The most subscribed to thread ever from the Linkedin Kendo Professional Group has been the debate on whether or not to wear padding under kote. My own contribution to this degenerated from a caring “tell people not to hit so hard and get better kote” to a less considerate “man up and take the pain”. The overall direction of the debate however moved to the many injuries that people experience through kendo.
Having practiced kendo for many years in quite a few countries, I still see it as one of the safest martial arts and as comparatively safe against most sports. I have certainly hurt myself more when enjoying horse riding and skiing, although I must admit that I am relatively bad at both.
Kendo injuries remind me of the different schools of Buddhism, they can be categorised as Jiriki, (self powered) or Tariki , (outwardly powered). I apologise for getting metaphysical, but you either hurt yourself or somebody does it for you. In my experience the former are far more common and more legitimate. You can strain or rupture your Achilles tendon; you can get repetitive strain injuries in your elbows, wrists and shoulders. Some but not all of these are caused by poor technique or not warming up. Others like knee and back strain from fumikomi may be the result of doing good kendo on bad floors.
Injury by others is in my experience less common and on a dojo level more avoidable. Kendo strikes, using correct strikes on appropriate bogu should not hurt or cause damage. We all know that we should hit with correct cutting motion and tenouchi and not pretend that we are hitting the test your strength machine at the funfair. If someone hits too hard they have not yet learned correct technique, or they are a psychopath. With psychopaths the solution is simple – they should be encouraged to take up another hobby.
For individuals with less evil motivation and poor technique, the fault lies with their teacher. I believe that beginners should firstly learn correct suburi, then move on to hitting their opponent’s shinai or an uchikomi- bo or an uchikomi-ningyo. When they can do this correctly, it is then the time to bring them into the general kendo practice. In that way we stay safe and all get to enjoy it.