Kendo in Vietnam

Introduced in Vietnam more than 10 years ago, the Japanese martial art, Kendo (Way of sword), is increasingly attracting youngsters to practice it. Practicing Kendo is not only for physical training but also for the improvement of mental strength.
Visiting Kendo Thang Long Club at Giang Vo Residential Area in Hanoi, we witnessed an animated practicing atmosphere of about 50 students. The loud shouts, the slapping sound of bamboo swords clashing against each other, the noise of feet stomping on the floor make the whole training place full of energy.

Dressed in a uniform which has several similarities to that of a samurai, Le Hai Son, president of the club, introduced us the Japanese martial art. In Japanese, ken means sword and do means the way. 

Son also acknowledged that Kendo was introduced into Vietnam in the early 2000s. At the beginning, it was taught to children of Japanese expatriates working in Hanoi. Afterwards, the martial art was practiced more and more by Vietnamese. Now, Kendo is not only developing in Hanoi but also in many other cities and provinces nationwide.

Kendo first appeared in Vietnam in the early 2000s. In 2009, Kendo Vietnam Club was formally established with
branches in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, marking a new stage of development in practicing this sport in the country.
Youngsters who practice Kendo not only learn a sport but also good manners.

Established in August, 2014, Kendo Thang Long Club has been a rendezvous for people who love the sport
as well as Japanese culture.
Những bài tập thiền giúp các kendoka thư giãn và lấy lại thăng bằng cho cơ thể sau buổi tập. 

Following this martial art, practitioners (kendoka) not only learn how to use a sword but also the way of it, or put differently, the manner of sword users. The manner is gradually learned through diligent training, good treatment towards fellow practitioners, a respect paid to instructors and refraining from insulting others. In kendoka's perspective, winning oneself is much more important than beating the opponent. 
Kendo is a martial art developed from Japanese traditional swordsmanship, Kenjutsu. This was established at the end of the Meiji period (in the 19th century) with the aim of training the soldiers. After the Second World War, this sport was revived and considered a formal sport in 1946. Kendo has been developing quickly and has been introduced into the Japanese schooling system. There are more than 10 million people practicing Kendo worldwide.


The practice of Kendo not only helps practitioners release stress accumulated after a tiresome working day but also develops their confidence and decisiveness. "Kendo helps me make decisions faster and more precise in many complicated situations I encounter at work," said Son when he talked about the benefits of Kendo.

Friendly as it is, the Kendo training area is also bound by discipline. In order to join, practitioners need to prepare a set of equipment and clothes including protective amour (Bogu), a face mask, shoulder protectors (men), hand and forearm protectors (kote), torso protectors (do), groin and leg protectors (tare), a training jacket (dogi), training trousers (hakama), a belt (himo), a cotton towel (tenugui), and most importantly a bamboo sword (shinai).
As a major weapon used by kendoka, shinai is made from 4 bamboo slats held together by fittings and strips and its tip is covered with metal.

At the beginning stage, kendoka will be introduced to the basic rules of Kendo as well as practicing rituals, tools, basic techniques of strikes and defence by instructors (sensei) or senior practitioners (senpai). Kendo's system includes 4 basic techniques, Men, Kote, Do and Tsuki.. Men is the strike against the head of the enemy and Kote aims at the wrist. The one that strikes the torso is called Do. Tsuki is considered an advanced technique with kendoka using a sword to hit the opponent's throat.

New practitioners are briefed about Japanese shouts used in training and competing.

New kendokas practice basic techniques.
A bamboo sword (Shinai) is used in practice instead of the Japanese sword Katana.
Le Hai Son (President of Kendo Thang Long Club) instructs new students on moving techniques in Kendo.
Kendo requires students to continuously practice techniques until thoroughly mastered. 

Kendokas are divided into two groups to practice striking and defence techniques.
Preserving good manners, respect and politeness among people is one of the aims of practicing Kendo.

In order to ensure safety, practitioners have to be equipped with protective armor.

Like in other sects of Japanese martial arts, kendokas practice and compete in bare feet. The most ideal
place for practicing is in arenas with clean wooden floors.
Kendo has only four basic strikes and thrusts which aim at the head, wrist, belt, and throat.

The way of the sword lies in four words: Spirit, Sword, Body and Singularity (ki, ken, tai, ichi). 

The theory of Kendo is to discipline the human character through the application of the principles of Katana (the sword).
Winning over oneself is much more important than beating an opponent.

At the end of each practice session, the instructor picks a kendokas of an equivalent level for friendly fights,
helping practitioners to learn from each other.

Techniques are practiced repeatedly during classes so that kendokas can master them.

During practice, kendokas often exchange their ways of conducting strikes using learned techniques.

The four techniques are all knockout ones that can defeat the opponent at once. They are inherited from the long-formed elite of Japanese martial arts history. In order to master these skills, kendokas have to patiently practice a long time with varying levels of difficulty.

Though the martial art has been in Vietnam for a short time, Vietnamese kendokas have had positive achievements at regional and international kendo competitions, including silver medals for male competitors at the South East Asia's Kendo Tournament in 2007 and 2013 and a silver medal for a male trio at Hong Kong Open Kendo Championship in 2014.

Story: Tran Hieu – Photos: Khanh Long