1) How long is the beginners' course?

At Nanseikan typically they go for 6 weeks.

2) Can I come and watch a training session?

Certainly! Check the website to make sure we're in a training period. Usually if it is during school term time, we'll be training. Send an email or just turn up after checking the training dates page. If you come towards the end of training you can have a chat with one of our senior members about the class.

3) Can I do a free try-out class?

If you come to observe a normal training you may be invited to join in, but 
please be aware that depending on the time of year (e.g. if we are preparing for an upcoming competition or grading) or the numbers present, we may only be able to give you a small amount of attention, or you may only be able to watch.

4) Do you have a kids' class?

We no longer have a dedicated children's class, but we do cater to them with tailored instruction and our small club environment. Nanseikan's instructors have experience with teaching young people. There are many families who train at Nanseikan and many members are parents. Children over the age of 7 can train by themselves at Nanseikan. Children younger than that need to have a parent take part in training with them.

5) What are the costs for joining?

The basic fee for the beginners' course is $90.00. There is also a 50% discount for Health Care Card holders. 

Membership of the Victorian Kendo Renmei is $85.00/year for adults and $50.00/year for juniors. This comes after the beginners' course is complete and you've decided that you wish to continue Kendo.

6) What do I need to bring to my first beginners' lesson?

Just wear loose, comfortable clothes. Choose something appropriate to the weather on the day, being mindful of the fact that you will be exerting yourself and will definitely sweat. Loose cotton pants that allow airflow and movement, plus a t-shirt and windcheater or cotton jumper are ideal. We always do Kendo in bare feet so special footwear is not required. Bring a water-bottle.

7) Is it important to trim my fingernails or toenails?

Trimmed toenails with no jagged edges are very important. Feet do clash occasionally during training and cuts from toenails can get infected. Excessively long fingernails might be a problem as the gripping action with the sword may mean your nails dig into the palms of your own hands.

8) Can I train at other clubs?

Once you have finished the beginners' course you will have the basic skills that allow you to train at other clubs without being too much of a burden on their instructors. Then, once you are a member of the Victorian Kendo Renmei, you are welcome and encouraged to train with many different people. Prior to that it is best if you just train at Nanseikan.

9) You don't have another beginners' course for a while, how can I found out about other clubs I might join?

Search the Victorian Kendo Renmei (VKR) website, http://www.kendovictoria.asn.au/main/?page_id=25
Other clubs run their beginners' courses with different schedules that might suit your timetable better. Avoid doing Kendo with any club that is not affiliated with the VKR.

10) As a beginner I want to train more often. How can I do this?

Basic solo drills such as these can (and should) be practiced at home every day. Other than that there are many ways to maintain or improve fitness through cross-training (see below for suggestions).

11) When do I get to wear armour?

Beginners start to wear armour or bogu on the last day of their course. Bogu is worn progressively, starting with tare (groin protector) and do (breastplate), then adding kote (gauntlets) and finally the men (helmet). Bogu is always worn during senior training, except when practising kata.

12) Why don't beginners wear the full bogu? Why does it take so long to wear bogu?

While it would make sense in some ways for beginners to wear bogu straight away, in practice this is bad for their progress in Kendo. The basic movements that are easy to learn without bogu quickly become very difficult when wearing it, especially when wearing the kote and men. So a basic grounding in Kendo techniques is necessary without bogu. This actually speeds up a student's progress in the long run as it avoids the learning of bad habits. Once the instructor feels that a student has a sufficient grasp of the basics, meaning that they can repeat them easily without thinking, then that student is ready to wear bogu.

The progression into wearing bogu is always at the head instructor's discretion.

13) How soon should I buy a) shinai, b) hakama and kendogi, c) bogu?

There is no restriction on when you can buy these things. To start with everything can be borrowed. Equipment purchases can be made when it individually makes sense to do so. Prices and other things to consider before buying can be found here. To see a suggested timeline on when you need to buy the different things, go here.

14) What costs might I expect in my first year?

The minimum: $400 approx (Adult health care card holder training once a week, buying one shinai, bokken and nafuda; borrowing kendogi, hakama and bogu, )

The maximum: $1300 approx (Adult training twice a week, buying two shinai, bokuto, nafuda, kendogi and hakama; borrowing bogu) 

It is not expected that people purchase their own bogu in the first year. However they are free to if they wish. It is recommended they consult with one of the senior students on what to look for and where to purchase from. 

15) What other sports or activities are good for cross-training?

Almost anything that aids fitness will be beneficial. Running, cycling, swimming, Yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi are all excellent. Meditation also. Activities that specifically develop lower body and core fitness are best. Weight training can be good but it is important to exercise the right muscle groups in the right way. Yoga or comprehensive stretching programs are best for injury prevention and posture, especially for older people and adults who are generally not active.

16) The beginners' course has already started, can I join late?

You can if you have discussed this with the instructor prior to starting.

17) I've done Kendo before, do I need to do the beginners' course in order to join Nanseikan?

In principle no, but this depends on the level of experience and how recent it was. Please contact the head instructor.

18) Do I need any other martial arts experience?

