The Iaido Journal  Dec 2007
Our Sponsor
Our Sponsor, SDKsupplies, click here

Kinesiology of Fencing and Kendo

copyright © 2007 Jonathan Riddle, all rights reserved


There are two types of fencing, modern Olympic fencing rooted in European tradition and Kendo, Japanese fencing, or the way of the sword. Both arts involve the use of a safe, practice sword. With modern fencing, there are three weapons, the foil, saber and epee, which are made up of high carbon spring steel. They are one handed weapons, and have no point or edge. The foil is based off the court sword, the saber, the military saber that was used on horse back and the epee or the dueling sword. In Japanese fencing or kendo there are two practice swords, which include the bokken or wooden sword, and the shinai, which is made from bamboo. The shinai is the safety weapon used while sparring. The bokken is made from a hard wood. The bokken is cut and shaped to give the balance and weight of a real sword or a katana. In both systems the basic objective is to cut and thrust at different target areas on the body. Scoring of touches in modern fencing is done electronically and judged with one official, while kendo is scored by judges.

There are several kinesiological similarities due to the fact that in both sports the objective is to score with a thrust or cut. The major differences are due the fact that modern fencing is a one handed weapon, while kendo is a two handed weapon. There are also rules in both sports as far as priority of a hit. In modern fencing, you have to initiate an attack or defend an attack in order to score, at least in foil and saber. There is no priority in epee, just score first, as in a duel. In kendo, you must score first, with power, stomp the foot, land the hit at the same time, and a strong kiai, followed by a return to a guard position.

This paper will examine the lunge, which is used in modern fencing. The lunge is an important aspect of an attack. The lunge in a real duel allows for penetration of the weapon in the body. The lunge generates power, and power is made up of two factors, strength, or force and speed, or velocity. A powerful lunge will allow you to punch past a parry and the guard of an opponent at the right distance.

The second technique is shomen uchi or men cutting technique in kendo. This is a basic technique like the lunge. Power is important in this technique as well. The ideal is based off of being a samurai and being able to cut through the helmet of your enemy. This requires power, which is generated as with the lunge from the legs.

Kinesiology of the Lunge

Starting from the guard position, in which the body is at rest, the toes of the foot are raised vertically. Center of gravity is between both legs and each leg holding equal amounts of weight. The foot rises vertically with minimal amount of the foot touching, just the heel contacting. In guard position the knees are bent to lower the center of gravity. The legs are externally rotated. The lifting of the toes and shifting of the center of mass to the back leg allows an increase of momentum. Decreasing contact time of the front foot allows for a great acceleration. The front extends horizontally forward and vertically upward. While the back leg extends, the front and back legs must be coordinated together to work equal and opposite directions. The force of the front leg will cause the body or the mass of the body to accelerate forward. While the back leg extends backwards horizontally, and vertically downward, the ground reacts against the extended leg, and then you lock at the knee. The combined forces cause the mass to move forward. Even as the front foot lands, the body keeps moving forward. From the feet, force against the ground, the energy from the ground reacts against the feet. The energy travels up the leg, through the center of mass, traveling through the arm, into the weapon. Power comes from an acceleration of the body which transfers energy into the weapon. Both in fencing and in Kendo an important concept is distance. Distance must be traveled in order to reach your opponent. Of course ideally you want to touch without being touched.

In modern fencing, there are thousands of combinations. When cutting with a saber, the handle is held with the thumb, index and middle fingers, these are called manipulators, because they control and manipulate the blade. The assistance, the ring and pinky finger can be squeezed to cause torque along the blade. Usually the blade is held parallel along the horizontal along the plane, but in saber, and in some guard positions such as what is practiced by the Russians, the blade travels in an arc. Different European countries have developed different guard positions. A detailed paper could be written on the application and theories of those guard positions. The position of arm parallel or elevated, with point extension, will have different effects on the kinetics.

The lunge is can be broken down into a four count movement starting from the guard position. This is important to understand and master in order to coordinate your arms, legs and body to work together to get maximum velocity, force and power. Basic fencing theory holds that the coordination of movement starts with the arm, then the body and finally the legs. This so that the weapon remains forward moving towards the target.

Lunge Technique

From the Guard:

1. The arm extends forward and the toes pick up from the ground. The weapon’s point drops towards the target, and the weapon is thrust forward horizontally. This initial movement is to over-come inertia; it also changes your center of gravity, by shifting your center of mass horizontally backwards, causing an increase in ground reaction forces on the back foot, by accelerating the arm and foot.

1.a 1.b

2. The foot comes off the floor. More momentum is gained, and the foot continues to accelerate forward.

3. Both the front and back legs kick. The force applied in opposite directions, the front leg accelerates vertically upward and horizontally forward and the back leg accelerates vertically downward and horizontally backwards. The ground reacts to the back foot by pushing upward vertically and forward horizontally with force, causing an acceleration of the whole mass of the body.

4. The rear leg extends and moves into a locked position causing maximum acceleration, reaching critical velocity, while the front leg reaches, accelerating towards the ground at 32.2 feet/second squared, causing a gain in more momentum. The heel of the front touches the ground first, then, the foot rolls flat. The mass of the whole body continues to travel forward horizontally, with the point accelerating towards target.

Kinesiology of Kendo

The footwork and distance are important, but the cut in kendo is the main focus. The cut with the shinai must be as close to actually cutting with a real sword as possible. In Kendo the power comes from the left hand. In Japan all swordplay is taught with the right hand lead while with European sword there is choice of left or right preference. The type of cut for the Japanese was determined by the fact you have a single edge, curved blade. The cut either has to be drawn across the surface or pushed. The “sweet spot” is the area on the blade with the greatest curvature, to make the greatest cutting surface, as well as the greatest distance along the lever causing maximum torque or cutting damage.

Acceleration is important in an attack, defense either with footwork, or bladework is dependent on distance and time, or the speed or velocity of the object that is moving.

From kamae, or guard position, the shinai is kept in front and the weight is shifted slightly backwards causing the center of mass to shift backwards. Jodan kamae, or high guard position. The foot is raised with flexion of the hip. This is to decrease time on the ground. Force is applied from the ball of the foot into the ground. The weapon must move into jodan in order to gain enough momentum to allow an acceleration of the cut, therefore enough power of the cut. The reason for ki-ai is to cause a compression or contraction of the rib cage by expelling air, this can add to the force from the chest into the weapon. Both masses of each arm are included. Shomen Uchi can be broken down into three motions.

Shomen Uchi

From Kamae:

  1. The shinai is elevated vertically upwards, horizontally backwards.

2. Then the shinai is swung forward vertically downwards, and horizontally forwards for maximum acceleration at the same time the shinai comes forward, the foot is accelerated vertically upwards and horizontally forward, and the beginning of the ki-ai or shouting of men to cause more tighting of muscles in the chest and ribs to cause more force or acceleration and therefore cause more power produced during the cut. While the back foot pushes against the ground causing force, while moving the mass of the body forward.

3. The shinai hits the target, or men, (the head), at the same time the foot lands, this must be done with power, and accelerates downward with the assistance of gravity at 32.2 feet/second squared. The rear leg accelerates forward horizontally forward, so you can drive pass your opponent and resume the kamae position.


In both systems the power of the attack comes from the force applied to the ground, causing a reaction from the ground into the legs, causing an acceleration of the body and arms towards the target. This would be important especially if an actually sharp weapon were either cutting flesh or penetrating a body. The other fact is, it is hard to defend against a strong attack. It the weapon accelerates this effects the timing of a parry, relative to the distance of the attack.

Our Sponsor
Our Sponsor, SDKsupplies, click here

TIN Dec 2007