Kendo, the modern Japanese martial art where the fighters wear massive black robes and have a mask around their face, may seem an odd choice of martial art when it comes to actual practical self-defense. Today, it is practiced around the world, with practitioners keen to try out a new, different looking martial art, which combines sport-like physical activity with traditional martial arts moves. However, there are a few reasons why Kendo could be a practical choice when it comes to self-defense, and we think that it may be better than you think.

Kendo is a full contact sport, which instantly puts it up there with all other contact martial arts out there, immediately trumping any martial arts that force fighters to stop as soon as any substantial hit or grapple has been made. Why? Simply because when it comes to self-defense, your attacker is unlikely to stop and give you a chance to get back to your feet after every strike. Kendo is based on old samurai fighting styles that were designed to kill quickly, quietly and efficiently. Although we are not suggesting in any way that Kendo is designed to be used to kill, it does have benefits when fighting off an attacker who may even be more powerful than you.

The use of the shinai (the bamboo sword) can do serious damage, which is why fighters wear thick protective robes and a cage around their head. For this reason, fighters are trained in pain tolerance and a defensive stance to protect their bodies from incoming attacks, only to turn the attack on its head and aggressively go in for a strike when the attacker is off balance. These techniques may prove to be invaluable in real life situations, even if you don’t have a bamboo sword with you at the time. The sport is cardio heavy and fighters take smaller stances that makes it easier to dodge incoming attacks.

We think that unless it’s absolutely necessary, Kendo shouldn’t be used offensively, but as a self-defense technique. The defensive pushes that are designed to re-root your opponent at a distance that is suitable for a swing of the bamboo sword is perfect for dodging and pushing your attacker away before having time to escape the situation. If you have been trained in police kendo, you’ll also know a range of foot sweeps that help trip up your opponent that could also be invaluable in the right moment. Distance, posture, pressure and balance are all key aspects of Kendo and the goal is not to do as much damage to your opponent or to incapacitate him, but increase awareness in recognising potentially dangerous situations and defending appropriately.

Saying this, Kendo does have its drawbacks. As it is centered almost entirely on the bamboo sword, in real life situations, hand to hand combat is much more common. And yes, if you want to focus on defense and fighting techniques that work up close and personal, maybe other traditions may be more suitable. Why not learn Kendo to defend at a distance and keep your attacker from ever getting close, but have backup training in Boxing or Krav Maga for when it gets too close for comfort.

As it goes, Kendo is all about defense, and with its emphasis on dealing with strikes from weapons and the ability to push your opponent away or doge incoming attacks, we think Kendo is perfectly suited to practical self-defense – as long as we remember that self-defense is about protecting yourself, not fighting back.

Check out this video (in Korean) that shows exactly how you can utilize the techniques, dodges and strong pushes that Kendo teaches to protect you from incoming attacks from both armed and unarmed opponents.