Kendo: Strength Training with the Sword

by Mackenzie M. | October 12th, 2012 | Core, Strength Training

Literally translating from Japanese as “way of the sword,” kendo is a martial art that dates back to the time of the samurai. Kendo sword fighting is very popular among Japanese middle and high school students today, and continues the legacy of the samurai class of feudal Japan.

These days, kendo practitioners no longer use sharp steel blades, but instead they use bamboo swords called shinai. Anyone who watches kendo can see the graceful movements of the fighters, but few realize the intense core and arm muscle work out that is gained through practicing kendo. In fact, it is so great for arm, shoulder, back, and abdominal muscles, that kendo is becoming an increasingly popular work out among American athletes.

Kendo practitioners are known for having defined biceps and triceps, a rock-hard core, and an impossibly defined back. This comes from years of swinging the shinai and learning the techniques that require several muscle groups at a time. However, even with the hours of kendo practice, it is necessary to do more muscle training outside of the dojo to improve one’s form and core strength.

These can also be useful in the core fitness routine of the average American, as they build strength in key muscle groups. Kendo clubs often go jogging for several kilometers, often from their schools and universities to the kendo training area. Kendo requires an extreme amount of physical activity, and cannot simply be started on a whim. This discipline also makes for great motivation when working out.

It is best to spend an hour on cardiovascular exercise at least three times per week. After the cardiovascular section, head right to the weight machines and do a relatively low weight and high rep workout. This will tone the muscles and build strength slowly and evenly, rather than quick and sloppy.

Raising the sword above the head obviously takes very strong wrist, forearm, bicep, and tricep muscles, but it also takes very strong lats, pecs, and abs. Without the base of the core muscle groups, it becomes hard to maintain the stamina that kendo matches require. Kendo participants must also suit up in traditional armor called ‘bogu,’ and wear a heavy face mask called a ‘men.’ To carry the armor is already a great core workout.

Many foreigners join kendo clubs when spending long periods of time in Japan, as it is a fantastic workout and a great way to practice language skills; Kendo is fought using loud shrieks from each of the participants. Not all those wanting to strength train with kendo can travel to Japan. Although North America is not littered with kendo clubs, several cities – both small and large – have begun to support local kendo clubs.

So for this year’s cardio and core strength training, try out your local kendo club. Although the workout will be intense, everyone will soon be jealous of your ridiculously toned core and minor knowledge of Japanese vocabulary.

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