Kendo Tattoo

Kendo Tattoos Explained: Symbolism, Common Themes & More

A commitment to the way of the sword.

Kendo Tattoo

In the world of tattoo design, there are a lot of questions about what’s appropriate vs not.

Many people would see it as an act of cultural appropriation to have a tattoo of something from a culture other than their own. 

Kendo fighter

There are some cases where the lines between cultural appropriation and appreciation become blurred. 

In the case of a Kendo tattoo, it really doesn’t make sense to get one unless you are a disciple of this form of martial arts.

That said, anyone can take up “The Way of the Sword.”

Many non-Japanese people living in Japan find themselves drawn to one martial art or another, given that the disciplines are so ingrained in daily life there.

With that in mind, like any discipline, it takes a long time to understand Kendo.

Even the most experienced practitioner will feel constantly challenged by their craft.

You may want to wait until you’ve been working with Kendo for a while before you get too excited.

After all, you’ll want to feel like you’ve earned your ink.

But what exactly is Kendo, and how did it originate? It starts, as many exciting things do, with Samurai.

Who Were the Samurai in Japan?

During the feudal period in Japan, Samurai (or bushi) were a noble class or warriors.

They worked tirelessly for their government, and had a strong sense of decorum.

Unlike ninjas, they would only fight face to face.

A Samurai would see a sneak attack as a cheap maneuver.

These peaceful warriors followed a strict code of conduct and didn’t even charge a fee for their services, they saw the work as its own reward.

Samurai used a few different weapons, the most famous of which being the katana and wore Kabuto masks.

Even today, people love to collect these swords and will display them proudly in their home.

What is a Katana Sword?

Katanas are an extremely long (as much as 37 inches) sword with a slight curve to them.

Katana sword

The sharp part of the blade faces outward.

These swords were designed as Mongolian armour improved, and other blades were not sharp enough to pierce through.

A proper Samurai sword would have to be sharp, but durable enough to last through an entire battle.

Samurai weren’t about theatrics, though it may be nice to think of it that way for cinematic effect!

They wanted to do the most amount of damage with the least amount of work.

When you see two Samurai locked in battle in a movie, there’s a lot of dramatic clanging of swords.

A Samurai would not want this, as it chips away at the blade every time.

This focus and determination would later serve as a building block of the Kendo practice.

Where did Kendo Come From?

Though Samurai were very good at what they did, all that bloodshed started to fall out of favor.

In 1868, Japan was under a new ruler who preferred different military structures.

As time wore on, Samurai traditions started to give way to more modern ones, sometimes influenced by the Western world.

Kendo fighter

In 1876, a law that was passed banning swords from being worn in public.

This made it pretty trick to be a proper Samurai, but, after all that hard work, it was difficult to think of saying goodbye to those traditions all together.

Kendo was developed as a sport to preserve the way of the sword – only these swords are made of bamboo and called shinai.

The players wear protective gear and engage in combat.

Something that separates Kendo from other traditions, like Karate and Judo, is that there are no divisions for weight or size classes.

It’s all about fighting with skill and using the proper decorum.

What does a Kendo Tattoo Symbolize?

As we’ve mentioned earlier, if you’re getting a Kendo tattoo you are likely a Kendo competitor.

Kendo is one of those sports where the basic principles can be applied to your daily life for noticeably positive effects.

The goals of a good Kendo competitor are:

  • To thrive in a structured environment.
  • To constantly find ways to improve your craft.
  • To improve on the mind and body.
  • To believe in courtesy and to have honor.
  • To love your country.
  • To benefit from structure.

Common Themes in Kendo Tattoos

Kendo is a fairly rare design – so if you like to stand out in a crowd you are in luck!

People often get these tattoos in a black brush stroke design similar to Japanese calligraphy (Shodo.)

They may get a Samurai or a person in Kendo gear, or they may get just the Kendo gear on its own.

As you get to know Kendo, something will stand out to you as an important part of the craft.

That’s what your tattoo should be – something that resonates with you and will remind you of your chosen discipline.

Kendo Tattoo Ideas

Are you a Kendo competitor looking to make a full commitment to the way of the sword, or just an admirer of the sport and everything it stands for?

Either way, we’ve compiled some gorgeous images of Kendo tattoos for your perusal. 

Kendo tattoo
Kendo tattoo
Kendo tattoo
Kendo tattoo
Kendo tattoo
Kendo tattoo
Kendo tattoo
Kendo tattoo
Kendo tattoo
Kendo tattoo
Kendo tattoo
Kendo tattoo

To read more about Japanese style tattoos, go to: