1.2 The history of Kendo

Kendo is a Japanese word for “The way of the sword”. “Ken” means sword and “Do” means the way and it originated and developed in Japan from the time of the Samurai warrior. The Samurai in ancient Japan were highly skilled warriors who protected their feudal lords from the time of the 8th century through to the 17th century. Proper kendo schools appeared in the early Muromachi period from 1390 – 1600 AD and have continued to this day.

The Samurai warrior wore two swords thrust through his belt; a long sword which was used outside only and had to be left at the entrance way when the Samurai entered a house, and also a short sword which he wore at all times for protection and also used if necessary for committing Seppuku or Hara kiri i.e. suicide by cutting open one’s belly. Kendo duels were fought to the death or until one warrior was too disabled to continue, however later a more pliable sword and padded armour was invented to reduce the chance of injury.

Kendo training was not solely directed at perfecting the Samurai warrior’s ability with the sword. Through his kendo practice the Samurai also developed his inner strength, his mental power and his character. Kendo is a unique mental and physical discipline which contains many of the elements of Zen. Zen meditation, intense concentration and controlled breathing from the “Hara” or lower abdomen are all integrated into kendo training. Both the Samurai warrior of yesteryear and the serious kendo student of today pursue a calmness of spirit and perfection of character through the principles of Kendo and Zen.

It is often very difficult for people to understand that such an apparently violent martial art as kendo is actually practised as a means of developing world peace. There are in fact over 7 ½ million people studying and practising kendo in over 60 countries throughout the world today.

Probably the most famous swordsman in history was Miyamoto Musashi who lived From 1584 – 1645 and founded several sword schools as well as writing a very famous book called “Go Rin No Sho” or “Book of 5 Rings”. This is principally a book on sword fighting strategies.

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