People often ask for tips on which kendo books they should buy and I suppose the answer depends on what you want from your kendo reading. There are quite a few available publications ranging from “how to” manuals to those covering kendo history and philosophy. If you are thinking about asking Santa for a volume or two for Christmas, here are my brief reviews of some of the books available.
I have not included some of the the AJKF’s specialist manuals such as “Training Methods for Fundamental Kendo Techniques with a Bokuto” or “Nippon Kendo Kata” as they are one perhaps too specific to be a general kendo read. I would however highly recommend the “Official Guide for Kendo Instruction”
Official Guide For Kendo Instruction, All Japan Kendo Federation, 2011
This book is meant as a guide for instructors and covers teaching approach and methods as well as kendo basic and advanced technique. It also gives guidance on kendo philosophy and history.
The book is well laid out and illustrated with photographs using high grade kenshi as models and is therefore easy to follow. Unlike many books that have been written in Japanese and then translated, this book is a joy to read thanks to Dr. Alex Bennett’s brilliant translation.
Developed and translated from the official Japanese Kendo Shido Yoryou; as you would expect, a great deal of care and thought has gone into the production of this book. I would recommend it to any instructor. It also serves as a great reference book for those not yet teaching kendo.
Fundamental Kendo, All Japan Kendo Federation
Japan Publications, 1974, possibly out of print.
Practical guide to kendo meant for a wide range of ability levels. Covers practical aspects of kendo from putting on equipment to executing techniques. It contains some details of training methods and appendices on kendo shiai and Kendo no kata. It also includes historical background in the introduction.
The book uses photographs to show techniques. These are accompanied by factual descriptions. The technique descriptions are in accurate English but not detailed.
A great book in its time! Perhaps a little brief in description of technique, but well worth having.
Kendo The definitive guide, Hiroshi Ozawa
This is a more recent practical kendo guide, written by a respected Japanese kendo teacher. The book progresses through sections on Basics, Stretching Exercises, Techniques, Kendo no kata and practice methods. The book contains appendices such as the rules of shiai which are easily available from other sources.
It is described as being suitable for beginners and as a reference book for instructors.
This book uses line drawings and is cleanly laid out. Technique description is accurate but could be more detailed. It carries interesting elements of guidance in the training section.
This has been one of my favourite kendo books for many years, not only because my photo is on the back cover.
This is Kendo, Junzo Sasamori, Gordon Warner
Tuttle 1964, 6th Reprint 1994
This is a seminal reference book, which helped introduce Kendo to the West.
Much of the book is devoted to the traditions and background of kendo. This was particularly pertinent at the time of publication as kendo was going through a renaissance in Japan, following the occupation’s ban.
The structure of the book is different to many in that the middle section is labelled “Fundamental Procedures and Techniques”. This contains a mix of not necessarily connected technical information.
The book primarily uses to photographs to show technique, with some line drawings. The photographs are obviously chosen from those available and whilst all are extremely interesting, have not been taken expressly to sequentially demonstrate each technique.
This is clearly one of the better kendo books; but structure is somewhat random with, for instance an explanation of the Tsuki technique followed by an explanation of kirikaeshi.
Kendo Elements, Rules, and Philosophy, Jinichi Tokeshi,
University of Hawaii Press, 2003
Dr Tokeshi’s book is well structured and progresses through the history and key points of kendo. It gives a detailed explanation of kendo equipment, some clear insight on training methods and dojo organisation. It covers shiai rules and kendo no kata and has some interesting chapters on philosophy and brief biographies of some of the important early kendo teachers. It also contains a good glossary. Dr Tokeshi brings a great deal of knowledge and erudition to this book.
Well written, structured and illustrated with good line drawings. This is a worthwhile book to have in any kendo library.
I liked Dr Tokeshi’s book. I do however feel that the chapters on kata and shiai rules, whilst useful as a summary, are not essential as they are available elsewhere in more detailed form.
Looking at a Far Mountain, Paul Budden
Ward Lock 1992
An Interesting book on the history and practice of Kendo no Kata. An outline of kendo no kata is appended to nearly every book on kendo; this book is therefore aimed at those wishing to probe deeper into the meaning of kata. Paul has carefully researched the history of the formulation of Kendo no Kata and provided detailed descriptions of the techniques.
Concise and well set out with detailed photographs.
This is a useful book for those who want to take a detailed look at Kendo no Kata.
Kendo Kata Essence and Application, Yoshihiko Inoue,
Kendo World Publications 2003
Inoue sensei is probably the leading authority on the essence of kendo no kata. This is a truly excellent book.
Kendo The Way and Sport of The Sword, Michael Finn
Self Published 1982
Michael Finn is a multiple martial artist. He has included some interesting historical background and some nice photographs from his time in Japan.
The book uses photographs of Mr Finn’s students to illustrate technique and sadly, most of the pictures show people in incorrect position or with armour tied incorrectly. In its time, this was perhaps a good primer for the casually interested reader, but is not a useful investment for the serious kendoka.
Complete Kendo, John Donahue
Mr Donahue’s book gives a good overview of kendo progressing through history, culture, the dojo, etiquette, basics, technique and kata. He also covers shiai / competition in a different way, looking at the psychodynamics of a competitive situation. He states that as an anthropologist, his stance is interpretive. He also points out that his book is a basic guide for beginning kendoka. John provides a glossary that goes beyond kendo to describe other martial arts.
This is a well written book; he uses the device of wrapping chapters within the five element headings of the “Book of Five Rings”. I am not sure that I can understand the logic in how he applies the headings to the chapters within them, but admit that this device helped set the book apart at a time when “Go rin no sho” was enjoying a deal of popularity. My only question is on the level of detail and authority used in technique description.
I like many of the elements of this book’s scope and presentation like the approach on shiai attitude. I do however feel that there is a need for more detailed technique description
Kendo, Jeff Broderick
New Holland Publishers 2004
This book follows the standard pattern of history, equipment, reigi, basics, techniques, accessories. However the content seems to be heavy on standard information from the International Kendo Federation. i.e contact addresses for country kendo federations etc. Looking at the reviews for this book it appears to be aimed at the beginner or the kendo- curious. It is illustrated with photographs and text descriptions of techniques but does not cover kendo techniques in sufficient depth to be of use to the serious kendoka.
The Way of Kendo and Kenjitsu, Darrel Craig
YMAA Publication Centre, 2004
This book leans towards traditional kenjutsu and covers an eclectic mix of kendo and Iai. Much of the book is devoted to samurai and swords and the author includes chapters on sword collection. The actual kendo content is somewhat erratic, including a chapter on the “The three short sword kata”. As these are an integral part of Kendo no kata, I was surprised to see them featured in isolation.
Mr Craig’s book is also semi- autobiographical and dwells on a number of past conversations with his teacher. Not for me, but I would bow to the opinion of those that know more about kenjutsu.
The Shambhala Guide to Kendo.
This is an interesting book but it deals only with the philosophical aspects of kendo. Whilst a worthwhile addition to any kendo book collection it does not cover the physical aspects of kendo.
There are also many non kendo specific books which are worth a read by the serious kendoka. My favourite is “Zen and Japanese Culture” by Daisetsu Suzuki, which contains more information on the philosophy of kendo than most dedicated books on the subject and there is Eugene Herigel’s evergreen “Zen and the Art of Japanese Archery.
For those with an E-reader, Kendo World Magazine comes in electronic form as does George McCall’s “kenshi 247” selected articles. There are of course some great kendo books in Japanese. The good news for non-Japanese readers is that many of them have accompanying DVDs. Why not check Chiba sensei’s” Perfect Master”. Happy holiday reading!