Can Kendo be Used for Self Defence? The Answer Might Surprise You

If you are considering studying a martial art then you may have heard of Kendo. Fighters of the martial arts wear big thick black robes and a cage around their face. It certainly looks the part but is it a practical form of self-defense?

No, Kendo is not a good martial art to learn if self-defense is your main aim. The reason being is that Kendo is a full-contact sport that is practiced only with swords. It’s unlikely that you’ll be carrying around wooden swords during your day to day activities.

That’s not to say that Kendo is not without its merits. There are still some elements of the sport that will come in handy. 

Why Isn’t Kendo A Good Martial Art for Self Defence?

Kendo, which means the Swords Way in Japanese, is a sword fighting martial art that dates back to the 18th century. It is derived from the even older Kenjitsu, which was practiced by samurai. Samurai would practice this to kill quickly and efficiently.

Kendo is different from Kenjitsu but also relies on a sword in its art form. Regular people are unlikely to carry these swords with them from place to place; If they did, it would surely raise some eyebrows. 

In modern times, Kendo is a sport people compete in. It is taught competitively, and although the idea isn’t to kill your opponent, students are taught to score points. It isn’t taught as a method of self-defense so it would be foolish to think of it that way.

Although it’s easy to imagine that a samurai could win their way out of a street fight, they existed in a different period of time. Street crime these days can involve guns, which changes the dynamic quite seriously. Even if your would-be attacker is unarmed, no one is going to be carrying a sword for defense.

The swords used in Kendo are known as bokken and a shinai. They are both based on the katana used by samurai but are made of wood. The bokken sword would be used during Kendo, Aikido, and Iaido training, but the shinai is only used in Kendo sparring sessions.

If you do happen to have your sword with you, perhaps after training, when you are attacked, it might not be as useful as you’d hope. Something like a mugging would typically happen very quickly and in such close quarters that it could be over before you even have your hand on the hilt.

Unlike some other martial arts, Kendo does not put much emphasis on aggression or pain tolerance. These are highly valued skills for other martial arts that focus on self-defense. 

Unfortunately, Kendo fails as a self-defense technique in the same way many martial arts do. It doesn’t actually give you any real experience in genuine self-defense situations. As a competitive sport, fights are highly structured, as all sports are.

There is no replacing experience when it comes to something like self-defense. However, a sane person would not want to get into a fight so the experience can be hard to come by. There are two main things you need to be able to fight and that’s to cause pain and be able to take it well when you’re hit.

Kendo can’t prepare you for a normal fight that could break out in the street. You won’t have a sword, you won’t know how to throw a punch and you won’t have built up a pain tolerance.

If you’re thinking of studying Kendo as a method of self-defense, consider studying something else instead. Kendo is a great sport, with a worldwide appeal, it’s even been practiced by actors such as Tom Cruise, Billy Zane, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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How Kendo Can Still Be Useful?

After explaining why Kendo isn’t a great martial art for self-defense, it’s only fair that I talk about how it can be useful. After all, you could be a student of Kendo and you want to know how to defend yourself in real-life situations. Can your Kendo be used in any meaningful way?

Many aspects of your Kendo training can come in handy, but not in the way you think. No, you can’t get into the proper stance and pretend you have a sword (although maybe that’ll be enough to scare away the attacker).

Kendo is a full-contact sport, it’s comparable to many other full-contact martial arts. Although other martial arts don’t allow full contact, fighters would be forced to stop on the first strike or grapple. Therefore Kendo can be more beneficial with fitness, pace, and awareness.

In a street fight, the attacker isn’t going to stop after hitting you once. They won’t be observing any rules and there won’t be a referee to enforce them. By training in Kendo, you will be more used to a full-on assault. 

The sport is very cardio heavy, which not only improves your overall fitness levels. It can help prepare you for a fight. Fighting can be exhausting and as you practice Kendo, you will learn better posture, better breathing, and prevent fatigue.

This could help turn the tide of the fight, even against larger, more powerful foes. Kendo training involves being hit a lot, although the robe will absorb a lot of the power from the blow. You are taught a defensive stance which is an invaluable experience that can help you when you are struck.

This defensive stance can be useful without the sword. If your attacker is knocked off balance, you can turn offensive and go in for a strike. Fighters also learn to take smaller stances which can help you avoid being hit altogether.

Another facet of Kendo training that could come in handy against an enemy is re-rooting them. This is all about defensive pushing that puts distance between you and your foe. In a competitive Kendo fight, this is used to give you space to swing your sword.

