What To Expect in Kenjutsu | A Martial Arts Overview

There are many sword-fighting-based martial arts out there, one of the more well-known martial arts for training the sword is Kenjutsu, a martial art that originated from Japan and has a long and rich history. But what can a beginner expect in Kenjutsu?

If you want to train Kenjutsu, expect to learn basics such as using the sword as a weapon, proper stance and grip, and how to execute various strikes and blocks. Kenjutsu classes are able to be scaled to beginners in terms of technical skills and physical fitness and can help to develop discipline.

If you are thinking about taking up Kenjutsu or are just curious about it, read on for everything you need to know about what to expect. Specifically, we will go over a brief background of Kenjutsu’s origins, alongside what you need to bring to practice Kenjutsu and other frequently asked questions for beginners to Kenjutsu.

A Brief History of Kenjutsu

Kenjutsu is a martial art that originated in feudal Japan. The word “Kenjutsu” is derived from the Japanese words ‘ken’ meaning sword, and ‘jutsu’ meaning art or technique. Kenjutsu, therefore, means the art of the sword. Kenjutsu’s core philosophy is based on the principle of using the sword as an extension of one’s body. 

Arguably, Kenjutsu is one of the oldest martial arts and has been practiced for centuries by the samurai class of Japanese society. During the Edo period (1603-1868), Kenjutsu became formalized as a martial art, with various schools (ryū) developing unique techniques and styles.

Kenjutsu reached the height of its popularity in the mid-18th century when it was used by the Imperial Japanese Army to train its soldiers. After the Meiji Restoration of 1868, Kenjutsu fell out of favor and was replaced by Kendo.

Kenjutsu is still practiced today, but it’s not as popular as other martial arts such as Kendo or Aikido. A few schools teach Kenjutsu in Japan and other countries. Kenjutsu practitioners believe the sword is not just a weapon but a tool for defense, offense, and even as a means of self-development.

And while the core techniques of Kenjutsu have remained essentially unchanged over the centuries, there have been some adaptations to make it safer. For example, it’s no longer necessary to practice Kenjutsu with a real sword in modern times, and many schools now use wooden or bamboo swords (bokken) for training purposes.

What Do You Wear for Kenjutsu?

You wear a uniform for Kenjutsu called a gi. In most instances, beginning students in Kenjutsu are only expected to wear comfortable athletic clothing for their first class. Specific uniform requirements vary by school, but most modern Kenjutsu schools use gis designed for Kendo or Karate.

When you are attending your first class observe what the other students are wearing and talk to your instructor or the school owner to determine what the norms are in the school in terms of uniform and follow those. Most schools will allow you to wear a basic Kendo or Karate-based uniform, which is relatively affordable.

For most students, the first gi they should acquire will be a basic Karate gi that can be used in a variety of martial arts, including Kenjutsu. This uniform that is available on Amazon is the best value that I found for an entry-level uniform for Kenjutsu.

In competitions or showcases, students may wear a hakama — a traditional Japanese garment worn by men and women. The hakama is a pleated skirt-like garment worn over the gi. It’s not compulsory to wear a hakama in competitions, but it’s considered more formal and respectful.

Do You Wear Shoes in Kenjutsu?

You do not wear shoes in Kenjutsu. Most students train barefoot, but exceptions can be made for people with injuries or health conditions. Kenjutsu is Japanese in origin, and training without shoes while indoors is a cultural tradition that most schools keep.

Training barefoot also has many benefits check out my article 7 Benefits of Training Martial Arts Barefoot for more.

What Equipment Is Required for Kenjutsu?

The primary equipment required for Kenjutsu includes a wooden sword (bokken), a jacket and pants (gi), trousers (hakama – optional), and a belt (obi). You may also need a pair of tabi (special socks) if your school requires tabi.

However, schools that carry out full contact may require students to use a shield (state) and armor (bōgu). They may also wear a helmet (kabuto) and gloves (tegaki). These items protect the students from injury during practice.

Do I Need To Be Fit To Start Kenjutsu?

