KENJUTSU is the art of samurai swordsmanship; Kenjutsu schools proliferated from the 9th century onward. Many of the seryu appear repeatedly in the chronicles of bujutsu. By the end of the Tokugawa period (1600-1867), there were more than 200 active kenjutsu schools.
Notwithstanding the policy of strict secrecy adopted by various masters, the methods and techniques practiced in each school of kenjutsu were usually influenced by those popularized in other fencing schools. There was perpetual effort on the part of hundreds of experts to discover and perfect new methods in swordsmanship. Out of this effort grew a habit that was perpetuated to modern times:
When a warrior had mastered one system of sword-play, he set himself to study all others by traveling through the provinces, fencing against other experts and, in the event of defeat, constituting himself the victor's student.
Competition was merciless, since defeat often meant ruin. A kenjutsu master with a well attended school and a substantial income from the lord of a fief stood to lose everything in an encounter with an itinerant expert. Victory, on the other hand, meant opportunity, income, and a prestigious position. Many a kenjutsu student risked his life repeatedly to establish a reputation that would enable him to become the leader of his own school. Naturally, there was a noticeable reluctance on the part of established sensei to partake in direct confrontations with other fencing teachers or with the wandering champions who were always ready, if not eager, to issue a challenge at the mere mention of a reputation.
Gradually, legislation was enacted to curb the bloodshed in these personal contests of fencing skill. Training with live blades in the dojo of pre-Tokugawa Japan had already been restricted to inanimate targets, such as the makiwara, made of rice straw, or to controlled kata performances-still employed in schools where kenjutsu with a live blade is practiced.
The main phase of kenjutsu was training with the katana, the regular sword. Ancient sword techniques appear to have been first systematized in 1350 by Choisai and Join. Techniques were generally divided into two groups, the first comprising cutting (kiri) and thrusting (tsuki) used in attack and counterattack, the second comprising parries used in defense. Targets were clearly identified.
According to orthodox laws of fencing, no warrior was proud of wounding an enemy in any manner other than established by strict samurai code The long sword was to be directed at only four points: the top of the head, the wrist, the side, and the leg below the knee. Stern warnings issued by many sensei concerning the degrading use of certain practices, would seem to indicate that observance of the code was by no means a general phenomenon. Unpredictable cuts, thrusts, and parries directed against any available target; psychological ploys; and reliance upon tactical surprise were all said to have been so widely employed that they appear to have been the norm rather than the exception. Almost every student of kenjutsu fancied himself the possessor of a secret, unique, and irresistible method of penetrating every other swordsman's defense. Sensei were constantly devising new strategies for the katana, alone or in conjunction with other weapons, which accounts for the many styles associated with this weapon.
A warrior also learned the techniques of other, minor specializations of kenjutsu. He could usually fence equally well with the wakizashi (short sword) or the intermediate sword (chisa-katana), and explored in detail the efficiency of the nodachi, the long sword generally worn on the back with the handle jutting out behind the shoulder. Kenjutsu reached heights of beauty and efficiency with the simultaneous use of two blades-the katana and the wakizashi, or chisa-katana-in the two-sword style made famous by Miyamoto Musashi in his school, nito-ryu. Immensely difficult were those techniques which called for the use of one or two swords against several opponents armed with swords or spears. Gliding pivots and spins predominated in such exercises.
Today, of the ancient kenjutsu and all its specializations, there are only a few, strongly modified forms extant in Japan, many of which are embodied in the highly ritualized kata of kumi-tachi. Bouts with wooden swords, called bokken, are also staged between students of ancient sword disciplines. Kendo is the most popular modern derivation of feudal fencing. Kendo has its own weapons, techniques, ranks, and purposes, all of which are heavily impregnated with the traditions of ancient Japanese swordsmanship.
FORMS OF KENJUTSU
JIGEN RYU Aggressive style of kenjutsu founded by Togo Bizen no Kami in the 16th century; the foremost martial tradition for the Japanese warriors of Satsuma.
SHINGEN-RYU Traditional kenjutsu school dating from the
16th century under the
patronage of the Nanbu clan.
KENDO Known as the "way of the sword," it developed from kenjutsu (art of the sword). Kendoka wear traditional samurai dress. The feet are bare. A hakama (divided skirt) is worn with a tare (apron or groin protector). The keikogi (kendo jacket) is similar to the one used, in judo, but is worn tucked into the trousers. Hands and forearms are protected by kote (wrist gloves) and the chest is covered by a do (breastplate), held in place by cords fastened around the shoulders. Finally, the men (head-guard), a steel visor and padded cloth, protects the head, throat, and shoulders.
The kendoka uses a shinai (practice sword)-four polished staves of bamboo held together by a long sheath that forms the handle. There is a small leather cup at the tip and a cord to the handle holding the sword together. The shinai is sometimes as long as 3 feet 10 inches. When performing kata, a practitioner dispenses with body armor and wears only the hakama and keikogi, and uses the bokken. For important, formal demonstrations a real sword, mainly the katana (long sword), is often used.
