Kendo Terminology: "Sword"

We have a lot of names for a different kinds of swords in Japan.

They are not quite kendo terminology but it is useful to know what these words are as a kendo practitioner.

Here are helpful terms if you practice kendo.


Katana: If you say this word, almost 100% of Japanese know what you are referring to.


Nihon-tou: It may be written Nihon-to. Nihon means Japan. Tou, pronunced toh, is another way to say katana. Therefore, nihon-tou means Japanese sword.


Tsurugi: This also means katana. This sword has a two sided blade and is straight, while katana has only one blade and is curved. This word seems older than the word, katana. We do not normally use this word in kendo.

I remember that Hiro from the CBS TV Show, "Heroes," uses the word "Tsurugi" when mentioning his quest for a Japanese sword.


Shin-ken: It means a real sword; a sword with a blade. If you do Iaido (the way of drawing the sword), you may hear this word a lot more than in kendo practice. However, it is useful to know this word if you practice just kendo. That is because without this concept, real sword, kendo does not exist.

This word is often used in Japanese daily conversation too. "Seriousness" in Japanese is "shinken". This is clearly derived from a samurai word, shin-ken shobu, which means a fight with the real swords.

If you fight with a real sword, you've got to be deadly serious! Therefore, we still use "shinken" for "seriousness." You may hear this word a lot if you live in Japan. And "shinken-shobu" is also used for a "serious fight/game/play."


Boku-tou/Bokken: Both words refer to the same thing, wooden sword. However, they have different kanji (Chinese character used in Japan) for them. One is the character for katana and the other one is for tsurugi. Be familiar with both terms so you will know what people are talking about.


Shinai: This does not sound anything like a sword, but kanji for shinai tells us it is a "bamboo sword." We use this for kendo practice because we do not want to kill our kendo practice partners in every training session.

It is safer than a real sword, of course, and is also safer than bokuto, but it does not mean it does not hurt. We must know how to control our shinai; otherwise, we still lose our kendo training partners.

Hopefully these are helpful in your kendo learning.

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