In a street fight situation, this becomes more useful as a means of escape. By forcing distance between you and the attacker, you can buy yourself enough time to getaway. After all, avoiding the fight altogether is the best method of self-defense.

Don’t be discouraged from learning Kendo, it’s an incredibly fun and exciting martial art. It’s a competitive sport derived from the samurai, it’s a full-on exercise that is bound to have an effect on your fitness levels.

Just because it’s not useful training as a practical way to fight empty-handed, doesn’t mean it won’t help. By applying some of your Kendo training in a real situation you can take control of the fight and maneuver a way out of it.

Should You Study Kendo?

The answer to that question is surely a resounding yes. Honestly, martial arts should never be used in a genuine fight. Fights should be avoided at all costs.

Therefore you shouldn’t be thinking of taking up martial arts solely for self-defense. There is a myriad of better reasons to take up Kendo that should come first. It’s an incredibly fun and engaging way to exercise. 

The most exciting thing about Kendo comes in the mental fortitude it can help you build up. One of the main goals of Kendo is to achieve a state of mushin, which means an empty mind. This helps you to respond instinctively to your opponent’s moves without any conscious thought.

This means you are responding without hesitation. Your instincts can guide you and help you overcome your foe. Something that would surely come in handy during a street fight.

However, kyo-ku-gi-waku can stop us from achieving an empty mind. These are known as Shikai and are the four kendo sicknesses. Shikai is what you can learn to overcome only through the practice of kendo.

The literal translation works out to be surprise, fear, doubt, and confusion. Each of the four can be a detrimental feeling that will edge the battle in your opponent’s favor.

Kyo, or surprise, is born of an unprepared mind. If your opponent is able to catch you by surprise you will not be able to respond in time. In the direst circumstances, you might end up freezing unable to act at all.

Ku, or fear, is a natural response to an opposing force. This could be as simple as the fear of the person you are fighting or fear of something vague. Such as in competition fear of losing can lead to hesitations and making mistakes.

Gi, or doubt, is how you feel about yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself or your abilities that doubt can overwhelm you. This feeling can render you utterly helpless in the face of danger.

Finally, waku, or confusion, can affect your ability to respond. When faced with a decision, you won’t be able to do anything if you can’t decide. This occurs from an unsettled mind and can throw the fight in the favor of your opponent.

The only way to avoid these four sicknesses is with practice. By repeating basic practice you can free your mind of these responses. If you fall behind with your practice then kyo-ku-gi-waku will develop again.

You can actually use this to your advantage in a street fight. Your attacker probably doesn’t have any formal martial arts training. Even less likely will they have any Kendo training. 

That means when your opponents show signs of these four sicknesses you will be ready to take advantage. By being able to spot these you can take control of the fight and things will go your way.

Kendo is definitely a martial art worth trying out. There are some really valuable lessons to be learned. The benefits of studying Kendo are both physical and mental which can come in handy in and outside of fights.

Is Kendo Hard to Learn?

Kendo is a grueling sport, but it’s something that can be learned by anyone with enough time and patience. The emphasis on this sport is on ability and technique, rather than aggression or speed. Making it an excellent martial art for all kinds of people to get involved with.

Although Kendo is referred to as martial art, it’s actually more similar to other competitive sports. There’s still an art aspect to it as you are required to learn ancient styles, alongside rediscovered styles. However, Kendo literally is a sport and leans heavily into things like competition, rules, and judges.

Techniques that you will learn as part of your Kendo training will be geared towards competition style, in order to maximize your points. Some of the points awarded will be for mimicking traditional applications of techniques. So it’s an element of both sport and art, but the emphasis is more on the sports side of things.

As with any full-contact sport, injuries can occur. Kendo helps you get into better shape and build up endurance but injuries are to be expected. After you are hitting each other with bokken and shinai, wooden swords.

Training is a massive part of Kendo, as it is with other martial arts. Your training is designed to help you build mental and physical strength. One way physical strength is achieved is by building up your endurance, speed, muscle control, and strength.

Your training will spend time focusing on spacing, timing, sensitivity, and being able to understand and read your opponent’s moves. Something that would come in handy during a street fight is clearing your mind and controlling your own tells.

Proper technique is really important in Kendo so practicing is incredibly important. By practicing you can optimize your movements and achieve a clearer mind. 

There are ten standard katas that you will use, which are performed with bokken or shinai. Kata translated means “form” and in Kendo, these are two-person forms, meaning you will need to learn both parts.

