Apparel and Equipment

  • keikogi – jacket
  • hakama – skirt-like trousers
  • bogu – armour
  • tare – thigh protector
  • do – chest protector
  • tenugui – head towel
  • men – face mask
  • kote – gauntlets
  • shinai – bamboo practice sword
  • bokuto – wooden practice sword

A keikogi is a jacket made of cotton material. The keikogi should be loose-fitting, so that it offers no confinement about the shoulder area. Sleeves should be long enough to cover the elbows.

A hakama is a divided skirt which allows freedom of leg movement for the student. It also aids in concealing the foot movements from an opponent.

The keikogi is the first item to be put on. One then steps into the hakama, holding the front section (the part without the stiff board, koshi-ita), and wraps the two long tapes back at waist-height, bringing them back round to the front, and securing them with a bow at the back. A small white plastic plate should be tucked into this bow and the two shorter tapes are then tied at the front and the ends tucked away. The hakama should not be so long that it drags on the floor, causing one to trip.

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Bogu (armour) should be put on while in seiza position.

The tare (thigh protector) is the first piece to be put on. It is wrapped around the waist with the three odare (front flaps) facing out and the tare-obi (waist sash) in line with the top of the hakama. The waki-himo (cords) are passed around the waist and tied securely in front under the large centre flap.

The do (chest protector) is held over the chest, and the long right cord is bought over the left shoulder and knotted to the left mune-chikawa (loop). The left cord crosses to the right in a similar fashion. Slip knots should be used as these are easy to untie.

The tenugui is a cotton towel. It is tied around the head, with the men worn over it. It keeps perspiration and hair off the brow.

The men is a face mask, worn over the head with chin and forehead resting on their respectivc padded rests. The men is secured in position with a pair of himo.

The kote are a pair of padded gloves. The left is put on first and taken off last. To put them on or remove them, use the tsutsu (sleeve area). Tugging at the hand portion weakens it.

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The shinai consists of four lengths of take (polished bamboo) which fit together. These strips are held together with a sakigawa  (leather cover) which serves as the kensaki (point). Normally any kendoka is required to own a minimum of two shinai and a bokuto. Always remember that these are illegal weapons and as such they should not be carried around. However, provided that you have your B.K.A. card with you and you store them in a fastened sack or equivalent, you should never experience any trouble. Please remember to let the police inspect your weapons at any time if they wish to do so.

How to choose a shinai

The shinai comes in two different materials: bamboo and carbon fibre. The latter lasts longer but is more expensive and requires a certain amount of care. Therefore a bamboo shinai is recommended both for the beginner and expert. The shinai come usually in two different sizes: 38 and 39 for adults. The International Kendo Federation rules prescribe a maximum length of 120 cm (size 39) and a minimum weight of 500g for a male kendoka over 19 years old. For a female kendoka, the minimum weight is 420g (excluding the weight of tsuba).

A good shinai is made up of four take (bamboo strips), held firmly by three sturdy leather pieces: a nakayui (knotted band), sakigawa (the tip cap) and tsukagawa (hilt). These three pieces are joined together by a tsuru (highly resistant cord). Every take is separated by notches into four sections. All notches should be well aligned with the corresponding sections of the same length. The length of the two central sections should be almost the same; the handle section is slightly longer than the tip. If you hold a well-balanced shinai from the tip, you should feel the weight concentrated around the tsuba or its belly. Refuse to purchase any defective or odd looking shinai; if in any doubt, ask a sempai for advice.

How to prepare, repair and maintain your shinai

For the safety of the people you practise with, it is important that your shinai is always checked and up to the safety standard, again whenever in doubt, ask your sempai.

Before any session, a shinai should always be checked for the following points:

  1. The canes showing any signs of rupture or serious damage. A cracked cane must be replaced while damages can be sanded down.
  2. The tsuru should be tense to the point where it is impossible to come out of line with the shinai. The tsuru should be replaced as soon as it shows sign of wear.
  3. The nakayui should not move up and down the shinai.
  4. If the sakigawa or the nakayui show signs of rupture, change them at once as they are often the cause of serious injuries. When the sakigawa or the nakayui gives way, the canes come free and they can easily penetrate the protective mengane with great danger for the kendoka.
  5. The right hand should just touch the tsuba, without over-reaching with the right arm. If this is not the case, the tsukagawa must be shortened. When the proper length is established, slip off the tsukagawa, cut the excess from the bonom and sew it back again in the same fashion.
  6. When reassembling the shinai remember to make a small knot in the tsuru at about one third from the kissaki. This will secure the nakayui making it impossible for it to move about.

A brand new shinai also needs some attention before use as well as being looked after during its life. If properly treated, a shinai can last quite a long time. When a new shinai is purchased the edges are too sharp and therefore must be sanded down with common sand paper. The tsunu knot must be altered and should conform with the drawing. Many fencers maintain the natural humidity of the bamboo by periodically applying a coating of oil to the dry canes. Life can also be extended by storing your shinai in a humid place.



The bokuto or bokken is a hard wooden replica of a samurai katana (sword). Often it comes with its companion kodachi, which represents the short sword. The bokuto is 1.05m long and weighs on average 500g. Nowadays, it is only used to perform the kendo-gata. It can come in several types of wood and prices. For a beginner, a cheap replica is more than adequate.

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