Conducting Yourself at Events: Tips and Tricks for those New to the PNKF

Whether you are new to armor or transferred from another federation and dojo, please take a moment to familiarize yourself on how to participate in federation events like tournaments, exams, seminars and open keiko after events.

When/how may I visit other dojos?

You represent the sensei and students at your home club. Therefore, you must understand and follow the rules of kendo etiquette. Above all, you must be strong enough to keep up with the students in the dojo you visit. If you get tired and have to drop out of class before the end of the lesson, then you aren’t ready to go out. Another requirement is that you pay annual dues to the Pacific Northwest Kendo Federation (PNKF), and the All US Kendo Federation (AUSKF). Make sure you ask permission from your head sensei to determine whether or not you are ready to venture out to other clubs.

Tip: Practice sword strikes (suburi) at home 20 minutes per day to build enough strength to visit other dojos.

What is the etiquette for visiting a dojo?

If you ask permission to visit another dojo, you must attend that practice. Your head sensei has to contact the other club on your behalf ahead of time. If you don’t keep that appointment, you embarrass your sensei.
When you arrive, go and greet the head sensei and ask if you may join practice.
Take your place below the lowest ranks of that dojo, at the end of the line.
Practice with the head sensei FIRST whenever possible.
At the end of class, be sure to thank the head sensei for allowing you to visit.
Do not drop out of practice unless your equipment is untied. If your equipment is constantly coming untied during practice, then you are not ready to go out other dojos.

Tip: Make new friends. One of the great joys of kendo is reconnecting with various acquaintances at tournaments, seminars and tests throughout the year.

How do I practice with kodansha sensei?

It is an honor to train with kodansha sensei (5-dan and above). Practice with kodansha sensei is not a duel. The goal is to make good clean strikes when they provide an opening. Do not push, shove, circle or hit from the side. This is impolite when they give you openings. Go straight through and take your chance. If your attack fails, go back to kamae and start over again.

How do I get the most out of practice?

Avoid practice with your peer-group during open floor. Instead, try to train with as many different sensei or students as time allows. Do not waste time, however. When there are more than three people waiting in line, go to a different line. If the lines are too long for all the sensei on the floor, then practice with members of your peer group.

Tip: Try to increase the number of people you practice with each week.

When can I get a drink of water?

During practice, water must only be taken when a break is given. Likewise, do not smoke; chew gum; eat food; or wear hats unless given permission.

Tip: Purchase a bottle with a curved straw from a sports supplier, so you don’t have to take off your helmet (men) during practice.

How do I become a black belt in kendo?

Promotion tests, called shinsa, are offered every six months. Your head sensei will determine when you are ready to test for promotion. It usually takes between three and five years to earn a first-degree black belt.

Tip: Volunteer at as many PNKF events as you can. As you watch the matches, sempai and sensei point out critical aspects of kendo that they don’t have time to discuss verbally with you during class.

How do I make friends in kendo?

The best way to build friendships in kendo is to volunteer for as many PNKF events as you can. When you attend tournaments you deepen relationships with the people in your own dojo, as well as make new friends in other dojos.

At some clubs, students gather at a restaurant after class for “Second Dojo.” This is when they get to know each other on a personal level, as well as discuss the finer points of kendo. As you advance in kendo, it is your duty to make the new students feel welcome. Say hello, and ask if they need any help.

Should beginners attend kendo events?

Beginners should start attending kendo events about six months into practice. There is a lot to learn just by watching. The first event most beginners attend is a tournament, or taikai. The Pacific Northwest Kendo Federation hosts about seven taikai per year. Regardless of rank, everyone should attend the kata seminars. Students may also quietly observe promotional tests. Even if you cannot participate due to age, rank, or other restrictions, you can still learn a lot by volunteering.

Tip: Subscribe to your sensei’s email list for notification of upcoming kendo events.

Why should I volunteer?

