Shiai (kendo matches) are a way of exhibiting the principles of
kendo. The competitors face each other with all their energy,
yet with mutual respect, as expressed through rei-ho.
In theory, the kendo should be similar to normal keiko, but a match
is conducted with a great deal more formality, including
a marked court, the presence of judges, a time limit, and the keeping
Matches are conducted within a square or rectangular
court (shiai-jo) which is 9 meters (29.5') to 11m (36') on a side.
The center of the court is marked with an "X" on the floor.
Two lines (kaishi-sen), approximately 1.4m (55") to the right and left of
the center, mark where the players position themselves when drawing
their shinai and when continuing and ending the match.
Two players compete, each wearing a strip of cloth (mejirushi)
on the back, one red and the other white.
There are three shinpan (referees) on the court:
the shushin (chief referee) and two fukushin (sub-referees).
The shushin is responsible for administering the match and making
match pronouncements. All three referees
are responsible for determining
yuko datotsu (valid points)
and prohibited acts.
Each referee holds two flags (shinpan-ki), one red and one white.
A yuko datotsu is
signaled by raising the flag corresponding to the player who made
the strike. If at least two referees agree on the yuko datotsu, the
match is stopped and a point is awarded to the player.
Most tournaments are conducted with sanbon shobu (three point matches).
In sanbon shobu, the player who scores two points first is the winner.
If the match period expires and only one player has scored a point,
that player wins the match. The time limit for championship matches
(e.g. the AUSKF Championships) is five minutes. For local tournaments,
it is generally shorter, typically three minutes.
If a winner has not been determined by the end of the match period, an
encho (extension) of the match is allowed.
During encho, the first
player to score a point wins the match. For championship matches, the
encho period is unlimited. In local tournaments, the encho is
typically limited to one or two minutes; if no point is scored the match
may be decided by hantei (judges selection
of the winner).
Typically semi-final and final matches have unlimited encho and no hantei.
Shiai rei-ho is similar to basic rei-ho
with the addition of court formalities.
- The court must be respected as the area where matches are conducted.
If possible, do not enter the court unless actually competing in it,
for example go around the court rather than walking through it or
across a corner of it. Especially, do not walk on the court with shoes.
- Before entering the court to compete, be physically and mentally
prepared for the match. Exhibit kigurai (confidence, bearing).
- Together with the opponent: enter the court to a point three
big steps from the kaishi-sen (starting line), approximately 4.5
paces from the center. With the opponent, perform ritsu-rei,
bring the shinai to the tai-to position,
starting from the right foot take three big steps to the kaishi-sen,
draw the shinai, and go down into the sonkyo position.
- When the shushin says "hajime," stand up and start the match.
- Whenever the shushin stops the match ("yame"), return to the
- When the match is over, return to the kaishi-sen and wait for the
shushin's final command. With the opponent: go down into the sonkyo
position, noto (put away the shinai), stand up,
starting from the left foot take five small steps back,
perform ritsu-rei, and leave the court by walking several steps
- If there is a break in the match, for example if one player must
fix their equipment or the shinpan have a gogi (conference),
kamae at the kaishi-sen, noto while
remaining standing, then retreat to the border of the court.
While waiting, the player remain in the sonkyo or seiza position
inside the court, unless one must leave to retrieve a piece of
equipment such as a new shinai.
- In case of fusen-gachi (win by default, or "no show"),
the player proceeds to the kaishi-sen in the same manner as if
an opponent were present, takes the sonkyo position, and stands.
After the shushin pronounces "shobu-ari", the player performs sonkyo,
noto, etc., in the same manner as if an opponent were present.
See also kihon shiai
Yuko Datotsu (Valid Point)
For yuko datotsu, the following elements must be present:
- accurate strike or thrust to the datotsu bui (valid strike) area
of the men, kote, do, or tsuki
- the strike uses the datotsu bu (effective cutting) area of the
shinai, with the correct hasuji (blade angle)
- kisei (fullness of vigor and spirit)
- shisei (correct posture)
- zanshin (mental and physical alertness against the opponent's
Most shinpan also take into account:
- the sound of the strike, resulting from te-no-uchi (grip timing)
- ki-ken-tai-no-ichi: spirit, shinai, body are one
- kime: 100% commitment to the point, putting everything into the point
- sae: the sharpness and timing of the hit, resulting from a combination
of all of the above. If the hit slips (eg shinai tip goes below the
top of the men) there is no sae.
After being awarded, a yuko datotsu may be revoked under the
- Lack of zanshin
- Displaying excessive force
- Exaggerated gestures or display after datotsu
The following prohibited acts result in the offending player losing
- Drug abuse
- Insulting the opponent or referees
- Use of disallowed protectors
- Incapacitating the opponent such that he or she is unable to
The following prohibited acts result in the offending player receiving
a hansoku (foul).
