When looking back into the History of Kendo, there are several fundamental points that cannot be overlooked.
The first point is the advent of the Japanese sword. The Japanese sword that emerged in the middle of the 11th Century (middle of the Heian Era 〔794-1185〕 ) had a slightly arched blade with raised ridges (called Shinogi). Its original model was presumably handled by a tribe that specialized in cavalry battles in northern Japan during the 9th century. Since then, this sword was used by the Samurai and production technology advanced rapidly during the period of early Samurai-government reign (end of the Kamakura Era in the 13th Century). In this manner, it is not an exaggeration to say that both its wielding techniques using Shinogi which produced the expression of Shinogi-wo-kezuru, engaging in fierce competition and the Japanese sword were Japanese born products.
After the Onin War occurred in the latter half of the Muromachi Era (1392-1573), Japan experienced anarchy for a hundred years. During this time, many schools of Kenjutsu were established. In 1543, firearms were brought to Tanegashima (Island located off the southern tip of Japan). The Japanese sword was made using the Tatarafuki casting method with high quality iron sand obtained from the riverbed. However, it did not take long before large quantities of firearms were made successfully using this high quality iron sand and the same casting method to produce swords. As a result, the heavy-armored battling style that prevailed up to then changed dramatically to a lighter hand-to-hand battling style. Actual battling experiences resulted in advanced development and specialization of sword-smithing as well as the establishment of more refined sword-handling techniques and skills that have been handed down to the present through the various schools such as the Shinkage-ryu and Itto-ryu.
Japan began to experience a relatively peaceful period from the beginning of the Edo Era (1603-1867). During this time, techniques of the Ken(the Japanese sword) were converted from techniques of killing people to one of developing the person through concepts such as the Katsunin-ken which included not only theories on strong swordsmanship, but also concepts of a disciplinary life-style of the Samurai.
These ideas were compiled in books elaborating on the art of warfare in the early Edo Era. Examples of these include: “Heiho Kadensho (The Life-giving Sword)” by Yagyu Munenori; “Fudochi Shinmyoroku (The Unfettered Mind )” by Priest Takuan which was a written interpretation of Yagyu Munenori’s “Ken to Zen (Sword and Zen)” written for Tokugawa Iemitsu, Third Shogunate for the Tokugawa Government; and “Gorin-no-sho (The Book of Five Rings)” by MiyamotoMusashi. Many other books on theories of swordsmanship were published during the middle and latter half of the Edo Era. Many of these writings have become classics and influence many Kendo practitioners today.
Kenjutsu Machidojo in Japan at the beginning of Meiji period (1870-1900)
What these publications tried to convey to the Samurai was how to live beyond death. These teachings were to be used for everyday life. The Samurai studied these books and teachings daily, lived an austere life, cultivated their minds, and devoted themselves to the refinement of Bujutsu, learned to differentiate between good and evil, and learned that in times of emergency they were ready to sacrifice their lives for their Han (clan) and feudal lord. In present day terms, they worked as bureaucrats and soldiers. The Bushido spirit that evolved during this time, developed during a peaceful 246 years of the Tokugawa period. Even after the collapse of the feudal system, this Bushido spirit lives on in the minds of the Japanese.
On the other hand, as peaceful times continued, while Kenjutsu developed new graceful techniques of the Ken created from actual sword battling skills, NaganumaShirozaemon-Kunisato of the Jiki-shinkage-ryu school developed a new foundation in techniques of the Ken. During the Shotoku Era (1711-1715) Naganuma developed the of Kendo-gu (protective equipment) and established a training method using the Shinai (bamboo-sword). This is the direct origin of present day Kendo discipline. Thereafter, during the Horeki Era (1751-1764), NakanishiChuzo-kotake of Itto-ryu started a new training method using an iron Men (headgear) and Kendo-gu made of bamboo, which became prevalent among many schools in a short period of time. In the Kansei Era (1789-1801), inter-school competition became popular and Samurai traveled beyond their province in search of stronger opponents to improve their skills.
In the latter half of the Edo Era (beginning of the 19th Century), new types of equipment were produced such as the Yotsuwari Shinai (bamboo swords united by tetramerous bamboo). This new Shinai was more elastic and durable than the Fukuro Shinai (literally, bag-covered bamboo sword) which it replaced. Also, a Do (body armor) that was reinforced by leather and coated with lacquer was introduced. During this time, three Dojos that gained great popularity became to be known as the “Three Great Dojos of Edo.” They were: Genbukan led by Chiba Shusaku; Renpeikan led by Saito Yakuro; and Shigakkan led by Momoi Shunzo. Chiba attempted to systematize the Waza (techniques) of bamboo sword training by establishing the “Sixty-eight Techniques of Kenjutsu” which were classified in accordance with striking points. Techniques such as the Oikomi-men and Suriage-men and other techniques that were named by Chiba are still used today.
After the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the Samurai class was dissolved and the wearing of swords was prohibited. As a result, many Samurai lost their jobs and Kenjutsu declined dramatically. Thereafter, the Seinan Conflict which occurred in the 10th Year of the Meiji Era (1877) was an unsuccessful resistance movement of Samurai against the Central Government that seemed to give an indication of Kenjutsu’s recovery mainly among the Tokyo Metropolitan Police. In the 28th Year of the Meiji Era (1829), the Dai-Nippon Butoku-Kai was established as the national organization to promote Bujutsu including Kenjutsu. At around the same time in 1899, “Bushido” was published in English which was considered a compilation of Samurai’s thoughts and philosophy. It was influential internationally.
In the First Year of Taisho (1912), the Dai-Nippon Teikoku Kendo Kata (later renamed to Nippon Kendo Kata) was established using the word Kendo. The establishment of the Kendo Kata provided for the unification of many schools to enable them to pass on to later generations the techniques and spirit of the Japanese sword, and to remedy improper use of hands which had been caused by bamboo sword training and to correct inaccurate strikes which were not at the right angle to the opponent. It was thought that the Shinai (bamboo sword) was to be treated as an alternative of the Japanese sword. And, in the Eighth Year of Taisho (1919), Nishikubo Hiromichi consolidated the original objectives of Bu (or in other words Samurai) under the names of Budo and Kendo since they conformed to them.
After the Second World War, Kendo was suspended for a while under the Occupation of the Allied Forces. In 1952, however, when the All Japan Kendo Federation was established, Kendo was revived. Kendo presently plays an important role in school education and is also popular among the young and old, men and women alike. Several million Kendo practitioners of all ages enjoy participating in regular sessions of Keiko (Kendo training).
Furthermore, Kendo is gaining interest all around the world, and more and more international practitioners are joining the Kendo world. The International Kendo Federation (FIK) was established in 1970 and the first triennial World Kendo Championships (WKC) was held in the Nippon Budokan in the same year. In July 2003, the 12th WKC was held in Glasgow, Scotland. Kendo practitioners from forty-one different countries and regions participated.