Kendo Practice at Nippon Sports Science University - Nittaidai 日体大

In this post I will talk about the kendo practice at one of Japan's top Kendo schools. Nippon Sports Science University,    


Nippon Sports Science University. 

I have been lucky enough to receive permission to practice regularly at one of Japan's elite kendo institutions. Through my Sempai and his Sensei I will now be able to boost my preparation for the World Kendo Championship 2015 in Japan by joining the pratice at Nippon Sports Science University, Nittaidai in Japanese.

After the break I will introduce the regular practice program and hopefully the following will give you an insight into how kendo is practiced at elite kendo schools, and what it is that sets it apart from other dojo in Japan and elsewhere.

Nittaidai Kendo Club

 Kendo Dojo at Nittaidai.
The Kendo club practice in a purpose built dojo with a beautiful floor and enough space for 2 or 3 shiai-jo.

The practice is held 6 days per week; every weekday evening has regular keiko and on Saturday morning the students have asageiko (usually with no sensei present). 3 weekday mornings feature asageiko (kendo, kata, running or other fitness training).

The kendo club has both male and female members, with students from 1st to 4th year. There are usually more than 100 students training at each practice session. Although sometimes certain grades or male/female groups do practice separately.

The students come from all over the country and  are all used to rigorous training. Many have come from elite high schools with excellent kendo clubs or have experience achieving best 8 positions at top national level competitions. Therefore the level of kendo is high to begin with.

Since they have to compete with each other for places on the team, this raises the level of the dojo even higher.

What they practice

From what I have seen so far, practice seems to be the same each day. The program is not difficult to follow or unusual in any way, most likely you practice the same at your own dojo. 

Practice takes about 2 hours, using the below program.
  1. Warm up
  2. Suburi
  3. Rei and Men-tsuke
  4. Kirikaeshi (in groups of 3-5)
  5. Uchikomi 
  6. Waza practice
  7. Kakarigeiko
  8. Jigeiko
  9. Oikomigeiko
  10. 50 Haya suburi
  11. Closing rei. 

Warm up and suburi

A full body stretch is followed by junbi taiso (warm up exercises) which is done with full Kiai. 
Students do the same pattern for every practice and the strength and volume of over 100 people screaming their lungs out in unison really builds the atmosphere for a great keiko. 

Suburi is short, 
  • 30x jouge suburi
  • 30x zenshin kotae men-suburi
  • 50x haya-suburi

Rei and men-tsuke

Students line up and bow to the Shomen, Sensei or Sempai and to each other before putting on their men. 
As with all university or high school dojo, the speed in which the lower grade students can put their men on is alarming! 

Kihon practice

The students dash to make groups of 5 members, with the motodachi going to the back of the line after receiving 3-5 cuts.

Kihon practice starts with Kirikaeshi, three or four sets regular style and then 30 cut kirikaeshi. Depending on the day or number of students they may do some other variants such as do kirikaeshi, or regular style but with both sides cutting. 

Next is basic Uchikomi. Students tell the motodachi what they want to practice, men, kote, do, tsuki, kote-men etc, and perform 3-5 cuts depending on the number of people. The students give maximum effort and constantly bow to and thank each of their sempai. in return for their thanks the sempai usually give them feedback on what they can do to improve.

Waza practice

Next up is waza practce, students ask their motodachi to attack men or kote. Students practice their counter attacks or debanna waza. The focus is on realism, both sides attack just like in competition.

Attacking 3 times before before changing motodachi. Usually 6-8 rotations.


Short bursts of intense kakarigeiko with the same person acting as motodachi. 

Depending on the day either start/stop on the beat of a drum or when the motodachi decides you have had enough. The last person in the group becomes the motodachi after their own turn attacking. 

Jigeiko - about 30 mins

Sensei, regular team members and senior students line up as motodachi for ji-geiko. The advice I was given is to go to the shortest line and do as much keiko as possible. There are easily more than 30 motodachi so the students have a lot of chances to practice.

The keiko can be savage, senior students really push the lower years, especially if they are friends!


Everyone lines up at one end of the dojo, about 5 groups a time. First drum beat, KIAI, second start. Once the first group is half way across the dojo, the next group starts. Attack going one way, rest while the rest of the people do theirs,  receive going in the opposite direction. 

Each begins with a large kiai, on the sound of the drum strike men followed by tai-atari (body check), as your opponent steps back do the following:

  • Attack men with large cuts on each step. Finish with one big cut and go past opponent. 
  • Strike Kote-men quickly with small cuts. Finish with one big men cut and go past opponent.
  • Kirikaeshi for the length of the hall. Finish with a large men cut and pass opponent. (This is sometimes extened and students do 3 lengths of the hall).

Final suburi and rei. 

The students line up once more and do 50 haya-suburi while still wearing bogu. This set of suburi wraps up an excellent keiko session. Once the final rei is finished students line up to thank the sensei or sempai with whom they practiced.

My experience so far

I have been blown away with the level of intensity of the practice.

For me what really sets schools like Waseda, Tsukuba (where I have also attended practice) Kokushikan and Nittaidai apart from others is the bringing together of top players from all around the country to practice, inspire and compete against each other. The speed, level of focus, aggression and technical proficiency of these players is incredible, and some of the team members, know as "regulars" display kendo that would make 6th and 7th dan sensei envious.

The students give 200% from the very start. And despite there being more than 100 people practice runs smoothly every time and no one slacks off. On top of that the attitude of the all of the students, especially the first and second years, is fantastic. 

Once "men-tsuke"  is called they get their men on in less than five seconds and sprint to the senior students. They do this in the hope of getting into a group with a top level shiai player or a particular sempai who's style they wish to copy. 

During the kihon practice the junior students constantly bow to and thank their seniors. The seniors repay this attitude with feedback. Small adjustments to posture, timing, cutting method, zanshin, pushing the student to be more fierce etc. The senior students give invaluable advice and share the experience they have gained through their own practice and from Sensei.

In the competitive environment of one of these dojos the students really have to take charge of their own kendo, ensuring that they get the most out of every practice session by getting in the best group, or making it to the most people during ji-geiko.

For me personally the practice has been extremely tiring! I usually practice in a very small and often crowded dojo which is quite narrow, (smaller than a shiai-jo!!) so we don't practice oikomi or other long footwork too often.

At Nittaidai I have to push past my opponent at speed during kihon practice and while I'm really enjoying being able to really open up without worrying about slamming into the wall, I'm usually knackered quite quickly!

I have been lucky to do keiko with the Sensei and some of the regulars in my first few practice sessions. The ji-geiko with the Sensei has been good, they push me to be aggressive, give a little feedback and then allow me to do kakarigeiko.

Keiko with the students has been another experience all together! Move and your hit! I watched the club captain decimate 3 or 4 students while waiting my turn. He turned it down a little for me, but he was still completely dominant through out the keiko. No matter what I tried he was able to move his body or deflect my shinai and make a thumping counter attack. I will be watching his kendo closely!

That's all for this post, I hope to write a bit more about Nittaidai over the next year or so. Hopefully the posts wont be so wordy! 

Thank you as always for reading!



  1. Thanks, great report, very accurate, it is very useful for those who never experienced this type of keiko.

    1. Donatella, thanks for your comment!
      I think it is definitely the attitude of the people practicing that makes it special!

  2. Thanks for your report!

    We should follow their spirt and apply that in our training session too!

    1. Frank, thank you for your comment.

      the students attitude and spirit during keiko is fantastic. I will try to take a video of the warm up to show everyone what the energy is like.

  3. wow, this sounds like a lot of sweat and a lot of fun :)