How to Watch a Shiai

For you who are not practising kendo, presents “How to watch a kendo shiai” which will help you to better understand the basics of a kendo competition: 

Individual matches are over in a two to five minute time period, which is announced before the competition, and the winner is the first to score two out of three points, IPPON.

In case of a tie, the match will be extended, “encho-sen” (sudden death) and first point wins. In case of an additional tie, a final extension will be held “sai-encho-sen”. In semi-final and final matches it is common for the encho to be of unspecified length - the two contestants just keep on fighting until someone finally gets ippon. In team competitions the winner are determined by the total number of match wins, and if both teams have equal amounts of wins, the total number of points wins the team match.

Point scores

To score a point, the blow must be delivered with clarity and precision, using the outer third of the shinai. There are four specified target areas in Kendo, each worth one point in a match. They are strikes to the head (MEN), the body (DO), the wrist (KOTE) and a thrust to the throat (TSUKI).


For each match, there will be three referees (SHIMPAN). One is a head shimpan, and he is the only one who gives verbal instructions to the contestants. The head shimpan are assisted by two shimpan, who help determine the points. The three shimpan look for good form and a strong follow through that leaves a player in a position to continue immediately with no letup of spirit. Unnecessary roughness or poor sportsmanship carries penalties.

The shimpan indicate their decisions using red and white flags, corresponding to the red or white ribbon worn by each contestant, attached to their backs. They indicate points by snapping red or white flags over their heads. Minimum two judges must agree. If a referee doesn’t see a valid point, he waves the flags back and forth in front of him below hip-level. The head referee's word is final in all cases.

The match is stopped after each successful point, and the two kendoka return to their respective starting lines. If both kendokas score points simultaneously the points cancel one another however, and the match is not stopped. When the kendokas are locked in a sword guard tangle for too long (TSUBAZERIAI) and there is no sign of impending movement, the referee may the stop play and separate them by their swords' length, and they will start again.


There are various actions which will earn penalty, HANSOKU. If a kendoka get two hansoku, the other kendoka earns ippon. Here follow some examples: If a kendoka is stepping out of bounds with the entire foot or drops his shinai, a penalty point is called. If this happened a second time, the kendoka concedes a point to the other player.



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