Before you can even learn proper techniques you will spend a long time perfecting the basics. Patience is very important when you start Kendo as in the beginning it takes a long time to progress. It could be up to a year before you can even wear the bogu, which is the name for the armor kendoka wear. 

You can expect to start out learning the basics of Kendo footwork, sword motion, and body mechanics. It will likely get a little repetitive but it’s an incredibly important part of Kendo training. Once you’ve started to develop you will start learning some basic techniques.

Alongside this, you will be taught proper etiquette for Kendo fights. Once more progression is made you will then be able to start practicing with a partner. Kata will be implemented in your training at this point also.

Now you may be eager to jump straight to the fun stuff, but that absolutely will not happen in Kendo. Anyone with a bad attitude will not be allowed to progress until that attitude is gone. You will not progress until your form and control have sufficiently improved. 

There is no strict timeline with Kendo training, people progress when they are ready. How long that takes really just depends on how much practice you have put in to do the work. As Kendo is a full-contact martial art, people need to be well trained to avoid unnecessary injuries.

It’s well worth learning Kendo if you are interested in martial arts. You will develop useful skills in self-discipline that will be useful in other aspects of your life. That includes self-defense, by being disciplined you will have an edge over the other person.

What Are the Best Martial Arts for Self Defence?

Hopefully, you feel inspired to study Kendo if it interests you, but if you are genuinely worried about fights breaking out and you want to be able to defend yourself there are better martial arts to learn. I’ll go over some of the best martial arts for self-defense and you can judge which one is best suited to you.

Krav Maga which translates to “battle contact” is a military self-defense martial art developed for use by the Israel Defence Forces. It was developed with a focus on real-world situations and extreme efficiency. Making this one of the most useful and applicable martial arts for self-defense. 

As part of learning Krav Maga, you will learn how to throw punches, kicks and to throw your opponent. Since it puts a real emphasis on real-world situations, you will even learn how to disarm an attacker. During your training, you will face these situations including the use of fake knives and guns. 

Boxing is a highly effective martial art for self-defense. Boxing is a lot more simplistic compared to Krav Maga but it has an emphasis in the right places. By learning boxing your training will teach you useful footwork and head movements.

It’s a martial art that really puts pressure on aggression and pain tolerance. When you train you will highly likely get hit, a lot, helping you build up a pain tolerance. You will also learn excellent small stances that will help you evade incoming blows. 

Muay Thai, also known as kickboxing, is another martial art that is very useful in self-defense. Muay Thai a form of boxing that originated in Thailand that has you use more parts of your body than boxing. You will learn how to incorporate the use of your fists, elbows, knees, and your feet.

There’s also a big focus on using the clinch technique which would be incredibly useful in self-defense situations. The clinch technique is where you will learn to pin your opponent and stop them from being able to use their arms. Muay Thai can be incredibly effective as a method of self-defense.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which is a ground-based martial art that focuses on grappling techniques. Your objective here is to immobilize your opponent by implementing the use of joint locks and chokeholds. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu wants to promote the consent that no matter your size, a person can defend themself against a bigger predator if they use proper technique and leverage.

This is very useful as a method of self-defense as it teaches you how to use your body to your advantage. By successfully grappling your opponent into a joint lock, you can stop the fight from progressing and avoid any injury yourself. 


I want to round off this article by reiterating that avoidance is the most practical method of self-defense. In an ideal world fights wouldn’t break out in the street and an individual wouldn’t find themselves in a position where self-defense is necessary. Of course, the world isn’t a perfect place and it’s always good to be prepared.

Self-defense can become really useful in unwanted situations. There is a comfort to feeling like you can protect yourself against someone else. Even if the situation never presents itself, you may find yourself more at ease.

Nothing is stopping you from learning multiple types of martial arts. Kendo, while it may not be the most practical form of self-defense, can teach you a lot of useful abilities that you can be put to use in your normal life. There are benefits of a clear mind and self-discipline that can be applied in self-defense situations.

Overall, by learning a martial art, you can help improve your fitness levels which will be most useful in a self-defense situation. By training hard and practicing often you will find that Kendo will have helped your overall fitness improve and you will be better prepared for any attack.

The aim should not be to incapacitate the assailant, but rather to afford yourself the time and space to escape. Kendo can be used in these situations to create space between you and your attacker. Which could then give you enough time to getaway.

Hopefully, you will never find yourself in a situation where you will need to use self-defense. By training in Kendo or other martial arts, you will help develop your sense of perception which can aid in avoiding fights together. Whatever martial art you decide to try, enjoy the processes involved, there are more valuable skills available than just self-defense, with real-world practical application.