An Introduction on Shiai (Competition)

About Competitors: 

Manner – The most important factor in Kendo, all competitors must behave in proper manner.

Respect to Judges’ decision – Competitors must respect and accept the judges’ decision as the final decision.

Ribbons (Red and White) – Each competitor will have a ribbon attached on their bag (tied on their dou himo) to identify them in the match. One competitor will wear a white ribbon, while the opponent will wear a red ribbon.

Ippon (Point):

Ippon – Scoring a valid point, the strike needs to accurately land on specific points (Datotsu-Bui such as men, kote, dou, tsuki) with proper timing, kiai, posture, and Zanshin (to finish the hit). An ippon can be waived if the scorer showed improper behavior (such as improper manner, celebration, etc) depending on the judges’ decision. See below for the details.

Ki-Ken-Tai-Ichi – Ki (kiai), Ken (the shinai), Tai (the body) need to synchronized When striking.

Datotsu-Bui – The Specific targets for ippon. The competitor’s strike has to hit the datotsu-bui accurately to earn the point.

Mono-uchi – The competitor must strike the Datotsu-Bui with the Mono-uchi of the shinai to earn the point.

Ha-suji – The “path” of the strike. Shinai represents a sword. To “cut” the opponent, the competitor needs to imitate the striking motion as if he/she is striking with a sword. This is an important factor to decide whether a strike is valid or not.

Yuko-Datotsu – When all the elements are present, the strike will be considered as a yuko-datotsu (a valid point)

Judging – In regular tournaments, there will be 3 shinpan (judges) in a match. Ippon is given when 2 or more judges agree that the strike is valid.

Hansoku (Foul):

Hansoku - 1 hansoku, usually marked by a triangle on the score record, is a warning. If a competitor receives 2 hansoku, the opponent will automatically receive an ippon. For instance, if the competitor steps out of bounds twice (1 hansoku for each time he/she steps out of the court), then the opponent will receive an ippon. If the competitor commits 4 fouls in a match, then the opponent will receive ippon. In such case, the opponent will win the match.

Jogai (Out of Bounds) - When a competitor steps out of the court, a hansoku will be given by the judge

Dropping shinai - When a competitor drops his/her shinai on the ground, a hansoku will be given by the judge

Improper manner - Improper behavior such as: slamming shinai on the ground, cursing or talking to the opponent, arguing against the judges’ decisions or instructions, etc. Level of punishment will be determined by the 3 judges (sometimes the head judge of the tournament will be involved in the decision as well).

Touching the “jinbu” of the shinai - A competitor is not allowed to touch the jinbu (blade) of the shinai without the judge’s permission. A hansoku will be given by the judge.

Tsubazeriai – When two competitors stay in tsubazeriai for too long, a hansoku might be given to one or both competitors depending on the situation. A hansoku might be given to a competitor who tries to use tsubazeriai to keep the lead by killing time.

Shiai (Competition):

Ippon shobu – 1 point match, first to get ippon wins

Sanbon shobu – 3 point match, first to get 2 point wins.

Encho – When the time is up and the scores are even, then, depending on the tournament rule, the match will proceed into encho (extra time). Encho will be a “sudden death” match. The first to score an ippon will win the match. Length of the encho depends on the tournament rule. It can be unlimited (match does not end until one competitor scores). It can be limited. When no one scores within the given encho time, judges will decide the winner by Hantei.

Hantei – 3 judges will “vote” for the winner. The competitor with 2 or more flags wins the match.


Judges – 3 Judges are in charge of the match. The “Shu-Shin” (main judge) will be responsible for making and announcing the decisions. The 2 “Fuku-Shin” (side-judge) will be assisting the Shu-Shin in the decision making. All three judges have equal rights for the decisions (ie: deciding whether a point is valid or not, deciding whether it is hansoku or not, etc).

Judges’ calls:

Hajime (begin) – When the main judge of the match calls “Hajime”, the match begins (or resumes). The match does not begin until the judge calls “Hajime”.

Yame (stop) – When the main judge of the match calls “Yame”, stop immediately and return to the starting line and wait for further instruction. The timer will stop the match time until the match resumes. The match does not stop until the match calls “Yame”.

Wakare (separate) – In tsubazeriai position, the judge may call “Wakare” to separate the competitors. The timer will not pause the match time.

Ippon Ari (scored) – This call announces that an ippon is scored. Usually used when the ippon was caused by 2 hansoku.

Men Ari (One scored a Men-strike) – Announces that the men-strike is valid and the scorer will receive a point.

Kote Ari (One scored a Kote-strike) – Announces that the kote-strike is valid and the scorer will receive a point.

Dou Ari (One scored a Dou-strike) – Announces that the dou-strike is valid and the scorer will receive a point.

Tsuki Ari (One scored a Tsuki) – Announces that the Tsuki is valid and the scorer will receive a point.

Ippon-me (Round 1) – To announce that this is the first round

Nihon-me (Round 2) – To announce that this is the second round

Shobu (The Round to decide who wins) – Announce that this is the final round. The competitor who scores an ippon in this round wins the match.

Shobu Ari (A victory has occurred) – Announce the winner and concludes the match.

Hikiwake (Draw) – Announce that the result is a tie (no one wins) and concludes the match.

Encho, hajime (Extra time begins) – Begins the extra time ippon shobu (sudden death one-point match)

Hansoku ikkai (First Hansoku) – Judge informs the competitor (who committed a foul) that he will receive 1 hansoku. If the competitor already had 1 hansoku, then the judge will say “hansoku nikai, ippon ari” (Second Hansoku, giving 1 point to the opponent) to announce that one ippon will be given to the opponent because of 2 hansoku (half point x 2).

Shomen ni (To the front wall), Rei (Bow) – When the judge calls “Shomen ni”, competitors (and the 2 other judges) will need to face towards the front wall of the room. Then when the judge calls “Rei”, competitors will bow towards that direction. This is a very important ritual. Usually occurs in the beginning and the end of the final match.

Rei (Bow) – Signals the competitors to bow at each other to show respect.

Gogi (Discussion) – When a strange (or confusing) situation occurs, the judges will need to discuss before making a decision. When discussion is necessary, the main judge will stop the match (calling “Yame”) and calls for Gogi to request a discussion with the 2 other judges. The competitors will be told to step back and wait until the discussion is completed. Competitors do not need to sonkyo in this case.

Match Procedure: 

Team match:

Team – A team usually consist of 5 members: Senpo (fighting first), Jiho (second), Chuken (third), Fukusho (forth), and Taisho (last).

Matches – Each member will compete with the opponsing team’s member in a Sanbon-Shobu (3-point match). Number of matches won will decide which team wins. If the number of matches won is equal, then the team that has more ippon wins. If the number of ippon is equal as well, then there will be a “Daishyosha Sen” (representative match), a sudden death 1-point match to decide the winner. Teams (including the coach) may choose any one of the 5 competing member of the team as their representative.

Things to keep in mind:

Introduction of the provisional regulations for tsubazeriai and time procrastination

NEW!    March 2024

Clarification of the provisional rules on Tsubazeriai and time procrastination & refereeing cases for Jodan and Nito ryu