5.1 Shiai overview

A shiai is a Kendo match for which there are rules and regulations, and the result of which is decided by referees. Shiai is sometimes looked upon as the “sport” component of Kendo. The objective is to win the first 2 points out of a 3 point match by striking the opponent with correct technique, appropriate energy and posture etc.

Shiai jo (competition arena)

The shiai jo is a rectangle of any combination of 9 metres to 11 metres i.e. 9 x 9; 9 x 10; 9x 11; 10 x 10; 10 x 11; 11 x 11. The centre of the area is marked and it is from this point that the fighting starts.


For each match, there are 3 referees: A Shushin (chief referee), and 2 Fukushin (sub-referees) decide on the awarding of points and penalties on a majority decision basis. It is also usual to have a Tokei gakari (timekeeper) for formal shiai to ensure that the fight does not go too long. Special rules apply when in “ extra time”, so correct timekeeping is very important.

Each referee has two flags; one red and one white. The kendoists will normally have a coloured ribbon tied to their do himo; either red or white. By raising the appropriate flag, the referees will indicate the Kendoist to whom a point or penalty is awarded. Other frequent uses of the flags you will see are:

  1. Both raised above the head, meaning to stop fighting – the Shushin will call “Yame” to the kendoists: or
  2. Flags crossed over ( red over white ) and the arms held down, meaning the referee doing this did not see a point: or
  3. Flags waved in a crossing movement which indicates that the referee disagrees with the decision of the other referees regarding a point
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