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New (Temporary?) Rules of Shiai

Due to the pandemic, Kendo shiai (competition) has had some of the rules revised. This may be temporary, but for a while until the pandemic is brought under control.

Here is a brief translation of Koda sensei speech explaining the referee rules under the Covid-19. (translation courtesy of Robin Tanaka sensei of Detroit Kendo Dojo).

Key points from Koda-sensei:

1. Kendo has high risk of infection due to the nature of doing kiai, and being at close proximity. Hence, we will mitigate this risk by:

a. Wearing masks

b. Avoiding tsubazeriai as much as possible

2. We also want to aspire to elevate the level of kendo shiai to the best possible (ideal state of kendo). Tsubazeriai is one of the most critical aspects. As this is shiai, you must be dedicated to the shobu (win/loss). However, the manner in which you do this should be fair and sportsmanlike. Try not to compete at the boundary of fair play (close to being penalized by hansoku), but compete fair and square with your kendo. To this point, many times we see a lot of tsubazeriai within the shiai, to the point that 2/3 of the shiai time is spent in tsubazeriai. We should aspire to do kendo at the tachiai no maai (sword tips crossed). We should do seme at this maai, close in, back-out, capture the opportunity. This is the kendo we should be aspiring to and cultivating. If we can develop this at the high school level, we can expect that this will continue through university as well as through adulthood. What is most important is that the shiaisha do this proactively. It should not be the judges enforcing this. If the judges enforce, it would mean numerous wakare or hansoku. Tsubazeriai is a matter of mindset and behavior.

Moving to practical:

  • When going into tsubazeriai, the shiaisha should in principle be going in with seme, resulting in tsubazeriai. Oftentimes, shiaisha enter into tsubazeriai with no seme, in a defensive position. This means that that the shiaisha has declined to do shobu and is only looking to avoid being struck. This type of action should result in hansoku.

  • Now, if tsubazeriai happens. Whether it is as a result of seme, or as a result of an attempt at yukodatotsu, at the moment of tsubazeriai there should be an attempt at a yukodatotsu utilizing waza.

  • In the case that a waza is not possible, both sides should acknowledge that there was no opportunity and agree to do wakare to the point where the kensaki is parted. Shiaisha should not have to wait for the judge to call wakare.

  • When doing wakare, shiaisha should not open their kamae or lower their kamae. It is difficult to gauge distance if the shinai is not in kamae. Both sides should do wakare with the same kigurai (mindset) and timing. There are some cases where one side initiates the wakare with one step, but refrains from going back any further, waiting for the other to go back. As soon as the other competitor takes a step back, the initiator takes the opportunity to strike. This type of wakare is not considered wakare with equal kigurai.

  • Wakare should be done swiftly, with both sides keeping the shinogi together (continuing to maintain spirit between the blades).

  • When doing wakare, you should not open your kamae, lower your kamae or do gyaku-kosa (reverse crossing of shinai). If shiaisha are doing kobushizeriai (fist to fist) rather than tsubazeriai (tsuba to tsuba), then this is incorrect and can easily lead to gyaku-kosa.

  • If your hands are held too high in a defensive position, it is likely that this is incorrect tsubazeriai and can lead to gyaku-kosa, and improper wakare.

  • Do not do harai waza or maki waza when doing wakare.

  • Do not take the moment of doing wakare to strike. Both sides should have agreed that there was no opportunity at the moment of tsubazeriai and agreed to do wakare. To strike at this point is cowardly and should be counted as hansoku or will not count as yukodatotsu.

  • Of course, there will be cases that are difficult to ascertain. One could argue that the strike was not upon doing wakare but still at the point of tsubazeriai. If it is clear that both sides signaled to do wakare and one side took advantage to strike at that moment, it is hansoku. However, if it is difficult to judge, the shinpan should call gogi to discuss.

  • During the gogi, the shinpan should discuss whether the strike was intentional (take advantage of the wakare situation) or if it was coincidental. If coincidental, no hansoku, no yukodatotsu.

  • If shiai follow these guidelines, there should be good shiai. In the recent All Japan Championships, all shiaisha were able to proactively do wakare and there was not a single case of wakare due to tsubazeriai.

  • When doing wakare, there is no need to try to avoid being struck, as strikes will not count as yukodatotsu.


  • What happens at the line? If one person has their back to the line, the other competitor should back up. If shinpan calls wakare and one competitor steps out, call yame and bring them back to the center with no hansoku. If the competitors proactively do wakare and inadvertently step out of bounds, also call yame and bring them to the center with no hansoku.

  • If the stepping out of bounds happens during regular seme or striking, then this is a different story and unrelated to wakare or tsubazeriai. Of course, the shiaisha should do their best to try and avoid stepping out of bounds. Shinpan should also be aware and attentive to cases where yame should be called to avoid unnecessary physical contact at the line.

In summary, it is important for all shiaisha and shinpan to understand these guidelines and improve the quality of shiai with safety in mind.


The Rivonia Kendo Club (RKC) trains Kendo and Iaido, Japanese sword-based martial arts that encourages the cultivation of the human character.

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