Every now and then, someone asks when they’ll be ready to grade, or when they’ll be ready to wear bogu. To date, I have tended to answer these questions with questions. “Do you think you’re ready?” Not a very satisfying answer, although some would say it’s appropriately Japanese ๐Ÿ˜‰

So, for those of you who’ve been asking, here’s what I am looking for before considering someone for wearing bogu or grading.

Dai – Kyo – Soku – Kei

There you have it ๐Ÿ™‚

Now for the explanation.


Dai translates as “big”. This is the first of four things I’m looking for, and there’s a lot of “stuff” rolled into this term, from my perspective.

When I think of big, I think of what needs to go into doing a single men strike in the kihon waza with bokuto. At this point, I’m thinking about a student’s awareness and implementation of the following:

  • etiquette
  • posture
  • focus
  • ashisabaki (footwork – looking at ayumi-ashi and okuri-ashi)
  • perception of distance and a student’s ability to gauge issoku-itto-no-ma
  • the ability to handle the bokuto before, during and after the swing
  • kiai
  • zanshin

This is very likely an incomplete list, but it’s a start.ย These are all part of the foundation of one’s kendo. If a student isn’t demonstrating competence in these basics during kihon waza with bokuto, then I don’t think they are ready for the next steps.


Kyo translates in this context as “strong”. Strong means everything is “solid”. A student demonstrating “strength” is balanced when standing in kamae and when they move. Their posture and kiai emanates confidence. Strikes are firm and connect accurately.


Soku means “fast”. Take everything you’ve done to date and add speed. This is where things get interesting as the addition of speed often means other things suffer.


This has been translated as “smooth” or “light”. I like them both. Does what you’re doing look smooth or are you a jerky kendo robot? Are you light on your feet? Are your strikes appropriately strong yet sharp or are you a strong, fast lumberjack?

I don’t expect that every student will demonstrate mastery of their techniques before they’re “ready” for bogu or grading. However, in my mind, there has to be at least a reasonable hope that they’re on their way to achieving competence in all of these areas.

This is what I look for in my dojo. Your dojo may differ. Your sensei may have different ways of training that achieve the same thing. I’m curious to know how other instructors determine when it’s appropriate to move a student to the next level of training. Comments and perspectives are welcome.