Dansk Kendo Societet på dansk

The History of Kendo


Japanese swordsmanship is a result of centuries of evolution that must be seen in context with the socio-cultural changes in the Japanese society. Thus, the creation of the Japanese swordsmanship can not be credited to a single person, ryu (school/tradition), ryu-ha (branch of the former), organisation or institution.

Kendo based on kobudo in the Tokugawa period (1603-1868) was first of all a matter of morals and mental education rather than physical techniques or development of protective equipment. The technical aspect of kendo was trained differently all over Japan and was defined in relation with tradition and locality.

Kendo under Danish Kendo Society is based on old martial ways, or more specific kobudo. Kobudo is the oldest budo system which can be traced back to the seventeenth century.

The Pre-Tokugawa Period

Prior to the Tokugawa period, circa 1400, the swordsman Chujo Hyogonosuke Nagahide developed many of the techniques that came to be called Kendo in the Tokugawa period.

Later many schools of swordsmanship supplemented the bokken (wooden sword) and katana (samurai sword) with a new invention; the leather wrapped split bamboo sword replica, called fukuro-shinai. It is believed that Kamiizumi Nobutsuna in 1563 was the first swordsman who adopted this split bamboo sword. This invention resulted in training that could now be carried out with a reasonable degree of safety. Heretofore swordsmen had used katana (the Japanese sword) and bokken in kata (prearranged combative forms).

The Tokugawa Period

In the Tokugawa period (1603-1868) Kamiizumi's style of swordsmanship was transmitted to the Yagyu family who was under the official patronage of the Tokugawa Bakufu ('Tokugawa government'). The Tokugawa Bakufu encouraged other ryu or ryuha to adopt the fukuro-shinai.

The term kendo was recorded as early as 1673 by Abe Gorodaiyu, founder of the sword school Abe Ryu. Abe Gorodaiyu described the teachings of his ryu as Kendo , 'the way of the sword'. Abe Gorodaiyu devised a method of swordsmanship where the emphasis was on morals and mental training rather than gaining expertise in physical techniques. Kendo was organized around autonomous local socials units, the ryu or ryuha, tied to local and regional traditions.

In the Tokugawa period, swordsmanship was called kenjutsu, kendo, and various other appellations and were without distinction of form or content unlike the disciplines in the present day. Furthermore parts of jujutsu were used in connection with swordsmanship. Kendo or ken-no-michi means 'the way of the sword'. The word ken means 'sword' and the words do or michi mean 'way' or 'path'. Budo, which rest in 'bu' (military affairs) and not in sport, was based on the old system of budo today called kobudo . Ko means 'old' and bu means 'military affairs', while do as mentioned earlier means 'way'. The purpose of kobudo centered upon morals, discipline, and aesthetic concerns in that order of priority.

The following are some of the swordsmen of the Tokugawa period who devoted their lives to kendo. Yagyu Tajim no Kami was a teacher of Yagyu Shin Kage Ryu and teacher for the first three Tokugawa Shoguns, Tokugawa Ieyasu, Tokugawa Hidetada, and Tokugawa Iemitsu. Yagyu used the fukuro-shinai developed by Kamiizumi. Another teacher of Yagyu Shin Kage Ryu, Naganuma Shirozaimon, developed the fundamentals of kirikaeshi and uchikomi in 1716. He created a head protection gear of bamboo, and used shinai, the bamboo sword in his practice (not the modern shinai which is a longer model). Another school that taught the Tokugawa Bakufu was Onoha Itto Ryu. Nakanishi Chuzo, a teacher of Onoha Itto Ryu, developed a chest protection gear, a lacquered bamboo guard, in 1746. In 1751 his son developed the modern shinai and hand protection gear, kote. By the year 1750 the development of the armour and training procedures were fully established and over five hundred ryu or ryuha used the shinai in their practice.

The method of training with shinai was called shinai-geiko and the earliest uses of shinai-geiko were attempts to eliminate injuries among students. Some leading swordsmen still maintained and practised the kata distinctive of their ryu or ryuha. Other schools had both kata and shinai-geiko as training methods while some schools transformed shinai-geiko into an entertainment and sporting form that later was known as the term gekken or gekiken towards the Meiji Restoration (1868). Thus, gekiken was a method which allowed the students to test their skills in contest. gekiken was based on the 'new direction' which led to the modern budo system, shin-budo , after the collapse of the Japanese feudal system in 1868. Thus, the modern kendo is based on shinbudo.

As a result of the evolution within swordsmanship in the Tokugawa period, three swords now existed and were used in practice. These swords were: (a) katana, (b) bokken, and (c) shinai.

The training method within swordsmanship in the beginning of the Tokugawa period was kata. About 1750 the training methods were kata and/or shinai-geiko and later gekiken styles.

The society in the Tokugawa period was influenced by the political systems, from the level of the local clans to the Tokugawa Bakufu. This social structure led people to identify themselves with the group to which they belonged. The ethics was that the group was valued higher than the individual. This idea mean that the classical samurai, without expectation of tangible rewards, served traditions in order to preserve the group.