You should volunteer about six months after you begin training kendo. Volunteering is a great way to make new friends and learn about kendo. In fact, dozens of volunteers are required just to run each kendo event. Beginners work at check-in desks, buy coffee, pick up boxed lunches, or even prepare food for potluck events. At least five volunteers are needed for each of the many judges’ tables; to keep score; time matches; and line up competitors. The reason so many beginners are required to volunteer is because all of the sensei are busy serving as court judges. Roughly seven sensei take turns rotating through each court. If a tournament operates four courts, then 28 sensei need to volunteer. The number of beginners who volunteer at each tournament is roughly equal to the number of judges. Contact your kendo instructors serve at the next kendo event. Volunteering at these events can be hectic, but it is also a lot of fun.

Tip: Try to volunteer for every event that you can. The PNKF hosts more than 10 events per-year. Over time, kenshi build friendships with the other volunteers.

When should I compete in tournaments?

Kendo is more than just one-day-per-week at your home dojo. Six months after students earn their armor is a good time to compete at a first tournament unless you are attending more often than once a week. Facing off with another students in a competition is great mental training. You must face your fears; empty your mind; and put your training to the test. There is a saying: “You don’t study kendo so you can become good at competitions. Rather, you should compete in tournaments so that you can become good at kendo.” Competing in tournaments presents the next rite of passage in kendo. Like wearing bogu for the first time, competing in tournaments poses an opportunity for psychological growth. Everything that is wrong with your kendo comes out at a tournament because you are under pressure.

Tip: Have a friend or family-member video your matches. After the tournament, watch these videos to identify good and bad habits in your kendo. Then, focus on specific areas of improvement. Video doesn’t lie.

Why should I study the kendo kata?

It is said that, “If you don’t know the kata, then you don’t know kendo.” While the bamboo shinai used in kendo is safer for practice, it is far removed from the feel of an actual metal katana. The wooden bokuto used in kata more closely approximates the heft and edge of a katana. Moreover, kata practice reinforces good posture, footwork, and sword grip. The different techniques (waza) found in kata are also applied to advanced kendo. The philosophy underlying each form in the sequence is often overlooked, but no less important in the development of the martial artists. One suggested book on the subject is Nippon Kendo Kata, by the All Japan Kendo federation.

Tip: To practice kendo kata at home, watch the “Nihon Kendo Kata” video on YouTube. Shot in 2012, and posted by KendoWorld, this video is a great resource for students of all levels.

Why should I attend the kata seminar?

Advanced sensei gather from dojos all across the Pacific Northwest to teach at the annual kata seminar. Each possesses his or her unique expertise on the kata, which they gladly share with students of all levels. Because the teacher-to-student ratio is so high, you receive individualized corrections on your form. Your kendo will improve greatly each time you attend the kata seminar.

Tip: Always attend the godo keiko (practice) after the seminar. Although the focus on the kata seminar is your bokken forms, the kendo practice afterward is an opportunity to study with high-ranking sensei from around the PNKF. It’s a great opportunity to improve your kendo.

Why should I attend the shinpan seminars?

Just as beginners need practice during kendo class, the black belts need practice judging at tournaments and tests. As a beginner, volunteering at the shinpan seminar is an opportunity to give back to the kendo sensei who volunteer to teach your class every week. Kendo is a community-oriented martial art. Once you have practiced in armor for about six months, it is a good time to volunteer at the shinpan seminars. Additionally, beginners who volunteer at shinpan seminars are better prepared to compete at tournaments. They learn more about how points are scored, as well as the rules of competition etiquette.

Tip: Again, the “optional” godo keiko practice after a shinpan seminar is really not optional. Sensei look forward to training with kenshi from the broader kendo community. Leaving early can be considered rude. It is both an honor and a privilege to train with the higher-ranking sensei from different dojos. Plan your schedule in advance to attend the godo practice after each kendo event. You will be glad you did.

When I get my armor…

Everything changes when you wear bogu for the first time. The same armor that protects your body from injury also restricts your movement. You hear the sound of your own breath inside of the helmet, while other students repeatedly strike your head and wrist. Don’t get discouraged. This is when most kenshi quit. Just wipe the slate clean, and relearn everything you thought you already knew about footwork, strikes and posture. Do not give up. This transition is a rite of passage. Persevere, and within six months kendo starts to be fun again. It takes nearly two years of practice for most kenshi to get completely comfortable in armor.