do more goals so why change kendo. Sounds like a pointless drama. Kendo is competitive as it is just not in the same souless way as most other sports , and its uniqueness should be preserved.

  4. Kendo is very Japanese. What next? Pokemon Olympics?

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