Kendo is one of the most popular forms of Japanese martial arts. Meaning "way of the sword," this sport focuses on swordsmanship competitions in which practitioners attempt to strike their opponent using wooden practice swords.
#1) It Evolved from Kenjutsu
Kendo itself is relatively new, with the All Japan Kendo Federation being established in 1951. However, it's based on centuries-old practices of Kenjutsu, which is a general term used to describe all schools of Japanese swordsmanship. Some of the oldest schools of Japanese martial arts -- still in existence -- date back to the Muromachi period (1336 to 1573). These and other schools are believed to have played a fundamental role in shaping modern-day kendo.
#2) Kendo Competitions Have 3 Referees
Most kendo competitions have three referees who judge practitioners based on a scoring system. Each of the three referees has a red flag and white flag. When a practitioner lands a successful blow, a referee raises either the red or white flag, depending on the color of the ribbon the practitioner is wearing. Normally, at least two of the three referees must raise a flag for a point to be awarded.
#3) World Kendo Championships are Held Every 3 Years
Since the 1970s, the World Kendo Championships have been held every three years. This global competition is organized and governed by the International Kendo Federation. The World Kendo Championships consist of four divisions: Women's Team, Men's Singles, Women's Team, and Women's Singles.
With that said, the European championships are held every year. Winning participants in both the World Kendo Championships and European championships receive either a bronze, silver or gold medal, similar to those awarded during the Olympic games.
#4) Japan Had Never Lost a Kendo Championship... Until 2006
Being that kendo originated out of Japan, it shouldn't come as a surprise to learn that Japan typically dominates the World Kendo Championships. In fact, it hadn't lost a championship in any of the four divisions -- Women's Team, Men's Singles, Women's Team, and Women's Singles -- until 2006. During this year, Japan's Men's Team lost to the USA in a narrow defeat.
#5) Only 5 Practitioners Have Achieved the Top Rank
In Japanese martial arts, including kendo, practitioners earn ranks depending on their proficiency and skill. Known as the "dan" ranking system, it consists of 1 dan through 10 dan, with 10 being the highest. Kanō Jigorō, the founder of judo, is credited with applying the ran system to martial arts. In kendo, however, only five practitioners have achieved the 10th dan and the title of "kendoka."