Games for Kids Big and Small Learning Kendo

Playful art by Mimi in 2021.

As described in the article “Resources for Teaching Children Kendo” [KendoNotes ResourcesKids], one of the best ways for kids big and small to learn kendo is to play games.  Not just any games but those that include aspects of and skills needed in kendo.  The games are fun and the kids may have no inkling that they are learning via these skill-embedded games.  Sneaky 😉

Here’s a list of games that I have used from time to time below.  It’s heart-warming to see the smiles on their faces when they are having fun with these games.  I’d add that the kids can be incredible and creative resources, too, for game ideas.  Some of the games that we have played were suggested by the kids.

This list will likely grow. And please feel free to comment if you’d like to add games to this list.

Updates:  Oct 24, 2022:  Added the suri-ashi and poise game.

List of Skill-Embedded Games for Kids

  1. Kendo Tag
    1. Tag with suri-ashi
      1. The twist here is that everybody, including the person who is “it”, must use suri-ashi within a defined boundary.
    2. Team tag with suri-ashi
      1. This requires two sets of long fabric strips – each set with a different color.
        1. For example, one set could be in red and another set in blue with enough for all who participate and with a length of 1 ft (30 cm) to 2 feet (60 cm) each.
      2. Split the group of kids into two teams:
        1. Team Red with red strips tucked in their pockets, shorts or hakama.
        2. And Team Blue with the blue strips tucked in their pockets, shorts or hakama.
      3. The goal is to catch the strips of the other team members.
        1. If your strip is removed, you are “out”.
      4. The team with members still with strips remaining wins.
        1. The team with no more members with strips loses.
    3. Examples of variations with other footwork
      1. One leg only where the other foot is held by the hand.
      2. Side-way suri-ashi or hopping only.
  2. Jedi Lesson – Strike a thrown object in mid-air with the shinai as described in [Shugo-Nanseikan_Children]
    1. Prepare a set of objects
      1. For example, balls (large or small), crumpled paper (or paper towels) or rolled up socks.
      2. The good thing about the last two objects is that they don’t roll whereas with the balls, one may need to chase after the balls to collect them after their struck.
    2. Have a kid take the chuudan kamae position.
    3. Toss the object in the air for the kid to strike with the shinai.
    4. The goal is for the kid to strike the object in mid-air with the shinai.
      1. This can be made tougher by requiring them to strike with the correct part of the shinai: with the monouchi between the sakigawa (or tip) and nakayui (the leather strip which wraps around the shinai several times).
  3. Suri-ashi and Poise
    1. Have the kids do suri-ashi from one end of the dojo to the other with an object balanced on the head (e.g., kote, pen).
      1. The challenge is to reach the other end without having object fall.
      2. This helps teach the kids to move without the body (head and hips) bobbing up and down.
    2. Variations:
      1. Suri-ashi forward, backwards or sideways.
      2. With or without the shinai.
  4. Team races with suri-ashi
    1. Form teams with an even number of members.
      1. If there’s an odd numbered team, have one of the members go twice.
    2. Each member in a team takes turns after the judge says “Go” or “Hajime” to do suri-ashi across the length of the gym and back.
    3. Once the member returns, he or she tags the next member to go.
    4. The team that finishes first wins.
    5. A variation to promote sliding with the front paw of the feet:
      1. Use a piece of paper towel (or tissue) that the kids must place between the front paw of the front foot (or both feet) and the floor as they do suri-ashi as described in [KendoNotes_Suri-ashi].
  5. Team races with balloons
    1. This is similar to the above “Team races with suri-ashi“.
    2. The twist here is that a member, when it is his or her turn, must keep the balloon in the air using only the head (hands or upper torso) and get to the other side of the gym and back.
      1. If the balloon touches the ground, the member must start over.
    3. Variations:  Can be done with a shinai. with the rule that only the monouchi area of the shinai can touch the balloon.
  6. Choo Choo Train (Probably better for the smaller kids)
    1. Have the kids form a line and
    2. Select a kid to be the locomotive (the first in the line).
    3. The locomotive leads the train in suri-ashi around the gym with or without the shinai.
  7. Red Light, Green Light (also known as Statues) with kendo footwork
    1. The twist here is that one must do suri-ashi or use only one leg.
    2. Can be done with a shinai while assuming kamae or without a shinai.
  8. Striking Balloons Tied on to the Men-gane
    1. This game requires bogu.
    2. Create teams based on the color of the balloons (or do a free for all).
    3. Tie a balloon to each person’s Men-gane.
    4. The goal is to pop the balloons of all the other team member using only the shinai and men-uchi.
    5. The team with remaining un-popped balloons wins.  The team with all their balloons popped loses.


[KendoNotes_ResourcesKids] “Resources for Teaching Children Kendo,”, May 5, 2022.

[KendoNotes_Suri-ashi] “A Neat Way to Teach and Learn Suri-Ashi – For Beginners and Kids,”, July 29, 2018.

[Shugo-Nanseikan_Children] Teaching Kendo to Children – an introduction for new instructors, Shugo-Nanseikan, Mar 1, 2014.

Copyright 2022


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