Japanese Sword Fighting Techniques

The art of sword fighting, more specifically Japanese Sword fighting is very elaborate and intricate. Precise movements, subtle hand placements, and haste are all components of any Japanese sword fighting technique. Training to master a specific technique will take countless hours, but will certainly be worth the exhaustive effort. Mastering the art of Japanese sword fighting, like any task in life, requires immaculate attention to detail and concentration.

The Japanese are very proud of their sword fighting. The Japanese art has survived and evolved our several hundred years to what it is today. Few techniques existed when the discipline was first documented. Now, several different variations of Japanese sword fighting exist all over the world. However, there are only a handful which have a widespread following.

Japanese sword fighting techniques vary based on your interest. The two distinct traditional techniques that are most widely used are Kenjutsu and Kendo. The differences are subtle. Your local Japanese Dojo most likely emphasizes one technique or the other. Or, perhaps, they wish for you to become proficient in both techniques and teach both.


Kenjutsu dates back to the times of the samurai in Japanese culture. The original practice was dominated with wooden sword practice and occasionally real katanas would be used for training. The very definition of the word Kenjutsu is “the technique of” the sword. The peak of the samurai was the peak of Kenjutsu. As the samurai faded during the 19th century, so did the teachings of Kenjutsu.

A master of Kenjutsu is called a Kenjutsuka, and to attain this prestigious title takes years and years of practice. Just like mastering any skill, the Japanese believe that a Kenjutsuka will develop core disciplines outside of Kenjutsu. For instance, the amount of time it takes to become a Kenjutsuka creates discipline that applies to all aspects of life.

Traditional Kenjutsu is not practiced much outside of Japan. The Japanese consider Kenjutsu a secret “art of war” training technique. Modern Kenjutsu is growing in popularity with those involved in Japanese martial arts. Modern Kenjutsu is most widely used today with a bokken, or a wooden sword.

Customary techniques for Kenjutsu are jabbing, thrusting, and cutting, all with an emphasis on footwork and balance. These techniques are often sequentially choreographed, giving a free-flow look and feel for those witnessing. Practice techniques rarely involve physical striking of opponents; rather, the training consists of attacking and counterattacking each other’s weapon.

Learning Kenjutsu may just be a trip to your local dojo away. However, Kenjutsu instructors are diminishing and it may be quite difficult to find a qualified instructor; it may take some willingness on your part to travel. Researching potential dojos, instructors and proximity is recommended so that you set yourself up for success. If you are serious about the practice, commit to a time and place so that you can regularly attend.


The art of Kendo places a high importance on etiquette. Kendo is an evolution of Kenjutsu, the modern Japanese take on the sword fighting technique. Kendo’s meaning is just a slight variation to that of Kenjutsu, meaning “the way of the sword.”  Today, the modern Japanese sword fighting technique is practiced all throughout Japan and many other countries around the world. It is believed that modern Kendo is has many forms, which vary by country, instructor and previous learnings.

Kendoists, or those who practice the art of Kendo, are ranked in accordance with their experience and abilities. Similar to belt colors in karate, a ranking system exists for those who participate in Kendo. The rank of tenth dan is the highest achievable rank for Kendoists.

The greatest difference between Kenjutsu and Kendo is the physical aspect of the two sword-fighting techniques. Kendo involves much physical contact; in fact, it is encouraged. However, there are distinct striking points for this technique. Additionally, full-body protective gear is worn during Kendo sparring and training. Similar to Kenjutsu, training equipment involves wooden swords until proficiency is developed.

Techniques with Kendo include both striking and thrusting. Strikes are used to hit designated locations on the body. These locations include the head and body, which are covered with protective equipment. Often, a strike occurs concurrently with a stomp of the foot. Kendo’s roots strongly resemble Kenjutsu. Thrusts are movements only allowed to the throat of the opponent. Yet, the eloquence and nuance of the traditional style Kenjutsu’s practice is much less widespread than that of its counterpart, Kendo. The purpose of Kendo is to shape the body in mind—spiritually and physically. The same beliefs apply to Kendo as Kenjutsu—that the persistent hard work, focus and determination used in training will translate to other disciplines in life. The art of Kendo requires much patience, as does any skill that you wish to master.

Kendo competitions around the world are increasingly emerging. They range anywhere from the World Kendo Championships (international competitions) to local/regional competitions throughout the United States, Japan and many other countries. Competitions often resemble the martial arts style of fencing. Full competition gear is required and is judged by three referees.

