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A strategy card game based on kendo,

the traditional Japanese martial art, descended from the ancient samurai warriors

Kendo Playing Cards is an entertaining 2-player strategy card game based on Kendo, traditional Japanese fencing, the heritage of the Samurai, designed by Ákos Vachter (5th Dan Kendo) and illustrated by Anita Benczur.

The game contains many elements of kendo combat, where two players rely on their powers of observation, intuition, strategic thinking and luck to outwit their opponent and land the first hit, Ippon in Japanese.

The concept of Kendo

The concept of kendo is to discipline the human character through the application of the principles of the katana (sword).

The Purpose of Practicing Kendo

The purpose of practicing kendo is: To mold the mind and body, To cultivate a vigorous spirit, And through correct and rigid training, To strive for improvement in the art of kendo, To hold in esteem human courtesy and honour, To associate with others with sincerity, And to forever pursue the cultivation of oneself. This will make one be able: To love his/her country and society, To contribute to the development of culture, And to promote peace and prosperity among all peoples.

(1975 – All Japan Kendo Federation)

What is kendo?

Kendo, or Japanese fencing, is the art of swordsmanship. A characteristic of Japanese culture that developed from the lifestyle and spirit of the bushi social class, the samurai. Kendo is also the study of the properties of the sword, which Japanese warriors learned and acquired through the use of the sword in battle. In addition, it is important to master the spirit of the samurai beyond the properties of the sword, which is achieved through the study of swordsmanship through hard training. Therefore, the most frequently mentioned purpose of kendo is to be a pathway to personal development.


In the middle of the Edo period, bushi (warriors) mostly practiced kata (imaginary opponents, fictitious situations) with shinken (real sword) or bokuto (wooden sword imitating a real sword), but this was not effective enough in real warfare. At the same time, practising fencing with these tools was also dangerous. In the early 18th century, kendo equipment and bamboo shinai were first used as a substitute for the sword. In the mid-18th century, Chuzo Nakanishi developed and popularized fencing with the shinai in Japan.

Today, around 7 million people in Japan practice kendo. After the II. World War, kendo developed as a competitive sport and more and more people outside Japan started practising it. Today, there are nearly 1 million people practising outside Japan. In 1970, the International Kendo Federation was founded and now has 62 member countries. Every three years a world championship is held.

Physical characteristics

  • By practising the basic movements of kendo, you will develop a quick, active use of your body. In particular, it improves the balance of the upper and lower body and therefore has a positive effect on the musculature of developing children.
  • Kendo naturally strengthens the abdominal and back muscles needed to use the bamboo sword, allowing you to develop and maintain a truly healthy posture.
  • Thanks to the use of the bamboo sword, the shoulder, elbow and wrist joints, as well as the knee joint, are flexibly loaded through the frequent use of short, quick leg movements, which is particularly important for the healthy development of children with growing skeletons. This helps prevent joint problems typical of athletes.
  • Its movement culture, by presenting the practitioner with a variety of fencing situations, effectively develops the perception and correct use of distance.

Psychological-spiritual characteristics

  • The practice of kendo teaches perseverance, persistence and tenacity in life.
  • The techniques of kendo are extremely fast and sudden, so quick situational awareness and presence of mind are required when practising. In order to master these skills, it is essential to constantly strengthen self-control.
  • It develops the patience and stamina needed to wait for a moment in the opponent’s movement when there is an opportunity to attack.
  • Kendo is a martial art, but by practising the techniques, we can also learn the dangers of using violence. It helps us to develop a realistic self-assessment and situational awareness.
  • By improving concentration, it can help improve learning ability, so children are not faced with the usual “sport or learning” dilemma.

Social benefits

  • Since you cannot practice kendo alone, children need to learn how to cooperate and the importance of behaviour in social communication.
  • Practising together teaches an attitude of respect for the opponent, because without mutual trust, we cannot improve ourselves.
  • Kendo is part of Japanese and international culture. Only gradually can we understand its way of thinking, which teaches us to be flexible towards other people.

<<Kendo organizations around the world>>

The very idea of the game came to me about 10 years ago, as I was traveling on the underground. At a random moment, I just imagined how great it would be to transmit kendo into an entertaining card game that we could play after or besides training, and maybe it could pass kendo to more people in the world as well.

After arriving home I wrote down the first version of the rules in about an hour. Then to find the game I can feel content with, took two fully developed and published versions in many years and lots and lots of test games. These previous versions were just too complex to be easily playable, because I was thinking ‘in kendo” and not ‘in a game”. I really got on the nerves of my friends who took part in the development process, to whom I am really grateful for their help and perseverance.

