Yevgeniy Temchenko: Kendo Circle

Upon entering the dojo, one must bow to the dojo itself; that is, not the teacher nor the student, but the entity and history that the dojo represents. This is what comes to be called the sacred in Western culture. Often times, however, this deification comes primarily from ignorance regarding the true nature of the respect offered. During the Fall of 2014, as part of the Kyoto Consortium for Japanese Studies curriculum, I participated in nearby Kendo Dojos including the Kyoto University Kendo Circle, Kyoto Budo Center Kendo Team, and a visit to Satosho Budo Center Team

Kyoto University Kendo Circle ( meets on Wednesdays and Fridays, with a join practice at the Budo Center on Saturdays. The skill level varies in the team but does require at least a year’s worth of experience. The practice is led by Okaya sensei, a 6th Dan. In general, while around a dozen people practice, the club boasts over twenty active members. All of whom, myself excluded, are students of Kyoto University.

Practice usually consists of three segments: warm-up, basics practice, and free practice. By warm-up I mean a set of stretches and around 150 practice swings to warm up the body. Warm up typically lasts for about twenty minutes, at most. The majority of the practice is taken up by basics practice, which begins with simple one step technique and finishes with continuous multi step waza. Free practice is rather similar to a match, other than that score is not kept. Rather, free practice is intended as a review for the skills learnt on that day.

What appeared the most interesting was the deeply rooted culture of respect and etiquette. Kendo is said to be an art to grow as a person—through learning etiquette. Having identified myself as a senior, I was surprised that even those more skilled than me would speak in keigo and kenjougo. When addressing a group, the teacher and the club leader would also speak formally. Only in private conversation between friends would those of higher standing speak in simple form.

Due to time constraint, I would attend the Saturday practice at the Budo Center ( Other than age differences – Budo center practice has older and younger people – there was a minute difference in basic etiquette. For example: the seiza sitting position and entering the position remains the same across dojos. However, the Kyoto Martial Formatted: Indent: First line: 0.5″Arts Center Kendo Team would place the shinai (bamboo katana) on the right side rather than the left. Symbolically, a katana on the left symbolized being armed, where on the right the swordsman is disarmed. In Satosho, the classroom teaches that the bokuto (wooden katana for Kendo kata) and the iaito (unsharpened katana) are placed on the right, whereas the shinai remains on the left. Contrary to these nuances, however, the general responsibilities and duties remained the same regardless of the dojo.

Overall, it has been a pleasure being able to continue practicing the art of Kendo in Japan. Learning the importance of respect in kendo helped gain deeper understanding of the entire Japanese culture.

2 thoughts on “Yevgeniy Temchenko: Kendo Circle

  1. I think it’s really interesting that you bow to the space as well as to others; I have never studied Japanese martial arts though, so I suppose that does come from some sort of ignorance. I am also quite surprised that rank is based more on age than on rank. Do you also find yourself speaking to others above you in more polite keigo than those below you?

    • It really depends on the situation. During practice it is mostly keigo regardless of rank. Even in simple あいさつ, like when we ask to practice–お願い致します–when we thank for practice–どうもありがとうございました. Of course, should we converse during practice, some people even say: 申し上げます. Outside of practice it relaxes a bit more, but stays mostly in the です/ます form.