You do not need to be fit to start Kenjutsu. However, fitness will help you train more effectively and make progress faster. Nonetheless, you can train and build fitness while progressing in Kenjutsu. That said, the physical training in Kenjutsu may get more rigorous as you progress in the art. 

In other words, you may need to be in better shape to keep up with future training demands, but for the most part, building up the physical attributes required to effectively train Kenjutsu can be largely accomplished by simply training Kenjutsu.

If you want to maximize your comfort while training or want to build fitness for other reasons, there are better ways to build up your physical fitness that are more traditional like aerobic exercise and other forms of endurance training. Building up some basic muscle strength is also a good idea for basically everybody since people tend not to emphasize building up functional strength that could help in daily life.

Do I Need To Be Strong for Kenjutsu?

You do not need to be strong to start Kenjutsu. Generally, martial arts favor the quick and agile rather than strong ones. However, as you progress in Kenjutsu, you may find that you need to be stronger to execute the techniques effectively.

Strength will help you generate more power when you strike, and it’ll also help you withstand blows from your opponents better when parrying or using defensive techniques. If you want to compete in Kenjutsu, you must be strong enough to execute techniques against other opponents effectively.

Strength requirements are relatively low since techniques are not performed with full intensity, but being able to effectively block moderate forces does require some strength, especially in the forearms and core due to the fact that these muscle groups are taxed heavily when manipulating a sword.

Don’t worry: You’ll build strength through regular, consistent training in Kenjutsu. There is no real need to specialize in strength training outside of the art.

Do I Need To Be Flexible for Kenjutsu?

You need to be reasonably flexible for Kenjutsu. Many of the techniques involve stretching and bending your body in various ways. If you’re not flexible, you can still train in Kenjutsu, but you’ll find it harder to learn and execute the techniques to full effectiveness.

Flexibility will also help you avoid injuries and can play a positive role in performance during competitions.

If you’re flexible and mobile, you’ll move your body more quickly and easily through more ranges of motion, giving you an advantage over your opponents. Additionally, just having a good baseline for flexibility will help you avoid injuries during training and competitions. If you want to build up some mobility and flexibility add in a dynamic warm-up before classes and some static stretching after classes.

Is Kenjutsu Good for Getting in Shape?

Kenjutsu is a great way to get in shape. Training can be physically demanding when performed with intention. As you progress in Kenjutsu, you’ll find that the movements can be done with more intensity and greater range of motion which makes it more demanding.

Besides, practicing this martial art is a fun and enjoyable way to build fitness. You’re less likely to get bored of the training, as there is always something new to learn and focus on that builds up skills, gives a sense of accomplishment, and generally lets you forget that you are exercising.

Is Kenjutsu Good for Self-Defense?

Kenjutsu is a good martial art for self-defense in select situations. You can use techniques, such as the thrust, strike, and chop, to disable an opponent quickly if you are holding a weapon. Kenjutso can also help with developing kinesthetic and situational awareness which plays a role in self-defense.

However, you need to be proficient in the techniques to use them effectively in a real-life self-defense situation and also happen to have a weapon at hand. There are definitely limits to Kenjutsu as a self-defense martial art, so you also need to understand the limitations of the art and not rely on Kenjutsu exclusively for self-defense.

What Style of Fighting Is Kenjutsu?

Kenjutsu is a martial art that focuses on sword fighting. It also includes very basic unarmed combat, striking, and grappling. Though some schools also teach grappling techniques, the primary focus is on utilizing practice weapons for striking.

Kenjutsu is really a sword-fighting traditional martial art. It goes over techniques that would apply to people using swords against each other and situations in that niche of combat that is really uncommon in modern society.

While Kenjutsu does offer some training in other aspects of fighting like grappling and unarmed striking, it is only covered at the very most basic level, and anybody who is trained in martial arts that emphasize those aspects will make quick work of a Kenjutsu student who is unarmed.

Does Kenjutsu Include Live Sparring?