But finally, I can say, that it is worth all the effort and time. There are only a few Japanese terms, there even colors to mark the functions, there are icons and signs to explain what you can do without text. And the best thing, it is finally multilingual, Of course, the rules will be available in many languages, but one set will fit everyone in the world.

I hope that it will give you as much fun as it has been giving to us over the last years creating it.

Akos Vachter

Kendo Playing Cards is an entertaining card game with real-time elements, Kendo playing cards are designed for 2 players. It mixes bluffing and deduction with strategic thinking to create a funny and exciting gaming experience.

The game simulates a modern kendo competition between two fighters whose goal is to defeat their opponent using familiar elements of kendo. Players score points by performing striking combinations against their opponents and can keep or earn their focus points for executing these combinations at the optimal moment of attack and defense.

Each player has a pre-set number of playing cards and each draw will allow him to change their technical „inventory” through optimal hand management. Every decision must be carefully analyzed because one little mistake can cost you the battle.

The game uses a small amount of kendo-specific terms in order to be easily understandable and enjoyable even for those, who do not practice the art. During the game, you can get a little insight into the wonderful world of kendo, the Japanese Way of the Sword, which is worth giving a try in a real dojo, aka training hall as well.

Im Spiel verwendete japanische Begriffe und ihre Bedeutungen:



The very close range of fighters in which the hand guards of their bamboo swords touch each other.


Basic technique: attack on the throat guard of the kendo armour.


Basic technique: an attack to either side of the breastplate of the kendo armour.

Jikan desu

Literally: Time’s up! At the end of the kendo match time, the timekeeper will rise a yellow flag and shout “Jikan desu!” as a sign to the head referee that the time is over.


– a state of stillness or unmovedness (literally and figuratively: “still mind”, “still heart”. This is the philosophical or mental dimension of Japanese martial arts that contributes to the advanced practitioner’s effectiveness.



literally means faulty play. During a kendo match, leaving the court and dropping the bamboo sword most often leads to a hansoku, or penalty point.


hit. The literal meaning is point.


Stop!” The head referee stops the match with this signal.


Japanese term used in martial arts and traditional theatre. It translates roughly as “posture”. The meaning of the word is “base”. There are 5 types of kamae in kendo, two of which (middle and upper position) are used in modern kendo matches.

the way of the sword, the Japanese martial art of fencing. Kendo evolved from the traditional Japanese swordsmanship techniques known as kenjutsu.


Japanese term used in martial arts to describe a short shout during the execution of an attacking move.


Basic technique: attack to the forearm gloves of the kendo armour.

Maki waza

In this technique, the fightes hooks the opponent’s shinai with his own shinai and spins it up or down. The aim is to disarm the opponent.


Basic technique: attack on the helmet of the kendo armour.


the bamboo sword used in kendo


simple translation: “attack”. The term also refers to when you don’t physically hit your opponent, but mentally pressure him.

Tokui waza

A kendoist’s favourite match-winning attack or technique.

The Kendo Playing Cards displays many aspects of real kendo, or traditional Japanese fencing. In creating the game, great care has been taken to ensure that it is both interesting, exciting and enjoyable to play, while using kendo terms in an educational way, and at the same time retaining the strict and respectful spirit of kendo. What happens in the game can be equated with a snippet of reality.

In a kendo match, competitors aim to score valid hits, which they can achieve by striking a valid blow with the bamboo sword, or shinai in Japanese, on the appropriate surface of the protective armour, (bogu) among a number of other conditions. Such surfaces are the top (MEN) and throat (TSUKI) of the helmet, the protective gloves (KOTE) and both sides of the breastplate (DO).

These are the basic techniques on the brown cards. MEN is for the head, KOTE for the forearm, DO for the torso and TSUKI is for the attack on the throat protector. The brown cards represent attacks and counterattacks. In reality they are called shikake and oji waza. For multi-cards attacks, we can think of the multi-strike technique, which is called renzoku waza in Japanese. Brown cards can be neutralized with a green card, symbolized in the game by the tsubazerai card.

The word tsubazeriai means a very close distance between two fencers, where the hand guards of their swords come together. In reality, this is also a tense situation and is not used for defence, however, the sudden reduction of the distance between the fencers prevents the execution of a successful forward going basic technique.

