Kendo Equipment & Maintenance
We try to keep costs low for new students. You can practice for at least six months before purchasing a uniform. We encourage new students to wear dark, loose clothes like a jogging outfit.
Modern kendo equipment is modeled after a samurai's historic armor and weapon. The traditional practice uniform for kendo is the woven jacket or uwagi and the split skirt or hakama, usually in indigo. Quality uniforms range in price from $100-250 and will last many years. An adequate shinai for beginners costs about $30, while quality armor used by advanced students starts at $500. We recommend that swords be carried in a bag of some sort.
Here's a link to a wonderful video that explains why some bogu is so expensive.
Shinai: bamboo practice sword
Kendoist use a shinai, a four-part bamboo sword in place of a real sword. The shinai is bound together with a leather wrap, a strong cord, and a hilt (tsuba). The standard size for adults is 39; we typically have these for sale at a low cost because we buy in bulk. A beginner usually needs only one shinai, but more advanced students will need more than one or may be interested in the oval shaped shinai or carbon-fiber shinai.
It is particularly important to keep your shinai oiled during the hot summer months when air conditioners typically dry out shinai. A dry shinai is much more likely to break or splinter. For information on repairing splinters, see the Akatasuki website, Saskatoon Kendo Club webiste, or visit Neil Gendzwill's website.
Bokken: wooden practice sword
A bokken is used in kendo for kendo kata. A bokken or bokuto is a wooden practice sword with a plastic tsuba (hand guard) and plastic dome (stopper to hold the tsuba in place). Bokken are available in a wide range of qualities, weights, and colors. We typically have well-balanced and colored bokken available for new students. Some types of iaido (like MJER or Myugai-ryu) also use a plastic saya (scabbard), but the plastic saya is never used in kendo. Kendo kata also use a wooden short sword.
Hakama: divided trouser
The traditional hakama used in kendo and ZNKR iaido is navy or indigo blue. When practicing MJER iaido, the black hakama is more frequently seen. The fabric can be cotton (recommended for kendo practice only) or a cotton/polyester blend (recommended for iaido use or combined iaido and kendo practice).
The seven pleats in a hakama are given various symbolic meanings to represent the virtues of budo: Jin (benevolence), gi (honor or justice), rei (courtesy and etiquette), chi (wisdom, intelligence), shin (sincerity), chu (loyalty), and Koh (piety).
Given the many pleats in a hakama, it's important to take care of your gear, as well as to wear it properly. For information about tying and wearing your hakama, try these sites: Bujin Design or Mushinkan Kendo Dojo. There are different ways to tie the hakama as illustrated at this Japanese language site: http://kimonoo.net/kituke.html (click on the blue kanji beneath the illustrated bow for detailed photographs). Be sure to follow the methods preferred by your instructor.
For information about folding and cleaning your hakama, try these sites: Mushinkan Kendo Dojo or Yama-tani Kendo Club. Please note that there are different ways to fold a hakama for storage, and you should follow your instructor's preference.
Keiko Gi: top
The traditional kendo top is cotton, with one or more woven patterns. The traditional color is navy, dyed with real indigo. Many new uwagi or gi are dyed with man-made indigo, but both types of indigo should be set before you wear a new top. Just wash it with vinegar.
Especially in South Texas, your gi will get wet and smelly; be sure to wash it frequently. To protect the color, air dry outside or indoors beneath a fan. A broken shinai slat makes an excellent hanger.
The traditional uwagi color is navy, but it is not uncommon for women (or some confident guys) to wear white. It is also common for children to wear navy uwagi that have white threads woven into diamond patterns (the embroidery technique is called "sashiko").
Tenegui (also spelled tenugui): head towel
The tenegui is the traditional "towel" worn between your head and the helmet or men.
A tenegui helps to
catch sweat and should be laundered and ironed
regularly, especially when guest instructors are
For information on folding a tenegui, click here.
The men is composed of a steel or titanium mask surrounded by padding. The padding is made of thick felt covered in cotton and compressed by stitching. An additional stiff leather pad protects the throat. The men protects the wearer from attacks to the top of the head and throat, as well as missed blows to the shoulders and face.
Taken from old samurai armor, most modern men are outlined in red to give the skin a healthy glow. You wouldn't want your enemy to think you look pale and frightened.
The kote consist of a leather-covered mitt stuffed with felt attached to a gauntlet made of thick felt covered in cotton and compressed by stitching. The kote protect the wearer from blows to the wrist.
The doh is constructed of vertical slats of bamboo covered in leather and laquered, topped with leather trim. A plain black surface is typical, although it may carry a mon or family crest. Cheaper versions use fibreglass construction. The doh is used to protect the wearer from blows to the body.
Tare: hip protector
The tare is made of thick felt covered in cotton and compressed by stitching. It is used to protect the hips and groin from accidental blows.
Zekken or Nafuda: tare name tag
This is our club nafuda, with the Chiba mon followed by the Japanese characters or kanji for "River City." The kendoka's last name usually appears on the bottom of the nafuda.
Mostly, kendo amour is indigo blue and black, with embroidered trim. White and red armor is also available, traditionally worn by women or children, although you may see some men wear white.
We recommend that bokken, shinai, and iaito be carried in public in some sort of protective bag. You may be able to acquire an inexpensive sword bag from us, as from time to time, we purchase sword bags and other items in bulk and pass the savings along to our club members.
The sword bags we've purchased lately have a curious design on them that looks something like a cross on a hill. This pattern is called "shobu" or iris/sweet flag.
The iris is a traditional symbol in Japanese culture, perhaps because there are so many native varieties. The flower was considered important for warding away evil spirits, was an important herbal medicine, and was a revered masculine fertility symbol. The iris is also associated with Boys’ Day, or Tango-no-Sekku, a festival that celebrates the hopes and ambitions that Japanese families have for their male children. The holiday is filled with imagery and symbols that are masculine in nature and are intended to magically insure that the boys in the family grow up to be strong, wise, and full of fighting spirit. The symbolism behind the festival is underscored by the Japanese language itself. The word in Japanese for iris (shobu) is the same as that for success, though the written characters are different.
The Japanese iris also has a special connection to kendo. During a kendo match, if the second point ends the match (the score is 2-0), the kendoka will return to their starting lines, the head shimpan announces "Shobu ari!" ("There is victory and defeat!") and raises one flag to indicate the winner. The two kendoka return to sonkyo, put away their shinai, and back out of the shiaijo.
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