Thursday, February 12, 2009

Interested in Starting Kendo? (updated 22 August 2019)

How do I find out more about Kendo and the Memphis Kendo Association?

If you are interested in joining the Memphis Kendo Association or have any questions, you can find us on Facebook (Memphis Kendo Association) and ask questions there, or visit our webpage at

Is Memphis Kendo Association the same group as Memphis Kendo Club?  I'm confused!

The Memphis Kendo Association (MKA) and the Memphis Kendo Club (MKC) are very closely related, but are not the same groups.  The Memphis Kendo Association formed when the original Memphis Kendo Club expanded in May 2019.

The Memphis Kendo Club continues to practice in Bartlett.
The Memphis Kendo Association practices in Cordova.

When and where does the Memphis Kendo Association meet for practice?

The Memphis Kendo Association has practice on Monday nights from 7:15pm to 9:15pm, Wednesday nights from 7pm to 9pm, and on Saturdays from 1pm to 3pm at the Cordova Family YMCA located at 7950 Club Center Cove, Cordova TN 38016.

Beginners' Program classes are Wednesday 7pm to 7:45pm and Saturday 1pm to 1:45pm.  Beginners are always invited to observe the Monday night classes.

What is Kendo? What is it like?

Quite simply, kendo is Japanese fencing. With its foundation in traditional Japanese sword training, it has developed over many years into a modern fencing art. Kenshi (kendo players) wear protective armor, called bogu, which is very similar to traditional samurai armor, and protects the head, throat, torso, hands/wrists/forearms, and hips.

The sights and sounds of kendo practice can make kendo appear very intimidating at first. People often view kendo with a little anxiety because kendo is a full contact sport played at high speed with the purpose of striking the other player with a bamboo sword. However, kendo is practiced under a very stringent set of rules that are strictly enforced.

Having said that, Memphis Kendo Association recommends that people come and watch the practice at least once before starting, as many people tend to have a(n incorrect) pre-conceived notion of what kendo is, or should be. To try and dispel some of the more common (mis)beliefs, kendo is NOT like what is portrayed in comic books/anime, or in movies like Star Wars, Kill Bill or The Last Samurai. It's even less like "backyard ninja" videos posted regularly on websites like YouTube, or what you may see from groups such as the Society for Creative Anachronisms (SCA). If such is the type of swordplay you hope to achieve through the study of kendo, then please do not waste our time (or yours), because that is not the type of swordplay learned through proper kendo instruction.

Is Kendo dangerous?

To watch kendo, it looks relatively brutal and one might come to the conclusion that practitioners suffer many injuries. Surprisingly, this is rarely the case. The protective armor worn by players is very effective, and the simple mechanics of kendo tend to result in fewer injuries than what occur more commonly in karate, taekwondo, judo, etc.  The most common kendo injuries involve the feet, normally in terms of blisters which can be doctored up and heal very quickly and easily.  Other types of injuries might involve the Achilles tendon, plantar fasciitis (a straining of the tendons of the bottom of the foot), tennis/golfer's elbow, etc.  Overall, many common kendo injuries can be avoided altogether through proper warm-up and footwork.

Speaking very generally, kendo is a safe activity, and this is perhaps most evidenced by people actively continuing to practice well beyond their "prime" years.

When should I start Kendo? Am I too young or old?

People take up Kendo at various ages, both young and old.  In our experience, children are normally not ready to start practice until about the age of 10.  If you hoping to start your child around that age (or younger), you absolutely need to visit class once or twice to help aid your decision.  Kendo is not quite like other martial arts (karate, taekwondo, etc.) where it may be normal to see 5 and 6 year olds starting.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have had people start practice with us in their 50s and 60s.  We quite understand the physical limitations of older beginners, and are able to take this into account.  Arguably, the biggest obstacle for older beginners is having the patience to develop the skills necessary to enjoy the art at an age-appropriate level.

What do I need to start Kendo?

If you sign up for our Beginners' Program (more information is deeper down this FAQ), we will provide you with a free shinai (bamboo sword) for practice, although you will need to order your own bokuto (wooden sword) online.

