Kendo Ranking System and How to Reach Them

Kendo Ranking System and How to Reach Them

Kendo practitioners are known for their diligence, patience and etiquette. No matter where you are, kendoka always wear just one uniform with no identification of their rank or whatever. So how does one identify them? Simple, by observing how they interact with people and the difference of skills in their swordplay.

Mississauga Kendo Club Instructors

Here at our kendo club, we pride ourselves with instructors that lead their students to show qualities that follow the ‘The Concept and Purpose of Kendo’. Below are our great instructors who will train and work with you to achieve your goal of learning kendo.

Yukio Yamada (Godan)

Yukio Yamada, or Yamada-sensei as what we call him, is one of the first students of Shigeo Kimura at Takubukan dojo during the late seventies. Takubukan dojo is now known as the Toronto Kendo Club. In 1996, he founded the Mississauga Kendo Club with Kimura-sensei. Yamada-sensei is still an instructor at Mississauga Kendo Club and now the head instructor of Hamilton Kendo Dojo.

Shigeo Kimura (Kyoshi – Shichidan)

Shigeo Kimura or Kimura-sensei was born in Sendai, Japan. He attended Takushoku University, a popular martial arts school in Tokyo. After 40 years, he migrated to Canada where he raised his family. After meeting Yamada-sensei, and Richard Tizzard, they founded the Mississauga Kendo Club. Kimura-sensei competed for Canada and served as a referee at the World Kendo Championship.

Kendo Grading System

Back in the mid 1800s, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department implemented a ranking system for the police officer’s ability in martial arts. They were trained in judo, karate and kendo then ranked through the kyu system, the first system was ranked from 8th to 1st. Then in the 1890s, the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai or Greater Japan Martial Virtue Society incorporated these ranking systems to various martial arts found in the country.

In kendo, practitioners are not distinguished by the colour of their belt, like in taekwondo or karate or a badge as a symbol of their status. Kendo only uses one kind of uniform no matter how long you are practising it.

Kendo has a ranking system no matter what country you are. In Japan, kendo practitioners are classified through a kyu/dan system. Beginners usually start from a no kyu to the Rokkyu or the 6th kyu then gradually make their way to Nikyu or the 2nd kyu. 

You can rank up as long as you passed every promotional examination that would show your knowledge and application of your basics. Various exams are held to judge your skills when you rank up from the lowest to the 2nd kyu depending on the federation that you are in. As for the promotion of Ikkyu or 1st kyu and dan, the exam should be in the same standard set by the International Kendo Federation.

After you have passed your 1st kyu examination, you are now eligible to become a Shodan or 1st dan. A practitioner trains and hones his skills as soon as he was given the status of a dan. Dans are a bit different compared to ranking up in kyu. You are only allowed to take an advancement exam after a year that is equivalent to your position. For example, if you are a first dan, you need to wait for a year, 2nd dan for 2 years and so on.

Along with the long years of waiting before advancing to a higher position, the exams are different compared to ranking up in kyu. In dan, you don’t show the basics. You must be able to beat or show that you are comparable to someone a rank higher than you.

In addition to the kyu/dan ranking system, there are three titles that you can rank up to; the Hanshi or the highest rank; Kyoshi, one who holds the prestigious title; and Renshi, a senior teacher. However, not everyone can acquire it instantly. The kendoka must be at least a Rokudan or 6th dan to Judan or 10th dan. At the same time, the candidate must be recommended by the federation they are affiliated with. After passing the exam, they can put the title before their dan statuses like ‘Renshi-Rokudan’ or ‘Hanshi-Rokudan’.

Kendo Competitions

Kendo competitions are held in all parts of the world, different federations hold each championship depending on the region they are competing on. Some of the renowned competitions are as stated below. 

The World Kendo Championship

The World Kendo Championship is a competition organized by the International Kendo Federation or FIK. It is held every three years since its establishment in 1970. Contestants who would like to qualify for the tournament compete at respective clubs or dojos affiliated with FIK.

The assembling and organizing of the World Kendo Championship rotates through the three FIK affiliated continents; Asia, America and Europe. The contest is classified into four categories; Men’s Team, Men’s Individual, Women’s Team and Women’s Individual.

European Kendo Federation

The European Kendo Federation or EKF is a federation affiliated with FIK. They oversee all Japanese martial arts which include kendo, judo and iaido in the European region. EKF championships have been ongoing every year since 1974, except for the years when an international championship is taking place.

World Combat Games

The World Combat Games are international championship games that feature combat sports and martial arts.They features sports like karate, kendo, aikido, and many more.

The World Combat Games was inaugurated in 2010, were started by the SportAccord, an organization associated with international organizations that arrange sports events. The World Combat Games was initially started to bring combat sports and martial arts of different countries to the public. At the same time, they want to showcase to the world how we could preserve and pursue the values of combat sports to the world as it is now.

All Japan Kendo Championship

The All Japan Kendo Championship is known as the most prestigious championship. Practitioners from every part of the world even considered it as kendo with the highest level of competitiveness.

To compete in the All Japan Kendo Championship, a qualification exam is conducted in each region. Each federation has its own type of qualification round. Most of the time, only the winner of the exam could proceed to the tournament. However, in some big Japanese prefectures, the runner up and the 3rd place are also qualified to enter the tournament.

Japan is known as the most competitive kendo tournament in the entire federation. The All Japan Kendo Championship consists of a winner takes all system. The contestants need to win all of their matches before being crowned with the title of ‘Emperor’s cup’. 

How to score points in Kendo tournaments

To score a point in a kendo competition, the contestant must be able to ‘tai-kai’ or strike an opponent’s ‘datotsu-bui’ or the target armour accompanied by a kiai. Below are some of the techniques used to score points during a competition.


Datotsu-bui are the targets that a kendoka must be able to accurately strike. There are different targets that a contestant can strike:

  • Men-bu – the head protector, the top is sho-men and sides are called sayu-men.
  • Kote-bu – the padded area surrounds the right or left wrist, migi-kote for left and hidari-kote for right.
  • Do-bu – the armour that protects the torso, migi-do for the right side and hidari-do for the left side.
  • Tsuki-bu – the area protecting the throat
  • Monouchi – the top side of your shinai

In a competition, three referees or shinpan are mediating a match. Each referee holds a red or white flag in each hand. The referee raises a flag that corresponds to the colour that is representing the competitor. At least two shinpan must agree for a point to be awarded to a contestant.

Kendo competitions are usually the best of three matches. The first competitor to score two points wins the match. However, if only one point has been scored throughout the match, the contestant with the point wins the game.

There are some cases where no points are awarded to both competitors. The referees have three options they can choose from to how the match would be pursued.

  • Hiki-wake – the match is declared a draw, junior competitors would usually end up with this conclusion when both sides are too tired to continue the match.
  • Encho – the match is continued until either of the competitors is awarded a point. In high ranked matches, competitors are equally skilled to the point that timeouts are required for them to strategize their approach of the match
  • Hantei – the winning side, is decided by the three referees. The referees would raise the winner’s flag at the same time to prevent biased decisions.

In every match, there is always an unpredictable outcome. Sometimes the skill is not the only basis of a match, but the way an athlete approaches and assesses their enemy. Every kendoka can learn this through hard work and proper training. What are you waiting for? Join us now!