What is Kendo?

Kendo is a combination of two Japanese words – ken meaning sword and do meaning road or “way”. The result is “the way of the sword”.

The earliest written reference to Japanese swordsmanship dates from the 7th century. Fencing techniques changed dramatically as the art of sword making developed and the shape of swords changed. Development of the techniques of swordsmanship was driven by the demands of civil war in a turbulent age. Even non-members of the samurai class were forced to improve their fencing skills as a means of protection. By the end of the Age of War in 1573, many different schools of swordsmanship had formed based on tried-and-tested techniques developed over the centuries.

Edo PeriodIn the more settled Edo period (1603–1867) the Tokugawa Shoguns, or military rulers, encouraged the samurai to study martial arts to maintain peace. During this period, the aims of martial arts changed under the influence of Buddhism and Confucianism, and came to emphasise the development of good character. The goal of study shifted from preparing the body for the battlefield to cultivating mental discipline. Practice methods also changed. The basis of modern kendo, along with the shinai, (bamboo sword) and bogu (armour) were all developed during the mid-Edo period.

The kendo that has gained social and international recognition is not the martial art of feudal Japan, but a new sport-like physical training system which encompasses aspects of the national Japanese spiritual tradition. Although kendo is regarded today as a physical sport, the side that emphasises mental development must still be considered an important aspect.