Beginning Sword Fighting: The Complete Guide

Sword Fighting - The Complete Guide: kendo, arnis, sport chambara, fencing

Looking up to role models builds-up our will to constantly strive to surpass ourselves. Our heros are the champions of our field, the ones we hope to be able to compete with someday. But we are also inspired by mythical figures such as samurai, shaolin monks or even jedi knights, especially during childhood. Totally thrilled, we imagine ourselves fighting with grace, power and perfect mastery against a group of fierce enemies. However, to really put ourselves in these incredible fighters’ shoes, one critical detail must be mastered: sword fighting.

So no, you are not the only one who dreamed of fighting with a sabre, with the dreadful technique of Miyamoto Musashi and the superhuman agility of Obiwan Kenobi! It’s not too late for you to take the matter into your own hands and start your sword fighting training.
Don’t know where to start? Read our complete guide.

Sword Fighting And Martial Arts Training

Sword Fight in a Forest
Sword Fight in a Forest (credit: TavenerScholar/deviantart)

Actually, in many martial arts, weapon training (swords included) is part of the curriculum, but it’s generally not the main focus (Aikido or Kung-Fu Wushu for example).

There are roughly two complementary methods to becoming proficient with a blade:

  • The first way is to study and repeat a series of predetermined movements, practised either solo or in pairs (like kata or taolu). This part of the training is critical, since it teaches the basic techniques required to handle a sword.
  • Then there is actual sparring, which can be pretty dangerous if not done with due care and wearing body protection.

Even if your are only interested in the sport aspect of sword fighting, it would probably still be a good thing to start a martial art at some point so you can thoroughly absorb the underlying philosophies.

Anyway, here are the four martial arts I would definitely consider if you want to learn sword fighting.


Kendo, "Way of The Sword"
Kendo, "Way of The Sword" (credit: thoughtless4ever/deviantART)

Kendo is the Japanese martial art of fencing originating from the traditional kenjutsu, practiced in feudal Japan time by the samourai. Practitioners wear a protective armor and use a bamboo-made shinai that is more suited to training (and less dangerous) than a real katana.

In a Kendo competition, competitors have to score two points by striking a well defined area of the opponent’s armor in 5 minutes. At a Kendo school, you will first learn the basic moves and stances before practicing the necessary forms and gaining enough control to do some sparring.

Extremely popular in Japan (more than 1.5 million kendōka), Kendo is now a well-known international sport with world championships held on a three-year basis.

Sports Chanbara

Sports Chanbara, modern and realistic sword fighting
Sports Chanbara, modern and realistic sword fighting (credit: International Sports Chanbara Association)

In the early 70s, a group of skilled Japanese swordsmen, aware of the traditional and pretty rigid approach of Kendo, decided to invent a new style of sword fighting meant to be more modern, realistic and appealing to the younger generations. Sports Chanbara is the result of this initiative.

The first big difference is in the equipment. Several weapons are allowed (short and long swords, spears, staffs, knives) and to be valid, they have to be made of flexible materials such as plastics or foam-based elements and the practitioners just have to wear a light head mask.

The rules are simpler since any strike capable of defeating your opponent is allowed. That freedom is what makes Sports Chanbara spectacular and accessible, even for beginners.
Oh… and did I mention that you can fight with two weapons at once or that — wait for it — team matches are allowed?

Nevertheless, these changes compared to Kendo come at a cost. Discipline, perfection in execution, spirituality and self development are not aspects at the heart of Sports Chanbara.

Arnis (a.k.a Kali or Eskrima)

Arnis: simplicity and maximum effectiveness
Arnis: simplicity and maximum effectiveness (credit: Kent Vives)

Arnis is a martial art from the Philippines mostly centered on sticks and sword fighting. There are many different styles of Arnis taught around the world, but all of them keep simplicity and maximum effectiveness as pillars of their philosophy.

Practitioners are encouraged to attack whenever possible instead of waiting and planning complicated tactics. As a result, the encounters are quite intense!

A mask or helmet is generally the only protective element worn to prevent injuries. Although many weapons can be used (sticks, bladed or flexible weapons etc.) a wood or bamboo-made stick is the most common one.


Fencing, Olympic combat sport
Fencing, Olympic combat sport (credit: International Fencing Federation)

How can we seriously talk about sword fighting without bringing up the most famous combat sport using bladed weapons? Fencing is a sport originating from the evolutions of the art of fencing that grew after the arrival of firearms in the 15th century. The most significant legacy is the three weapons used – Foil, Sabre, Epee – that don’t look like traditional swords, as they are much closer to the Rapier, a slender blade used at that time.

The part of the blade you can score with and the valid target area depends on the weapon. Yet whatever rule is chosen, there are generally two phases in a fencing fight. First, a tactical waiting step when fencers usually use complex feints, and then a series of dazzling fast attacks in which only seasoned observers can succeed in seeing the points scored.

Interesting fact: Fencing is one of the few olympic sports that have been held at every game since the rebirth of the event in 1896.

  • Watch this video of France vs Italy (men’s individual epee, Beijing 2008 summer olympic games).
  • Learn more about Fencing.


This list is not exhaustive. I could also mention Yoseikan Budo, Katori Shinto Ryu, Iaido, Haidong Gumdo, Shinkendo or Historical European Martial Arts.

Now you know everything you need to throw yourself into sword fighting with the martial art that is more suited to what you want to do.
It’s now your call to work hard enough to become an unbeatable swordsman… or at least became dangerous with, say, an umbrella!

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One Response to Beginning Sword Fighting: The Complete Guide

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