Most schools of Kenjutsu include light basic sparring in their training. The level of contact is typically light to medium, and full-contact sparring is quite uncommon. In most cases, the sparring is choreographed like a drill, though some schools may allow for full sparring for advanced students.

Full contact martial arts are relatively rare and tend to have a strong combat sport base. The most common martial arts that include live sparring are Boxing and Muay Thai on the striking end and Wrestling, Judo, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu on the grappling end. In some schools, Karate and Taekwondo do have live sparring, but this is not as common as you might believe.

Are There Kenjutsu Competitions or Tournaments?

There are no official Kenjutsu competitions or tournaments. However, many schools hold live demonstrations or exhibitions where students can showcase their skills. Additionally, some schools may hold internal sparring tournaments or competitions.

If you’re interested in a competition, you should ask your instructor about competing opportunities. Alternatively, you can take up Kendo, another martial art that focuses on sword fighting and has many more competitions and tournaments.

Is Kenjutsu Dangerous To Practice?

Kenjutsu is not a dangerous martial art to practice. Practitioners use wooden swords (bokken) during training, and the level of contact is typically light to medium. However, there’s always the risk of injury, as with any martial art.

You can reduce the risk of injury by following your instructor’s safety guidelines and being aware of your limitations. Additionally, when sparring, you should use proper protective equipment, such as a mouthguard and headgear in order to reduce the chances of accidental minor injuries.

Is Kenjutsu Hard To Learn?

Kenjutsu is not hard to learn. The techniques are not complicated, and the training is typically progressive. However, like any other martial art, it takes time and practice to master the techniques beyond the basics.

Additionally, Kenjutsu is a lifelong learning process, as there’s always something to tweak in order to fully master the techniques. You can continue to improve your skills by attending demonstrations and tournaments, or by training with a more experienced practitioner.

How Long To Learn the Fundamentals in Kenjutsu?

It takes 6 months to a full year to learn the fundamentals of Kenjutsu, and another three years to become reasonably proficient. Learning the art can be accelerated with more training hours. As with most martial arts, mastery takes time and techniques can always be improved with more training. 

Additionally, it’s important to practice regularly and maintain your skills. If you don’t use your skills, you’ll likely lose mastery of them. That said, a beginner can expect to adapt to the demands of learning Kenjutsu within a few months. After that, regular practice will help maintain and improve your skills.

How Long To Reach Black Belt Level Mastery in Kenjutsu?

It takes 6-10 years to reach black belt level mastery in Kenjutsu on average. This martial art is rigorous and requires a lot of dedication and practice to achieve the highest level of proficiency. However, you can reach mastery in a shorter time frame with hard work and commitment.

Here are a few tips to help you reach black belt level mastery in Kenjutsu:

  • Find a reputable instructor. A good instructor will have the experience and knowledge to help you progress in your training.
  • Train regularly. The more you train, the faster you will progress. Try to practice at least three times a week.
  • Be patient. It takes time and practice to achieve mastery in any martial art. Be persistent and don’t give up, even if you hit a plateau.
  • Set goals. Having specific goals will help you stay motivated and on track. Make sure your goals are achievable and realistic.
  • Find a training partner. A training partner can help you stay motivated and accountable. It’s also beneficial to have someone to practice with.

Can You Learn Kenjutsu at Home?

You can learn Kenjutsu at home. All you need is a bokken (wooden sword), a training partner, and some space to move around. However, note that you will make the most progress if you train with a qualified instructor.

Additionally, online resources can help you learn Kenjutsu at home. These resources include online videos, tutorials, and forums. Examples of platforms you can use include YouTube, Udemy, and the official websites of Kenjutsu dojos.

Here’s a sample introductory bokken training video from YouTube:

Tip: Here are a few tips on learning Kenjutsu at home:

  • Start with the basics. Learn the basic techniques before moving on to more advanced ones.
  • Practice regularly. As I mentioned earlier, three times a week is a good goal to aim for.
  • Find a training partner. Practicing with a training partner will help you improve your techniques and stay motivated.
  • Get feedback. Ask your instructor or training partner for feedback on your techniques. This will help you improve faster.