When a player receives two hansoku, the opposing player is awarded one
- Stepping outside the court
- Dropping one's shinai or losing control of it for more than a
- Tripping the opponent or sweeping his or her legs
- Unfairly pushing the opponent outside the court
- Request for suspension of the match without justifiable reason
- Putting one's hand on the opponent or holding the opponent
- Holding or trapping the opponent's shinai
- Touching one's own shinai on its edge
- Intentionally putting one's shinai on the opponent's shoulder
- Intentionally wasting time
- Unfairly doing tsuba zeriai
- Unfairly making a strike or thrust
- After having fallen on the floor, lying on one's face without
countering the opponent
The shushin is responsible for making match pronouncements:
command to start/continue the match.
This starts/resumes the clock for timed matches.
command to stop the match and return to the kaishi-sen.
This stops the clock for timed matches.
- men ari,
same as yame but also announces a yuko-datotsu
- nihon me
same as hajime, said after the first point of the match is awarded
same as hajime, said after the score is one point each
- shobu ari
announces the end of the match, the winning side is indicated by
the raised flag
- encho, hajime
announces the start of the match extension period
- wakare, hajime
command to separate, issued by the shushin when the players are
inactive too long in tsubazeriai. On the "wakare" command the
players separate where they are (they do not return to the kaishi-sen)
and the clock does not stop. On "hajime" the players resume the match.
- hansoku ikkai
announces the first hansoku. Said while the shushin holds an index
finger up to the offending player.
- hansoku nikai, ippon ari
announces the second hansoku and awards a point to the opponent
("hansoku nikai" is said while the shushin holds two fingers up
to the offending player, "ippon ari" is said while the flag is
raised in the yuko-datotsu position)
command by the shushin to the fukushin to show their match decision
announces the end of a match where the result is a tie
announces a shinpan discussion will be held in the center of the
simultaneous hansoku by both sides (the hansoku offset each other
and have no effect on scoring)
revoking of yuko-datotsu
In kihon shiai, two competitors are judged on their ability to perform
rei-ho and uchikomi-geiko. The competitors each have a
partner; thus there are two
pairs of participants in the court.
The competition focuses on the following areas.
- Rei-ho, judged on the following:
- shisei (posture) and kigurai (confidence, presence, bearing)
- entering the shiai-jo to the proper distance from the center
- posture and stance, feet together
- shinai position and angle (sage-to)
- correct bow (sogo-no-rei), including angle and eyes
- movement to sonkyo
- shinai position and angle (tai-to)
- three large steps to the line, starting from right foot
- sonkyo: posture, left hand one fist in front of the tanden
- Kiri-kaeshi, judged on the same points as
uchikomi-geiko (see below) plus the following:
- correct tai-atari (body collision), no pushing with the hands
- 9 sayu-men strikes
- start and end on the right
- 4 forward strikes with smooth transition to 5 back
- proper hasuji (angle of cut) on swing and cut
- hands go through the jodan position, not circling
around the head or staying in front of the face or shoulders
- left hand in center of body when striking
- Uchikomi-geiko, judged on the following:
Note: the uchikomi sequences are pre-announced by the shushin and
typically consist of some combination of men, kote, do, kote-men,
- kiai (clearness, intensity, enunciation on each strike)
- furi-kaburi (big motion swings, hands go through jodan,
shinai tip does not drop excessively)
- proper posture
- proper ma-ai (distance) at kamae and each strike
- striking with monouchi, with proper te-no-uchi and arm extension
- proper footwork, right foot never behind the left
- turning in the proper direction
- Kakari-geiko, judged on the same points as uchikomi-geiko (see above)
Note: in kakari-geiko the player hits the openings presented
by the motodachi
- At Norwalk Dojo, kihon shiai is conducted as
(three point match). Each is decided by
For early beginners, the first point is after rei-ho up to sonkyo
and kamae, the second point is after four men strikes, as is the
third point (if necessary). For advanced beginners, points will
be after uchikomi, kirikaeshi, and kakari-geiko, as decided by
- The shinpan have the responsibility to see that shiai are fairly
and safely conducted. They must clearly and promptly signal their
own decisions as well as acknowledge the signaling of the other
- Before taking their positions for the first time in the court,
the three shinpan line up on the side of the court opposite the
shomen and/or the official's table, about one meter inside the
court, with the shushin in the center.
After rei (commanded by the shushin), the two fukushin
walk straight to their starting positions, about one meter inside
the court, passing just inside their respective kaishi-sen, and
arriving at their destinations at the same time.