There is more likely a Kendo instructor located nearby than Kenjutsu. This is due to the fact that Kendo is more widespread than Kenjutsu, and is widely practiced outside of Japan. Do some research; if there are competing instructors go and talk to some students. Find out the pros and cons of each instructor and make a well-informed decision on who to begin your Kendo training with.


These specific forms of Japanese sword fighting are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to accessibility; it is extremely difficult to find traditional Kenjutsu instructors, while it is quite common to find Kendo instructors. The precision and discipline necessary to learn either technique will be critical to one’s success. Practicing often and finding an instructor with thorough knowledge and competency will aid in your continuation of either Kendo or Kenjutsu.





I'm Steve D'Agostino, founder of Martial Arts Weapons and Training. Thanks for visiting and reading my article! I hope you enjoyed it.

Please comment below and let me know your thoughts. I do my best to check and reply to every comment left on my blog, so tell me what's on your mind!

Also, you should sign up for my newsletter, where I give neat tips and techniques as well as update you any time I post a new article.You can sign up here and also get a free copy of my 20 must-do exercises cheat sheet.

Your information is absolutely safe with me. I don't share, sell, or rent my lists. With anyone. Ever. :)

Don't forget to follow us on Google+, FB and Twitter!

  • Leo

    I really admire the Japanese Martial Art, Kendo had been gaining popularity for the last few years and it is a sport and martial art that had caught my attention! I appreciate the fact that it focus on etiquette. I had been to Japan and I have never seen any other country with their citizens being so orderly and cultured before. Etiquette is something in the Japanese since the ancient time and something that they will never forgo.

    • http://martialartsweaponstraining.com/ Steve D’Agostino

      Yeah, I studied Kung Fu at two schools over the course of about 9 years, and moved on to Ninjutsu last year, where Kenjutsu is integral to the art. It is striking the difference in how etiquette is such a central part of the Japanese systems (I actually started my martial arts journey with Aikido many years ago, and this was true at that school, as well), while in the Chinese schools, it’s sort of an afterthought, at least where I studied. Both are highly disciplined arts, but the Japanese are quite ceremonial in their approach. They are very reverent and respectful of the systems and each other, and they truly put the “art” in martial arts!

  • John Rico

    Hey there! I found your article very interesting to read. I’ve been wanting to buy a Japanese sword or also known as katana. I think that it’s cool to have it as a design to my room and as a self defense. I didn’t know that there are types of japanese sword fighting techniques. After I read your article you gave me the information that I needed. I feel that I want to try kenjutsu. Thank you for sharing this information.

    • http://martialartsweaponstraining.com/ Steve D’Agostino

      Kenjutsu is fun! My ninja sensei has been teaching me to use both the katana and the wakizashi, which is the shorter Japanese sword (the samurai carried both, and the Shinobi, or ninja, were samurai trained in espionage). What’s cool about kenjutsu in the context of broader martial arts training is that you learn to use the sword, but you also learn to use your hands and feet at the same time. This way, you don’t focus too much on the weapon in your hands, but rather how to rely on everything available to you. While there are so many cool and fun weapons to use, I have to admit that there is something special about the sword, and there are disciplines that focus on them and can be life long practices. You’ll never get bored!

  • Josh Ellery

    I am pretty relieved that the people fighting on your pictures and videos aren’t using real swords. That could get dangerous although I have seen it on the movies. Are you personally good at this? Why do people practise these things, does it help in any way towards a martial art practise such as increasing reaction time and agility?

  • Josh Ellery

    I am pretty relieved that the people fighting on your pictures and videos aren’t using real swords. That could get dangerous although I have seen it on the movies. Are you personally good at this? Why do people practise these things, does it help in any way towards a martial art practise such as increasing reaction time and agility?

    • kungfuninja

      Yes, it does! Practicing with weapons, particularly hand weapons, helps the mind-body connection. While fighting with real swords is definitely dangerous, we generally use unsharpened swords to avoid getting cut in class.

      Personally, I’m getting better, but I’m nowhere near as good as my teacher. Most of the arts I’ve studied in the past did not use weapons like we do in ninjutsu, so I’m learning. But the practice has definitely taken my skills to another level.

  • http://myexpressionofthoughtsblog.wordpress.com myexpressionofthoughtsblog

    It was interesting know about martial arts