Object: Fencing Mask

E/1949/2/7
Fencing Mask
Japan
1650-1700
Painted metal, Cotton, Leather

This mask is an example of a typical Japanese fencing mask. It is made of a blue cotton head piece that has been padded to help the wearer shrug off blows from a bamboo sword. The face of the mask is trimmed in leather to provide stability. The red painted metal bars serve the dual function of protecting the face and as a marker to the opponent in the match; indicating a no strike zone.

The mask is the traditional mask worn in the Japanese sport of Kendo. The literal translation of Kendo is “Way of the Sword.” It was originally a way for Japanese warriors to train for combat without having to worry about severe injury, though one can still leave a bruise. Not only was the warrior protected from severe injury, but a priceless sword handed down through generations was also carefully guarded. Kendo is the more modern ritualized version of Japanese fencing, though it is not a solitary sport in Japan when it comes to the sword arts, which are taught to people of all ages. Two other Japanese sword arts include;  Bujutsu, which is an attempt to train individuals in traditional Japanese military skills and Iaido, which focuses on the technique and esthetic of drawing the sword. It is important to note Kendo is not Bushido, which is the way of the samurai. Kendo may have developed out of this tradition, but it has rules associated with it that combat did not.

Kendo is not just a physical sport, but also demands great mental work. When practiced properly Kendo becomes a Do; this is a path or way that can lead an individual to self-cultivation. This in turn means Kendo can lead a person to learning about him or herself, both physically and mentally.

Figure 3      Diagram of Kendo Uniform

Figure 3 Diagram of Kendo Uniform

One of the key components of Kendo is the uniform that is worn by all who practice it while in the Dojo, the hall where Kendo is practiced.  The uniform consists of a pleated split skirt called a bakam, and a heavy cotton top called a keikogi. By wearing this uniform, the students of Kendo link their modern training with the ancient tradition of Japanese martial arts. The uniform is usually dark blue or black in color which is associated with the samurai’s traditional role as a representative of social order. What this means is that samurai were a respected social class in Feudal Japan and as such were seen as a policing force just by being present and inspiring others to live by their example. Worn over the general uniform is the armor each student and master will wear to further protect themselves in bouts. The first piece of armor is the tare, which is tied around the waist as a hip protector. Next the do is put on to serve as the chest protector. The student then moves to protect the head with the hachimaki, a towel like cloth, which is also used to keep sweat out of the eyes. The second to last piece is the men, which is the face mask, an example of which is housed in the Ethnology Collection. The last piece is the kote, which are arm guards as well as hand guards.

Take a look at this video to learn more about Kendo:

Sources:

Donohue, John J.

1999  Complete Kendo. Boston: Charles E. Tuttle, Inc.

Sasamori, Junzo and Warner, Gordon

1964  This is Kendo: The Art of Japanese Fencing. Boston: Charles E. Tuttle, Inc.

[Dakota Stevens]

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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