The club keeps a stock of shinai (size 39 for adults) available for purchase, priced similarly to what can be ordered online.  We don't require students to buy from our supply, but it is very convenient to do so since shinai weight and balance can vary wildly, and it's simply better to be able to feel the shinai in your own hands than by ordering 'sight unseen' from an online supplier.

Online suppliers do offer quality shinai, so you do not need to shy away from them completely.  Reputable online suppliers in the United States are E-Bogu, MazkiyaUSA, Maruyama Kendo Supply, E-Mudo, and Bogushop (just to name the most well-known).  Feel free to order from them if you wish (Memphis Kendo Association does not get any kickbacks from any supplier).

Adult men (18 yr old+) need a shinai size 39.
Adult women (18 yr old+) are allowed to use size 39 or 38.
Children are typically broken down into several categories:
10-12 yr olds may use size 30, 32, 34, or 36 (depending on height and preference)
12-15 yr olds may use size 37, 38, or 39
15-18 yr olds may use size 38 or 39

Some online suppliers may offer shinai with different handle thickness or shapes.  Until you have been in kendo for a little while, it is recommend that you stick to standard shapes and standard handle thickness.

*** DO NOT ORDER SHINAI or BOKUTO FROM PLACES LIKE AMAZON OR EBAY ***  We have had occasions when new people have shown up to practice having purchased shinai from Amazon or Ebay.  They are often NOT proper shinai and are often UNSAFE to use.  You need to purchase directly from us or from one of the reputable suppliers mentioned above.

Bokuto are standard as far as shape and length.  The club does not keep these in stock for sale, so you must order one of these from among the suppliers recommended.  Bokuto come in a variety of colors (red, black, white, natural) and styles (no groove, groove) and they are typically available as a 2-sword set (long and short).  For now, you only need the long sword (daito) and will not need the short sword (shoto) for several years.  The price for a 2-sword set, though, is fairly close to the cost of a single daito, so you may decide to go ahead and purchase both at the same time.  DO NOT order a set that is made of plastic or comes with a scabbard (saya) or is identified as an Iaido practice set.

As for workout clothes, we recommend you dress simply and comfortably (sweats, shorts, t-shirt, etc.), but please, make it respectable as well (clean, no holes, no profane messages, etc.). Be advised, also, that shoes and socks are NOT worn in the practice of kendo. It really will not be necessary to get into the traditional kendo uniform (hakama and keikogi) for a few months.  When you are ready to order hakama and keikogi, make sure to ask for advice from the instructors.

For information on costs associated with shinai, bokuto, hakama, and keikogi, please see the section further down on "How Much Does Kendo Cost?"

What can I expect of Kendo training at the beginning?
Kendo training at the very beginning can be extremely monotonous with a lot of repetition of only a few very simple, basic movements. These basics of kendo are vitally important to the foundation of kendo skills, which is why it is necessary for beginning students to spend so much time on them.  For younger beginners, we understand that attention spans can be limited, and as a result, we try to keep their instruction somewhat shorter and somewhat more relaxed.

It is important that students do not miss any classes so that they can be properly guided by the instructors as regularly as possible, otherwise, very small or minor mistakes in prolonged self-practice can develop into bad habits which may inhibit kendo progression.

In our experience, better than 80% of people who start kendo will quit before ever getting out of this beginning/pre-bogu stage, however, for the 20% that have the patience and desire to stick with it, the rewards are well worth it. Kendo doesn't really start to get fun until students reach a level of proficiency where they can wear bogu (kendo armor) and take part fully in every aspect of class.

Practically speaking, what beginners can expect to do is to join the group in basic warm-ups, and then immediately thereafter, one of the instructors may take the new folks off to one side for more focused instruction on the basics. Separating the class this way allows everyone -- more experienced kenshi and newbies -- to work on those things specific to their need. For newbies, that means working on proper kendo stance, shinai grip, swinging the shinai, foot movement, and eventually, movement while swinging the shinai. It sounds very simple, but to do it properly can actually be challenging!

When can I expect to participate in full practice? Should I go ahead and buy bogu right away?

New Students can sign up for the Beginners' Program for $70 (YMCA members are $60).

