How to Watch a Kendo Match (“Shiai”)

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Normally, Kendo matches are played two out of three points which is called “SAN-BON-SHOBU”. The time limit is usually three minutes for children and non-blackbelt adults, and 4 or 5 minutes for adult blackbelt holders. 

In case of a scoreless or tied match, the match could be extended for a specified time (the extension period is called “ENCHO”) or the winner may be declared at the referees’ discretion (“HANTEI”).

In order to score a point, a player needs to perform “YUKO-DATOTSU” or a valid strike. YUKO-DATOTSU is defined as follows in the IKF (International Kendo Federation)’s rulebook.

YUKO-DATOTSU is defined as (1) an accurate strike or thrust made onto (2) DATOTSU-BUI of the opponent’s KENDO-GU (protective gears) with (3) SHINAI at its DATOTSU-BU in (4) high spirits and (5) correct posture, being (6) followed by ZANSHIN.

Let me explain the definition in a bit more detail.

1) Accurate strike - The accurate strike means a strike made in the same direction as the blade side of the Shinai. So, the strike has to be made using the opposite side of the cord of Shinai.

2) DATOTSU-BUI - This means the designated target areas. There are strikes to the head (“MEN”), the wrist (“KOTE”), the torso (“DOH”) and a thrust to the throat (“TSUKI”). KOTE is allowed only at the right hand’s wrist in case of CHUDAN (central fighting stance). TSUKI is allowed only for blackbelt holders.

3) DATOTSU-BU - This means the right part of Shinai. Not only using the blade side, you also need to use the area where the leather tie is and its neighboring part. The area is knows as “MONOUCHI” which means sweet spot. The idea behind this is if you strike too deep or too shallow, you will not be able to cut the target with the sword. Thus, you are required to use the right part of the Shinai.

4) ZANSHIN - ZANSHIN is the continued state of spirit, mental alertness, and physical readiness to confront the situation such as an opposing attack, and it must be maintained when you return to KAMAE (the proper fighting stance) after attacking.

YUKO-DATOTSU is often referred to as a strike with “KI-KEN-TAI-ICCHI” which describes the condition when your spirit, sword, and body are unified in a single strike. Fulfilling KI-KEN-TAI-ICCHI means you can meet all of the requirements of YUKO-DATOTSU as defined above.

There will be 3 referees (“SHINPAN”) with red and white flags, corresponding to the red or white ribbon worn by each competitor. You need to have at least 2 referees agree to be rewarded with a point.

When a competitor gets two penalties (“HANSOKU”), the other competitor earns one point. Some examples of penalties are: if a competitor steps out of bounds with the entire foot or drops his/her Shinai.