In addition to the basic strikes, there are additional attacking cards in the game, in red, yellow and blue. The Japanese term seme on the red card refers to a concept often used in kendo, which can be aptly described as pressure on the opponent. In short, this pressure means various ways to get your opponent – unwittingly but in your favour – to launch an attack that you can counter-attack successfully. In the game, this is reflected in the fact that if you cannot react to this card, if you do not resist the pressure, you lose concentration, focus or other tokens.


However, we can neutralize the opponent’s seme with our own seme (another red card) or with an unshakable state of mind (Fudoshin, another purple card, a term related to Buddhism), as in reality, so on the cards.

Another offensive card is the Crazy Kiai, or Crazy Battle Cry, which can be used to confuse the opponent. The battle cry also has many roles in real life. On the one hand, it helps to focus and flow energy, and on the other hand, it can throw the opponent off balance, disturb his concentration and put him in a more precarious position. The penalty for this card is the loss of a card in hand, which reduces the chances of success for the player taking the penalty, but less than the loss of tokens for the red, seme card’s penalty described above.


The last attacking card is called Maki waza and is marked with yellow. Maki waza is a technique to disarm the opponent by twisting the sword out of his hand. The penalty for this card is a penalty point, or hansoku in Japanese. During a real kendo match, in such situation the fighter would receive a penalty point as well. The second penalty point is an ippon for the opponent.

In the game, the red and white colours mark the players’ spaces. In a real kendo match, a traditional red and white ribbon tied on the backs of the players helps the referees to distinguish the competitors. The red and white colours are derived from the colours of the Japanese flag, and the referees hold a red and a white flag in their hands to award penalties and hits to the competitors. Hence, the two flags on the Referee’s tokens.

The only card we haven’t mentioned is the Time’s up card, which features stylized drawings of the supporting referees at the table. One of them, who is checking the time, raises a yellow flag in the air, just like in real life. The kendo matches are timed, and when the time runs out, the player who has scored at least one hit wins.

Individual kendo matches are played to two ippons, or hits, so the game continues until one player scores two ippons first. An ippon can be scored if your opponent cannot fend off a strike or cannot attack because, for example, he has run out of cards.

The use of Referee’s tokens represents the aspect of kendo in which competitors, with unblinking faces and unmoving “spirit”, try to hide their intentions from their opponents and fathom their own intentions. The Time’s Up! card and the Yame! shout bring this kind of real tension and unruffled, calm action into play. Incidentally, the Yame! shout in a real kendo match is used by the head referee to stop the fight while raising the flag held in both hands.

The passage of time in the fight for the second ippon is symbolized by the lower number of Time’s Up cards and the fact that if the leading player draws this card, he wins the match to 1:0, as in reality a late ippon demoralizes the opponent, who has little time to equalize. This gives both an advantage to the leading player in the game and an extra tension to the trailing player, who at the same time has an additional “arsenal” to balance the situation.

The players start from a relatively equal position, with more or less the same amount of training and the same high level of concentration, but as in reality, the different levels of training and experience behind the competitors will eventually lead to an imbalance. This difference and relativity is represented by the randomly dealt cards. And just as in a real match, the fighting situation changes every second, in the game the players have a different set of cards in each turn, and they must always try to make the best of them.

It is a chain of simple, small decisions that, sooner or later, tip the scales in the direction of one or the other of the two sides and lead to victory. It is useful, but not strictly necessary to think very far ahead in the game, but rather to always try to make the best of the situation. Icons on the cards indicate which cards they can be used against and basically no knowledge of Japanese terms or their meaning and function is required to start the game.

This is essential because an important objective in creating the Kendo Playing Cards was to make it easy to play with non-active kendo practitioners, and even to use it as a light, playful introduction to the art of kendo.


Kendo Playing Cards Game rules

The game comes with three different rules versions: DAITO and SHOTO, named after shinai used in nito kendo. And a multiplayer version named KEIKO.

DAITO: the standard rule, which is more complex and has more layers of gameplay. Difficulty: 3/ 5

>> Download DAITO rules and presentation (PDF)

SHOTO: a fast play rule variant that is faster and much easier to play. It is recommended for kids. Difficulty: 2 / 5

Download: SHOTO Rules and presentation (PDF)

A multiplayer version called KEIKO (Practice) is also available, which is the easiest to learn and can be played with 2-4 players at the same time.

Download KEIKO game version rules in English

Download the scoring table (for KEIKO game version, this must be printed out separately before starting the game.)

At the start of the game, each player has 4 cards, which essentially form their toolbox for combat. They also have a total of 9 tokens, 4 of which indicate their concentration level. These can be used to swap cards if the ones in their hand are not suitable. The tokens can be lost or regained. For example, the more concentration, or focus tokens a player has, the more likely they are to respond to an attack. The game may end in any turn, so repelling an attack, and thus surviving a turn, is the only means of survival.

