-- The way of the sword --
|Kendo literally means the way of the sword in Japanese.
It refers to the art of traditional Japanese fencing that was
originally developed and practiced by Bushi or Samurai. Kendo
originated from the various sword fighting techniques of hundreds of
years of combat and study. It deals with the physical and mental
skills necessary for sword fighting. The goal of Kendo is not only
to develop the physical capability for fighting but also the moral
and spiritual aspects that may be applied in coping with real life.
In Japan, it is one of the most popular martial arts. Kendo has
spread to other parts of the world such as North America and Europe.
It has developed a strong following in Canada and in Quebec as well.
Kendo is continually growing in popularity worldwide.
-- The origin and the transition --
|It is difficult to precisely say when and how Kendo originated.
Kendo was not created nor developed by a single person or even a
group of people. It was developed over a very long period of time
from real combat and sword fighting situations.
The sword was introduced to Japan from the Continent around the
2nd century BC. They say that the sword was originally a ritual
colored object which symbolized the authority of its owner rather
than a weapon. At that time, the catapult and bow were used for
hunting or tribal warfare. However, the sword gradually became used
for fighting through continuous group conflicts in the course of
national unification. By the 7-8th century, the sword was being
After the 9th century, as the Bushi class was established, the
prototype of the Nihon-to (the Japanese sword) was formed. Various
sword fighting techniques as well as forging techniques had been
developed. However, on the battlefield, swords that were longer than
6 feet and spears were the main weapons until the 14th century.
|The years that followed were filled with civil wars, and it was
during these times that schools of Kenjutsu, iterally meaning the
art of the sword, began. These schools were started by various
master swordsmen, and each school had its own style unique to the
originator. As the years passed and more peaceful times prevailed,
more emphasis was placed on the spiritual aspects through the
practice of Kenjutsu.
|These moral and social aspects stemmed from Zen Buddhism and
Bushi-do (the way of the warrior) whose principle ideas were based
on Confucianism. Since Samurai warriors were the only class allowed
to carry a sword, mastering the sword was indispensable for any
respected Samurai, in fact, it was considered to literally represent
the spirit of Bushi.
|During the second half of the 18th century, the first real
protective equipment came into being. These developments in
protective equipment and the usage of Shinai (the bamboo sword)
played an important role for the evolution of Kenjutsu practice. In
the last days of the Tokugawa Shogunate, as the awareness for the
need for national defense was growing, Kenjutsu became popular even
among non-Bushi-class citizens.
After the Shogunate government was abolished in 1867, modern
Japan was formed and the Bushi class became extinct; the right to
bear a sword was also banned. As a result, Kenjutsu temporarily
declined in popularity. However, on suppressing the rebellion that
broke out in 1877, the achievement of police officers who mastered
Kenjutsu was highly respected. At the same time, there was a need to
enhance the wealth and military strength on a national scale in
order to compete with the Great Powers of the world.
Under such circumstances, the promotion of Kenjutsu was
reexamined. In 1879, the Metropolitan Police Bureau of Tokyo began
giving Kenjutsu courses for its officers. In 1895, Dai Nippon Butoku
Kai was formed as an organization devoted to all martial arts.
However, the popularization of Kenjutsu demanded a universal form,
one that would include and integrate all existing schools of
Kenjutsu. In 1912, after a long deliberation among masters of major
Kenjutsu schools, a new system of Kenjutsu that transcended existing
schools was established. This is the birth of Kendo. Since then,
Kendo has officially become part of the physical education program
initially at the secondary school level, and then in primary
schools. As a result, Kendo flourished, and many tournaments were
held all over Japan.
|After World War II, Kendo suffered a major setback. Kendo was
regarded undemocratic by the general headquarters of the occupation
forces and was officially banned in public. In 1957, due in part to
the efforts of many Kendo enthusiasts, Kendo was restored. In the
same year, the All Japan Kendo Federation was founded. Kendo grew
into a national past-time again. However, it was now more of a
martial art concerned primarily with the development of mind and
body with the purpose of forging a better life rather than a method
for taking life using a sword as it was before.
Now, since the establishment of the International Kendo
Federation in 1970, Kendo has become popular even outside of Japan.
Countries such as Canada, Brazil, England, France, Germany, Korea,
the United States, and many others have begun practice Kendo. There
are many more federations exist internationally, as people in other
countries take increasing interest in Kendo. Modern Kendo is the
result of many changes, from a purely fighting art, to an all
encompassing martial art.
|Basics of Kendo
-- The equipment and the overview --
|The equipment used for Kendo practice are the
bamboo sword (Shinai) and a set of protective armor (Bogu). The
bamboo sword is made of four carefully prepared staves or pieces of
bamboo that are fitted and held together at both ends by a leather
handle, tip, and special string designed to designate the back of
the sword. The protective equipment consists of four different
parts: Men, Do, Tare, and a pair of Kote. Men
is the helmet which protects the face, throat, top and sides of the
head. Do is similar to a breastplate and covers the chest
and stomach. Tare is the waiste protector. Finally,
Kote are like gauntlets and protect the hands and wrists.
In Kendo, there are four general areas to attack, subdivided into
left and right sides of the body - each worth one point. These are
strokes to the head, the wrist, torso, and a thrust to the throat.
In order to be considered successful, the attack is to be a
coordination of the spirit, proper usage of the sword, and correct
movement of the body so that it would be a clear and proper stroke,
as if it were made with a real sword.
An official Kendo match is a three-point match and has a
five-minute time limit. The player who scores two points first is
the winner. If neither player scores two points before the end of
regulation time, the one in the lead at that point is declared the
winner. If the score is tied after five minutes, an infinite sudden
death overtime is held. Three referees judge whether or not a point
is scored. Kendo tournaments are held in direct elimination form.
|Kendo practice consists of several different exercises. Each
exercise is aimed to improve different aspects of strength and skill
required in Kendo. For beginners, the repetitive practice of basic
movements is stressed in order to acquire the ability of moving
without thinking. A Kendo player must learn to be able to counter an
attack instantaneously whenever the opponent moves. As one
progresses, more spiritual understanding is sought through
continuous practice in order to be in control of any kind of
Besides such training, the practice of etiquette through Kendo is
demanded as well, since the goal of Kendo is to develop one's
character, i.e. self-confidence, courtesy, and respect for others.
This was of utmost importance for all Samurai.
Kendo is demanding both physically and mentally. However, many
people, regardless of age or sex, are attracted to Kendo and still
carry on the tradition that had been handed down from Samurai
culture. Although the path is not an easy one, practicing Kendo will
surely enable you to attain the willpower to overcome adversity.