Note: You’ll also need a bokken for practice. If you don’t have one, I recommend getting this Practice Swords Padded Sparring Bokken available on Amazon. It’s lightweight, durable, and padded with foam for safety. However, if your school has a preferred bokken you should go with what they prefer for their students to own.

What To Expect at Your First Kenjutsu Class

If you’re thinking about taking a Kenjutsu class, there are a few things you should know. You’re not going to swing and cross swords against your opponents off the bat. Here’s a general sequence of events to expect at your first Kenjutsu class.

  1. The class will usually start with a warm-up. This is important to help prevent injury.
  2. Next, you’ll learn the basic techniques. These include how to hold the sword, stance, and perform the different cuts.
  3. Once you’ve learned the basics, you’ll start practicing with a partner. This helps you get a feel for using the sword in a real-life situation.
  4. Most classes will also include a discussion on self-defense. This is important to understand the situations in which you can use Kenjutsu.
  5. The class will usually finish with a cool-down. This helps prevent injury and includes passive stretching alongside something more meditative in some schools.

It’s crucial to note that each class may be different. Speak to your instructor beforehand to get an idea of what to expect if you want to know specifics before going.

What Does Kenjutsu Cost?

Kenjutsu costs between $50 – $150 per month to train. This cost is variable due to demand and competition within the local area. Some schools offer drop-in rates, ranging from $15 to $20. Kenjutsu students are also usually expected to buy their own equipment such as a bokken training sword.

The ones with drop-in rates are a worthwhile option for those who can only train occasionally or those who want to find out if the martial art is worth pursuing.

Note: The cost of Kenjutsu training varies with the instructor, the dojo, and your location. It’s best to speak to a few different instructors and check out the culture of the school before deciding.

Is Kenjutsu Good for Kids?

Kenjutsu is a great martial art for kids. It helps develop discipline, focus, and respect. It also teaches them how to stay calm under pressure and make quick decisions. Besides, the physical benefits of Kenjutsu, such as improved coordination and agility, are also great for kids. 

Kids need to be active and Kenjutsu is a fun martial art that can be a great choice for kids. However, it is always important to take the time to find an experienced instructor that is good with children that can teach your child the proper techniques and how to stay safe.

Is Kenjutsu for Physically Smaller People?

Kenjutsu is a great martial art for smaller people since it is usually performed at a lower intensity and is choreographed. Kenjutsu does not have a real combat sport focus so students usually just work on mastery of the martial art and go through techniques and drills which are not size sensitive.

Students can be taught how to use their size and speed to their advantage. Additionally, Kenjutsu can help students to improve their confidence and self-esteem. Also, many of the techniques in Kenjutsu can be adapted to suit smaller people. 

Is Kenjutsu Good for Women?

Kenjutsu can be great martial art for women. Since it does not have a strong combat sport base the size and strength discrepancies do not create a barrier between women and men as training partners. It can help to build confidence and some self-defense skills while being fun to practice.

Kenjutsu schools often emphasize the social element and can be a great way to build up fitness and meet new people at the same time while learning some potential fighting skills if you happen to be armed. In a nutshell, Kenjutsu can be a way for women to improve their overall health and well-being in a welcoming environment. 

Final Thoughts

Kenjutsu might not be the typical martial art that you envision when somebody says martial arts, but it is interesting and suitable for many students who are curious about swords and weapons and want to train them in a traditional martial arts environment.

Kenjutsu has many of the benefits of traditional martial arts and can be used as an interesting platform to build up fitness and all of the other ways you might use martial arts to improve your life all while building up some fun skills in swordplay.

For more check out What To Expect in Kobudo | A Martial Arts Overview and What To Expect in Ninjutsu | A Martial Arts Overview


Hi, I'm Andre and I am the author of this website. I currently train primarily in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu but supplement with other grappling martial arts as well as help to coach my kid's blended grappling program.

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