In addition to the focus tokens, players have 3 Referee’s tokens, which they can use to reveal their opponent’s cards by shouting “Yame!” once per token, and if a particular card is found, the player shouting Yame, scores a point called ippon.

There is also a Favourite Technique, (tokui waza in Japanese) token, which players can use a few times during the game to make a more powerful than average attack against each other.

The first half of the game alternates between attacks and counter-attacks, with players trying to break their opponent’s concentration and reduce the number of each other’s tokens, thus limiting their opponent’s chances of winning. At this stage, the advantage is gained by exchanging cards and by playing various simple card combinations.

As the draw deck runs out of cards, towards the middle of the game it’s worth thinking about when to play the Favourite Technique tokens, which allow you to attack your opponent with more cards than allowed, thus seriously upsetting their mental balance and reducing the number of tokens and attack options.

The next stage comes when the draw deck is down to about twenty cards and starts to approach ten. At this point it is a good idea to use the Referee’s tokens, if you have managed to hold on to any of them. If you shout „Yame!” at your opponent when he has the Jikan desu (Time’s Up!) card in his hand, you will get an ippon. This is a stressful and exciting stage. You have to decide whether to take a risk or not, and not let your opponent see on your face that “something is wrong” because you have the dangerous card in your hand.

If the game doesn’t end abruptly here, the next critical part will come, and quite quickly, when the number of cards in the draw deck approaches or reaches ten. At this point, all cards used must be shuffled back at the request of any player. There is also a significant advantage to be gained from which player remembers to request to shuffle the cards back. At this stage, players typically have far fewer tokens and may have already received hansoku, or penalty points, or may have lost cards from their hands. For this reason, at this stage, remaining concentration or focus or other tokens retained or regained, can be the key to victory at any moment.

Throughout the gameplay, in each of their turns players have to choose between two or three options to continue, each with varying degrees of risk. If they make the right choice, they increase their chances of winning, and if they make the wrong choice, they decrease that.  So the delicate balance between the players shifts towards the winning player as a consequence of these choices and the ever-changing probabilities.



Strategic advice:


Critical to deciding the outcome of the game:

·        The choice of the type of tokens given as penalty and regained in a clean counterattack.

·        The moment the Favourite Technique token is applied and the composition of the cards used.

·        Choosing the right moment to use Yame shouts.

·        Choosing the moment to shuffle the deck back.

The following can increase a player’s chances of winning:

·        Minimize the number of card exchanges, keep the number of tokens to a maximum.

·        Choosing the right time to play the coloured cards, as an attack or a reaction.

·        Good decision in the following situation: either redeem brown cards for tokens or risk swapping cards for focus tokens in the hope of drawing a stronger card.

Who is next after the first ippon has been awarded?

The losing player makes the first attack of the second round.

What happens if a player attacks with a single blue card (Crazy Kiai) or a single yellow card (Maki waza) and the other player responds with a Kamae card?

The player who originally attacked starts a new attack, since Kamae is not an attack card. It can only neutralize an incoming attack. You cannot add an attack card.

If you have questions of any kind, you can reach us on Facebook (Messenger) at

or by email at

About the creators

The game is created by Akos Vachter, an engineer and an enthusiastic kendo practicioner for about 20 years. He holds the rank of 5. dan, which he has passed using his favorite kamae, jodan. His hobbies are running, and writing and translating poetry, and all sorts of games. He has also created the unique style Kinsho Tsuba (

Illustrated by Anita Benczur

professional cartoonist

Kraken Panda Illustrations & Design  

Ordering information:

List price: 33,49 EUR (incl. shipping worldwide) 

1 set: 33,49 EUR/ set incl. shipping

2 sets: 56,49 EUR incl. shipping

5 sets: 132,EUR  incl. shipping

8 sets: 199,99 EUR  incl. shipping

Price includes shipping worldwide in registered priority airmail and VAT in EU. Outside the EU additional costs may appear!

If you want to order more sets, or you are interested in distribution, please contact us here, or write us at We will help you!

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Game Help 

You can download the universal Game Helpsheet, which contains most of the rules in a visual way.

You will also find it in the game’s box.

Download: KPC_Helpsheet

Game Board

You can download the Game Board if you want to print it onto a harder material.

You will also find a folded soft version of it in the game’s box.

Download: KPC_Gameboard

All rights reserved. © 2021, A. Vachter
Game design by A. Vachter,
Illustrated by Anita Benczur