Certainly not. In some ways having no other martial arts experience can be an asset.

19) What health issues or injuries are a problem for doing Kendo?

Kendo is very low impact on the body compared with most popular sports, especially field or court-based sports. Kendo can be an explosive and very physical workout so people with a history of serious and recent cardiac issues would need to take care. Knee problems, spinal problems, Achilles inflammation are all worth flagging with the instructor. However the intensity of Kendo training is easily adjusted to match the individual and over time can often lead to an improvement in such conditions. Kendo is always done in bare feet, so it may be important for diabetics to pay attention to small lacerations or contusions to their feet. People who wear orthotics because of flat or fallen arches might find standing in bare feet painful. Although footwear is never used in Kendo, it is allowable to wear special tabi with leather soles for grip, such as these. Orthotics may work with them but this has not been tested at Nanseikan.

Mental health issues such as PTSD, as well as various forms of neurodiversity, are a more complex issue. In short, Kendo can be a fantastic activity for many people who are managing such issues. But it is an individual thing that varies from person to person. 

20) What injuries can you get from doing Kendo?

The lack of footwear in Kendo helps to guard against most knee injuries, for the reason that the foot is able to rotate freely during quick changes of direction. Usually the worst injuries are bruises and blisters. The clashing of bare feet can lead to cuts from opponents' toenails, but for healthy people this is not a problem. Kendo practitioners commonly train into their 70s and 80s. There are not many high intensity sports that can say that!

21) Is Kendo good for self-defence?

No. And also yes! Kendo is not specifically a form of self defence. There are no grappling or disarming techniques as such. However the benefits of Kendo such as increased confidence, situational awareness, ability to read body language and improved posture all contribute to greater personal safety in the world.

22) Do you have black-belts in Kendo?

Kendo practitioners or kenshi don't wear belts nor any visible signifier to show rank as in Judo and Karate. However we have a similar grading system which in Japanese is known as the dan-i system. This means we start with kyu grades (equivalent to coloured belts) and progress to dan grades (equivalent to black). In Kendo the first grade awarded is 6th kyu, then 5th, 4th, etc down to 1st kyu. Then there is 1st dan, 2nd dan and so on up to 8th dan. All dan grades in Kendo are awarded based on a performance test. There are no honourary grades, nor requirements for success in competition in order to progress as there are in Judo.

23) How long does it take to get black-belt (1st dan) in Kendo?

If you train regularly it takes about three years to reach 1st dan. Regularly means twice a week forty-eight weeks a year at least, plus solo training at home.

24) How often are gradings held? 

Gradings are held three times per year for kyu grades, twice a year for dan grades.

25) How often can I grade?

You need to be a paid member of the VKR for a minimum of three months and training regularly before you can take your first grading (6th kyu). After that you will be able to grade three times a year until 1st dan. After that there is a time in grade requirement before you are eligible for your next grading. This requirement wait time at each level is:
  • 1 year in 1st dan, 
  • 2 years in 2nd dan, 
  • 3 years in 3rd dan, 
  • 4 years in 4th dan,
  • 5 years in 5th dan,
  • 6 years in 6th dan,
  • 7 years in 7th dan and a minimum of 46 years of age before allowed to attempt 8th dan
Gradings are only held up to 4th dan in Victoria. Each year a 5th dan grading is held at the Australian Kendo Championships every Easter in a different capital city. For grades higher than 5th dan you must travel to Japan.

26) Who decides if I am ready to grade?

As well as the time-in-grade requirements, there are training requirements as well.  There is no hard and fast rule around how much one should train, as individual circumstances come into play. But generally students need to attend at least 80% of all training sessions between gradings. For grades above 2nd kyu it is necessary to train twice a week.

Decisions about grading eligibility will be made at training by the head instructor.

27) I have done Kendo overseas and already have a grade. Can I get that recognised or do I have to start again in Australia?

It is certainly possible to have your grade recognised. If the governing body of the state or country where you graded is recognised by the International Kendo Federation (FIK) you should have documentation that can be used to verify your grade, which you can then provide to the VKR. In the case of Japanese gradings, you would have a unique grading number from the All Japan Kendo Federation (ZNKR). Please note that you still require the approval of your instructor before attempting any grading.

28) Are swords illegal in Victoria? What about shinai and bokuto?

Swords are illegal in Victoria but there are many exceptions in the law that allow legal ownership. One of those exceptions is membership of the Victorian and Australian Kendo Renmei. However metal swords (katana, iaito, mogito or kata-yo) are not necessary for Kendo. Shinai and bokuto which are used for Kendo are not illegal but are considered weapons by the Victoria Police and need to be carried discreetly in public (i.e. in a bag). The fact that you are on your way to or from training when you are carrying them is important. In the same way, from the point of view of the police, any household implement or tool can be considered a weapon, e.g. a hammer on its own in your backpack is a weapon; a hammer in your toolbox with other tools is probably not.

29) I am transgender, what impact would that have on my participation in Kendo?

