Drawing traditional Japanese poses: Kendo “sword fighting” edition!

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I’m sure you’ve all seen characters using Japanese style swords, or “katana” in some of your favourite anime series. They are often featured heavily in historical and action series. Kendo is one of the most popular martial arts in Japan, learnt both in schools and independent gyms. The art of Japanese fencing has a history going back over 1000 years, and modern “kendo” incorporates many of these traditional aspects.

So if we are to incorporate kendo or katana into our work, it is important to learn all about these traditional aspects, including the special bamboo sword, the armour, and the movements. This way we can be sure our work looks authentic.

So today we’re going to study a variety of poses that will help you learn how to draw kendo scenes accurately!


Kendo etiquette and how to hold a sword

Kendo matches will always start and end with a bow – a gesture of respect for the opponent.

Point 1

This standing bow is performed with the upper back and neck flat and straight. The upper body tilts down about 15 degrees.


The above pose is the most popular way to hold the sword, and is called “the middle guard”.

Point 1

The eyes look straight ahead, taking in the opponent’s expression and sword

Point 2

The bamboo sword is raised to an angle a little higher than horizontal

Point 3

The right foot is always in front, and the left at the back. The fencer will stand with their weight on their toes, and heels raised up slightly. In kendo, the left leg is used to kick off from the ground and move forward, and the right leg is used like a rudder, to steer the direction. The left foot will never come out in front of the right in kendo – it will always be at least one fist’s width of distance behind the right foot.


Above, we have a pose with the character raising the sword above their head. The left hand grips the sword at the end of the hilt, and the right grips the top of the hilt, by the hand guard.

Point 1

The right hand has a very loose grip, almost like the hand is cradling something delicate like an egg. It is simply there to steer the sword in the direction the wielder wants to swing it, with the left hand providing the driving force.

Point 2

The left hand squeezes the end of the hilt, as if to twist it inwards. As I mentioned above, the left hand is the one proving the power for the swing.


Do you know how the face guard works in kendo, and how we take it off?

Point 1

The mask has an iron guard on the front, and is tied firmly in place with strings at the back of the head. When those strings are untied, the mask will slip down and come off. It is common to wrap the head in a towel underneath the guard, to provide padding.


Kendo “seiza” kneeling position

When waiting for your match, it is customary to sit in “seiza” position.

Point 1

The back should be straight

Point 2

Hands are placed lightly on the lap, with the fingers together

Point 1

The feet shouldn’t cross over at the back – the big toes should just be lightly touching in the middle


I hope you found this pose collection informative! Look out for more articles on traditional Japanese poses in the future. Good luck with your studies everyone!

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