Fencing vs Kendo: Key Differences Explained

Have you ever wondered what the differences between fencing and kendo are? Both are popular martial arts that require proficiency with a sword, but there are significant differences between them.

Fencing originated in Europe in the 16th century and is now an Olympic sport. On the other hand, Kendo has its origins in Japan's feudal past and is based on bushido or 'way of the warrior'. Both martial arts require speed, agility, strength and endurance, so a good level of fitness is essential for both.

Whether you're looking to get into one or both disciplines as a hobby or even competitively, it can be helpful to understand what their differences are. In this article we will explore fencing vs kendo, discussing the similarities, differences and key elements that make up each.

An Overview of the Differences Between Fencing and Kendo

Fencing and kendo may look similar at first glance, but they differ in many ways. The main differences between fencing and kendo include their history, rules, equipment and attire.

The main difference between fencing and kendo is that fencing originated between the 17th and 19th centuries in Europe, and is a modern Olympic sport. Kendo, on the other hand, is a martial art with its origins in kenjutsu swordsmanship in feudal Japan.

This difference in origin and development helps contextualise the main differences between the two. The languages of both disciplines are also different, with fencing using French and kendo using Japanese. 

Furthermore, modern fencing consists of three distinct swords with their own rules, whereas kendo uses mostly one sword.

While both involve swords, protective clothing, two competitors and refereeing, there are many specific differences.

Fencing Basics Explained

Fencing is a sport that involves two opponents competing against each other using swords. It is a physical and tactical sport that requires speed, agility, strength and endurance.

Fencing has three main weapons: the foil, epee and sabre. The foil is a light thrusting weapon with a flexible blade; the epee is a heavier thrusting weapon with a stiffer blade; and the sabre is a cutting and thrusting weapon with an even firmer blade.

The basic rules of fencing are simple: each fencer must try to score points by hitting their opponent’s target area (the torso) with their sword. Points are awarded for successful hits, while penalties are given for illegal moves or actions.

Fencers wear protective clothing such as a mask, jacket, breeches and gloves. The mask is designed to protect the face from direct hits, while the jacket is made of thick material to absorb blows. Breeches are worn to protect the legs and groin area, while a glove is worn to protect the sword hand.

Fencing also requires the use of a piste (the area in which fencing takes place), a scoring machine and a referee.

Fencing is an exciting sport that requires skill, strategy and physical fitness. It has its own unique set of rules and equipment that make it distinct from other martial arts forms. Whether you’re looking for a fun hobby or competitive sport, fencing can provide an enjoyable way to stay active and learn a niche discipline that can become a lifelong passion.

Kendo Basics Explained

Kendo is a Japanese martial art that involves two opponents competing against each other using bamboo swords known as shinai. It is a physical and tactical sport that requires speed, agility, strength and endurance.

The basic principles of kendo are to respect your opponent, be honest in your actions and strive for improvement.

Kendoka wear traditional Japanese uniforms known as keikogi which consists of loose-fitting trousers and an upper garment called a hakama. 

What Are The Key Differences Between Fencing and Kendo?


Fencing uses three swords - foil, épée and sabre, each with their own characteristics, rulesets and techniques. The blade is metal, with a compressible button tip at the end of the sword to register a point on electronic scoring equipment in the case of foil and épée.

Kendo, on the other hand, uses a shinai, a light bamboo sword in both practice and competition. However, it is treated with respect akin to a deadly weapon. A bokken, a heavier, sturdier sword, can also be used in kendo.

Protective Clothing

Protective clothing worn in kendo consists of a lightweight yet extremely tough chest protector called the dō, and a padded helmet called the men. The other necessities are cotton or leather gloves to protect fingers and hands, a tightly-tied belt known as the tare to secure the dō, and a thickly quilted skirt called the hakama.

All these pieces help protect from potentially serious injuries from combat. Additionally, strategically placed padding on the limbs and torso further protects against minor bruises sustained during combat practice. Underclothing includes a kendogi (jacket) and hakama to form two trouser legs.

In fencing, fencers wear a mask, underarm protector called a plastron, chest protector, a fencing jacket, breeches to protect the legs, a glove for the sword hand, long socks and when fencing with scoring equipment, a metal-woven jacket called a lamé so touches can be scored.

Rules, Combat Style and Scoring

Fencing vs Kendo Rules

Fencing takes place during a nine minute bout of three periods, with fencers aiming to be the first to reach fifteen points, with each valid touch being worth one point.

Kendo bout length can vary but is generally between three and ten minutes long. The objective is to be the first kendōka to score three ippon (points).

Fencing vs Kendo Combat Style

The targets in kendo are the head, wrist, torso or throat. In order for the point to count, the sword must be orientated the right way, make contact in the right place on the opponent with the correct part of the attacker's sword, the kendōka must also shout to declare the attack, the posture must be correct and zanshin (state of awareness) must be maintained during and after the attack.

With fencing, the specific valid target area varies between each sword, varying between specific body sections or the entire body. Depending on the sword, points can also be scored with the tip or the edge of the sword.

The key difference here is that kendo places a much greater focus on the art of the attack. While fencing does have 'right of way' rules for some swords, it is focused much less on how the attack is performed, and much more on whether the touch was ultimately scored on a valid target area.

Kendo can be considered more explosive with a greater standard for a valid point, whereas fencing as a whole, while still containing explosive offensive actions, is arguably more defensive overall due to the comparatively lower requirement for a valid touch, leaving the recipient of the attack more open to conceding a point, and adopting a more defensive mentality as a result.


In terms of scoring, fencing has a minimum of one referee or judge, with scoring equipment recording the touches made by each fencer. Kendo however has three referees, who each hold two coloured flags to represent each opponent. They will raise the flag when a valid point is scored, with it taking two judges to agree for the point to count.


Are Kendo and Fencing the Same?

No, kendo and fencing are not the same. Kendo is a Japanese martial art that utilises bamboo swords for sparring, while fencing is considered a modern sport in which competitors compete with metal blades in a contest of skill.

Is Kendo Harder Than Fencing?

Whether Kendo or Fencing is harder will depend on the individual, as everyone has different capabilities and skills. Ultimately, both sports are challenging and require a great deal of skill and dedication to master.

Should I Choose Kendo or Fencing?

It really depends on which activity you find more appealing and enjoyable. Each offers its own unique set of skills, techniques, and strategies that could be beneficial to you depending on your goals. Consider discussing the pros and cons of each with a coach or experienced practitioner first in order to make an informed decision.

Which is Safer, Fencing or Kendo?

This is dependent on the individual, as both sports have rules and health and safety guidelines in place to ensure the enjoyment of fencers and kendoka alike, which can result in danger or harm to participants and spectators if ignored. These sports are no more dangerous than any other when practised safely.

Why is Kendo Considered a Martial Art and Not an Olympic Sport?

Allegedly, the kendo community is generally reluctant to join the Olympics out of fear it would lose control of international regulation of the martial art to the IOC. Additionally, the judging of ippon is more subjective than other sports. Furthermore it is a niche martial art without a large number of global participants, potentially hindering its ability to field eligible Olympic athletes. Another consideration is its profitability and entertainment value, which would likely have to be substantial for the IOC to consider its inclusion. 

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