The keikogi's color denotes grade. There is less emphasis on rank here than in other martial arts. A white keikogi indicates the lower kyu (grades), beginning at 6th and progressing to 1st. A black keikogi denotes the higher den (rank), starting at 1st dan and working up ultimately to 10th. From 4th to 6th dan, a kendoka may be awarded the title of renshi (polished expert); and from 8th to 10th that of hanshi (master). Contest ability, mental discipline, and technical knowledge take a practitioner to 6th dan, after which advancement is obtained through teaching ability and service to the art. For the hanshi degree, a kendoka must make original research and take an examination set by the technical board of the All-Japan Kendo Association. The hanshi and renshi awards can be authorized only in Japan.
The object of a kendo contest is to land two scoring blows on a target area. There are eight target areas: o-shomen center of the head; hidari-men, left side of the head; migi-men, right side of the head; hidari-kote, left forearm; migi-kote, right forearm; gyaku-do, left side of the rib cage; migi-do, right side of the rib cage; tsuki, the throat. All are attacked by cuts except the throat, which can be threatened only by a lunge. Competitors often use only one hand on the shinai-to obtain extra distance-but powerful blows are performed with two hands. All blows are called kiri (cuts) in which a kendoka attacks with the cutting edge of the shinai. When striking, the arms should be fully extended, hips remaining square to the target. After striking, the shinai should slide freely up the target without being disengaged.
The kiai (yell) is even more important in kendo than in other martial arts. A score cannot be registered without the shout that accompanies the blow. The kiai has three functions: attack, to aid mental and physical coordination, and to unnerve the opponent.
Kendo originated more than 1,500 years ago. The first references to kenjutsu, in fact, are contained in the three volumes of the Kojiki, a medieval history. The earliest reference to any non-lethal practice weapon is about 400 A.D., and the weapon mentioned was the bokken (wooden sword), whose weight, length, and balance were approximately the same as the real one.
Like other Japanese martial arts, kendo has innumerable ryu (schools). The earliest of these was Nen-ryu, founded in 1350. There is some dispute as to who originated the style; some authorities claim Kamisaka Yasuhisa and others Somashior Yoshimoto. This particular style was taught until the 18th century by the Higuchi family, but has now disappeared. In the 20th century kendo has spread to most parts of the world, including Europe and North and South America. Apart from Japan, the U.S., Canada, and Brazil are the strongest nations.
Kendo, as practiced today, is neither a fighting art nor a pure sport; many consider it primarily a spiritual discipline. Many instructors claim the real purpose of kendo is to learn to settle the problems of lite without ever having to draw the sword. See also kenjutsu.
Further reading. Fundamental Kendo, All Japan Kendo Federation, 1973; Asian Fighting Arts, Donn F. Draeger and Robert W. Smith, 1969; Modern Bujutsu and Budo, Donn F. Draeger, 1974; Secrets of the Samurai, Oscar Ratti and Adele Westbrook, 1973; MartialArts of the Orient, Roald Knutsen, 1975; This is Kendo, Junzo Sasamori and Gordon Warner, 1964; Official Karate Magazine, Nov.1968.
GEKKEN Common name tor kendo (way of the sword) during the Meiji era (1868-1912) in Japan. While higher institutions of learning preferred to develop what they called kendo, gekken was used by militarists to bolster a sense of nationalism among the people.
HOKUSHIN ITTO RYU Style of kendo (art ot the sword).
HOZAN-RYU Style ot kendo (way ot the sword).
KEN-NO-MICHI Variant ot the word kendo (way ot the sword) that arose in the early Tokugawa period, from about 1600-1750.
FOUR POISONS OF KENDO: The four deep-rooted emotional or intellectual problems to be overcome in kendo; tear, doubt, surprise, and contusion. By resolutely confronting many opponents, a student tries to to ster objectivity and a calmness ot mind in which every situation is perceived with equal clarity.
KUM DO Korean sword art and sport identical to Japanese kendo. The Korean Kum Do Association was established in June 1948, and the National Kum Do Championships were inaugurated in 1953. The foremost kum do master is Haksuh Jung.
KUMITACHI Sword exercise practiced in Japan as long ago as A D. 789, when kumitachi entered the curriculum of the sons of kuge, or noblemen, at the capital city of Nara. The introduction ot kumitachi is still commemorated each year in the Boy's Festival held on May 5, and marked annually by a large kendo meeting in Kyoto.
NIHON KENDO KATA "Japan Kendo Formal Exercise." Known as the Dai Nippon Teikoku Kendo Kata (Great Japan Imperial Kendo Formal Exercise) when it was founded in 1912, it consists of 12 techniques, 9 with the odachi (long sword) and 3 with the kodachi (short sword). This kata, created by a cross-section of high-ranking swordsmen of the Butokukai, is the foundation ot all modern kendo practice.
SHINAI-GEIKO Swordsmanship training using the shinai. It was developed during the latter Edo period (early 1700s) in Japan and is the direct forerunner of modern kendo. Opponents attacked each other vigorously but always observing certain rules to ensure safety. Kaho, or prearranged forms, was reduced in importance. Further reading: Modern Bujutsu and Budo.