The shinpan form a triangle with the shushin at the apex
and the fukushin in line with the shushin and their respective
- The shinpan use suriashi to move around the court. If covering a lot
of distance, ayumiashi may be used, but the last step is always such
that trailing foot slides up to the stationary foot, ending with
- The shinpan attempt to maintain their relative positions around the
players during the match by moving to maintain the triangle
configuration. This is to ensure each shinpan has a clear view of
the various points which may be struck, as well as a clear view of
the other shinpan.
- The shushin holds the red shinpan-ki (flag) in the right hand,
the fukushin hold the red shinpan-ki in the left hand.
- The shinpan signal using the shinpan-ki as follows:
When not signaling, the shinpan-ki are held down at the sides.
Return the shinpan-ki to this position when the shushin finishes
making the appropriate pronouncement, or when denial is acknowledged
among the shinpan.
- yuko-datotsu: raise the appropriate shinpan-ki 45 degrees up
from the shoulder.
- denial of yuko-datotsu or hansoku: repeatedly criss-cross the
shinpan-ki in front of the lower body
- abstention: hold the shinpan-ki crossed in front of the lower body
with the red in front
- yame: hold both shinpan-ki straight up overhead
Note: normally the shushin announces "yame", but if
necessary the fukushin may also say "yame" (for safety or if
time runs out). On "yame" the clock stops immediately, but if
a point was already in motion it may be awarded.
- hansoku: hold the appropriate shinpan-ki 45 degrees down from
- hikiwake: hold the shinpan-ki crossed in front above the head,
with red in front (farthest from you)
- wakare: the shushin holds both shinpan-ki straight forward,
on "hajime" the shinpan-ki are lowered
- gogi: put both shinpan-ki in the right hand and raise the right
hand straight up
- sosai: hold both shinpan-ki 45 degrees down from the shoulder
- Other handling of the shinpan-ki:
- when entering and leaving the court, hold in the right hand
the shinpan-ki rolled together with the red shinpan-ki on the
- when rotating positions, hold both shinpan-ki in the right hand
- when sitting waiting to go on court, hold the rolled shinpan-ki
on the lap. Be sure to sit properly.
- Changing out shinpan:
- When rotating out one shinpan, rotation is counter-clockwise.
The shushin rotates to the fukushin position to his right
(while the two fukushin also rotate) and rolls up
his shinpan-ki. The new shinpan steps into the court, the two
rei, the former shushin turns right and backs out of the court,
and the new shinpan unrolls his shinpan-ki, ensuring the white
flag is in the right hand.
- When replacing all 3 shinpan, all roll up their shinpan-ki, the
fukushin walk back together to stand beside the shushin, and they
During this time the new set of 3 shinpan area line up off
court ready to go. The original shinpan turn and walk in a line
off the court and simultaneously the new shinpan walk to their
positions ready to enter the court.
- Jogai (out of bounds) shall be called under the following conditions:
- one foot is totally outside the boundary line
- the body is supported by a part of the body or the shinai outside
the boundary line
- the player has fallen and part of the body is outside the boundary
- For hantei:
- the first consideration is skill (the player who made
datotsu nearly equal to yuko-datotsu)
- the second consideration is attitude in shiai
(the player who was predominant in posture and movements).
- Timekeeping notes
- time starts with "hajime" and stops with "yame" or the
awarding of a point
- time does not stop with "wakare"
- a point which occurs after time runs out is not valid, even if
the shinpan did not notice the expiration. The only exception is
a point which was already in motion when time ran out.
- The kantoku has the responsibility to guide and support their kenshi.
- In case the kantoku has a doubt about the application of the
regulations by shinpan-in (the three referees), kantoku may file
igi (protest) with the shinpan-shunin (court judge) or shinpan-cho
(chief judge) before the shiai in question ends.
- Igi shall be filed in the following manner before the ending rei
of the shiai:
- Kantoku shall signal by kantoku-ki (red manager's flag) and
call "igi ari".
- Kantoku shall state the nature of the igi to shinpan-shunin
- Nobody is allowed to protest against the decisions made by shinpan-in.
- The player positions, from first player to last player, are called
the following: sempo, jiho, chuken, fukusho, taisho.
When lining up for rei, taisho stands closest to the shomen
(farthest from the shushin).
- If a team cannot field all five positions, it must at least populate
sempo, chuken, and taisho.
- For a 3-person team tournament, the positions are sempo, chuken, taisho.
If a team cannot field all three positions, it must at least populate
sempo and taisho.
- The winning team is the team with the most wins.
In case of tie, the team which scored the most points wins.
If still a tie, daihyosen (playoff match) will then be conducted
between a player selected by each team, usually
ippon shobu (1-point match).
- The above rules could change depending on the tournament.
- The method for determining the winner may also be used for
round-robin play, for both team and individual matches.
Sometimes the tournament will call for counting the number of
losses or lost points before going to daihyosen.