Gaku Shi Juku Kendo Kai

1.0             What is Kendo?

Kendo, is the art of Japanese fencing. "Ken" or tsurugi is from the character meaning sword. The character for "Do" or michi means way or path. “Kendo” translates as "the way of the sword" – a path in life which is followed through the training of Kendo.




1.1 The Historical Origins

It is difficult to say when and how Kendo originated. Modern Kendo bears faint resemblance to Kenjutsuthe art of swordsmanship,” and to its feudal origins of sword-wielding samurai warriors who are depicted in movies and television today.  Kendo cannot be traced to a single founder or given an exact founding date. The story of the rise of modern Kendo begins with the samurai and extends over the culture of several centuries.


Kendo: “The Way of The Sword”


1.2 Introduction of the Sword

The sword was introduced to Japan from the Continent around 2nd century BC. They say that the sword was originally a ritual-coloured object that symbolized the authority of its owner. At that time, the catapult and bow were used for hunting or tribal warfare. However, the sword gradually became used for fighting in the course of national unification. By the 7 and 8th century, tribal units began forging the sword domestically within Japan .


The sword gradually became used for fighting in the course of national unification


By the end of the 12th century, the authority of the Japanese central government had declined. Bands of warriors grouped together for protection forming local aristocracies. Feudalism had come of age, and was to dominate Japan for several centuries. With the establishment of the Shogun in Kamakura and military rule-controlling Japan, a new military class called Bushi gained prominence. Bushido, “the way of the warrior,” stressed the virtues of bravery, loyalty, honour, self-discipline and stoical acceptance of death. The prototype of the Nihon-toh (the Japanese sword) was developed as was various sword-fighting techniques. The influence of Bushido extended to modern Japanese society and Kendo was also greatly influenced by this thinking.


The new military class called Bushi gained prominence


The Japanese warrior had no contempt for learning or the arts. Although Kenjutsu, had been recorded since the 8th century, it gained new prominence and took on religious and cultural aspects. Sword making became a revered art. Zen and other sects of Buddhism developed and the samurai often devoted time to fine calligraphy or poetry.


Kenjutsu took on religious and cultural aspects

The years that followed were filled with civil wars, and it was during these times that schools of kenjutsu began. Master swordsmen started these schools and each school had its own style unique to the originator. As the years passed and more peaceful times prevailed, emphasis was placed on the spiritual aspects through the practice of kenjutsu.



These moral and social aspects stemmed from Zen Buddhism and Bushido 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, the sword was considered to represent the spirit of Bushi




The sword was considered to represent the spirit of Bushi


1.3 The Muromachi Period

The next great advance in martial arts occurred during the late Muromachi period (1336-1568). This period is often called the “age of Warring Provinces” because of the many internal conflicts that ravaged Japan. This period brought an increased demand and respect for men trained in the martial arts. Consequently, nearly 200 new kenjutsu schools formed. Real blades or hardwood swords were used in training and since the use of protective equipment was not yet prevalent, many injuries occurred.  These schools continued to flourish through the Tokugawa period (1600-1868), with the Ittoryu or “one sword school,” having the greatest influence on modern Kendo.





Increased demand and respect for men trained in the martial arts


1.4 The Introduction of Armour

Kendo began to take its modern appearance during the late 18th century with the introduction of protective equipment: the men, kote and doh and the use of the bamboo sword, the shinai. The use of the shinai and protective armour made possible the full delivery of blows without injury. This forced the establishment of new regulations and practice formats that set the foundation for modern Kendo. In the last days of the Tokugawa Shogunate, as the awareness for the need for national defence was growing, kenjutsu became popular even among non-Bushi-class citizens.

With the abolishment of the shogunate and the introduction of the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the Bushi class became extinct as the formation of ‘modern Japan ’ began. The right to bear a sword was also banned and through this, kenjutsu’s popularity declined.

This decline was only temporary, however, as interest in Kendo was revived again in 1887 when uprisings against the government showed the need for the training of police officers. The origins of Kendo being a full time employment for modern day police officers in  Japan began here. Later the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) again encouraged an awareness of the martial spirit.

Consequently in 1895, the Butokukai, an organization devoted to the martial arts was established. In 1911, Kendo was officially introduced into the physical education curriculum of middle schools and in 1912, the Nihon Kendo Kata, a set of regulations for Kendo, was published. In 1939 as  Japan prepared for war, Kendo became a required course for all boys.

After the war, because of its nationalistic and militaristic associations, Kendo was outlawed and the Butokukai was disbanded. However by 1952, supporters of Kendo successfully reintroduced a “pure sport” form of Kendo, called Shinai Kyogi. This excluded the militaristic attitudes and some of the rougher aspects of practice characteristic of pre-war Kendo. Today, Kendo continues to grow under the auspices of the All Japan Kendo Federation, the International Kendo Federation, and federations all over the world.

Although the outward appearance and some of the ideals have changed with the changing needs of the people, Kendo continues to build character, self-discipline and respect. Despite a sport-like atmosphere, Kendo remains steeped in tradition which must never be forgotten; for here lies the strength of Kendo which has carried it throughout history and will carry it far into the future.

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 situation.

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.





Use of shinai and armour made possible the full delivery of blows










Kendo was officially introduced into the physical education curriculum of middle schools








Kendo builds character, self-discipline and respect





A Kendo player must learn to attack and counter an attack





Through Kendo you will learn to overcome any adversity

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