People who are transgender, non-binary or gender diverse are very welcome in the dojo and definitely encouraged to start Kendo. Our dojo does not yet have gender neutral toilets but we do have private lockable changerooms if you need them. There are a number of  trans and non-binary people who train in Melbourne. Most Nanseikan members have a friend or family member who is LGBTQIA+.

There are also aspects of Kendo that are naturally inclusive:
  • All kenshi, regardless of gender, wear the same design of dogi (uniform) and bogu (armour). The dogi is, by Western standards at least, a quite gender neutral design
  • Men and women traditionally train together.   
  • 90% of Kendo is personal practice within one's home dojo, where supportive relationships can be built up with one's dojo mates.
  • The kendo community in Australia is quite small, close-knit and generally very tolerant.

30) How much personal expression is allowed in terms of one's appearance in Kendo?

The culture of Kendo is definitely one that favours less rather than more in terms of expressions of personal adornment or style. Generally in Kendo we like the fact that we are not covered in badges and corporate advertising when we train. It reminds us that we are more than just a sport. When everyone is wearing full bogu we look much the same, and yet our differences are still apparent. 
  • Visible tattoos are acceptable in Australia, but you may have trouble with them in Japan. 
  • There are specific requirements around the way the kendogi and hakama are worn, for instance no undergarments, compression garments, or other clothes should be visible. 
  • For general training the standard indigo blue (called 'aizome') is preferred and is by far the most common colour.
  • Piercings may need to be removed or taped depending on where they are, what style of training is being done (e.g. with or without bogu) and whether they are a safety risk for self and others. 
  • Shoes are never worn. The same goes for socks. Tabi are permissable, but for Kendo they need to have leather not cotton or rubber soles in order to perform footwork correctly. 
  • Muslim women throughout Asia and the Middle East have devised ways of wearing a close-fitting hijab that fits underneath the men
  • The design of the hakama and kendogi makes them very modest garments and comfortable for bodies of all shapes and kinds.
31) Can I choose who I train with?

In the dojo, we train one-on-one in rotation. That means that everyone trains with everyone at some point, regardless of gender or age. We make sure to train appropriately for size, weight and skill-level so as to avoid injury. Sometimes classes are divided to allow experienced people to focus on techniques that less experience people are not ready for. But in Kendo it is considered important to train with everyone equally and a portion of each class will be to practice basics in this group rotation. To refuse to train with someone is considered the height of rudeness in Kendo and is not tolerated at Nanseikan.

32) Can classes be structured to accommodate survivors of trauma?

This is a big topic. Trauma Informed martial arts training is a new area. Kendo, like most martial arts, can be a powerful tool for healing and redeveloping self-confidence for victim-survivors and those with PTSD.

Being a traditional martial art, we do not change the structure of training as such. What we can provide is:
  • a martial art that is 'arms-length': we do not grapple or do close-quarter fighting with body-to-body contact
  • self-directed time outs: if you need to stop training for whatever reason, you can step away and take time to breathe and process.
  • willingness to listen to your needs and expectations for training
  • a safe environment where respect (reiho) underpins everything we do
Common triggers for victim-survivors may be things like:
  • kiai - loud yelling that accompanies a lot of what we do
  • the sword - being struck with the bamboo shinai in a controlled but nevertheless full-contact way
  • seme-ai (face off)- your opponent faces you with their shinai aimed at your throat, and seeks to threaten (seme) you with it in such a way to cause you to flinch. 
Knowing in advance that these things are part of Kendo can help the victim-survivor process and be ready for them. Indeed it is these trigger points that are undoubtedly the things that can help those with trauma to heal. As the famous psychoanalysis Carl Jung said: "Where your fear is, there your work is."
It is also good to remember that while your opponent is assailing you with their voice and their body movements, you are allowed - indeed required! - to do the same.

The dojo is for all a safe and respectful place where everyone explores the boundaries of their own comfort zones. An old Japanese saying tells us to "Defeat the person you were yesterday."

If you're in doubt, please contact the instructor directly. You can also have your parent/guardian, doctor, counsellor or psychiatrist contact the instructor.

33) What if I can't bow because of my religion?

At Nanseikan we believe that Kendo as it exists today is a product of Japanese culture and could not have been developed anywhere else. For that reason, and out of respect for its history, we are not prepared to make changes to the expectations around bowing. Kendo is not separate to the culture that created it and to understand Kendo properly means to open yourself to different ways of thinking as well as moving. 

We can however reiterate that there is no religious meaning to the bowing done in Kendo. In Japanese culture to bow means to demonstrate friendship and respect, exactly like shaking hands in Western culture, with the added dimension of also expressing humility. 

In our experience, those who object to bowing on religious grounds are usually from sects that have a fundamentalist or literalist interpretation of their religion's teachings. This means they would probably not be a good fit for the culture of our club, which is one that actively welcomes the kinds of people fundamentalist religions reject (see questions 29 and 31 above).

34) I have more questions, is there someone I can speak to about Kendo?

Yes, come to a training session. You can speak to someone either before we start or after we finish. See Kendo in action will also answer many questions on its own. If you can't make it to training, then send an email with your phone number so we can ring you.


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