This will include a FREE shinai.
The purpose of the program is to instruct beginners in the very basic, fundamental skills needed to participate fully in class.  At the end of the program (approximately 10 weeks, based on the subjective opinion of the instructors) students will have the opportunity to receive FULL Memphis Kendo Association Member status after successful completion of a skills test for the rank of 8.kyu.  

Upon reaching the rank of 8.kyu, students will be required to join the All-US Kendo Federation (AUSKF) and Southeast US Kendo Federation (SEUSKF).  Students at the rank of 8.kyu are permitted to wear HAKAMA and KEIKOGI and participate in full practice sessions.  Students may be tested again at a later date for the rank of 7.kyu.  Upon reaching 7.kyu, students are permitted to wear bogu (Kendo armor) and participate in every aspect of practice.

All in all, it is anticipated (and hoped) that you will be fully participating in all aspects of practice in approximately 10 to 14 weeks, but there is no maximum (or minimum) time limit for staying in the beginner stage.  YOU will essentially set the pace of your own progression.  Naturally, some people may be more athletic or may simply "pick up" things more quickly than others.  There is no "progression time table" in Kendo.  We are as interested in your progression as you are, and we have no interest in setting people up to fail.  For some, this may simply necessitate a longer period in the beginner stages.  While this may not be overly "fun," it would be even less fun and less fulfilling for you to be pushed forward before you are really prepared and ready.  Regularly attending class, and minimizing missed classes, will help as much as anything else.

For information on Bogu (kendo armor), please refer to the section "How much does Kendo cost?"

What about rank in Kendo?

For those who may have a background in another martial art (several Memphis Kendo Association members also fall into that category), you may be accustomed to seeing people with some kind of rank designation (e.g., a belt). There is no external sign of rank worn by kendo players, so no one can know for sure who has what rank. For this reason, it is important that everyone treat everyone else as if they are of a higher rank. Etiquette is a very, very large and important part of Kendo. Please keep this in mind.

There is no real time table for rank testing in Kendo, although there are some mandatory minimum waiting periods between some ranks.

Officially, ranking in Kendo runs from as low as 8.kyu through 8.dan.

Memphis Kendo Association conducts in-school testings for the rank of 8.kyu and 7.kyu.  Ranks above that can only be achieved through testings normally held in conjunction with a regional or national Kendo federation event, e.g., a seminar, a tournament, etc.  Neither the MKA nor the SEUSKF require that students progress through each kyu rank one at a time.  It is not uncommon for adult students to challenge for the rank of 4.kyu or 3.kyu at their first regional promotion.  SEUSKF by-laws do not allow anyone to test for the rank of 2.kyu for their first promotional.

Please note that while we understand people may have different reasons for starting Kendo with specific goals in mind, MKA requires that members compete in at least one tournament prior to testing for the rank of 1.kyu.

How much does Kendo cost?

Please note that Memphis Kendo Association does not receive ANY money or kickbacks from any testing/promotional fees, rank certificate fees, monthly/yearly membership dues, or online purchases of gear.

KENDO GEAR -- (available by online purchase)
To start ....
Shinai (bamboo sword) - $25-$35
Bokuto (wooden sword) - $35-$45
(NOTE:  Bokuto is normally something that will be purchased once and never need replacing.  Shinai regularly need replacing, depending on a great number of factors.  A good shinai (coupled with proper use and care) may last anywhere from 4 to 6 months.  Some people may go through anywhere from 3 to 5 shinai in a year.)

3 to 6 months after starting...
Keikogi (uniform top) - $50-$100 (different levels of quality/style dictate pricing)
Hakama (uniform bottom) - $100-$150 (different levels of quality/style dictate pricing)
(NOTE:  Keikogi/Hakama are often available online as a combination purchase for around $150)
(NOTE:  Depending on your level of care of these items, Hakama may need replacing every 2 to 3 years, and Keikogi may need replacing every 1-1.5 years. These are all just estimates.)

6 to 12 months after starting....
Bogu (Kendo armor) - $300 to $THOUSANDS;  a good starter set averages around $450, but sometimes can be found on sale from a reputable supplier as low as $250-$300.

Bogu is a true investment in Kendo.  It is not unlike purchasing a car, per se.  There are many different quality levels, styles, and options available online for purchase, which is why it is important that PRIOR to purchasing anything online, you consult with senior members and instructors of the club.  The individual parts of a bogu (men [head], kote [hand/wrist], dou [torso/midsection], and tare [waist/hip]) have differing levels of shelf-life.  The Dou is a piece which undoubtedly lasts the longest and typically never needs replacing.  The Tare comes second and can easily last well more than a decade, maybe only needing a repair/replacement/re-enforcement of the 'belt' portion needed to tie the piece around your waist.  A good, quality Men can easily last more than a decade.  Some MKA members have been using the same Men for 20+ years!  Kote suffer the most turn-around and usually require a replacement or patch of the leather palms anywhere from 1 to 3 years.  Palm patching can be relatively cheap.  Palm replacement typically runs around $70 *per palm*, which is sometimes why many people decide just to purchase a new pair of kote.  New Kote, by themselves, can run anywhere from $150-$250 (or higher).

If you are eligible to practice in full bogu, Memphis Kendo Association has a limited number of club bogu available to rent for $20/month.  This rental includes ONLY men, dou, and tare.  You will need to purchase your own KOTE (due to wild variations in everyone's hand sizes).

KOTE prices vary widely, so please ask for advice before you order.
Junior-size kote might cost about $80-$100.
Adult-size kote (of at least adequate quality) typically go for about $150 on the low end, and slightly higher quality can be in the $200-$300 range.  Depending on any customizations you might include in an online order, they can easily get in the $450+ range.

NEVER HESITATE TO SPEAK TO A SENIOR CLUB MEMBER OR INSTRUCTOR FOR ADVICE PRIOR TO PURCHASING ANY KENDO EQUIPMENT!!  Always be sure to shop around online to look for seasonal/holiday sales and good deals!

$25 per person/per month payable via PayPal.  (Cordova Family YMCA members' dues are $20 per person/per month).  For more information on how to set up automatic payments, visit our website at

ANNUAL DUES - (as of March 2019, but subject to change as dictated by the national federation)
$110 -- first-time joining, age 18 and over.  ($100 renewal every year thereafter)
$70 -- first-time joining age 17 and under.  ($60 renewal every year thereafter)
**For legal and insurance purposes, every Memphis Kendo Association member (and those who have completed the Beginners' Program) is REQUIRED to join the All-US Kendo Federation (AUSKF) and Southeast US Kendo Federation (SEUSKF).  NO EXCEPTIONS.  YOU MUST BE A CURRENT/ACTIVE MEMBER of AUSKF/SEUSKF BEFORE YOU MAY PARTICIPATE IN CLASS**

RANK PROMOTION FEES - (as of 2019, subject to change by SEUSKF)
8.kyu - no charge for in-dojo promotion
7.kyu - no charge for in-dojo promotion
6.kyu through 1.kyu - $50 (rank certificate fee $20 for under 17, $30 for ages 17+)
1.dan - $50 (rank certificate fee $50)
2.dan - $60 (rank certificate fee $60)
3.dan - $70 (rank certificate fee $80)
4.dan - $80 (rank certificate fee $100)
*Rank Promotion and Certificate Fees are all paid to the regional federation.  Memphis Kendo Association does not set or receive any of these fees

NOTE:  Members are allowed to test at any national or regional event where available.  Members are not required to progress through kyu-ranks in order.  For example, a current 7.kyu may test for 4.kyu or 3.kyu at the next opportunity, and is not required to test for 6.kyu.  Members must possess an AUSKF-issued Kyu-rank certificate of 2.kyu or lower before being allowed to test for the rank of 1.kyu (SEUSKF by-laws).  Memphis Kendo Association members must participate in at least one tournament prior to being allowed to test for the rank of 1.kyu or higher (Memphis Kendo Association policy).  

Hopefully, this will answer most of the basic questions you may have about the Memphis Kendo Association.

If you have more questions, please don't hesitate to contact us on Facebook or at

See you in the dojo!